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Gordon Cruickshank: 1949-2002
Gordon Cruickshank
Saxophones, flute, broadcaster

Born: September 12, 1949 in Edinburgh, Scotland
Died: November 11, 2002 in York, England

A leading figure on Scottish scene

Copyright © 2002 


Gordon Cruickshank was a familiar figure on the Scottish jazz scene until he moved south in 1994. He was known both as a fine saxophonist and flautist and as the enthusiastic and well-informed presenter of BBC Radio Scotland's Take The Jazz Train and Jazz Junction.

He was born James Gordon Cruickshank, and attended Broughton School at both primary and secondary level. He went on to study English and Philosophy at Edinburgh University, and graduated MA in 1972.

His early interest in music was fostered by his mother, but his conversion to jazz arrived via the family’s upstairs neighbour, the late Alex Shaw. Shaw was one of Edinburgh’s best-known jazz players, and the pianist would practise in the room above the young Cruickshank.

Eventually, at about the age of twelve, he asked Shaw what the music he played actually was. The pianist played him some records by the likes of Cannonball and Nat Adderley, and he was hooked.

His aspiration to play saxophone was initially thwarted at school, where it was not considered a suitable instrument. Instead, he opted for flute, and the grounding he received stood him in good stead on an instrument which many jazz saxophonists double on, but few actually master.

Eventually, the family bought him a battered second-hand tenor saxophone which he had spotted in a local shop, and he set about learning the instrument by playing along with Nat Adderley’s album Sack O’ Woe, borrowed from Alex Shaw.

He began to play on the Edinburgh jazz and rock scene, initially on the outer fringes with free jazz and jazz rock in the late-60s, and gradually moved toward the centre over the years.

He formed a series of important musical partnerships with a number of players in Edinburgh. They included guitarist Lachlan McColl, with whom he shared obvious common ground in their approach to soloing, trombonist Brian Keddie, pianist David Newton, bassist Kenny Ellis and drummers Bill Kyle and Tony McLennan, among others.

He replaced Howard Copland in Head, the leading Scottish jazz-fusion band of its day, which toured nationally and released three albums. Cruickshank also played baritone saxophone on Carol Kidd’s Nice Work album for Linn Records in 1987.

The saxophonist led a band at the Gleneagles Hotel for a time in the late 1980s and early 1990s, with David Newton on piano (the fact that Newton allied superb pianism with owning a tuxedo made him the natural choice). He accompanied many visiting English and American jazz soloists on their forays to Scotland, and also did some instrumental teaching.

His small flat in Morningside was crowded with record albums, and he loved the opportunity he had to transmit his passion for jazz through his 15 year stint broadcasting for Radio Scotland. He never really recovered from the disappointment of losing that opportunity when a new regime ousted him from the programme.

A combination of alcohol-related personal problems and professional frustrations eventually led to his moving south to York, where his mother lived by that time. He played very little in recent years, and seemed to have lost the heart for it.

Nonetheless, he made a significant contribution to Scottish jazz for over two decades. His is credo in jazz was to follow Charlie Parker’s dictum to "play clean, and look for the pretty notes." He was always realistic in his assessment of his talents when measured against the best, but he was a strong and resourceful improviser in his own right, with a deeply-rooted understanding of jazz.

He is survived by his mother, Betty Cruickshank.

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