Courtney Pine is one of the true British Jazz legends of our time. In a career spanning almost 25 years he’s played with many of the Jazz greats, won the prestigious Mercury award, a MOBO, an OBE and a CBE in recognition of his services to the black community and Jazz music.
No one better embodies the dramatic transformation in the British Jazz scene over the past twenty years than Courtney Pine. The saxophonist heads a new generation of exciting and innovative musicians who have chosen to turn their talents to the demanding requirements of jazz music, in all its shapes and forms.
His debut album, ‘Journey to the Urge Within’ in 1987, was the first serious jazz album ever to make the British Top 40, notching up sales to qualify for a silver disc. It was a remarkable achievement in British jazz history and established Courtney Pine as the leading figure in the British jazz scene and an inspiration to many young black musicians.
Between playing at Nelson Mandela’s 80th birthday concert at Wembley and being awarded an CBE in 2009 his career saw him reach international status, first reaching no. 14 in the US Billboard chart in 1992 with a remix of his 1990 album ‘Closer to Home’ and then with the release of Within the Realms of our Dreams’, recorded in New York and featuring such US talents as Charnett Moffett, Jeff Watts and Kenny Kirkland. The release of the album combined with Courtney performing concerts with an All Star American band in the UK and USA, confirmed his international status.
Signing to PolyGram in 1995, and most recently with Destin-e Records he has seen success after success, and worked with many of the biggest names in the music industry including Cassandra Wilson, Carleen Anderson, Roni Size and many, many more…’Modern Day Jazz Stories’ also won the prestigious Mercury Music Prize – ‘1996 Albums Of The Year’ and Courtney was honoured with a MOBO (Music Of Black Origin) Award for ‘Best Jazz Act’ for two years in a row (1996 and 1997).
In addition to his recording career, Courtney is now a renowned presenter and broadcaster, with his own, long running, radio show for BBC Radio 2, ‘Jazz Crusade’. He made his debut as musical director on the Windrush Gala Concert for the BBC and led his own band performing his own arrangements with an all-star line-up at the televised ceremony in London. He also composed and performed the soundtrack to the BBC’s definitive 2 part documentary on Nelson Mandela: ‘Mandela – A Living Legend’, as well as his flagship concert ‘Jazz Britannia’ from The Barbican which was televised as part of the BBC series of the same name.
Courtney was the subject of the prestigious South Bank Show, with an hour long programme, documenting his career so far, shot in London, New York and Jamaica. Broadcast in November 2000 on LWT, the show was watched by a staggering 1.1 million people.
On the live circuit, he is the ultimate road warrior with more than 25 years touring behind him. He has played across the world – from the main stage at Glastonbury to the intimate Blue Note Tokyo, Japan and continues to tour internationally with his award winning band.
In recognition of his career to date and his contribution to the black community and jazz music, Courtney was awarded an O.B.E in the 2000 New Year’s Honours. He was voted Best British Saxophonist at the Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Awards in 2007 and winner of Best Jazz Act at the Urban Music Awards
Courtney was appointed a CBE in the New Years Honours 2009
Phew! So what does a living jazz legend put his success down to?
“Its other musicians, the talent they bring to their instruments and their personal experience!” says Courtney, typically low key about his own achievements.
To capture this musical talent Courtney uses a ProTools set up, Sibelius and a Focusrite Control 24 desk, Tannoy Eclipse, KRK4 and Auratone speakers, a Lexicon 480L, Eventide H3000 and a “bunch of other stuff” including a raft of his favorite sE mics.
“My favorite, because it is so unique, is the sE Rupert Neve RNR1 Ribbon mic. I have just started to use it and found it to be truly remarkable… a real modern day classic… for recording woodwind there is simply no equal.”
“I use the sE4400a on every session I do nowadays. It’s incredibly flexible and durable, with honest and open characteristics. I’ve used it on pretty much everything, from Mandolin and Congas, to Triangle and acoustic Piano, and it recorded all those tones and frequencies perfectly without any fuss or bother.”
So why do you use sE mics as your preferred choice?
“In this day and age the modern day musician has the ability to engineer precisely their compositions, so having a mic you can trust is imperative in this process. My collection of sE mics are very specified to the recorded instrument, which not only means that I have developed a personal composition sound throughout my career, but I’ve also achieved an extremely personal sound which I’ve only been able to do because of the inexpensive cost, quality and flexibility of my mics… instead of just using one or two ultra-expensive ‘big brand’ mics, I’ve been able to easily match the performance and quality, with hand-crafted mics that cost a fraction of the price. That’s meant I can extend my mic cupboard far more than previously, and that in turn has allowed me to experiment with, and refine, my sound on a wide array of instruments and styles.”
Can you give some examples of the kind of things you’ve used your mics on?
“I’ve used my mics all over the albums I’ve recorded in recent years, and even film soundtracks, including “It Was an Accident”, on Omar Puente’s CD. ‘From There to Here’, Cameron Pierre’s CD’s ‘Pad Up’ and currently on ‘Radio Jumbo’ and for my CD’s ‘Resistance’, ‘Transition in Tradition’, ‘Europa’, and for various other sessions that I’ve been called to work on overdubbing at my own studio… I also take my mics with me to use on location recordings, for example the BBC ‘In Sessions’”
“There are too many times to mention when having certain mics before would have made a big difference to a session, but the recent inclusion of the RNR1 in my set up, which arrived in the middle of recording my latest CD ‘Europa’ forced me to re-record three tracks because the tracks I recorded with the RNR1 made my Bass Clarinet sound so amazingly real!”
So what of current projects?
“I am working on Dominican Guitarist Cameron Pierre’s new CD ‘Radio Jumbo’ which is a Caribbean Zouk-style guitar lead CD; lots of percussion, Piano, real drums and a string quartet… not one machine in sight! It would be great for me to see sE getting involved and doing features about how Jazz artists use their mics in the recording process; selection, application and results… for instance, I use an sE Ribbon mic on my drum overheads as I’ve found it creates a really ‘warm’ sound when mixed with more directional mics, and gives a nice sheen to the cymbals at the same time”
Actually, sE Electronics are about to launch a new artist education program in co-operation with some of the top names in the music industry to do exactly that… the idea is to give end-users real insight into, and tips on, the recording process. We believe its not helpful to tell people ‘do this, this and this and you’ll have a great guitar sound every time’ because music should be all about creativity, in playing, recording and producing… so hearing how professional producers, engineers and artists have used mics to achieve certain sounds will, we hope, inspire others to try out new and different things on their own recordings.
So, if you had to sum up sE in a few words, what would you say?
“I’ve compared my sE mics to ‘classics’ which are three or four times the price and found them to easily stand up to and better those ‘old-school’ mic brands… sE mics are true modern day classics… they’re for people who care about music”.