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  • Writer's picturePaul

John Altman: 'England's Quincy Jones'

Occasionally, we get the chance to sit down for a chinwag with a true music legend. The recent Waffle Club Xmas lunch was Music Heritage London founder, Paul Endacott's chance to talk with John Altman.

"Not to be confused with the other John Altman, who played nasty Nick Cotton on EastEnders, also a regular Waffle Club attendee, this John Altman is an English film composer, music arranger, orchestrator, conductor and highly accomplished jazz musician so I had much to take in.

John's early musical encounters were with his uncles - One a bandleader, the other MC at the London Palladium during the Golden Age of Variety, who arranged and conducted for Judy Garland, the Marx Brothers, Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Danny Kaye and Dean Martin to name but a few. No wonder therefore, that John was destined for great things in the music business.

John's only formal musical training were piano lessons as a child but while at the University of Sussex he became involved in session work and gigs with Peter Green, members of Fleetwood Mac, Kevin Ayers, and John Martyn. His later studies at Birkbeck College were interrupted when he left to work with Hot Chocolate as musical director for two years. (Coincidentally, Errol Brown was an old golfing buddy of mine).

John also played saxophone with Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley, Eric Clapton, Phil Collins, Little Richard, and Van Morrison for whom he functioned as arranger and musical director as well as reed player. Other artists John has played with over the years are Muddy Waters, Nick Drake, Jimmy Page, The Comets, Spencer Davis.

In the mid-1970s, he began arranging and conducting on hit records such as Aled Jones' Walking in the Air (which he also produced); Alison Moyet's That Old Devil Called Love, Simple Minds Street Fighting Years, Rod Stewart's Downtown Train, George Michael's Kissing a Fool, Prefab Sprout's Hey Manhattan, Tina Turner and Barry White's Wildest Dream, Diana Ross' Christmas Album, Björk's It's Oh So Quiet, Goldie's Saturnz Returns.

John was also musical director for the All-Star Band assembled for the 1981 Amnesty International benefit show 'The Secret Policeman's Other Ball'. The ensemble included Sting, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Phil Collins, Bob Geldof, Donovan and Midge Ure.

Can't wait to talk with John about his parallel success as a composer, arranger and producer for films and television... An EMMY award winner, BAFTA nominated and a mention at the OSCARS for his period music for James Cameron's 'Titanic', which he also produced... the list goes on... maybe this interview will help discover more about ‘England’s Quincy Jones’. More soon!"

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