This is the speech I gave at the memorial celebration of Pete’s life before family and friends in 2012
Writing and creating your own original music is hard. You have to have a lot of commitment, self belief and hope – hope that it is possible to get it together on next to no rehearsal; that it will work, that the musicians in the band will understand the music; that it will be valued. It’s important to have allies, and Pete was one of the best. I knew that I could write complicated, detailed music and that he would not only be able to read it, but understand the references. He was one of the few whose expertise embraces classical music and jazz, so he knew what I was trying to do – I mean, he could get behind the music and not only make it work but bring something else, something surprising, to it as well. I was knocked out that Pete stayed in my band for so long and gave the music all that commitment and belief.
He also wrote complicated music that required a lot of rehearsal (I remember one rehearsal when, after an hour getting to grips with a particular piece Laurence Cottle said “Right, shall we try and get to the end of the first bar then?”); so he had insider knowledge of what it takes. Pete’s own music was often rhythmically complicated, involving changes of time signature and metric modulations. This gave his melodic language a distinctive style – sometimes percussive, sometimes angular, sometimes with a headlong forward momentum as the music moved from one section to the next. He also had a finely tuned harmonic approach which, combined with his amazing piano touch, gave his music a very bright quality like etched stained glass. And what a piano technique! A hard but incredibly refined quality like precision tools – chisels or sculptors’ hammers; jewellers’ instruments. Where am I going to get my free piano lessons now? He sent me a text once: “ Jardins Sous La Pluie bars 126 – 136 check Liszt Les Jets d’Eaux a la villa d’Este. Jeez!”
There’s a Pete Saberton-shaped hole in the world now, and those of us who had him part of our music are going to find it hard. But, you know, I felt a certain energy: Win, Pete’s long lost love who came back to him just before the end, pointed out that Pete went just on the moment of spring – March 20th, an incredibly charged, potent, energetic time.
Pete’s gift to us, apart from his own beautiful music, is to value our own original music, to commit whole-heartedly to original projects whether our own or our colleagues’. He wants us to pursue our own thing with all the skill, intelligence and love we can muster, to aspire to the highest point of excellence; to not be wrested off course; to not be demoralised by crap, especially commercially successful crap.
Pete is an important figure on the UK music scene, too big for one event to celebrate. That’s why I’m delighted that his music continues to be performed, and that efforts are on hand to archive his sheet music and recordings. It’s great that superb performers like Richard Fairhurst and Liam Noble have been playing his music, and that his large ensemble music is being performed and recorded by the London Jazz Composers’ Orchestra, students of Guildhall and RAM, and so on. Brilliant!
Pete stood for originality and excellence in creative music making. He had little patience for slavish recreations of past music, as many students of London music colleges will know. A few days before Pete went into hospital for the last time we sat together and listened to Schoenberg’s Piano Concerto Opus 42 – hardly the action of someone who had given up. More of a rocket! Pete, you are an inspiration on so many levels.
Here’s to you Sabbo!