Mike Westbrook

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Biography of Mike Westbrook

Born in High Wycombe in 1936, Mike Westbrook grew up in Torquay and was educated at Kelly College, Tavistock. He formed his first band while studying painting in Plymouth in 1958, moving to London in the early 1960s. He has led, and composed for, a succession of big bands and small groups. He has toured extensively throughout Europe, and as far afield as Australia and the Far East, Canada and New York. He has directed performances of his work with big bands in Sweden, Finland, Germany, France, Italy, Slovenia and Switzerland. He has broadcast on radio and TV in many countries, and made 50 albums.

Mike Westbrook’s principal compositions for Jazz Orchestra include Citadel/Room 315 featuring John Surman, On Duke's Birthday dedicated to the memory of Duke Ellington, Big Band Rossini which was featured in the 1992 BBC Proms and Chanson Irresponsable, (Enja Records) commissioned by BBC Radio 3, which brings together jazz and classical musicians in the New Westbrook Orchestra. Mike Westbrook was awarded an OBE in 1988, and, in 2004 an Honorary Doctorate of Music by the University of Plymouth.

Works for classical ensembles include a saxophone concerto Bean Rows and Blues Shots, commissioned by the Bournemouth Sinfonietta for John Harle, a score for the silent movie Moulin Rouge commissioned by the Matrix Ensemble, and Classical Blues 2002 for the BBC Concert Orchestra. Mike's television music credits include the award-winning BBC drama Caught On a Train by Stephen Poilakoff , directed by Peter Duffell, starring Peggy Ashcroft and Michael Kitchen..

His work for the theatre includes Adrian Mitchell's Tyger a celebration of William Blake, staged by the National Theatre in 1971. His opera Coming Through Slaughter based on the novel by Michael Ondaatje about the New Orleans cornettist Buddy Bolden, was premiered in London in a concert version in 1994.

In collaboration with his wife, singer/librettist Kate Westbrook, he has generated a whole series of jazz/cabarets and music-theatre pieces, notably The Ass, based on the poem by D.H Lawrence, Pierides, commissioned by Extemporary Dance Theatre and Good Friday 1663, A TV opera commissioned by Channel Four. All three are now available on CD, on the jazzprint label. Mike wrote the music for Kate Westbrook's latest album The Nijinska Chamber (voiceprint) pairing Kate's voice with accordionist Karen Street. Their recent compositions include two works for voice and acoustic brass, performed by The Village Band: Waxeywork Show and the latest, English Soup or the Battle of the Classic Trifle, premiered in 2008.

The Westbrooks have also created large-scale concert works incorporating settings of European poetry, as in The Cortege a work for voices and jazz orchestra, and London Bridge Is Broken Down, for voice, jazz group and chamber orchestra. Jago, their first full-scale opera, was commissioned by Wedmore Opera in 2000. Their jazz oratorio Turner in Uri, based on the painter JMW Turner's travels in the Swiss Alps, was premiered in Altdorf and Zurich in 2003. Their opera Cape Gloss - Mathida's Story, for classical soprano and piano, had its first performance at the University of Plymouth in 2007.

Mike Westbrook's albums for ENJA Records include The Cortege, Bar Utopia, a big-band cabaret with lyrics by Helen Simpson, The Orchestra of Smith's Academy, compositions recorded "live" by the Mike Westbrook Orchestra and the Steve Martland Band, a tribute to the Beatles, Off Abbey Road, and Glad Day settings of William Blake sung by Phil Minton and Kate Westbrook with the Mike Westbrook Brass Band. His releases on the Jazzprint label include Platterback with Westbrook & Company, L'ascenseur/The Lift with The Westbrook Trio, Waxeywork Show with The Village Band and a reissue of the Westbrooks’ 1980s jazz cabaret Mama Chicago. Reissues on BGO include Citadel/Room 315 and London Bridge is Broken Down, and, on the Swiss label, Hatology, On Duke’s Birthday and Westbrook Rossini.

The Westbrooks' current touring project Art Wolf (CD on altrisuoni) features them in a quartet with saxophonists Chris Biscoe and Pete Whyman. They also perform regularly as The Kate Westbrook /Mike Westbrook Duo, and with Mike’s new six piece ensemble based in the West Country, The Village Band.

Mike Westbrook lives in Dawlish, on the South Devon coast, and in London.

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