“I make it my business to hear as much live music as I can, and I can say that the performance I heard of Tim Whitehead's “Colour Beginnings” at Tate Britain on November 6th was one of the most inspiring I have ever heard.” Nigel Llewellyn-Head of Research, Tate Britain “This is a lovely record.......vital and muscular , Whitehead draws powerful performances from his players....Liam Noble …..quite splendid.” Duncan Heining-Jazzwise Magazine

“Whitehead's music always stands on its own feet. His bands are consistently fine examples of attractively song-rooted composing and cutting-edge postbop improv” John Fordham-The Guardian

'Colour Beginnings' takes you on a musical journey through the most spontaneous, atmospheric and edgy areas of JMW Turner's famous watercolour sketches, 'Colour Beginnings', that inspired Paul Rothko, David Hockney and countless other modern artists.  Tim's transcribed spontaneous compositions, originally recorded in front of the famous works at Tate Britain, where he was artist in residence in 2009, are performed by the Personal Standards Quartet, featuring the unique pianist Liam Noble, whose recent recording 'Brubeck' earned him a 5 star review in the Guardian, and a letter from Brubeck saying that Liam had “opened doors in my music that I can only dream of walking through”.  On bass is the articulate multi -instrumentalist Pat Bettison (his inspired chromatic harmonica playing recently graced the WayOutWest regular session at the Orange Tree in Richmond) who recently returned from a 15 year stay in USA where he toured and recorded with Acoustic Alchemy and many other artists.  On drums and percussion, Milo Fell has been a creative contributor to The Personal Standards Quartet with Tim since the recording 'Personal Standards' in 1999 (which was jazz album of the year in The BBC Music Magazine and album of the week in The Guardian).  In the performance, the paintings relating to the music are projected behind the band ,flowing through treasures of Turner's works hidden away in the vaults of the Tate, like “The Skies Sketch Book”, where the music articulates the rhapsodic en pleine air sky studies which Turner filled its pages with.

STORY (... by Tim)

 “I first conceived of pursuing the project 'Colour Beginnings' several years ago during a regular visit to Tate Britain, to look at the collection of colour sketches by the artist JMW Turner, held in store at The Prints and Drawings Room,which have held my interest and inspired me for many years. I seem to get a musical narrative in response to some art work, and in the case of Turner's work, particularly the late oils and watercolours, and the colour sketches, I noticed that it was particularly strong and consistent.  In 2006 I made some exploratory visits to the Prints and Drawings Room to look more closely at the body of work known as "Colour Beginnings", which are watercolour sketches ,thought by curators and experts to be 'unfinished' preparatory and experimental pieces related often to other subsequent 'finished' works, and decided to commit myself to a project of that name, using this body of work , and the sketch books , as the principle source of inspiration.  Turner's approach to painting, the tenacity of his vision as an artist, and his robustness and passion as a human being,were an inspiration to completing this work; he is a role model for the 21st Century artist." 

In 2008 The Leverhulme Trust granted Tate Britain funding to invite Tim to be artist in residence in 2009.


"Looking more closely at the nature of this inspiration, I became aware that part of the relationship which crossed the boundary between the two disciplines, for me was, and is, tonality, both in paint and in sound.  I have experimented with watercolour paint for most of the time I have been a professional musician, and the quality, for instance, of the sound of my saxophone has parallels in paint.  For instance, the edge of the sound against a silent backdrop, and the edge of a colour wash against the texture of the paper or another layer of wash. Another relationship which emerged while I worked and researched, as Artist In Residence at Tate Britain in 2009, was in the similarity of Turner's approach to working, as reported by other observers,and by contemporary experts who I consulted,and my approach as an improvising jazz musician.  Farringdon, a contemporary of Turner's, described in vol.iv of his memoirs how "Turner has no settled process, but drives the colours around until he has expressed the ideas in his mind".  The narrative of a solo emerges by articulating tones 'heard' by the inner ear, and then responding to the resultant suggestions coming from those resonances, and the responses of the other musicians.  This emerging narrative, which is the lifeblood of jazz playing,bares a close resemblance to the improvisational approach whereby Turner articulated his own colour/visual perceptions.

 In the Colour Beginnings body of work, ".....more precious and lovely than any finished drawings"(John Ruskin -Modern Painters),the raw edge of his experimentation and poetic urge is very exposed and accessible. How I composed the music I spent 3 months looking through all the Colour Beginnings colour sketches stored at Tate Britain and some other related works, including sketch books (there are hundreds!),read and researched Turner's work and life, and selected some works. I then set up groups of paintings in the Prints and Drawings Room, where I was based at Tate Britain, and recorded spontaneous improvisations in front of the paintings. I then selected some of the improvisations, transcribed them ,learnt them and harmonised and arranged the improvisations to present to the musicians in my quartet.

Tim's GIG List for your diary