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Revamped sextet line-up reunites old jazz hands

It was a marriage made in jazz heaven:

Brian Keddie could arrange music and play trombone with equal skill, and drummer Bill Kyle could arrange gigs. Almost 30 years on, the roles of the co-leaders of a band that was once a power in the land and brought consistently good news for pub owners who wanted to fill their premises with thirsty jazz consumers haven't changed much. Except that Kyle, as mine host of Edinburgh's Jazz Bar, is now a landlord himself, while also continuing to play drums as often as possible.

The Kyle-Keddie Sextet is looked back upon with enthusiasm by more than the drinks industry, though. Its infrequent reunions after circumstances removed the main players to New York, Paris, London and Inverness have had old jazz hands hankering after more returns to halcyon days in Glasgow's Mars Bar and made younger aficionados keen to discover why they are spoken about in such revered tones.

Ask them the secret of their success and you'll get two different answers. Kyle will tell you that it was Keddie's talent for making a three-horn frontline plus rhythm section sound like a much bigger and certainly very powerful band. For Keddie, meanwhile, it was Kyle's ability to drum up pub gigs that led to concerts, broadcasts and UK tours.

Keddie's arranging talent, which was subsequently put to great use by the late blues singer Tam White in his band The Dexters, was developed entirely through his own enquiring mind.

As a teenage trombonist he had become interested in jazz at an exciting time. In early 1960s Edinburgh the school-aged Keddie could blag his way into art college concerts and see the great Tubby Hayes and the John Dankworth Band.

"There was a lot of jazz being played in Edinburgh back then," says Keddie, "and I was just on the edge of the trad jazz scene, leaning a bit more to mainstream. Most of the players went to public schools, so I was the odd one out but I remember going to jazz nights at the Eldorado Wrestling Hall in Leith and the Palais in Fountainbridge as well as the art college. Sandy Brown's band used to come up from London regularly and he had a really good trombone player, Tony Milliner."

Keddie's favourite trombonist was JJ Johnson, whose unflashy style and clarity of delivery made it relatively easy to learn licks and phrases from him, and he would go on to see Johnson at the old Ronnie Scott's club in Gerard Street, Soho. Back in Edinburgh, meanwhile, he was playing Duke Ellington and Count Basie numbers with a coterie of musicians including guitarist Lachlan MacColl. It was around this time that he first met Kyle.

Fast forward a few years and Kyle was leading the jazz-rock band Head, which released three now very collectable albums and won an award at the Dunkirk Jazz Festival, as well as playing in more mainstream bands with the late saxophonist and broadcaster Gordon Cruikshank. Keddie sat in with them on a few occasions and between-set chats led to Keddie revealing that he had a pad of arrangements for trumpet, saxophone and trombone.

"I'd listened closely to albums like Miles Davis' Kind Of Blue and learned how they'd voiced the parts to get that particular sound," says Keddie. "I also learned a lot from Oliver Nelson, who created these big sounding arrangements for quite a small band. I was never really into big bands because I was quite a slow reader and you had to be really on your toes to read orchestral parts."

With the then Glasgow-based Kyle's negotiating skills and Keddie's charts, the Kyle-Keddie Sextet started appearing in Glasgow hostelries with a variety of line-ups. Trumpeter John Davies and the aforementioned Gordon Cruickshank, who had both featured in Head, were involved, as was saxophonist Stewart Forbes, who is also in the current incarnation, as the sextet developed a following. Their residency in Curlers, in Byres Road, caused sufficient excitement for the Glasgow Herald to report that these nights were thriving.

"There was another pub, down by the Kelvin Hall, that we played and was always busy," says Keddie, "and then we went on to jazz clubs and tours but that was through Bill's ability to hustle up work."

When Kyle's day job in the computer industry took him off to New York and then London, Keddie worked with Tam White and then lived in Paris for a while before he too moved to London. There he played with guitarist Dave Cliff while continuing to work as an English teacher before switching to learning support.

He subsequently moved to Inverness to be closer to his partner's family and has kept his playing and arranging chops sharp at the regular sessions run by Elgin Jazz Club and through occasional trips to Edinburgh to play with pianist Brian Kellock and bass player Kenny Ellis.

Ellis, along with Kyle and pianist Robert Pettigrew, is in the Kyle-Keddie Sextet 2014 rhythm section and joining Keddie and Stewart Forbes in the frontline is trumpeter Colin Steele.

"It's good to have links with past line-ups," says Keddie. "It gives a sense of continuity and Colin brings a younger perspective. I've never been a composer, but I've used the sessions in Elgin to try out new arrangements and I'm looking forward to hearing them with the new, old band this week."

The Kyle-Keddie Sextet play the Jazz Bar, Edinburgh, tonight and Glasgow Art Club tomorrow.

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