Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians

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Priestley, Brian

Priestley, Brian, pianist, arranger, author, educator; b. Manchester, UK, 10 July 1940. His father, Walter Priestley (1907-1996), was an amateur pianist and his mother Yolande (nee Butterworth, 1913-2002), a former textile designer.

An only child, Brian studied piano from the age of 6 till 13, firstly with his father, and then violin and viola from 13 to 15. He later dabbled on double-bass, vibes and alto saxophone, playing bass with a night-club band for two weeks in 1961. The piano, however, was his introduction to the semi-pro jazz scene in Manchester and Leeds (where he studied French and Education, 1958-63, leading student groups for which he wrote all the arrangements). He also lived for a year in France (1960-61) and moved to Oxford (1964-69), working in bookshops while playing in local and student bands, where he backed visiting soloists from Joe Harriott to Jimmy Witherspoon. At this period, he began arranging for the National Youth Jazz Orchestra, which continued after he moved to London (autumn 1969), when he also played piano with the big bands of Alan Cohen and Tony Faulkner. With Cohen's band in 1972, he took part in the first repertory performance of Duke Ellington's complete 'Black, Brown and Beige', his transcription from original live recordings of this and the 'Far East Suite' being later used by the New York Jazz Repertory Company and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, respectively. His transcriptions of solo piano tracks by Oscar Peterson and Herbie Hancock were recorded by French classical pianist Katia Labeque, the latter in duet with Hancock himself.

Having written articles and reviews for the periodical Jazz Monthly from 1964, by the late 1960s he became more involved in contributing to Melody Maker, Down Beat and BBC radio. In 1971 he began hosting a weekly series for BBC, which eventually ran 17 years and was an influence on the renewed interest in jazz in London during the 1980s; he has since appeared on Jazz-fm and as a guest on BBC. As well as annotating hundreds of new and reissued recordings, he has compiled over 50 reissue albums for U.K. and U.S. companies. Between 1992 and 2004, he sat on the international committee of the Jazzpar Prize, awarded in Copenhagen each year.

In the late 1970s his small-group playing continued with the Jeff Scott-Dave Gelly Quintet and he formed his own quartet (Stylus) and seven-piece group (the Special Septet). The latter specialized in Ellington material, and continued occasional performances until 1999. Since 1979, he has been regularly heard playing unaccompanied piano, and has worked increasingly in education. As well as adult group classes in jazz piano for adults, he has run workshops for beginning horn-players and has done both workshops and jazz history courses for several of London's leading music colleges. From 1997 to 2005 he has also been involved with the Associated Board of Royal Schools of Music, contributing arranged material for their graded examinations and acting as an examiner.

Love You Gladly (1988); You Taught My Heart To Sing (with Don Rendell, 1994);
Louise Gibbs/Brian Priestley/Tony Coe: Love You Madly (1999); Who Knows? (2004)

As sideperson:
Alan Cohen: Duke Ellington's Black, Brown and Beige (1972); Bill Berry: Bilberry Jam (1989); Katia Labeque: Little Girl Blue (1995, includes arrangements by Priestley)

Radio broadcasts:
12 unissued broadcasts for BBC: with Alan Cohen, Tony Faulkner, own septet, and solo (1972-1997).
Interviews for BBC and other local stations; contributor to Triumph Of The Underdog (dir. Don McGlynn, 1997).

Bibliography / Works by Priestley:
"Black, Brown and Beige," by Priestley and Alan Cohen, in Composer 51, 52, 53 (1974-75; repr. in The Duke Ellington Reader, ed. Mark Tucker, Oxford U.P., 1993)
Jazz Masters: Thelonious Monk, by Dave Gelly (text) and Priestley (piano arrangements) (Wise Publications, 1977)
Mingus: A Critical Biography (Quartet, 1982; repr. Da Capo, 1984)
Jazz Piano 1-6 (IMP, 1983-1990); Jazz Piano Transcribed Solos 1 (Hal Leonard, 1987, contents repr. from books 1 and 2 of IMP series)
Charlie Parker (Spellmount/Hippocrene, 1984)
John Coltrane (Apollo Press, 1987)
Jazz: The Essential Companion, by Ian Carr, Digby Fairweather and Priestley (Grafton, 1987)
Jazz On Record: A History (Elm Tree, 1988; repr. Billboard, 1991)
New Grove Dictionary of Jazz (includes 20 articles by Priestley; Macmillan, 1988)
Jazz: The Rough Guide, by Ian Carr, Digby Fairweather and Priestley (Rough Guides/Penguin,1995; third edition, 2004)
"Bill Evans at the Village Vanguard," in O Papel do Jazz 2, 1997
"Ragtime, Blues, Jazz and Popular Music," in The Cambridge Companion to the Piano, ed. David Rowland (Cambridge U.P., 1998)
"Golson, Benny," "Mingus, Charles," "Monk, Thelonious Sphere," in International Dictionary of Black Composers, ed. Samuel A. Floyd Jr. (Fitzroy Dearborn, 1999)
"The Early Forties Recordings (1940-42)," in Duke Ellington: The Centennial Edition (RCA Victor, 1999)
Jazz: 100 Essential CDs, by Digby Fairweather and Priestley (Rough Guides/Penguin, 2001)
"Thelonious Monk and Charles Mingus," in The Oxford Companion to Jazz, ed. Bill Kirchner (Oxford U.P., 2001)
"The 'Stardust' File," in Annual Review of Jazz Studies 10, 2001
Review of "The Thelonious Monk Reader," in Current Musicology, 2002
"Chasin' The Bird: The Life and Legacy of Charlie Parker" (Equinox, 2005; Oxford U.P., 2006)
Review of "Kansas City Jazz" and "One O'Clock Jump," in Jazz Perspectives Vol.1/1, 2007
"Charlie Parker and Popular Music," in Annual Review of Jazz Studies (to be published 2008)          Over 1,000 short publications including book and LP/CD reviews from 1964 onward in Jazz Monthly, Down Beat, Wire, Jazz the Magazine, Gramophone, Blue Light, Jazzwise, JazzUK and elsewhere.

Writings about Priestley (omitting numerous reviews of his work):
"Priestley, Brian" in Who's Who of British Jazz (Cassell, 1997)
"Priestley, Brian" in Jazz: The Rough Guide, third edition (2004)
"Priestley, Brian" in The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, second edition (2001)

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