Other Lives - John Ellson
John Ellson, who has died aged 64 of a heart attack, was a manager and concert producer who believed completely in the freedom of musicians to express themselves. Unlike many on the edges of the music business, John, who was my friend for 30 years and my manager for the last five, was not a musician manqué with a trumpet on which he secretly played Miles Davis solos, but a dedicated professional who never interfered in music programming unless he disliked the music personally, which was rare.
Selflessly, generously and humorously, he just let everything happen, and was there at the end to pick up whatever pieces there were.
In the 1980s John produced global tours featuring such huge stars as Ray Charles, BB King, Oscar Peterson and Sonny Rollins – all of whom he became close to. He was also a piece of old Soho furniture, a friend and collaborator with Ronnie Scott’s club for decades, and producer of the venue’s 40thanniversary celebrations at the Barbican in 1999. He worked with a fellow producer, John Cumming, on the Camden jazz festival in the 1980s, and as a partner with Cumming in Serious Productions helped to expand it into the now world-famous London jazz festival, as well as managing saxophonists John Surman and Andy Sheppard. From 1998, as producer at ESIP (Ellson Scoble International Producers), he worked closely with the Afrobeat star Manu Dibango and the composer and bassist Avishai Cohen.
In 2006, with Emma Perry John set up Global Mix, a record company that let musicians retain ownership and copyright of their albums, and which supported the work of Dibango and the British musicians Guy Barker and Tim Garland. Dedicated to giving newcomers a free rein, he also brought his pioneering Made in the UK series to the Xerox Rochester international jazz festival in the US from 2008, thereby helping to launch the careers of young British jazz artists in the States.
Born in East Lambrook, Somerset, the son of Annie (nee Hooper), a glove maker, and John Ellson, a transport driver, John attended Yeovil grammar school before taking a philosophy, politics and economics degree at Portsmouth Polytechnic, where he met his future wife, Elizabeth Smith. He took a diploma in European integration at the University of Amsterdam before marrying Liz, a teacher, in 1975. In 1977 John began working at the Ealing careers service, but left after a few years having met Cumming on a weekend driving job for Bracknell jazz festival. The pair then went on to form Serious Productions.
A tireless socialist campaigner, John planned to stand for the Labour party in Henley-on Thames, until the prospect, to him horrendous, of sharing a platform with Boris Johnson forced him to reconsider. One of his last appearances was on PBS in New York, on a telephone call-in programme during which incredulous Americans quizzed him for an hour on the reasons for Britain leaving the EU. He could not think of an argument in the Leave camp’s favour. John is survived by Liz, and by his mother, Annie, brother, Nicholas and sister, Carolyn.