Simon Purcell is probably best known as Head of Jazz at Trinity-Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance and member of the Pop and Jazz Steering Group for the Association of European Conservatoires. Since the mid 1980s, Simon has performed both as leader and sideman, appearing with amongst others – Red Rodney, Kenny Wheeler, Eddie Henderson, Stan Sulzman, Jean Toussaint and Julian Arguelles. His current quintet features Julian Siegel, Chris Batchelor and Gene Calderazzo.
From a musical family, his parents were classical musicians, his father having performed with a number of London Orchestras, while his grandfather, clarinettist Paddy Purcell, was a listed in Who’s Who as a member of Henry Wood’s Orchestra during the 1920s. He began playing the French horn at 8, and received a thorough classical musical education at school, playing in orchestras, wind-bands, singing in a chapel choir, learning a discipline that he has come to value.
In his teens, Simon fumbled through boogie-woogie and various attempts at jazz as relief from hours of long notes on the French-horn, and by the time he left Trinity College of Music in 1980, he was dividing his time between classical music and jazz (only having received instruction in the former).
While at college of Music, Simon formed a band with saxophonist Martin Speake, mainly playing bebop, and later jazz-fusion in the group ‘This Side Up’. However, the first project to attract attention in London, and later on BBC radio, was Jazz Train, a hard-bop sextet featuring vocalist Cleveland Watkiss (and later, Anita Wardell) alongside many and various emerging musicians of the day including Mike Mower, Mark Lockheart, Steve Sidwell, Dale Barlow, Iain Ballamy, Julian Arguelles, Leigh Etherington, Mike Williams, Mick Hutton, Arnie Somogyi, Mark Taylor and Gene Calderazzo.
During this period, Simon also developed a more European approach through a collaboration with saxophonist Julian Arguelles, again broadcasting for the BBC and touring the North West three times. During the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s, Simon hosted many jam sessions at the London’s Bass Clef Club, providing the support for many American artists such as Bill Frissell, Mark Helias, Kenny Barron and Dave Liebman, as well as establishing himself and performing with Red Rodney, Eddie Henderson, Kenny Wheeler etc. He even performed with Peter Ind on three different closing nights, several months apart!
In 1991, Simon appeared on Cleveland Watkiss’s Polydor release Green Chimneys, followed two years later by Women Have Standards with Anita Wardell in 1993. However, the busy life as a teacher has meant that most of Simon’s musical projects have never been recorded, notably a quartet with saxophonist Mike Williams, Dave Wickins and Ricardo Dos Santos (1995 – 2000), a trio with Phil Allen and Steve Watts (1987 – 1995), a project with vocalist Christine Tobin (1991-1995) and his Octet that toured Scotland in 1998. Obsessively busy, Simon founded Jazz Umbrella in 1993, a London-based jazz collective, promoting gigs at the Vortex Jazz Club and establishing a network of gigs in local communities throughout the city. There was never enough time, although Simon now promotes his most recent project with Julian Siegel, Chris Batchelor, Gene Calderazzo, Steve Watts and occasional collaboration with vocalist Liane Carroll.
Despite his experience as a performer, Simon is best known as an educator. During his teacher-training he was fortunate to be tutored by Janet Ritterman (until recently the principal of the Royal College of Music) at that time, Head of the Music Education Department at Goldsmiths College. A succession of Tuesday afternoon workshops required him to teach songs non-verbally, i.e. without any verbal explanation or notation. This introduction to hemispherical function of the brain, educational psychology and the realization that lesson planning and evaluation was not only necessary in order to achieve trouble-free lessons but also was a form of creative problem-solving, convinced him of a joint vocation as musician and teacher. Fascinated by how music students learn (and jazz musicians in particular), Simon has continued to draw on his early experiences as a school teacher, over the years accumulating a mass of materials and informal research as a result of reflection, systematic recording, planning and evaluation of lessons, consequently forming a number of templates for diagnosis and interpretation of educational phenomena. Simon’s educational research was published in 2001 (Staff Development through Creative Co-Mentoring Partnerships), 2003 (Musical Patchwork: Teacher Research Within a Conservatoire), and 2005 (Teacher Research Within a Conservatoire – a condensed version of the former, published by Ashgate).
Simon has taught and mentored several generations of Britain’s finest jazz musicians. Between 1987 and 2005, he was professor of jazz piano and improvisation at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama and was appointed Head of Jazz at Trinity College of Music in September 2005, meanwhile, co-directing the Glamorgan Jazz Summer School (formerly the Barry Summer School). In between times he has acted as a consultant to Birmingham Conservatoire, been educational director of the National Jazz Youth jazz Orchestra of Scotland and in 2006, received the award for Jazz Educationalist of the Year from the Parliamentary Jazz Committee. Purcell joined the Executive of the National Youth Jazz Orchestra in September 2009, mainly to advise on behalf of the Music Higher Education Sector and to establish the NYJO Musical Policy Committee.