Parker Burwell Toop credit Jak Kilby

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In Memoriam - Jak Kilby

I want to write a short piece on the recently departed photographer Jak Kilby, who, among his many other achievements, was one of the very first lens artists to capture the burgeoning free improvisation scene in London across the late sixties and the seventies. This is why I first got in contact with him, back in 2015,

I was aware of his work as far back as the early seventies, as his pictures featured (along with the cartoons of the late Mal Dean) in the Melody Maker, the only ‘inkie’ that had articles covering the free improv scene at the time. Richard Williams wrote many and various features on the likes of Derek Bailey, Evan Parker, the Spontaneous Music Ensemble, AMM, etc, etc., often accompanied by Kilby’s eye-catching photographs. Very few other photographers could be bothered with this obscure micro-scene, so when I decided to write about this ‘other little world’, he was one of the first people that I approached. Even though he was based in Malaysia, having also converted to Islam, he proved very responsive and we worked out a mutually beneficial deal on the use of several of his works in my two books on the subject. He had also lived in Crouch End in the seventies, which proved to be another link between us.

I met Jak on only four occasions. He came to our house in Crouch End twice and stayed for several hours both times. We had a quick photo session, and poured over his incredibly extensive portfolio. He also sold me his copy of the original  Elektra AMMusic 1966 for a very reasonable price, and I will always treasure this autographed copy. We first met at The Welcome Institute Cafe on Euston Road and attended The Wire Xmas Party at Cafe Oto together in 2017, where I could witness first hand the amount of old and more recent friends the guy had. Jak was one of the most voluble people that I have ever met, and seemed to have an endless variety of shaggy dog stories and anecdotes to share with me. I encouraged him to put them in some sort of book form (just as I had encouraged John Jack, another doyen of the jazz scene who has passed recently). Unfortunately, he seemed far too busy in the ‘real world’ to find the time to sit down for the length of time this sort of venture would have needed.

I knew that one of the reasons he came back to England was to attend appointments at the Royal Free Hospital, so it wasn’t a complete surprise when I found out today that he had passed on, but it has still left me appropriately sad and reflective, glad to have had the opportunity to meet him and to discuss his life and projects with him, and especially pleased that my books are a couple of showcases for the latter. R.I.P, big guy.

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Banner and book cover photo credit: Jak Kilby