Mike Carr – 1937-2017


Mike Carr, who died on 22 September aged 79, was arguably the most compelling of British jazz organists, notable for his enthusiasm and for his unerring ability to generate powerful, swinging improvisations. In person, the style was the man, for Mike was excitable, always passionate on matters musical and invariably upbeat.

Calling on him at his London home was an adventure for Mike lived amid a multitude of cats, surrounded by a formidable array of Hammond B3 organs and their accompanying Leslie speakers, plus sundry special finds from car boot sales. Ever the optimist, Mike firmly believed that any one of these precious artefacts was about to make his fortune. Mike was from South Shields and first made his name as the instigator of the EmCee Four which became the EmCee Five once his trumpeter brother Ian had joined the group. Moving to London in the 1960s their impact was immediate for their grasp of the hard-bop idiom made them a formidable force. Powered by drummer Ronnie Stephenson and featuring Mike on piano and vibes they earned every plaudit going. Eventually the brothers Carr went their separate ways and Mike moved over to the B3, drawn to its funky strut and growling power, touring widely with Ronnie Scott. He then fronted any number of combos of his own, often appearing with Jim Mullen and Dick Morrissey and working with visiting US stars including the bluesy vocalist Irene Reid. His final Blue Note Band with the Fishwick brothers and Steve Kaldestad was one of the best groups around and a genuine festival favourite.

Loquacious, hugely talented and a paragon of swing, Mike's last years were dimmed by the onset of dementia, a cruel outcome for so engaging a character. RIP Mike.

– Peter Vacher