ImprovNotes May 2014 Artist of the Month: Phil Minton

Phil Minton is a free jazz and improvising vocalist (and trumpeter) with a wide range of voices and extended vocal techniques. Minton is known for his theatrical baritone and his vocals include everything from burping, screaming, muttering, and crying, and he has a unique ability to produce two notes simultaneously. Minton has focused much of his efforts on literary texts, performing lyrics by William Blake, as well as extracts from James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake with his own ensemble. His material is always original, and his dedications always diverse, as he once participated in a Jimi Hendrix tribute project—belting the lyrics out. His album, Songs from a Prison Diary (Poems by Ho Chi Minh) is truly a masterwork of modern creative music, composed for solo voice, choir, piano, and percussion, containing early baroque tenants and contemporary improvisational shades throughout.

Born in the Southern coast in England in 1940, Minton began as a trumpeter, playing in various jazz bands in late 50s, and doubling as a trumpeter/vocalist for the Mike Westbrook Orchestra in London in the mid-60s. He’s travelled and lived all around the world, from the Canary Islands to Sweden, and in the 1970s he worked in a variety of venues, from improvised duos to theatre groups. One of his most known groups at this time was the vocal trio Voice with Julie Tippetts and Maggie Nicols. As an improvising vocalist, Minton has performed all around the world with a range of creative musicians, including Peter Brötzmann, Fred Frith, and Derek Bailey’s Company. He has also maintained a longtime collaboration with pianist Veryan Weston. In 1982, he collaborated with Bob Ostertag and Fred Frith on the audacious Voice of America, appearing on part 2. Ostertag describes the ad hoc performance of this piece, which was very literally improvised on the spot: “A few months later Fred and I were in London for a concert. Moments before going on, my synthesizer was destroyed in a technical mishap. I was left with my cassette set-up and a contact mic I either kept between my teeth or used to amplify various toys. Fred had brought only a piece of wood with a few screws at either end and guitar strings strung between them. With my synthesizer still smoking, we hastily recruited Phil Minton out of his seat in the audience and without any time for discussion began the set that became Voice of America Part 2.” Minton, Frith, and Ostertag are proof that good improvisers are ready to go at a moment’s notice. Have a listen to “Voice of America” (Part 2) below, along with other pieces, and if you are in Guelph we hope to see you at the Minton workshop on June 24th, 2014 from 7:30pm-10pm at Silence Guelph (46 Essex).

Download “Voice of America” (Part 2) from Bob Ostertag’s website, here.

Phil Minton’s Feral Choir at the Hatton Gallery, Newcastle, 2012:

Phil Minton sings the traditional English folk song “The Cutty Men” from the Peasants’ Revolt (1381). Veryan Weston on piano:


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