Phil Mason – “An Old Softy with a Heart of Gold”

PhilNews travels fast amongst the jazz community. So much so that within hours of receiving requests to announce the sad news about Phil Mason’s passing, I received this message from Trefor Williams:

“So sad about Phil passing away. This is the obit I’ve sent to Just Jazz for the August edition. Perhaps you would like to post it on your site.”

It’s my pleasure and an honour to do so, Trefor, for his fellow musicians, his fans and the entire jazz community.

“Phil was a proud man, not just of his own gifts, but of his band.”

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 very special bunch of guys, once described as a “Grizzled Aggregation” by the Washington Post. Probably the most grizzled 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, Phil knew how to have fun. His raucous laugh was infectious, but he was also a deep intellectual thinker with a special gift for 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.

Phil-Mason's-All-StarsOver the years, with Max, and later with his own band, he and I grew very 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”. He soared majestically like an eagle on it. 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.

Phil was a great romantic. He 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 I bet he is now giving Gabriel a run for his money. I count it a privilege to have worked alongside of him.

My thoughts and prayers are with Hanne and all the family he cherished so much.

God bless you Phil, my good mate!

Trefor Williams


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  1. Syd says:

    I think that Trefor has just about summed up the Phil Mason legend that was, and is. I was also privileged to work with both Max’s band when Phil was on Cornet and often toured with Phil’s own band when his roadie, Mike Murtagh, was unavailable. I don’t profess to know much about the history of Jazz or how or why different muso’s can make the same song sound so different but I did love Phil’s punchy style of playing which could change totally in a second to incorporate Soul. He was a great frontman for Max’s band and along with Tref, Ron and Jim drove that band to be Europes most exciting live unit. One of the things I’ve missed most since Phil hung his cornet up several years ago has been having an annual run out with the band and I’ve missed Phil’s company. He had a great sense of humour and, as Trefor said, could be a bit prickly at times but overall he was a damn decent guy and one helluva cornet player. I’ll miss him a lot…. Syd … R.I.P. my friend ….

  2. Sam says:

    Phil visited the hottest place in the north in Holland, jazzcity Enkhuizen, many times. First time in 1976 with the Max Collie Rhythm Aces at the festival and many more at the jazzfest and Sgt. Pepper’s Jazz-Club. Of course with his own band. We’ve lost a great cornetplayer! Jazz Enkhuizen will miss him.
    Phil, thank you so much for your beautiful music and rest in peace. All the best to Hanne and the family.

  3. Such a lovely tribute to a great musician.

  4. dave fawcett says:

    Such a nice man – it was always a pleasure booking Phil’s band when I ran The Pump House Jazz Club in Watford in the late 1990’s. A sad loss of another fine jazz musician. R I P Phil.

    Dave Fawcett – (banjo, Colin Kingwell’s Jazz Bandits)

  5. samuel johnson says:

    One of the best of our generation! His recordings live on and attest to his fine musicianship, Nice tribute Trevor!

  6. Richard Oliver says:

    Great player, Great Band. Happy memories of Berlin Kopenik Courtyard Concerts with both Phils Band and Chris Barber Band in the 80’s and 90’s. Wonderful nights with Trefor and Colin and Phil. He did enjoy the odd glass of beer and I recall assisting him to his hotel room over the bridge on more than one occassion after brilliant performances. Those were the days, my friend! Richard Oliver.

  7. Peter Butler says:

    Thank you Richard for such positive comments about Phil and his band. It’s truly encouraging that features on my Jazz&Jazz website remain “current” even when historic. We have lost so many great bands and musicians over the years – yet a good many of them are featured on Jazz&Jazz.

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