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Catherine, Philip

Philip Catherine

Guitarist

Guitarist Philip Catherine was once called "young Django" by the late bassist Charles Mingus, and would record an album of the same name with Django Reinhardt's ex-partner, violinist Stephane Grappelli. With his fluid style and ability to play both classic and modern styles, Catherine has risen to the forefront of jazz guitarists and composers. He has toured and recorded with a long list of jazz greats, including Chet Baker, Jean-Luc Ponty, and Dexter Gordon. In 1971 he recorded Steam, his first album as a leader, and in the mid-1970s he joined the group Pork Pie. Over the span of his 35-year career in jazz, he has received both the prestigious Django d'Or for his solo work, and the Most Promising Duo Record Jazz Award for his work with guitarist Larry Coryell. "This talented, sincere and humble man," wrote Jim LaDiana in Classic Jazz Guitar, "has actualized a very prestigious and rewarding musical lifework, which continues to progress."

Philip Catherine was born in London in 1942 to an English mother and Belgian father. His grandfather, who died when he was six, played violin in the London Symphony Orchestra, and his mother played piano. "She had a big influence … on the way I was trying to improve my playing," Catherine told LaDiana of his mother. "I was listening to how people with a nice touch could move our souls." Catherine began playing guitar at 14, inspired by French singer George Brassens, and started taking lessons. Soon, he immersed himself in jazz, listening to the records of trumpeters Clifford Brown and Miles Davis, and saxophonist John Coltrane. At first Catherine played an acoustic Framus (a German model guitar), and added a microphone to increase the range of its tones. Later he bought a Gibson ES-175 electric guitar.

At age 19 Catherine entered the university, never intending to become a full-time musician. He attended for five years, including two years of law, and majored in economics. In the early 1960s he toured Europe with organist Lou Bennett and completed his first recording. In 1970 he served eleven months in the army and was stationed in Germany, allowing him little opportunity to play professionally. Catherine nonetheless put his time to good use. "I had the chance to practice a lot … during the Army," he told LaDiana.

On November 25, 1971 (St. Catherine's Day), the same day Catherine was discharged from the army, he received a letter from violinist Jean-Luc Ponty asking him to join his quintet. "And since then," Catherine told LaDiana, "I never did anything else but music." He remained with Ponty for 18 months, and during that time recorded his first solo album, Steam. He left Ponty's group in May of 1972 to attend a musician's workshop at the Berklee College of Music in Boston during the summer, taking the opportunity to expand his formal musical education. There he met guitarist John Scofield and had an opportunity to play informally with guitarist George Benson. Following the workshop he returned to Belgium, married, and then moved to Berlin, Germany.

After a short stint in a big band, Catherine embarked on a number of recording and touring projects, including joining Pork Pie with saxophonist Charlie Mariano and keyboardist Jasper Van't Hoff. The band, with a nod to Mingus's "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat," recorded Transitory in 1974. In 1977 he was invited to play on Three Or Four Shades of Blue, the next-to-last Mingus recording. During this period Catherine recorded several solo albums, including September Man in 1974, Guitars in 1975, and Sleep My Love in 1978, albums that contained a number of his original compositions. All About Jazz declared, "Jazz amateurs the world over discovered not only a brilliant guitarist but also a talented composer: themes like 'Homecomings' and 'Nairam' have become famous."

In the mid-1970s Catherine joined with guitarist Larry Coryell to play at the Berlin Jazz Festival. Siggy Loch, the president of the German branch of Warner/Elektra/Atlantic Records, asked the duo to cut an album quickly. Twin House was released on Atlantic in 1976, followed by Splendid in 1978. Splendid rose to number 39 on Billboard's jazz chart, while Paul McGrath of the Toronto Globe and Mail wrote that Twin House was "the best album for new guitar work in a long time." In 1979 Catherine and Coryell both participated in Stephane Grappelli's recording, Young Django. "Grappelli has recorded many Reinhardt memorial albums through the years," wrote Scott Yanow in All Music Guide, "but this one is particularly special for both Coryell and Catherine go out of their way to display the unexpected influence that Reinhardt has had on their styles."

In 1980 Catherine played briefly with clarinetist Benny Goodman during a European tour. In the mid-1980s he toured with trumpeter Chet Baker for a year, and appeared on Chet's Choice (1985) and Strollin' (1985). Catherine also continued to record with his own groups, issuing End of August (1982), Transparence (1986), and September Sky (1988).

Catherine maintained a busy recording and touring schedule throughout the 1990s and beyond. He recorded three albums for Criss Cross, I Remember You (1990), Moods, Vol. 1 (1992), and Moods, Vol. 2 (1992). In 1996 he released Live, which was voted Best Album of the Year by Jazz NU. "When Catherine swings," noted Jeff Simon in the Buffalo News, "he doesn't just swing hard, he stomps. And when he plays midtempos, he can be blisteringly inventive." In 2001 Dreyfus issued Blue Prince, leading Downbeat to re-mark of his playing, "He is one of the most accomplished and rewarding guitarists now playing jazz, and Blue Prince is perhaps the best single place to discover him." JazzMari voted the album its "Record of the Year." Catherine followed in 2002 with Summer Night, an album of trios and quartets, and Meeting Colours (2005), a recording with the Brussels Jazz Orchestra.

In the spring of 2006 Catherine was reportedly in the process of recording a new album with his regular trio. He also embarked on a European tour, performing at festivals in Spain, Brussels, and France. Despite his many fine accomplishments as a jazz guitarist and composer, Catherine continues to look toward the future. "It's pretentious to say but, I'm just starting," he told LaDiana. "I just hope that I can live long enough to progress and make more nice music."

Selected discography

Steam, Warner Brothers, 1971.
September Man, Atlantic, 1974.
Guitars, Atlantic, 1975.
(With Larry Coryell) Twin House, Atlantic, 1976.
(With Larry Coryell) Splendid, Elektra, 1978.
Babel, Elektra, 1980.
End of August, WEA, 1982.
Transparence, Inakustik, 1986.
September Sky, September, 1988.
I Remember You, Criss Cross, 1990.
Moods, Vol. 1, Criss Cross, 1992.
Moods, Vol. 2, Criss Cross, 1992.
Live, Dreyfus, 1996.
Guitar Groove, Dreyfus, 1998.
Blue Prince, Dreyfus, 2000.
Summer Night, Dreyfus, 2002.
Meeting Colours, Dreyfus, 2005.

For the Record …

Born on October 22, 1942, in London, England.

Performed first professional job as a musician with organist Lou Bennett, 1961; joined Jean-Luc Ponty's quintet, 1971–72; recorded first album as a leader, Steam, 1971; joined Pork Pie and recorded Transitory, 1974; recorded September Man, 1974, Guitars, 1975, and Sleep My Love, 1978; teamed with guitarist Larry Coryell, recording Twin House, 1976, and Splendid, 1978; recorded with Coryell on Stephane Grappelli's Young Django, 1979; toured briefly with clarinetist Benny Goodman, 1980, and trumpeter Chet Baker, 1985; issued End of August, 1982, Transparence, 1986, and September Sky, 1988; released I Remember You, 1990, Moods, Vol. 1, 1992, and Moods, Vol. 2, 1992, on Criss Cross; released Live, 1996, Blue Prince, 2000, and Meeting Colours, 2005, on Dreyfus.

Awards: (With Larry Coryell) Record Jazz Award for Most Promising Duo, 1977; Django d'Or Award for Best European Musician, 1998.

Addresses: Record company—Dreyfus Records, 289 East Fifth St., Brooklyn, NY 11218, website: http://www.dreyfusrecords.com.

Sources

Books

Erlewine, Michael, editor, All Music Guide To Jazz, Miller Freeman Books, 1998, p. 448.

Periodicals

Buffalo News, December 26, 1997, p. G29.

Down Beat, May 1, 2001, pp. 75-76.

Globe and Mail (Toronto, Canada), February 22, 1978, p. F2.

Online

"Philip Catherine," All About Jazz, http://www.allaboutjazz.com/ (June 9, 2006).

"Philip Catherine: Ma Guitare, Ma Vie … My Guitar, My Life," Classic Jazz Guitar, http://www.classicjazzguitar.com/ (June 9, 2006).

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