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Ray Warleigh (1938-2015).


by Ian Mann

October 08, 2015

Ian Mann remembers the alto saxophonist and flautist Ray Warleigh who died on 21st September 2015.

Ray Warleigh (1938-2015)

I was saddened to learn of the recent death of the alto saxophonist and flautist Ray Warleigh. Born in Sydney, Australia Warleigh moved to the UK in 1960 and enjoyed a lengthy career as a professional jazz and session musician based in London.

Warleigh’s session credits were wide ranging, from John Mayall to Nick Drake, from Scott Walker to Stevie Wonder and from Dusty Springfield to Kiri Te Kanawa.

But jazz was Warleigh’s first love and he played with many of the key figures of British jazz that emerged in the 1960s including trumpeter Kenny Wheeler, drummer John Stevens, pianist Gordon Beck and saxophonists John Surman, Alan Skidmore and Ronnie Scott.

The sight reading skills that made Warleigh such an in demand session musician were also to make him an invaluable section player in large ensembles such as the Kenny Wheeler Big Band and the Dedication Orchestra. I remember enjoying seeing Warleigh performing live with both these ensembles, the most recent of these being the Dedication Orchestra’s appearance at the 2014 EFG London Jazz Festival.

However my favourite memory of Warleigh dates back to May 2002 when he appeared at the Booth Hall Hotel in Hereford as a guest soloist alongside a local trio led by Abergavenny based drummer John Gibbon that also featured pianist Phil Mead and bassist Erica Lyons. Gibbon regularly tempted leading soloists from London to come and play a short tour of South Wales and the Borders with Hereford one of the regular venues. Most of the guests seemed to relish the opportunity of escaping the capital for a few days and getting a breath of fresh air in the country. The fact that nearly all the gigs were held on licensed premises may have helped too!

I remember seeing many great musicians on these ‘regional tours’, among them saxophonists Peter King, Duncan Lamont, Mornington Lockett, Danny Moss, Virginia Mayhew, Don Rendell and Dick Heckstall Smith, trumpeters Dick Pearce and Henry Lowther and guitarists Phil Lee and Mike Britton. But the best of all these was the gig with Ray Warleigh who played brilliantly throughout and brought a welcome touch of additional colour with his marvellous flute playing.

It’s unfortunate that Warleigh recorded so infrequently under his own name although he did feature on a number of albums by the fondly remembered Latin Jazz band Paz, led by vibraphonist Dick Crouch. Warleigh cut his first disc as a leader in 1968, the long deleted (but since re-issued on CD) “Ray Warleigh’s First Album” and later co-led a quartet with the hard hitting drummer Tommy Chase, this line up releasing the album “One Way” in 1978.

Warleigh also made incursions into the world of free jazz where his associates included saxophonist Evan Parker, bassist John Edwards and the late drummer Tony Marsh. In 2009 Warleigh and Marsh released the duo album “Rue Victor Masse” which was recorded in Paris and released on Parker’s psi record label. The album was reviewed for this site by Tim Owen who also wrote about a performance at London’s Vortex Jazz Club by the quartet of Warleigh, Parker, Edwards and Marsh at around the same time.

For myself I shall always remember that wonderful gig in Hereford all those years ago. Rest in peace Ray, and thank you for the music and the memories.

For a full overview of Ray Warleigh’s life and career Richard Williams’ obituary for The Guardian represents recommended reading.

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