Obituary: Geoff Castle

Affable virtuoso pianist comfortable in many jazz styles with particular emphasis on Latin and jazz-rock fusions

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Geoff Castle on a open-air Croydon gig in June 2008. Photo © Brian O'Connor

The British jazz pianist Geoff Castle passed away suddenly on 15 January 2020 at the age of 70. Geoffrey Charles Castle was born in London on 8 June 1949. He learned the piano as a child and spent two years studying jazz with Tubby Hayes, Don Rendell and Graham Collier. He joined the National Youth Jazz Orchestra in 1967 and departed NYJO in 1970 to join Collier’s band, recording three albums with them: Mosaics (Philips, 1971); Portraits (Saydisc, 1973) and Darius (Mosaic, 1974).

He joined the Latin jazz-fusion outfit Paz in 1973 and in 1974 became a member of Ian Carr’s Nucleus. He played with the jazz-rock band for eight years and recorded seven albums with them and Carr from Under The Sun (Vertigo, 1974) to Carr’s seminal solo album Old Heartland (MMC, 1988). His own compositions featured on Snakehips Etcetera (Vertigo, 1975), Inflagrante Delicto (Capitol, 1977) and Out Of The Long Dark (Capitol, 1979). He also recorded on Neil Ardley’s highly acclaimed Kaleidoscope Of Rainbows (Gull, 1975) and Harmony Of The Spheres (Decca, 1978).

With his own band Strange Fruit he recorded an album entitled Debut (President, 1982) and later released an album under his own name Expanded (Turret, 1994) featuring, amongst others, Gerard Presencer on trumpet. It should be noted that his instrumental mastery extended not merely to the acoustic and electric piano but also to the Mini Moog and other synthesizers which were in evidence at many gigs.

Geoff Castle at Montreux in 1971 as part of Graham Collier’s band. Photo by Harry Monty

His association with Paz continued unabated and he was playing with the band as recently as 2019. He recorded several albums with Paz and also accompanied the veteran vocalist and percussionist Frank Holder who died in 2017. He also frequently accompanied vocalists in a variety of settings. Geoff was instrumental in reforming Nucleus who played at Cargo, London in 2005. Carr was too frail to play but attended the gig. His place was taken by Chris Batchelor who subsequently played trumpet with Nucleus Revisited at Jazzwise magazine’s 10th birthday festival held at Pizza Express Jazz Club in London’s Soho in 2007 and at a concert in 2009 at Ronnie Scott’s as part of a festival of British jazz. Castle, as de facto leader of Nucleus Revisited, reformed the band at a memorial concert for Ian Carr at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London in 2010, which also featured guest musicians including John Marshall, Ray Russell, Tim Whitehead and Guy Barker.

Above all, Geoff was a pivotal and seemingly ubiquitous player on the British jazz scene and he will be sorely missed by fans and fellow musicians alike who regarded him with great affection both for his easy going affability and his spectacular virtuosity.