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Conrad Cork

My darling Conrad died on 25th April 2021. In agreement with Conrad’s three sons, Adrian, Miles and Merrick, I’ve decided, due to covid-19 restrictions on international travel, social distancing etc.  not to arrange a traditional funeral for Conrad, but have other ways of saying goodbye and celebrating his exceptional life. So, this blog serves as a personal eulogy from me, and a place for others to share thoughts and memories. It will take you about five minutes to read my bit. If you want to add something just let me know.

Best friend

He was my lovely, adoring husband and best friend. In a letter from him dated ‘The 1st day of the rest of my life 1985’ he wrote to me

“….I therefore propose

i) that I love you forever, in sickness and in health etc. etc.,

and      ii) you see if you can put up with it.”

And the next minute this happened:

11th September 1986

Conrad – the Big Picture

I was wife ‘number three’ and Conrad was 46 when we married, so he already had lots of history. Here’s the ‘big picture’:

Born in Birmingham in 1940 – Conrad lived to be 80 – that’s something to celebrate

King Edwards School –   King Edward’s had a deal with the Birmingham Education Authority that they would offer free places to the top 10 sitters of the Eleven Plus.  In 1950 8,000 children sat the examination, and Conrad was in the top 10. KES meant a huge amount to Conrad – he bought into its values and was proud to be a member of the ‘Class of ’51’ . I’ll let Conrad take over his history from here, in his own words:

“At Nottingham University I read English and played jazz more or less equally.  Initially frustrated by selling exotic metals across Europe for ICI (‘arts chaps go into sales’) I found my niche when their first computer arrived in 1965.  After that writing software paid the bills.  Eventually, in 1980, I ended up at De Montfort University, where my jazz playing revived after a hiatus in the 1970’s.  In 1988 I gave up the day job to get the freedom to run my own software company, and to teach database design as well as direct the jazz studies course at De Montfort.  My book – Harmony with LEGO Bricks – came out of that latter experience….”

On his twitter page Conrad described himself as:

“Buddhist, saxophonist, bassist, software engineer, author, crossword lover, socialist.” Conrad was also a Dad who was very proud of his 3 sons and 5 grandchildren.

Cork gathering at Aspects, Enderby


Conrad was radicalised by Buddhism towards the end of the 60’s.  He wrote that Buddhism “……clarified the thought processes I had always had, and empowered me to make permanent changes to life and lifestyle, not least diet.”

This is part of Conrad’s credo, in his own words:

“….. You have to be true to yourself.  Peer Gynt spent the whole of his life thinking he was doing that, only to find at the end that all he had been was enough to himself, so back into the mould he went.  ….  The process is given different names in different cultures, but broadly, what the Buddha meant by ‘enlightenment’, Jung meant by ‘individuation’.  ….. as the Buddha said ‘there is nowhere to go; there is only the going’.  (Plus, as one of my first Buddhist teachers told me ‘the going should be good’ -which is to say it is anything but a chore).  Eliot put the same thought into Little Gidding.

We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time.

It is our duty not to cease striving/exploring, and to be, as the Buddha said ‘diligent’.  The crime is to go comfy.”

Saxophonist and bassist

He began playing jazz in Liverpool, appearing at clubs like The Cavern in pre-Beatles days.  From his beginnings as a trombonist in New Orleans style bands, his interests widened, and he took up bass and piano.  His student days at Nottingham University saw him using these two exclusively, on campus and in the town, where he was serving a serious apprenticeship as the bassist in John Crocker’s quintet, resident at the Town Arms. 

In 1981, Conrad moved to Leicester and bought a saxophone. He met Gavin Bryars, and on the basis of an instant rapport, they both ended their self-imposed exile from the playing scene and formed Nardis.  Under this name they played in contexts which include quasi hard-bop with Ian Carr and Tony Levin and a Company project with Derek Bailey.  Principally however, along with drummer John Runcie whose background is similar to theirs, they found their idiom in an area somewhere between the Blue Note avant garde and the Liberation Music Orchestra.

The pinnacle of Conrad’s paying career was the Nardis gig (Conrad, John and Gavin) with saxophonist Lee Konitz (who died last year) at The Cooler (long gone).

Software engineer

When we met at Leicester Poly, Conrad was part of the computing team. And Conrad thought the team that developed was exceptional, including Dean, Wendy and others. He’d been working with computing since 1965 and it was his main source of income. He was good – of course – but I don’t have much to add. Except that as with all areas of Conrad’s life he was hampered by anxiety. If it wasn’t for his fears he would have been a captain of industry. Here he is in ‘captain of industry’ mode.


This section is about Conrad’s legacy – The New Guide to Harmony with Lego Bricks. But Conrad was more that an author – he was an inspiring educator.

Here are just a few of the plaudits from people who have used Conrad’s approach to Jazz Harmony over the years;

“…I feel I really must congratulate you on what is quite simply the best book on jazz I have ever read.”

“…it really is excellent”

“The conversational tone makes it sound as if you are there in the room with the student”

“I am finding your work a great help in understanding chord structure, as well as a source of interest in general music theory. It is like nothing I have ever encountered before”

“If I had to choose one book to take to a desert island, it would be this.”

Special mention here for John Elliott who has taken Conrad’s approach forward and ensured that his original ideas will be remembered.

Conrad teaching at Scraptoft Campus, De Montfort University

Crossword lover

Yep, Conrad loved doing crosswords. The cryptic ones, of course. He was thrilled to have met many of the setters in person, but also there is an active crossword blog community on the internet – perfect for Conrad. Over the years we became pals with some of the bloggers:

Here we are at Kayal Restaurant with Eileen, Chris, Lynette and Peter

and finally… Socialist

Member of the Labour Party for many years – but not while it was New Labour, I recall. Hence –“Socialist”.

Well, that’s for starters, but there is lots more I could add. For example, he wasn’t sporting – but he loved watching cycling, especially the Tour de France. He loved German Expressionist art, and he loved Indian food.

Conrad’s 78th birthday -shaking hands with the chef at Aspects and manager, Rich, in the background

In his words, this is how Conrad spent his last year – “My days are much the same as ever.  Up to seven crosswords in the morning, and reading – my paper the i and my magazines New Statesman and New York Review of Books in the afternoon.  Recently the latter half of our evenings has been spent watching beloved movies in our cinema room.”

Here are a few final images that I want to include:

He spent his last years as a contented hermit, still mentally engaged with world affairs, but only physically venturing across the threshold at Belvoir Drive to visit the doctor, or for our weekly lunch date at Aspects. He was a big, beautiful, kind man and he has had a big, extraordinary life. Here’s to you dearest Conrad.

Get In Touch

In addition to my tribute there is a blog – see the menu, top right.

If you want to add anything, or fill in any of the gaps, please let me know using the contact form. Once we are in touch, we can exchange emails and photos as necessary.

There are some very dear friends out there who I haven’t mentioned, so it would be lovely to include your memories.

Ali Cork