Simon D’souza, the highly regarded saxophonist, composer, arranger, performer, multi-instrumentalist, session musician, educator and all-round great guy was an inspirational figure in the local jazz scene.
Pianist and friend Wayne McConnell pays tribute to Simon D’souza, who passed away on Monday 19th May, 2014.
Where can you begin with a man as rare as Simon. We all knew Simon as an extremely talented saxophonist, composer and educator and some of us were lucky enough to know him as a friend. I first met Simon at the Bee’s Mouth or rather The Art House as it was called then. It was a jam session of sorts and Simon sat in. Before he played a note the first thing I noticed was his beaming, infectious smile. He had this amazing ability to put everyone at ease, the look he gave was a mixture of excitement, wonder and pure joy to be playing music in the moment. Then, he started to play. All of those feelings I saw in his eyes were instantly transferred to the musicians on the bandstand. He provided the perfect cocoon of solidarity for the music to unfold. He would guide, interact, drop back and everything in between. Despite his ferocious technique, his guide was always the bigger picture of what was happening musically. Everything about his playing was superb; his sound, his note choices, his sense of time, his phrasing, his language and above all, his spirit.
One of the great things about playing with Simon is that he was hugely generous with his spirit, he passed it on both through the music and how he conducted himself on and off the bandstand. To say he was a true gent would be an understatement. I remember asking him a bunch of muso questions that I won’t bore you with now but the answer I got was so rich, fun and not delivered in a teacher/student way but on an equal par. He was a natural teacher with a genuine desire to help people. Playing with Simon was always a learning experience and again, I must stress how much love and appreciation he gave to the contribution of others on the bandstand.
I was very fortunate to work with Simon in a number of different capacities. We worked together as musicians, he gave me gigs, I gave him gigs, the usual sort of thing. I treasured every time I got to play with him because I went away with something new. I landed a job at Chichester University teaching on their general music degree and about a year or so later, Simon was appointed Head of Jazz at Chichester College. We had many a coffee talking about how we could make a connection between the two institutions that seemed not to have been made previously. This will finally be coming to fruition in the near future.
One of Simon’s many skills was connecting people, he was a people person. His work as a community musician with the 100 Saxophones and the AudioActive Youth Music Project should have earned him an award or three. Then there is Simon the Composer. He completed an MA in Composition from Sussex, and the pieces for his study are nothing but breathtaking. As well as this, Simon wrote music for the Journey Down computer game series. I’m not much of a gamer but knowing that Simon had written the music, I had to download them and give them a try. The music is wonderful and conveys every emotion you encounter during the game. This was not surprising given Simon’s ability to deliver emotionally charged music every time he played the saxophone or the trumpet, or the valve trombone, penny whistle, piano, voice, guitar, bass and drums to use his words "in descending order of competence". You could write a book on the achievements of Simon, you only need to take a peek on Facebook to see the amazing outpouring of tributes from his friends, students and of course, family. He touched so many people's lives in so many ways.
I remember vividly finding out about Simon’s illness while I was in Thailand back in 2012. The way he dealt with this horrible disease was nothing short of courageous. He was always upbeat and still had the same sense of focus in playing, writing and teaching. While ill and going through treatment, he wrote music, recorded and continued to perform, inspire and help people. He was utterly selfless. The music he wrote for the Straight No Chaser big band was recorded in a beautiful album called Navigation with a good chunk of profits going to the Brain Tumour Charity. Please go and buy it, not just because it will help this great cause but also because it’s bloody good!
I was privileged to be featured alongside Simon on an album by Lou Beckerman recorded in January this year. His playing was utterly perfect. In particular, we shared a magical moment (for me) on an introduction to the beautiful ballad Skylark. I remember playing that in the studio and being instantly transported by his playing. Simon, his beautiful wife Susan and parents came to a gig Lou and I had at the Unitarian Church just under two months ago. The gesture of their being there during this time and supporting us was mind blowing and another display of their combined generosity.
I am so grateful for all the magical moments I shared with this great man, and the things he taught me, not just in music, will remain with me forever. In the scheme of things, I only knew Simon for a few moments but the impact is everlasting. I, like so many, will always remember that smile and the unspoken reassurance that everything is going to be all right.