Obituary: Tete Montoliu
Monday 25 August 1997
Because of the Civil War and the Second World War, Spain was practically a jazz desert from 1936 to 1947, the only oasis for the fan being the 78rpm records by American bands issued on the La Vos de su Amo label. Montoliu learned his jazz mostly at second hand from these. He listened to records by Art Tatum, Earl Hines and Bud Powell, the most challenging players of them all, and modelled his own style carefully from their performances. Throwing in a dash of Thelonious Monk and Wynton Kelly later on, he developed his playing into a unique and typically European interpretation of the great American music.
Montoliu's father was a professional oboist who played with the Barcelona Opera Orchestra and in the local brass band. He also led a dance band. Montoliu's mother was a jazz fan who played records by Fats Waller and Duke Ellington. The boy learned to read music in Braille when he was seven and began playing in local jazz groups when he was 12. He began classical studies at Barcelona Conservatory when he was 13. In that same year, 1946, he began playing locally with the expatriate American tenor saxophonist Don Byas, in those days a frequent visitor to Barcelona.
Like the Frenchman Martial Solal, and perhaps as a parallel to Django Reinhardt on the guitar, the European Montoliu developed into a much more extensively talented player than most of the Americans. Unlike Solal, he broke little new ground, but he had an almost superhuman technique and fashioned his Bebop improvisations at phenomenal speed. He used mostly standard material - superior popular tunes and jazz compositions, but contrived to make each performance fresh and sparkling. From time to time he made use of his native Catalan folk themes.
His career was boosted when, at the end of a 1955 concert by the Lionel Hampton band in Barcelona, he came up on stage and played a set with the vibraphone player. Hampton was so impressed that he had Montoliu play on an album he recorded for Spanish RCA a day or so later. The Spaniard began his own recording career in 1958, and a prolific stream of albums ensued until the early Nineties when he became ill.
He first left Spain in 1958 to appear at the Cannes Jazz Festival with an American rhythm section. Subsequently he played with the then free- form tenor sax player Archie Shepp in Copenhagen from 1963 to 1964, although Montoliu himself was dismissive of the idiom.
"Free jazz doesn't exist," he said. "It's just an excuse for musicians who don't know how to play the blues or even their instruments." However, in 1974 he recorded two more albums with the saxophonist Anthony Braxton, an enfant terrible at the avant-garde gate.
Before that Tete Montoliu had visited major European cities including London to play with American giants like Dexter Gordon, Kenny Dorham, Ben Webster, Lucky Thompson and Roland Kirk. He worked as a soloist at the Top of the Gate in New York in 1967 and from then worked often in the United States. His reputation blossomed further as he led a succession of potent trios which included the bassists George Mraz or Neils-Henning Orsted Pedersen and the drummers Al "Tootie" Heath or Al Foster from the mid-Seventies until the end of his career in the mid-Nineties.
Vincente "Tete" Montoliu Massana, pianist: born Barcelona 28 March 1933; married Monserrat Garcia-Albea; died Barcelona 24 August 1997.
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Weather bomb in pictures: Storms cuts power for tens of thousands – and snow is on the way
Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
Russell Brand was rendered speechless on Question Time by this man
Fury at Airbus after it hints the super-jumbo may be mothballed
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
Nigel Farage's approval rating hits 'record low' as popularity suffers in wake of Ukip sex scandal
Pakistan school attack live: Taliban kill at least 132 children in 'horrifying' massacre
Sony hack: Angelina Jolie branded 'seriously out of her mind' in further embarrassing leaked email saga
Panic Saturday: 13 million Britons spend £1.2bn – while 13 million others across the country live in poverty unable to afford food
£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are in need of a HR Manage...
£35000 - £40000 per annum + £65,000 OTE: h2 Recruit Ltd: London, Birmingham, M...