The jazz trumpet is a notoriously difficult beast to tame, and numbered among its exponents have been more than a fair share of temperamental and 'media-hostile' personalities.
Dapperly dressed, and exuding a refreshingly urbane air, trumpeter and flugelhorn player Harold Beckett, by contrast, cuts the image of an artistic ambassador. The interview has taken place in the teeth of yet another brutish British winter, but this jazz gent's warm manner is engaging and infectious.
Born 65 years ago in Bridgetown, Barbados, Harold Beckett was raised in a deeply religious family. His musical portrait is framed by childhood experiences playing in the Salvation Army and in brass bands: "I started out as a singer and then joined the children's band in the Salvation Army, before becoming involved with two brass bands, and then moved on to the Percy Green Orchestra."
Beckett ruminates with great fondness on his years as a musician in Barbados. "This was a very educational period for me. I played the trumpet exclusively back then and always kept in touch with developments in the world of music through the radio and magazines."
A talented and musically curious Beckett came to England in 1954 with the encouragement of distinguished cricketer, childhood friend, and jazz aficionado, Sir Everton Weekes.
"It was very difficult in those early days in London to make a living as a musician," the father of former VOB 92.9 FM radio personality, Annette Beckett, recalls. "Fortunately, I was lucky to have met (saxophonist) William Roachford who introduced me to a whole universe of music."
London, however, proved to be a richly enabling musical incubator to this impressionable jazzman on the rise.
Like Miles Davis' 'Bitches Brew' the city's jazz confraternity was itself a bubbling cauldron of experimentation, brimful with orthodoxy-interrogating, avant garde compositions from musicians of Caribbean origin such as Jamaicans Joe Harriott and Dizzy Reece, and Vincentian trumpeter-poet 'Shake' Keane.
Beckett's compositional and technical virtues quickly became apparent in Britain and other parts of Europe. Harold also took up and mastered the flugelhorn.
A lyrical player known for dazzling, well-thought-out solos, Harold Beckett on occasion also lends a fiery edge to his performances. With close to dozen albums under his belt as a leader and countless others as a collaborator, he has performed in an astonishing number of musical contexts "in almost every city in Europe and on both sides of the Atlantic."
An open-minded artist, Beckett has recorded and toured with Manfred Mann and Georgie Fame, as well as with South African jazz musicians Dudu Pukwana and Chris MacGregor. In 1961, Beckett performed with Charles Mingus, appearing in the movie "All Through the Night". He also wrote music for television with London's Pinewood Studios. During the mid-eighties and early nineties of the 20th century, Beckett was considered the eminence grise of the Courtney Pine-led (now defunct) Jazz Warriors.
After three years with the French Orchestre National du Jazz, Harold Beckett is presently taking a brief rest and shows no signs of slowing down.