Keith Tippett

Keith Tippett (25 August 1947 - 14 June 2020)

Tippett was invited to become a full-time member of King Crimson after his initial guest appearance on In The Wake Of Poseidon but he declined the offer which would have involved Fripp and Tippett sharing an equal say in the band's musical direction. Fripp and Tippett maintained a friendship that saw Fripp producing Tippett's large ensemble work, Septober Energy by the 50-strong ensemble, Centipede in 1971. Fripp produced other albums by Tippett, including Blueprint (1972), 1988's Couple In Spirit (with Keith's wife, Julie), and 1990's 66 Shades Of Lipstick with saxophonist Andy Sheppard. Keith once remarked that Robert was "a safe pair of ears to have around the recording studio."

King Crimson’s sole appearance on BBC TV’s Top Of The Pops, was with Tippett, miming Cat Food alongside Robert Fripp, Peter and Michael Giles, and Greg Lake. This somewhat incongruous convergence was listed in The Guardian’s series highlighting 50 key events in the history of dance music, praising Tippett’s “thrilling cascades of spiky dissonance to Fripp, McDonald and Sinfield's cynical, asymmetric art-rock.”

Nicholas Pegg’s encyclopaedic The Complete David Bowie acknowledges Tippett’s work with Crimson and Cat Food in particular as an influence on Bowie when he brought pianist Mike Garson into the band, suggesting that Tippett’s playing “bears a striking similarity to Garson’s work on Aladdin Sane." That he was best known in rock circles at least for his work with King Crimson was sometimes a source of frustration for the pianist. On the matter Tippett himself commented “David Bowie told Robin Lumley, who told me, that in America I’m known as an avant-garde rock piano player. And if people are moved by my work with King Crimson then I wish they’d go and hunt out my own stuff. If they liked my piano playing on Islands then they’d surely love my piano playing on my solo work.”

After his work with Crimson he appeared on Peter Sinfield's solo album, Still and appeared as a member of the group backing Sinfield on BBC TV's Old Grey Whistle Test in what was one of many sessions the pianist engaged in. While his first love was jazz, Tippett was never a musical snob. He kept his ears open, always keen to see how his playing would sit in different contexts. He appeared on many sessions whose artistic breadth provides ample testimony to his eclectic spirit including ex-Fairport Convention’s Ian Mathews, Keith Christmas, Arthur Brown, David Sylvian, Shelagh McDonald and many others.

During his lifetime Tippett released or appeared on well over 100 albums featuring many collaborations with different ensembles. Aside from the Couple in Spirit duo with his wife Julie, one of his other notable partnerships was in his duo with jazz legend, pianist Stan Tracey. In 2011 he guested on the Michael Giles’ MAD Band album In The Moment and 2015 saw the release of the stunning Live In Piacenza, a 50-minute continuous performance encompassing touching lyricism, tottering playfulness, and ground-shaking thunder chords, breaking open rich emotional seams. Active in an educational capacity in summer schools and masterclasses, ill-health forced him to take time away from the stage in 2018. Writing on the morning following Tippett's death in 2020, Robert Fripp noted "Keith Tippett is one of three musicians of my generation who continues to influence and guide my musical thinking. Keith’s music speaks for itself. Perhaps less well-known is Keith’s stature as an ethical musician, a good man. Fly well, Brother Keith! My gratitude to you."

Keith Tippett with King Crimson
In The Wake Of Poseidon
Sailors' Tale 1970 - 1972