Courtney Pine’s Journey To The Urge Within: 30 Years Old Today

courtney-2Island Records, released 25th October 1986

Produced by Michael Cuscuna and Roy Carter

Recorded at Angel Studios, North London, 21-23 July 1986

UK album chart position: #39

Gifted saxophonist Courtney Pine‘s career is one of British jazz’s great success stories. Starting out in the early ‘80s as a sideman with reggae act Clint Eastwood & General Saint and various Britfunk bands, he became disillusioned with the outlawing of jazz as a respected, popular music in the climate of the early ’80s London scene.

As he memorably put it in the BBC’s excellent ‘Jazz Britannia’ doc, ‘I would add different notes in the scale the way Sonny Rollins did and people would say, “No man, we don’t want that.” They were saying to me, “If you’re black and you want to play jazz in this country, you’d better go and live somewhere else!”’

But all that changed when he caught US trumpeter Wynton Marsalis on TV one afternoon. Marsalis’s professionalism and dynamism were a revelation to Pine (not to mention his youthfulness); if Marsalis could bring jazz to a wide audience, he could too.

A period of intense woodshedding paid off – soon Courtney was guesting with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and The Charlie Watts Big Band, blowing all over the ‘Angel Heart soundtrack and blowing people away with his solos in Gary Crosby’s groundbreaking Jazz Warriors and Jazz Jamaica groups.

Island Records came calling, and Journey To The Urge Within made the Top 40 in the UK, an almost-unheard-of state of affairs for a jazz album. This writer fondly remembers the day when, on opening the NME, he unexpectedly found Pine and Miles Davis sharing the album chart. Happy days.


8 thoughts on “Courtney Pine’s Journey To The Urge Within: 30 Years Old Today

  1. I have Pine’s first few albums, courtesy of working at Atlantic Records in the late-80s when they had a distribution deal with Island. Haven’t played them in at least two decades but I remember enjoying them a lot back in the day and will give them a spin soon thanks to this post.

    Liked by 1 person

      • During my 6 years at Atlantic I was stuck in the Royalty Accounting department so I didn’t have much interaction with artists, other than a couple of very brief conversations with Phil Collins and passing by people like Ace Frehley and Peter Frampton in the hallways & elevators. I saw Hiram Bullock at The Bottom Line, a 400-seat venue in NYC (which has been closed for at least 10 years, unfortunately), probably around ’89-’90. If my memory is correct, he was the opening act for Ernie Isley, although it could have been for another artist since I saw so many shows there.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Hiram Bullock opening for Ernie Isley?! That is one serious gig. I’m sure Phil C came across as a good bloke? I was reading Terry Southern’s biography of Virgin Records the other day and someone said Phil and Peter Gabriel were always the most popular artists in the Virgin offices because they always took the time to pop in and talk to the staff.


    • I need to check my ticket stubs to verify that Hiram opened for Ernie. I do know that I saw both of them at The Bottom Line, and that Hiram was an opening act.

      Phil Collins was very nice & gracious considering I was a 23-year-old approaching him near the reception desk. I broke the ice by mentioning his drumming, and that I’m also a drummer. In my 6 years there I really wanted to meet Robert Plant. It was at the height of his solo career, and everyone told me that he would hang out whenever he came by (unlike most artists who stayed in the Publicity department and rarely showed their faces). I never did meet him but I came close once, missing him by about 15 minutes. Apparently he was hanging around just a few feet outside my office shortly after I left for the day. Considering I always worked until 8-9PM in those days, my timing was unfortunate.

      Years later, when I attended the premiere of their career-spanning live DVD at a New York theater, I was in the VIP area after the showing but Plant, Page & Jones were in the super-VIP area and I only got as close as about 20 feet from them. I did end up with a lithograph of my favorite Zeppelin photo, taken outside at Knebworth 1979, courtesy of a friend who worked with them at Atlantic at the time. That’s one of my prized possessions.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Not surprised you’re gonna be hanging onto that photo. Talking of Page/Plant, just a quick anecdote to share of my own – a few years ago, I went to my local ‘art-house’ cinema (Riverside Studios) to see the very good Ginger Baker documentary ‘Beware Of Mr Baker’. Someone in the row behind me was laughing like a drain from the very first minute of the movie. I turned round to see a remarkably youthful looking Mr Page and a mate. They laughed pretty much constantly through the entire film.


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