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Alan Wakeman

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Biography of Alan Wakeman

Alan Wakeman was born in West London in 1947. He became interested in jazz during the British Trad Jazz boom of the early 1960s leading to him picking up the clarinet at age 14 (his cousin Rick Wakeman giving him his first lesson in his back garden). After playing for three months, Wakeman, together with Rick on piano - the ‘only one who knew what he was doing,’ put together Drayton Manor Grammar School's first jazz band.

After taking up the alto sax at 16, he got to know Mike Westbrook when the up and coming bandleader came to his school to teach art for a year. By then he had decided to become a professional musician and was having lessons with Charles Chapman (Joe Harriott, Ronnie Ross, Vic Ash, John Barnes, Barbara Thompson, John Williams and Pete Whyman being among the many pupils coming out of the ‘Chapman Stable'). He left school at 18 to study clarinet at the London College of Music.

In 1966, Wakeman took up tenor sax, which became his main instrument along with the soprano.

At the age of 20, while playing in a working men’s club every weekend with cousin Rick, he became involved with the London jazz scene through his acquaintance with free jazz drummer Paul Lytton. They met when both were in the London Youth Jazz Orchestra (which Wakeman joined after he was heard by Pat Evans). He joined Lytton's quartet for six months, playing every Wednesday night at a club in Tottenham Court Road. Later he and the drummer formed various bands together, from duo to large line-ups. In 1970 they won the G.L.A.A Young Musicians Jazz Award.

His first broadcast for the BBC was in 1968 with The Dave Holdsworth Quartet – Paul Lytton on drums and Barry Guy on bass, and his own octet playing his own compositions in 1969 – Mike Osborne (alto sax) , Alan Skidmore and Wakeman (tenor saxes), Paul Nieman and Paul Rutherford (trombones), John Taylor (piano), Lindsay Cooper (bass) and Paul Lytton (drums).

After leading his own trio in 1970 (with Harry Miller on bass and Lytton on drums), he joined Graham Collier Music, replacing Stan Sulzmann. This lasted for two years and two albums, "Songs For My Father" and "Mosaics", featuring such contemporaries as Harry Beckett, Phil Lee and Geoff Castle. Prior to rejoining Mike Westbrook's band in late 1974, he toured with John Dankworth. Wakeman's debut with Westbrook was on 1975's "Citadel/Room 615", and their collaboration continued with "Love Dream & Variations" (1975), "Bright As Fire" (1980), "The Paris Album" (1981) etc.

In 1975, Wakeman played briefly with pianist Brian Miller's group Impulse. It was then that he came to the attention of John Marshall, Soft Machine's drummer, who attended a gig by this band at the Chestnut's Club. Wakeman was considered as a possible replacement for the departing Allan Holdsworth, but it would be another year before he actually joined Soft Machine, stepping in for Mike Ratledge. He was also an original member of another ‘Canterbury Music' group about this time, Alan Gowen's Gilgamesh, but left long before any recordings were made.

Meanwhile, he formed another trio with Nigel Tickler on bass and John Snow on drums.

Wakeman was in Soft Machine from February to July 1976. This line-up was documented on the "Softs" album, recorded during the spring of that year. He left when he was offered a retainer as a member of David Essex's band.

In 1978 together with drummer Nigel Morris and bassist Paul Bridge he founded the trio, Triton. He also wrote a suite for octet which was premiered at the 1979 Camden Jazz Festival.

Other collaborations in the 70’s and 80’s included Barry Guy’s London Jazz Composers Orchestra, The Don Rendell Five, Michael Garrick Sextet, Harry Beckett Band, Stan Tracy Sextet, Henry Lowther's Quarternity and John Williams Baritone Band.

Since then, Wakeman has kept working occasionally with Westbrook, while keeping busy with commercial work.

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