Peter King (saxophonist)

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Peter King
Background information
Birth namePeter John King
Born11 August 1940
Kingston upon Thames, England
Died23 August 2020(2020-08-23) (aged 80)
London, England
Genres Jazz, modern jazz
Occupation(s)Musician, composer
Years active1959–2020
Associated acts Charlie Watts

Peter John King (11 August 1940 – 23 August 2020) was an English jazz saxophonist, composer, and clarinettist.


Early life

Peter King was born in Kingston upon Thames, Surrey, on 11 August 1940. [1] He took up the clarinet and saxophone as a teenager, entirely self-taught. His first public appearances were in 1957, playing alto in a trad jazz group at the Swan Public House, Kingston, in a group organised by trumpeter Alan Rosewell, with whom he worked at the Directorate of Overseas Surveys as an apprentice cartographer. After the performance, however, King made the choice of becoming a professional musician. He came under the strong musical influence of Charlie Parker developing a bebop style inspired by Parker.


A Yanagisawa A9932J alto saxophone which is very similar to the A9932Z played by Peter King. It has a solid silver bell and neck with solid phosphor bronze body. The bell, neck and key-cups are extensively engraved. Manufactured in 2008 YanagisawaA9932J.JPG
A Yanagisawa A9932J alto saxophone which is very similar to the A9932Z played by Peter King. It has a solid silver bell and neck with solid phosphor bronze body. The bell, neck and key-cups are extensively engraved. Manufactured in 2008

In 1959, at the age of 19, he was booked by Ronnie Scott to perform at the opening of Scott's club in Gerrard Street, London. In the same year, he received the Melody Maker New Star award. He worked with Johnny Dankworth's orchestra from 1960–1961, and went on to work with the big bands of Maynard Ferguson, Tubby Hayes, Harry South, and Stan Tracey, the Brussels Big Band, and the Ray Charles band on a European tour.

He also played in small groups with musicians such as Philly Joe Jones, Zoot Sims, Al Cohn, Red Rodney, Hampton Hawes, Nat Adderley, Al Haig, John Burch, Bill Watrous, and Dick Morrissey, Tony Kinsey, Bill Le Sage and singers such as Jimmy Witherspoon, Joe Williams, Jon Hendricks, and Anita O'Day. His powerful and exuberant bebop style with great technical facility often led to comparisons with the style of his close friend the American altoist Phil Woods although King's playing was increasingly personal and distinctive even within the bebop idiom and his musical curiosity led him to associate with freer idioms in John Stevens' 'Freebop' group in the 1980s. He appeared on the soundtrack of the 1969 film The Italian Job. [2] He was a member of Charlie Watts' Tentet.

Especially from the early 1990s, his style matured into a highly confident originality, going far beyond its initial Parker influences and absorbing harmonic and structural ideas from his favourite classical composer Bela Bartok. He flourished both as an improviser and a composer and found ways of combining jazz and classical techniques without diluting either. The results of this development were heard especially on his albums Tamburello (recorded in 1994), Lush Life (recorded 1998) and Janus [3] with the Lyric String Quartet, which included a 1997 suite strongly influenced by Bartok and commissioned by Appleby Jazz Festival organiser Neil Ferber with funding from BBC Radio 3. In 2005, Peter King won the BBC 'Musician of the Year' award.

King made appearances on albums by the pop group Everything But The Girl and on North Marine Drive by Ben Watt, who was a member of the group.

In 2012, King appeared in the documentary film, No One But Me , discussing jazz vocalist Annie Ross. He appeared in the movies Blue Ice and The Talented Mr. Ripley . In April 2011, Northway published his autobiography Flying High, widely praised for its candour and honesty about his musical career and personal life, his international associations in the jazz world, and the many years in which he battled addiction.

King was also a leading figure in the international aero-modelling world. [4] He competed successfully in major competitions and wrote extensively about the subject. [4] Among his other strong interests was Formula One motor racing and his 1994 album Tamburello contains a four-part composition that presents a tribute to Ayrton Senna. [4] King played monthly residencies for many years at the Bulls Head in Barnes and the 606 Jazz Club in Chelsea.


King died in Putney, on 23 August 2020, aged 80. [1] [5] His sister Brenda survives him. King had been married twice. His first marriage to Joy Marshall ended upon her death in 1968. His second marriage to Linda Froud lasted from 1969 until her death in March 2007. [6]


As leader

As sideman

With Everything but the Girl

With Georgie Fame

With Maynard Ferguson

With Tubby Hayes

With Tony Kinsey

With Colin Towns

With Stan Tracey

With Charlie Watts

With others

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  1. 1 2 "RIP Peter King 1940–2020". London Jazz News. 24 August 2020.
  2. "Quincy Jones – The Italian Job". Retrieved 8 July 2016.
  3. John Fordham, "Peter King Quartet, Janus" (review), The Guardian, 8 December 2006.
  4. 1 2 3 "Peter King, Britain's greatest jazz saxophonist and world-class model aircraft builder: Obituary". The Daily Telegraph . 1 September 2020. Retrieved 6 September 2020.
  5. Simon Spillett (26 August 2020). "Peter King 1940-2020 – An Obituary by Simon Spillett". Jazzwise. Retrieved 16 September 2019.
  6. John Fordham (6 September 2020). "Peter King obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved 16 September 2019.

Further reading