I was very lucky to be in the right place at the right time, to accept the offer of the bass chair with Max Collie's Rhythm Aces back in 1972. They were a special bunch of guys, once described as a Grisled Aggregation by the Washington Post. Probably the most grisled of us all was a powerful looking man with dark, swarthy features, blowing an intense lead on cornet. He was Phil Mason.
Being larger than life, he knew how to have fun, his raucous laugh was infectious, but he was also a deep intellectual thinker with a special gift of producing a powerful fat sound on what he referred to as his bent pipe. He had a unique tone, probably due to his unconventional embouchure. It was strong but never harsh.
Over the years, with Max, and later with his own band, he and I grew close musically. He was always an emotionally charged player with a deep understanding of the blues, and his timing and phrasing never ceased to put shivers down my spine.
He obviously listened a lot to Louis, but then he would lay down a no frills lead which showed his leanings toward King Oliver and Tommy Ladnier. The other player he greatly admired was Henry Red Allen.
One of the memorable recordings we made was a version of Feelin' Drowsy. Unfortunately we never played it in public.
The many concerts, services and recordings of gospel and spiritual material were always close to my heart. Together with Christine Tyrell, he handled and presented them with great respect and reverence.
He also loved Irish folk music, gleaned from his years at Dublin university. He managed to incorporate an extract from a Planxty melody in Max Collie's recording of Dallas Blues.
Phil was a proud man, not just of his own gifts, but of his band. He could be moody at times and you needed to know when to give him space but, if you were in trouble, he would be the first person to offer help and support. He had a tough exterior but he was an old softy with a heart of gold.
He was also a great romantic and revelled in the image of the Road Warrior. One of his favourite phrases was "happiness is a full tank and an open road". Over the years we toured all over Britain, Europe, Scandinavia, barn-storming all over America and Australia and even went to Tokyo.
Over the last few years, his health deteriorated, but he always had a cheerful and encouraging voice when I telephoned him.
He gave so much to people and I know he will be remembered by jazzers everywhere. Phil has earned his place in the British jazz history books and I count it a privilege to have worked alongside him.
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