Obituary: Ron Mathewson

Bassist who came from the extremities of the British Isles to essay the extremes of jazz, ranging from Alex Welsh to John Stevens

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Ron Mathewson at Ronnie Scott's in 1989. Photo © Brian O'Connor

Virtuoso bassist Ron Mathewson passed away on 3 December 2020 aged 76. He’d been retired for some years but his contributions to British jazz were significant. Playing the double bass from aged 15, he departed his native Shetland Isles at the tender age of 17 to play in Germany with Ken Ramage’s Dixielanders, followed by the Clyde Valley Stompers and Pete Kerr’s Scottish All Stars.

He finally moved to London in 1964 to work with Alex Welsh’s band and following a spell with Fat John Cox’s band and rejoining Welsh’s band again he took a musical quantum leap (albeit a temporary one) migrating from trad jazz to joining John Stevens’ septet, although he briefly rejoined Welsh yet again. However, by 1966 he had commenced a long musical association with Tubby Hayes. This culminated in his appearance on Hayes’ seminal quartet album Mexican Green (Fontana, 1968). Mathewson played in all iterations of Hayes’ bands from then on until the saxophonist’s untimely death in 1973.

He also played on Ray Russell’s excellent debut album Turn Circle (CBS, 1968). Two other albums (amongst many others) on which Mathewson played a key role were Kenny Wheeler’s Song For Someone (Incus, 1973) and the hugely under-acknowledged Ronnie Scott album Serious Gold (Pye, 1977). He was a mainstay of Scott’s quintet from 1977 until 1992. He also frequently accompanied stellar international musicians such as Stan Getz, Charles Tolliver, Joe Henderson, Ben Webster, Roy Eldridge, Oscar Peterson, Bill Evans, Philly Joe Jones, Phil Woods and was a member for a time of the Clarke Boland Big Band, recording albums with them.

He collaborated with countless British musicians including Tony Coe, Mick Pyne, Ian Carr, Gordon Beck, Stan Tracey, Tony Kinsey, Ronnie Ross, Ian Hamer, John Taylor and Stan Sulzmann. He appeared with Charlie Watts’ Big Band from 1985 to 1986. He led occasional groups too with the likes of Alan Skidmore, John Taylor, Dick Pearce and Spike Wells.

Mathewson was as adept on both acoustic bass and bass guitar, but was better known by far for his work on the upright instrument, producing his trademark resonant tone, variously punctuated by exuberant glissandi. Although he had to all intents and purposes dropped out of the public eye and music scene in recent years, he was still very much in the consciousness of all those who were lucky enough to have witnessed his fantastic playing and thankfully his music is still available to be heard on many of those albums to which he contributed.

Rest in peace, Ron.