Photo: Jazz Unlimited
Henry Berthold "Spike"
Robinson, saxophone player and engineer has died, aged 71.
Robinson's playing was characterised
by a mellow tone, unaggressive approach and a deep affinity with the classic
American song. Broadly speaking, he was one of that school of tenor saxophonists
who followed in the wake of Lester Young, players such as Stan Getz and
Zoot Sims, but he had developed his own highly engaging voice within that
style. (Quote from the Daily
Telegraph obituary of Friday, 2nd November 2001)
Some of the many tributes to Spike during his career...
...Beginning on alto saxophone in his early teenage years, Robinson soon discovered that it was hard to make a living playing the kind of music he wanted to play. So, in 1948 he joined the US Navy as a musician and by 1950 was based in the UK.
He was soon regularly jamming at London's Club Eleven, Downbeat Club and Studio 51 with leading UK beboppers, including Tommy Pollard and Victor Feldman. He made a few records for Carlo Krahmer's Esquire label but eventually was transferred home and demobilized. Unhappy with the music scene in the Chicago area, he took advantage of the GI Bill to study electronic engineering at university.
For most of the next 30 years he lived and worked in Colorado, eventually taking up music again, this time playing tenor saxophone and working nights at local clubs. A constant musical companion of these times was Dave Grusin. In 1981 Robinson recorded for the first time since his London sessions, in a band led by Feldman. Encouraged to visit the UK by a British fan, in 1984 Robinson began a series of tours which were so successful that he took early retirement from his engineering job to turn to a fulltime career in music.
Throughout the rest of the '80s and into the early '90s, he has played at clubs and festivals throughout the UK, Europe and in various parts of the USA, making his New York debut at Christmas 1990. A succession of superb record albums, most as leader but some with artists such as Louis Stewart, Harry Edison, Al Cohn, Roy Williams and Claude Tissendier, have attracted high critical and public praise.
Despite his bebop beginnings, the mature musician who emerged in the '80s from selfimposed exile is a consummate ballad player who eagerly explores the endless archives of the Great American Song Book. His rhapsodic, breathy style is instantly identifiable and the effortless loping swing of everything he plays has helped to make Robinson into one of the outstanding tenor saxophonists of his generation. In the early '90s Robinson was touring extensively from a UK base, recording many albums and headlining at clubs and festivals in Europe and the USA.
…but this is all part of the magic of Cork, and the day sessions amply compensated for the nights, with players like Spike Robinson dropping in for a blow. One of my fondest recollections is of Spike steaming along to “A Fine Romance”, riding his tenor with that un orthodox ‘sidesaddle’ embouchure, and radiating an infectious enthusiasm that inspired the group and captivated the audience. Spike seemed to be sitting in all over Cork. “It’s my hobby, man”, he said, and headed off to the next blow. (Report of the the Guiness Jazz Festival in Cork. Author unknown)
…a rewarding get–together of veterans. And I do mean veterans! In 1951 I remember Spike Robinson, then a US sailor—whenever his boat hit the Port of London, playing his alto saxophone at The Feldman Club, 100 Oxford Street on Sunday nights.
...Getz took tenor sax technique to new heights, said Spike.
… I mean this as a compliment, for whenever Spike’s boat docked and he brought his sax to 100 Oxford Street, the evening got a lift.…Denver tenor saxophonist Spike is one of my favourite performing artists, partly because of his liquid tone (which he maintains with a scrupulously observed ritual of alcoholic lubrication) effortless time feel, and encyclopaedic knowledge of popular song, and partly because his playing is filled with warmth, and a real sense of joy. Audiences love him, (and all who play with him!)”
…a lyrical tenor player in the tradition of Stan Getz and Zoot Sims, he has a deceptively casual approach which hides a tremendous technique. He draws his programme from a vast repertoire of tunes and his warm personality has endeared him to audiences everywhere. Surprisingly, Spike only became a fulltime professional musician at the age of 52 when he retired from his day job as an engineer in the early 1980s. Up to then he had been playing tenor sax in his spare time in local clubs in Boulder, Colorado. (Independent)
…the teaming of Robinson and Al Cohn
is a happy and productive one in the Cohn–Sims tradition. As with his
previous partner, Al manages (with Spike's sensitive collaboration) to
show how much a pair of tenors can bring to their teamwork. Let's not
think of this as a confrontation or competition, but rather as a happy
and justified juxtaposition, one that will be repeated in the years to
come, now that Spike is out there where he always belonged.
...A recording Spike completed for Concord Records with Scott Hamilton and Ken Peplowski was judged to be one of the ten best jazz recordings of the last decade by Jazz Times magazine. Spike’s most recent CD, Young Lions/Old Tigers, was recorded in 2000 as a collaboration with four relatively young musicians including Derek Nash (who performed at GJiJ in 1994).