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Courtney Pine

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While classified as a jazz musician, Courtney Pine melds a wide variety of influences into his music. The saxophonist and clarinetist has deftly incorporated reggae, electronica, hip-hop, funk and Eastern sounds into his boundary-defying repertoire, working alongside luminaries in each genre.

Pine began performing professionally as a teenager, forming the hard-bop outfit Dwarf Steps. From there he toured and recorded with reggae artists General Saint and Clint Eastwood. Pine told Down Beat that his nontraditional, eclectic approach was largely influenced by early exposure to renegade saxophonist Sonny Rollins. “If I’d heard Charlie Parker first, I might have felt alienated,” he said. “But Sonny Rollins was playing something I could understand: calypso! He was like my uncle! That sucked me into the music completely!” With Rollins and legendary saxophonist John Coltrane as influences, Pine began participating in jazz workshops with drummer John Stevens, and soon joined the jazz ensemble of Rolling Stones’ drummer Charlie Watts. He went on to tour with pianist George Russell and drummers Elvin Jones and Art Blakey, and led his own small outfits, including the World’s First Saxophone Posse. Pine set out to promote the work of black British jazz musicians, and formed Abibi Jazz Arts in 1986. The workshop yielded the Jazz Warriors, an all-black big band that included Pine.

Pine released his first album, Journey to the Urge Within, on the Antilles label in 1986, and it became one of the best-selling British jazz albums of all time. Pine remained with Antilles until 1992, recording four more albums for the label and establishing himself in critics’ eyes as a potential heir to Coltrane.

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