There was a long-running joke in my house when I was growing up.
It didn’t matter how famous someone was, my dad always claimed to have either gone to school with them (Cliff Richard), dated them (Debbie Harry), or at some point to have been best friends with them (Bryan Ferry).
For years, these outrageously tall tales were met with a chorus of “yeah, alright dad” – we were no fools, it would’ve been geographically impossible for him to be dating Debbie while at school with Bryan.
So when my dad told me that one of Britain’s most famous jazz musicians, Courtney Pine CBE, had lived mere doors away from my childhood home in Harrow, I scoffed.
“Parkfield Avenue, yeah I used to live there,“ Courtney exclaims. “Oh my goodness, we lived down the road from each other, you were my neighbour! I had some great times down that road, they did the best chips around the corner.
“I’ve moved to another part of Harrow, I love the place, it’s in the middle of everything. Harrow has a lot of fantastic musicians and a great support for jazz music.“ Credited with transforming the jazz scene with his multi-instrumental style, the 49-year-old music legend, who has 15 albums under his belt, is set to play in his own stomping ground, the Harrow Arts Centre, Friday week. And he’ll play tracks from his new album House of Legends, which will see him return to the instrument he is most known for – the saxophone.
Courtney took up the instrument as an act of rebellion against his Jamaican parents, both practicing Methodists, who wanted him to carve out a career as doctor.
“Mum and dad used to play music from the Caribbean,“ he recalls, “but I preferred the b-sides, guys would be improvising, playing jazz. From that early age a seed was planted and it’s grown into a fascination for musical improvisation.
“I remember seeing the Montreux Jazz Festival on TV when I was about 15 and Grovesnor Washington Junior did an instrumental version of Billy Joel’s Just the Way You Are. The way he played it, it just touched me.
“I remember turning to my dad and saying ‘that’s what I want to do with the rest of my life.’ But he’s a carpenter, he couldn’t understand, music is entertainment, it’s not a trade or a job. My parents didn’t see it as a vocation.
“I think they’re still hoping I’ll grow out of it,“ he chuckles heartily, “that I’m still going through a teenage phase.“ Courtney may not have pursued a career in medicine, but he is a doctor – a doctor of music, after being given an honorary doctorate from the University of Westminster.
“I don’t tend to get recognised in the area, which is pretty good, I can go about my business,“ he says. “But I do use Dr Pine all the time, particularly in shops. Staff look at me, this black, dread-locked guy in a tracksuit and they say how could he be Dr? Did he steal a Dr’s card? – I find it so funny.
“I’ll get my comeuppance if I use it on a plane – if someone needs help, all I’ll be able to do is whip out my saxophone.“ So how does he feel about playing at the Harrow Arts Centre?
“I play all over the world, so it’s great to play at home,“ he enthuses. “It’s a wonderful venue, a great place for the community.
“It’s my third time performing there. But this is the first homecoming show I’ve had, usually I have to fly straight out to another gig, I don’t get to chill at home, this time I do.
“Come along, we can have a mini-reunion on our old street afterwards.“ I can’t wait to tell my dad. Courtney Pine is at the Harrow Arts Centre, Uxbridge Road, Hatch End, on Friday, April 26, from 8pm. Details: 020 8416 8989 or www.harrowarts.com