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Saxophonist With Classic Swing VirtuesCopyright © 2000The Scotsman, 2000
The Edinburgh jazz scene has lost another well-respected figure with the death of saxophonist Jack Duff. He had been a regular on the local scene since returning from Jersey a decade ago, and performed regularly at the Edinburgh Jazz Festival, often in the company of such luminaries as trumpeters Al Fairweather, Jimmy Deuchar, Kenny Baker and Humphrey Lyttelton. He was a member of several bands on the Scottish scene, and was active in jazz education in the city.
Duff, whose full name was John Black Wallace Duff, cut his teeth in the very different Edinburgh jazz scene of the late 1950s, and has cited one of the chief figures of that era, clarinettist Sandy Brown, as his main influence, alongside the great American tenor saxophonist, Coleman Hawkins. As a teenager, he played with Charlie McNairs Jazz Band and the Royal Mile Jazzmen, then moved on to full professional work with the Cam Robbie Orchestra, and subsequently with the famous band leader Geraldo (1959), among others.
He moved to Jersey in 1964, where he worked with another musician from the Edinburgh scene, the late Gerry Rossi, and led his own band. As well as being one of the islands leading bands in their own right, his group provided the accompaniment for an impressive range of visiting soloists, including Johnny Griffin, Sonny Stitt, Harry Sweets Edison, Kenny Davern, and Joe Harriott, among many others. Duff also recorded three albums, one with trumpeter Kenny Wheeler as his guest.
He established a pattern of working on the island during the busy summer season, and transferring to the cruise liners during the winter, once a lucrative source of income for British musicians. Those engagements took him around the world many times, including visits to the USA, Australia and the Caribbean. He maintained this routine throughout his years in Jersey, which ended when he returned to live in Edinburgh in 1990.
He was an active presence in the city, both as a leader of his own band and as a soloist in groups like Fat Sams Band (he performed with the band on tours of Canada and the USA as well as across Scotland), the Edinburgh Jazz Orchestra, and the Jazz Ecosse All-Stars.
He was comfortable in a range of styles, spanning traditional and Dixieland through mainstream swing to bop. Whatever the setting, Jack Duff played his favoured tenor saxophone with a full, rounded sonority (he also played clarinet and alto saxophone) and an unfailing sense of swing, while his hallmarks as an improviser were an inventive and engaging lyricism, and a firm grasp of the classic improvisational principles of tension and release.