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Chris McGregor

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Chris McGregor was born the son of a Scottish missionary, brought up on church hymns and Xhosa dances. He studied at the Cape Town College of Music and discovered the black jazz scene. His septet played in the 1962 National Jazz Festival, and after founding the Blue Notes in 1963, he led a big band. Harassed by the authorities, they escaped the country through an invitation to the 1964 Antibes Jazz Festival. Fellow expatriate Abdullah Ibrahim helped them find work in Zurich, then at Ronnie Scott's in London and the Café Montmartre in Copenhagen. The Blue Notes mixed South African rhythms with free improvisation, an unprecedented fusion that created a completely original, unmistakable style (In Concert, Vols. 1 & 2, Ogun 1978). McGregor's big band, Brotherhood of Breath, enlarged the Blue Notes with free improvisers (Evan Parker, Trevor Watts, Paul Rutherford). They toured Europe to cheering audiences, but their studio records for RCA in the early '70s weren't adequately promoted. Their exciting and joyous live performances are captured on releases by independent labels Ogun and Cuneiform. Keeping a large unit together became impossible, and when McGregor moved into the more comfortable climate of the south of France, the Brotherhood reunited only intermittently and he played with smaller groups or solo (heard on Piano Song, Vols. 1 & 2, Musica, 1977, and In His Good Time, Ogun, 1978). An Ellingtonian musician, his real instrument being the orchestra, McGregor had a thick, percussive, and yet melodic piano style. A continental big band was reunited in the '80s (Yes Please, In&Out, 1981, and Country Cooking, Virgin, 1988) and was well received but failed to fully re-create the excitement of the original band. ~ Francesco Martinelli

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24 December 1936 in Umtata, South Africa

Years Active:

'60s, '70s, '80s, '90s