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Profile: Courtney Pine

Courtney Pine
The star says he practices for eight hours every day

Courtney Pine, who has been appointed a CBE in the New Year Honours, has been at the forefront of Britain's jazz scene for the past 20 years.

Best known as a saxophonist, he is in fact a multi-instrumentalist adept at the flute, bass clarinet and keyboards.

His debut album, 1987's Journey To The Urge Within, was the first serious jazz record to make the top 40, and spearheaded a jazz revival in the UK.

Key to his success is a willingness to stretch the boundaries of his genre.

Pine has, sometimes controversially, combined traditional acoustic jazz with reggae, soul, drum 'n' bass and afro-beat.

He has covered Nirvana, played on the main stage at Glastonbury and appeared at Nelson Mandela's 70th birthday concert at Wembley Stadium.

But he is also an ambassador for jazz - running a series of workshops to introduce the music to young people across the UK.

"I don't think people hear enough of it," he told The Independent in 2005.

"There are no jazz television programmes," he continued. "How is anybody supposed to find out about jazz if it's not available?"

"I think jazz is such a powerful music it frightens people."

Rollins revelation

Courtney Pine
Life should reflect music and music, if it is played honestly, will reflect life in return
Courtney Pine
The son of Jamaican immigrants, Pine was born on 18 March, 1964, in West London.

His first instrument was the recorder, which he picked up at the age of eight. He took up clarinet when he was 13 and changed to saxophone two years later.

In his teens, he was a member of Dwarf Steps, a hard-bop band consisting of Berklee College Of Music graduates, before joining reggae artists Clint Eastwood And General Saint.

An interest in jazz was fostered when he participated in workshops run by John Stevens - and he became hooked after picking up Sonny Rollins' Way Out West album in a library.

"I'd been brought up with calypso, ska, reggae," Pine later told Down Beat magazine "so if I'd heard Charlie Parker first, I might have felt alienated.

"But Sonny Rollins was playing something I could understand: Calypso! That sucked me into the music completely."

His parents, deeply religious Methodists, were aghast at his decision to pursue music as a career - but the young saxophonist soon made a name for himself by playing with Charlie Watts' Orchestra, George Russell's European touring band and with Art Blakey at the Camden Jazz Festival.

He was signed by Island Records for 1,000 while performing a residency in a "dodgy" pub in Brixton, South London.

His debut album coincided with a boom period for jazz in London's yuppie circles - although Pine took pains to distance himself from the sharp-suited scene.

Journey to the Urge Within went on to sell more than 120,000 copies in the UK - an almost unprecedented amount for a jazz record. And, while critics initially dismissed him as an imitator of John Coltrane, Pine considered the jibe a "huge compliment".

Courtney Pine
Pine's 14th album, out next year, is inspired by New Orleans
A holiday in Jamaica led to his first experiments with reggae on 1990's Closer to Home, and he later incorporated African, Caribbean and Indian influences into his music.

He collaborated with rapper Guru for his Jazzmatazz album in 1993, and began to add samples and turntables to his live act, further expanding his audience.

But the star puts his longevity down to practice rather than innovation - and he claims to play the saxophone for eight hours every day.

Pine was appointed an OBE in 2000 and said it would "inspire him to work even harder".

His parents, who by now accepted his career choice, were invited to the ceremony - but "they said they were working," he told The Guardian.

"That generation of West Indians planned to come over for five years, but they're still paying off the bills," he explained.

"They said 'well done'."

Pine still continues to record and play, but also curates jazz festivals and presents a specialist show, Courtney Pine's Jazz Crusade, on BBC Radio 2.

The star jokes that he has been on a world tour since 1987 often absent from his wife, June, and four children in Harrow, north-west London.

"I get called the UK's leading jazz instrumentalist," he told The Times in 2003.

"Fine, but there's no excuse for resting on those laurels. If you have a gift, you must use, share and develop it."

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