Every now and again a trip down memory lane is not a bad thing, especially when it is accompanied by a 3CD set crammed with alternate takes and unreleased material from one of your favourite albums from yesteryear, and that is just what I was presented with when I heard that Jazz In Britain was planning to release The Complete Fingers Remember Mingus.

As an eighteen year old I vividly remember purchasing the album shortly after its release, and being captivated by the music. Forty years on and the music retains the magic, a truly wonderful line up that as unlikely as it seemed gelled in a way that is rare, and with minimal rehearsal (the album was actually recorded at the band’s first meeting) stands as a document to creativity of the musicians and was indicative of the healthy state of British jazz at the time.

The original album under the title Fingers Remember Mingus was released on Spotlite Records in 1983 with a band featuring bassist and nominal leader Dave Green, Michael Garrick on piano, Alan Jackson on drums and a frontline of Lol Coxhill and Bruce Turner on saxophones and clarinet. An unlikely quintet on paper, but one that yielded some remarkable music in its brief existence, and was built on musical associations that went back many years. “I met Michael Garrick in early 1964”, recalls Dave Green. “The first time we played together was at the Marquee club in Wardour Street with the wonderful tenor player Dick Morrissey and drummer Colin Barnes. That first gig led to a lifelong friendship and musical association that lasted until Michael’s death in 2011. I knew about Alan Jackson from his work with Mike Westbrook and John Surman. We met when Alan took over from Trevor Tomkins in Michael’s trio.”

With the three musicians already having proved their compatibility I suggested to Dave that the choice of Lol and Bruce seemed to be something of a wild card? “I had known Bruce and Lol since the sixties, they were both unique and highly individual players with a complete knowledge of the history of the music. Both of them also had a wonderful sense of humour too.” says the bassist. “I think the idea of Fingers took seed when Alan Jackson joined Humph’s band in 1978. Bruce and Alan wouldn’t normally have had the opportunity to play with each other but in Humph’s band they clicked. I also knew that Lol had a deep respect for Bruce. With Michael’s trio we had a ready- made rhythm section and I had an instinctive feeling that bringing Bruce and Lol together with the trio would work.”

As an in demand bassist, Green seemed to be constantly gigging and playing in other people’s bands. Stints with Stan Tracey, playing regularly with Michael Garrick and Humphrey Lyttleton and supporting visiting American musicians. As such leading his own band never seemed to be something that Green had expressed much interest in, and if he had pondered the idea, he kept to himself. When I mentioned this to Dave he modestly replies “I never considered myself the leader of Fingers. I was merely the catalyst that brought the band together. I had mentioned my idea of forming Fingers to Tony Williams who ran Spotlite Records. He expressed an interest in recording the band so I decided to record our first get together just as a ‘see what happens’ kind of thing. Michael was very keen to record the rehearsal and he used his UHER cassette recorder which, coupled with the good natural acoustics in the Forum Theatre in Hatfield, gave excellent results.”

One of the interesting things about the music is the choice of repertoire. With Michael Garrick in the group, Fingers had a ‘composer-in-residence’ but instead recorded some classic compositions by Ellington, Ornette Coleman, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie and Charles Mingus. “Michael Garrick was of course an extremely prolific composer, but in Fingers he relished the idea of just being ‘the piano player'” says Dave. “I suppose my choice of material reflected my own sources of inspiration. Starting with Duke Ellington that genius of Twentieth Century music, onto Bird and Diz and the colossal impact of their music. Then Mingus for his powerful contribution to jazz history. And the wonderful concept and freedom of Ornette who I loved when I first heard him at the age of 18.”

Of the recording/rehearsal Dave has very clear memories of how he wanted session to pan out. “It was a fun day and although we were recording, I didn’t want it to be the first consideration in our minds. If it didn’t work out that day, we could always try again on another. The recording was by the way and I wanted to create a sense of freedom in what we were doing rather than be constrained by thinking about playing times of the individual tracks. I was very happy with how things came together naturally on the day.”

In a carefully balanced programme, the quintet recorded two up tempo numbers in ‘Tears Inside’ and ‘Anthropology’ that contain some blistering interplay, and excellent solos from all. Listening to the The Complete Fingers Remember Mingus it is fascinating to listen to the rehearsal and alternate takes of ‘Tears’ with each sounding very different. Nodding in agreement Dave explains “When the LP was released in 1983, and because of the playing time restrictions, I had to do some editing of the material. The two alternate takes of ‘Tears Inside’ were too long to be included. The same was true of the long freely improvised ‘Remember Mingus’ that was cut to just over two minutes and used as an interlude at the end of side one.”

In taking care of the gentler side of the music, there is an exquisite reading of Ellington’s ‘Mood Indigo’ that is performed as a series of duets with the quintet coming together for the final theme. The opening theme is stated by clarinet and soprano, and the fist duet is then heard with Bruce and Dave followed by Lol and Michael whose dialogue takes the piece a little further out from Duke’s melody prior to the quintet playing together and taking the tune out with some inspired collective playing.

The other piece taken at a slow tempo is one that I must confess to being one of my favourite tracks on the album, and now heard twice on The Complete Fingers, is ‘Alice’s Wonderland’. Originally composed by Mingus as a secondary theme for a piece titled ‘Diane’. “I always loved this theme by Mingus” says Dave, “ever since I first heard it on the Mingus Dynasty album. I thought it would be an ideal vehicle for Bruce and Lol to play, and it was Lol who wanted to play tenor on it.”

Hearing Coxhill switching from soprano to tenor and still managing to sound like no one but himself and creating a wonderful ambience in unison with Bruce Truner’s alto brings the conversation back to the two saxophonists. In a session full of surprises, many will be staggered at just how complete and natural a musician Bruce Turner was. His playing with Fingers was unlike anything we had heard from Bruce before or after and dispels the notion that he was no more than a swing to bop player, a point with which Dave wholeheartedly agrees. “I knew what a wonderful player Bruce was and I felt very gratified in the way that Fingers allowed him the freedom to play exactly as he wanted. I think Bruce and Lol were both a constant inspiration to each other. Before Fingers Bruce had never played a free solo. At Hatfield the last thing we played that day was the freely improvised piece ‘Remember Mingus’, Bruce didn’t feel ready so he didn’t play. However, a few months later you can hear Bruce feeling his way in the free segments of the Merlin’s Cave tape recorded in August and by the time of the Jazz In Britain broadcast at the end of October he was completely at ease playing the free duet with Lol ‘Bopity Lidice’” (all heard on Disc 3 of The Complete Fingers Remember Mingus… Ed).

The other delightful surprise in listening to the music is to hear Michael Garrick in such a free setting. There are many wonderful moments when he picks up on or completes a phrase, and his solos always take the music somewhere unexpected. So, I ask Dave what he thought it was about Fingers that seemed to bring out another side of the pianist’s playing? “Michael was a tremendous musician. He led his own bands playing for the most part his own compositions. It was his compositions such as ‘Dusk Fire’ that contributed to the great popularity of the Rendell/Carr Quintet. I think he relished the freedom of Fingers plus the repertoire the band played, which included standards from the American Songbook. It placed him in a different context and brought out that free aspect of his playing which I had heard on the first gig that I played with him in back in 1964.”

Picking up the story, Dave continues “Following the Jazz In Britain broadcast in October 1979 the band didn’t perform together again until the Spring of 1983 when the Spotlite LP was issued. The album received good reviews and the band did fairly regular gigs around the UK. Over the next two years Fingers did gigs to promote the album, plus a tour of Yugoslavia for the British Council, another tour for Eastern Jazz and two BBC Sounds of Jazz broadcasts, but a follow up or studio recording was never discussed. If the band had stayed together, it might have happened. In May 1985 I joined French violinist Didier Lockwood’s quartet which included pianist Gordon Beck. Sadly, this led to Fingers demise. According to my diary the last Fingers gig was at the Tring Jazz Festival on 5th July 1985.” Pausing to gather his thoughts, Dave adds “Apart from the gigs with Fingers I did occasional duo gigs with Lol. Lol and Michael also did some duo gigs together. Bruce, Lol and myself also did occasional trio gigs together including one appearance at the Brecon Jazz Festival (Lol called the band GTC).”

In addition to all the music recorded on that first rehearsal in Hatfield, Jazz In Britiain have compiled a third CD of Fingers material from live performances recorded at Merlin’s Cave in London on 10th August, 1979 playing ‘Too Marvellous For Words’ and ‘A Child Is Born’, along with a duet featuring Michael Garrick and Lol Coxhill.

In June 1983, Fingers were at the BBC Maida Vale studios recording ‘Someone To Watch Over Me’ and ‘We’ll Be Together Again’. A regrettable sentiment as two years later the band had seemingly run it’ course due to the commitments of the individual members, and the with the passing of Bruce Turner in 1993 it was too late to reconvene Fingers. The last track on The Complete Fingers pays tribute to the altoist, as Dave recalls “Bruce sadly passed away on 28th November 1993. Michael had a trio broadcast scheduled for 1st December at the BBC’s Pebble Mill Studios in Birmingham. In preparing the tunes to play on the broadcast he decided to transcribe and adapt Lol’s freely improvised solo from the edited LP version of ‘Remember Mingus’ and call it ‘Goodbye, Dad’ in memory of Bruce. It was a very poignant and heartfelt performance. Bruce’s funeral was held the day after the broadcast.”

Without doubt the music heard on The Complete Fingers captures a unique moment in British jazz. The rehearsal tapes from Hatfield bring forth some wonderful music, and those of us that bought the original LP will be glad to have made available in this extended form. And as I indicated in the introduction to this interview with Dave Green, I do have very special memories surrounding my purchase of the LP.

An avid follower of British jazz at the time, I found myself listening to altoist Peter King at a little jazz club called Gibbs Club in Cardiff. I had previously bought a copy of the saxophonist’s East 34th Street album (featuring of course Dave Green on bass) and took the opportunity at the gig to buy King’s debut album New Beginning(which he duly signed for me). Both these albums were on Spotlite Records and through that connection learned of the Fingers album which I subsequently bought directly from label owner Tony Williams.

It wasn’t long after that not only was I regular at the club but was also working there. Live jazz six nights a week with a whole host of great names making appearances at the club from Stan Tracey, Don Weller, Eddie Thompson, Clark Tracey’s Quintet with Guy Barker, Iain Ballay, Human Chain with Django Bates and Steve Arguelles, Tommy Chase Quartet with Alan Barnes, and… Lol Coxhill.

Lol played two memorable gigs on 28th and 29th June, 1985 (just a week prior to what Dave confirmed as the last Fingers gig), and I was fortunate enough to be in the club both nights. Lol kindly agreed to allow to make an amateur recording of the second of the two concert, and what was captured was Lol the musical storyteller and raconteur. I held on to the treasured cassettes for thirty six years when a chance conversation with George Haslam whose label SLAM had previously released albums by the saxophonist expressed an interest in releasing the music. The resulting album was released under the title of Coxhill 85 and discussed by Chris Searle and George Haslam in the booklet that accompanies The Fingers Remember Mingus.

A year or two later I was staying with Lol for a few nights at his flat in London. A most enjoyable few days where records were listened to and Lol took me to the Tenor Clef club (I can’t remember for the life of me who we heard that night). The following evening Lol had a gig with Bruce Turner and Dave as a trio (or GTC as Lol referred to them) at the Bass Clef and invited me along. Prior to the gig, Lol played me side one of Bruce’s new album The Dirty Bopper and asked me what I thought of the music. Upon my reply that I really enjoyed it, he promptly put the LP back in its sleeve and refused to play the other side, with the quip that if I wanted to hear side two, I’d have to buy a copy from Bruce that evening. Which I duly did to the consternation of Bruce himself as he enquired of me “why does a young guy like you want to buy an album by and old fart like me?”.

After the gig we made our way home in two cars. Somehow, I ended sharing a lift with Dave and it rapidly transpired that neither of us new the way and had to follow the lead car (I’m assuming driven by Bruce) back to Lol’s home. During the journey, and on learning that I owned a copy of the Fingers album, Dave told me that he had a couple of tapes worth of material of the session and kindly offered to send me copies. True to his word, a couple of weeks after I had returned home to Cardiff two C90 cassettes landed on my doorstep.

I feel so privileged to had the opportunity to hear the rehearsal takes as a youngster all those years ago, and been able to hear Bruce, Dave and Lol play together at the Bass Clef. These are memories that one treasures along with the music, and it is fitting that this music has been made available via Jazz In Britain for both old and new audiences to the music alike.

Click here to read our review of The Complete Fingers Remember Mingus