I knew Conrad in the late 60s and 70s and, needless to say, I learnt a great deal from him. In those days Conrad lived in Formby and, if I remember correctly, worked for Hygena Kitchens in computing. He also ran a jazz appreciation society which met in his house. The idea was that each time someone would present an evening (nothing too formal!) on a particular artist, era, style, comparison, etc., say a few words and play some records. One week it might have been Tommy Ladnier, next week hard bop favorites. My friend’s parents knew someone who attended, so that’s how we got to go. Listening to so many recitals helped me begin to develop an understanding of the jazz heritage and I am always grateful for that grounding. Conrad had a large record collection and was very generous about lending albums to people who came to the appreciation society.
Apart from his piano, Conrad also had a double bass and a bass clarinet. Additionally, there was an old alto which he lent and eventually gave to me and that’s what got me started on the instrument. Fifty years later, I still play alto and no other horn.
The way I remember him is exactly as in the photo of the Newport Festival in the early 70s, with the Eric Dolphy beard! He went with a member of the appreciation society and they came back with records from Sam Goody’s!
In due course I learned that he had moved to Leicester, and then, several years later, I saw that ‘Harmony with Lego’ had been published. It’s a great book and one to which I still refer even now. As is evident, he was always exceptionally perceptive and I always came away after reading a section thinking, ‘Of course, it’s obvious really!’
I was very sorry to learn of Conrad’s death. I knew him for only a few years, a long time ago, but his was a formative influence and he was an inspiring teacher.
I was introduced to Conrad by Alan Ross in 1981. Alan had helped me get an understanding of jazz by generously lending me a succession of records by the greats and, as I recall, suggested I go along to a session at Conrad’s studio. At that time, Conrad also played in a quintet called Milestones, alongside the trumpeter Terry Willetts. I was learning to play the saxophone and over the next couple of years, I turned up for one-to-one sessions at irregular intervals. Conrad talked about the principles of jazz improvisation and shared with me some of his transcriptions, notably the early solos of Sonny Rollins. The sessions were illustrated with tracks from Conrad’s comprehensive record collection. He conveyed an understanding of what was important about the music, why it was great and why it should be revered. He conveyed an enthusiasm for the music of Lee Konitz, Steve Lacy, Art Pepper, Albert Ayler and many more. I once asked Conrad how important he thought Eric Dolphy was. He replied that he had named his son Eric. And it was at one of these session that Conrad played the Archie Shepp/Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen version of ‘Moose the Mooche’, an unforgettable buzz.
I realised eventually that playing jazz was beyond me, but what Conrad taught me about melody and harmony in relation to jazz has been fundamental for my playing of what Conrad referred to as WEAM – Western European Art Music – since then.
Conrad was a kind of eminence grise behind the establishment of the jazz club, Jazz Forum Leicester, which Alan Ross, Nick Hislam and I set up, with others, in (I think) 1982. I left Leicester in 1986 and lost contact with Conrad, but enthusiasm for jazz and something of Conrad’s intensity about it has never left me. How fortunate I was to have known him.
I’m the tenor saxophonist on the right in the photo of Conrad teaching at Scraptoft. I recalled the story of how Conrad got me into jazz on Dave Smith’s Facebook page. I really knew nothing about jazz, so he gave me a cassette of Kind of Blue on a Friday night and told me to listen to it over the weekend. I did, and I didn’t get it at all. Over days weeks and months Conrad patiently and expertly taught me and my fellow students how to listen, to understand and to play jazz. 35 years later I’m living in Saigon, Vietnam and playing jazz piano in the Mekong Delta Big Band, as well as other jazz groups. If it wasn’t for Conrad, I would never have got started. I owe him a huge debt of gratitude for that. He was a great teacher, a lovely man and he will be sorely missed.
Random memories of Conrad- teacher and friend
1 Generosity – Conrad would visit Blackthorn Books when we had just begun to stock CD and LPs as well as books. In the early days it was a tiny selection but he would always buy more than any other customer- ‘to encourage you.’ One night I stayed so long talking and listening to music that I missed the last bus home from Thurmaston. Conrad did not hesitate but drove me home- and it’s quite a distance.
When I moved into my new house, leaving behind most of what had been joint possessions Conrad and Ali took me off to Calais to furnish my kitchen from a French hypermarché. I can’t have been much of a travelling companion but I was delivered to my door with an assortment of gadgets after Conrad’s late-night drive from the coast.
He developed a database to catalogue our record collections; a labour of love which he offered as a gift to his friends. He also developed software for our bookshop which was enormously helpful to our impoverished collective.
2 Courage – To stand on a stage next to Lee Konitz, playing the same instrument, playing his tunes. No more to be said, really. I’m not ignoring the fine contributions of John Runcie and Gavin Bryars. Taking a student band playing Carla Bley songs to the Camden jazz festival and playing the opening set of Carla’s gig. And receiving a glowing review from Charles Fox for his soloing. Assembling an ad-hoc band to play with Ian Carr at a memorable gig at the Cooler, after persuading Ian to be honorary president of the club.
3 Intellect – I’m not a musician and though I tried I did not try hard enough with his great work ‘Harmony with Lego Bricks’ but much of the thought behind it has sunk in and taken root. Conrad’s ‘W’ tag- standing for ‘Western European Art Music’ – WEAM – is attached to the few classical albums on the Jazz House Records website! And I always learnt a lot through discussing music with Conrad- I remember him distilling the difference between classical and romantic styles in a sentence. I admired the breadth and depth of his reading- he once explained to me he had a notional section labelled ‘Man in Extremis’ on his bookshelves.
When we met Sheila Jordan he told her: ‘I’ve been in love with you for 30 years.’ She sang well that night.
I first met Conrad in the late 70s via my then girlfriend who worked at the British Shoe Corporation and had dealings with Sue, Conrad’s then wife. We were great jazz fans and Conrad introduced us to The Braunstone jazz nights where we spent many a happy evening with them. I recall one amazing evening when Conrad rang me to say that Art Pepper was going to be there (I think it cost us a fiver each to get in!). Pepper was out of his skull on drugs, but Conrad took us backstage to meet Pepper and he signed a transcription that Conrad had made of one of his solos, Pepper was amazed that Conrad had done this. On visits to Conrad’s home he introduced me to many jazz artists that my then blinkered ears had ignored and for that I am ever grateful.