Page last updated at 23:54 GMT, Monday, 3 August 2009 00:54 UK

Practice keeps jazz veteran in tune

By Angie Brown
Edinburgh Festivals reporter, BBC Scotland news website

Fife saxophonist Joe Temperley (left) with jazzman Wynton Marsalis
Fife saxophonist Joe Temperley (left) with jazzman Wynton Marsalis

At the grand old age of 79 you would think you had learned it all and would not have to practise any more.

But Joe Temperley, one of the most respected jazz saxophonists in the world, thinks differently.

Speaking from his room at the Carlton Hotel in Edinburgh, where he is busy practising ahead of three concerts at the Edinburgh Jazz Festival, he said: "I practice all the time.

"It is all about how you discipline yourself, it's constant practise, if you haven't practised for one day you know it, if you haven't practised for two days some people notice it and if you haven't practised for three days everybody knows it."

The soon-to-be octogenarian is appearing with 17-year-old Seattle jazz sensation Carl Majeau, winner of the Jazz At Lincoln Center/Wynton Marsalis American Youth Jazz competition, Essentially Ellington.

Temperley will also pay tribute to the hugely influential bandleader, pianist and composer dubbed "The Duke" when he directs the Edinburgh Jazz Festival Orchestra for a handpicked programme of the music of the great Duke Ellington.

Along with the Edinburgh Jazz Festival Orchestra, Temperley will also perform a new work by Dave Milligan, based around the love letters between Robert Burns and Agnes McLehose which they signed "Sylvander" and "Clarinda".

Over the years, Temperley has played with stars such as Frank Sinatra, Woody Herman, Sarah Vaughan, Peggy Lee, Diana Ross, Ella Fitzgerald, Aretha Franklin and a young Michael Jackson.

Life of a miner

He is decades of hard graft away from the first time he picked up a saxophone in his home town of Lochgelly, Fife, at the age of 14.

Today Temperley is a full-time member of New York's Lincoln Center Orchestra, playing baritone and soprano saxophones.

When Wynton Marsalis formed the band, which is widely regarded as the best in the world, Mr Temperley was the only non-American in it.

It is a long way from the life of a miner, which is what he was expected to do when he left school.

But he has his trumpet-playing brother to thank for introducing him to the world of music, as he needed a saxophone player for his band.

He said: "Nobody encouraged me at school so I developed my brain myself.

"My Mum and Dad were in awe of my saxophone playing and after six months I was playing in local dance bands and then I got my first job at the Tommy Sampson's Orchestra at the Piccadilly Club in Glasgow."

However, all these years later he admits he will still be a "little bit nervous" when he walks out on stage at the Edinburgh Jazz Festival.

A lot of people get old because they do the same job, whereas music is constantly different
Joe Temperley

That has not stopped him spending the past four weeks playing an 11-country tour of Europe.

He said the secret to him still being able to work is "how you use your brain" and to find things that "challenge you".

"A lot of people get old because they do the same job, whereas music is constantly different," he said.

"The thing about age, as Picasso said, is 'you can be young at 90 and old at 25', and I think it's so true."

So for a man who started in Fife but who has worked in New York for decades it is fitting that he has come to Scotland for the Edinburgh Jazz Festival in the year of Homecoming, when the nation is celebrating its great contribution to the world.

He said: "I love to come back two to three times a year. I visit my sister who lives in Lochgelly. I used to play golf but I gave it up because it is hard to play in New York as it's so busy.

"I also love visiting Edinburgh, however I was very disappointed when my wife and I were walking along Princes Street (on Sunday evening) and it was all torn up.

"I wondered why it was being disrupted in the first place but maybe once it is finally done and all the aggravation is over, the trams might be beautiful and romantic."

Looking back

The jazz veteran always remembers his roots, despite having lived away from Scotland for more than 50 years, and he follows his local football team of Cowdenbeath.

He said: "I have always followed Cowdenbeath but they have never done too well, nothing to cheer about. My brother-in-law and I were at a game and he said: 'There are more people on the pitch than there are watching'."

Looking back over his career, which has seen him fulfil ambitions such as when he took the seat of his hero Harry Carney in the Duke Ellington Orchestra in October 1974, he said he had no plans to stop.

He said: "As long as I can do it I will do it. As Duke Ellington said: 'Retire, to do what?'.

"I'm living my dream. It is hard work on stage but people see the good times and don't take into consideration that you get exhausted, it is the adrenaline on stage which keeps me going."

He is even going to be playing on his 80th birthday on 20 September at the Monterey Jazz Festival in California.

Asked to explain jazz, the great Louis Armstrong famously once replied, 'Man, if you gotta ask, you'll never know'.

Temperley said: "Jazz means a lot of different things. Two months ago I was in New Orleans and saw the devastation there and the will of the people and how they are overcoming it.

"Jazz is life."

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