John Surman

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John Surman
John Surman 2.jpg
Surman performing in Birdland, 2 September 2009
Background information
Birth nameJohn Douglas Surman
Born (1944-08-30) 30 August 1944 (age 76)
Tavistock, Devon, England
Genres Jazz avant-garde, free jazz, modal jazz
Occupation(s)Musician, composer, arranger
InstrumentsBaritone saxophone, soprano saxophone, bass clarinet, synthesizer
Years active1960s–present
Labels Deram, Dawn, ECM
Associated acts John McLaughlin, Barre Phillips, Stu Martin, John Warren, John Potter

John Douglas Surman (born 30 August 1944) is an English jazz saxophone, bass clarinet, and synthesizer player, and composer of free jazz and modal jazz, often using themes from folk music. He has composed and performed music for dance performances and film soundtracks. [1]


Life and career

John Surman at the 2017 Oslo Jazz Festival John Surman Universitetets Aula Oslo Jazzfestival 2017 (185810).jpg
John Surman at the 2017 Oslo Jazz Festival

Surman was born in Tavistock, Devon. He initially gained recognition playing baritone saxophone in the Mike Westbrook Band in the mid-1960s, and was soon heard regularly playing soprano saxophone and bass clarinet as well. [1] His first playing issued on a record was with the Peter Lemer Quintet in 1966. After further recordings and performances with jazz bandleaders Mike Westbrook and Graham Collier and blues-rock musician Alexis Korner, [2] he made the first record under his own name in 1968.

In 1969, he founded The Trio along with two expatriate American musicians, bassist Barre Phillips and drummer Stu Martin. [3] In the mid-1970s, he founded one of the earliest all-saxophone jazz groups, S.O.S., along with alto saxophonist Mike Osborne and tenor saxophonist Alan Skidmore. During this early period, he also recorded with (among others) saxophonist Ronnie Scott, guitarist John McLaughlin, bandleader Michael Gibbs, trombonist Albert Mangelsdorff, and pianist Chris McGregor's Brotherhood of Breath. [4]

By 1972, he had begun experimenting with synthesizers. That year he recorded Westering Home, the first of several solo projects on which he played all parts himself via overdubbing. He recorded his final album with Mike Westbrook, Citadel/Room 315 in 1975. [1]

Many of the musical relationships he established during the 1970s continued for decades. These include a quartet with pianist John Taylor, bassist Chris Laurence, and drummer John Marshall; duets and other projects with Norwegian singer Karin Krog (Surman's long-term partner); [5] and duets and other projects with American drummer/pianist Jack DeJohnette. [1]

His relationship with ECM Records has also been continuous from the late 1970s to the present, as Surman has recorded prolifically for the label playing bass clarinet, recorders, soprano and baritone saxophones and using synthesisers, both solo and with a wide range of other musicians.

Since the 1990s, he has composed several suites of music that feature his playing in unusual contexts, including with church organ and chorus (Proverbs and Songs, 1996); with a classical string quintet (Coruscating); and with the London Brass and Jack DeJohnette (Free and Equal, 2001). He has also played in a unique trio with Tunisian oud-player Anouar Brahem and bassist Dave Holland (Thimar, 1997); has performed the songs of John Dowland with singer John Potter formerly of the Hilliard Ensemble; and made contributions to the drum and bass album Disappeared by Spring Heel Jack.

Other musicians he has worked with include bassist Miroslav Vitous, bandleader Gil Evans, pianist Paul Bley and Vigleik Storaas, saxophonist (and composer) John Warren, guitarists Terje Rypdal and John Abercrombie and trumpeter Tomasz Stańko.

Awards and honors


As leader

As sideman

With Paul Bley

With Graham Collier

With Christine Collister

With Michael Gibbs

With Per Husby

With Alexis Korner

With Karin Krog

With Chris McGregor

With John McLaughlin

With Mike Osborne and Alan Skidmore

With Barre Phillips

With John Potter

With Colin Towns

With Miroslav Vitous

With Mike Westbrook

With others

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Songs About This and That is a studio album by English saxophonist John Surman with Norwegian vocalist Karin Krog that was recorded on 23 and 24 April 2013 and released by Meantime on 29 November 2013.

The following is a list of notable events and releases of the year 1981 in Norwegian music.

The following is a list of notable events and releases of the year 1979 in Norwegian music.

The following is a list of notable events and releases of the year 1969 in Norwegian music.


  1. 1 2 3 4 "John Surman Biography".
  2. Conrad, Thomas (6 September 2005). "John Surman:Listen and Trustl". All About Jazz. Retrieved 20 July 2010.
  3. Kelman, John (30 May 2005). "CD/LP Review: Way Back Whenl". All About Jazz. Retrieved 20 July 2010.
  4. Cotterrell, Roger. ‘John Surman: Perpetual Motion’ Jazz Forum 76 (March 1982), 25-29.
  5. Chinen, Nate (2 October 2015). "Review: Karin Krog, a Norwegian Star, Plays at Joe's Pub". The New York Times. Retrieved 13 June 2021.
Preceded by
Espen Rud Sextett
Recipient of the Jazz Spellemannprisen
Succeeded by
Petter Wettre and
Per Oddvar Johansen
Preceded by
Sidsel Endresen and
Stian Westerhus
Recipient of the Jazz Spellemannprisen
Succeeded by
Marius Neset and
Trondheim Jazz Orchestra