Tonight, it feels like the world is nervously holding its breath. As the presidential election votes are being counted, I find I can’t sleep.
A thought has popped into my head – “at least Bobby doesn’t have to worry about all this…”
As well as bringing back the terrible sadness of his sudden passing, just a few weeks ago, to think of Bobby also brings to mind his charm and humour – how he was always ready with a kind word or a witty remark, delivered in that soft Scottish accent. Bobby always made you feel good.
Were I asked to choose my favourite recorded saxophone solo, I would probably not choose something by Hawkins, Webster, Coltrane, Rollins, Coleman, or Brecker, brilliant though all these players are/were, but something by a self-deprecating musician whose magical, unique tone has now been silenced – Bobby Wellins.
As a teenager, I discovered and explored jazz via records borrowed from my local library. One of these – selected initially on the basis of its connection to Dylan Thomas – turned out to be a turning point in my musical education, making a very deep impression on me: Stan Tracey’s Under Milk Wood. Not only did this record spark my lifelong love affair with Stan’s music, it also brought me under the spell of Bobby Wellin’s enchanting sound. In particular, the haunting, fragile sensitivity of Bobby’s solo on the track Starless and Bible Black
It’s a track which evokes the rainy streets of a London-based film noir, the tenor providing a sad, resigned voice-over which can’t quite hide the sense of wonder at the mysteriousness and magic of these city scenes.
Bobby’s harmonic language, so distinctively and unmistakably his, may have had a natural affinity with the melancholic, but his melodic lines also had the strength, tenderness and romanticism of someone who relished life.
His music was as beautiful, humane, and ambiguous as an Edward Hopper painting.
Bobby, we miss you.
Bobby Wellins: 1936-2016