Val- an amazing bassist/pianist | Sunday Observer

Val- an amazing bassist/pianist

August 14 will be a day that will never be forgotten by musicians in Sri Lanka and by musicians in London. No more will the piano note nor the double bass, sound for the pleasure of music lovers. Valentine Manickawasagar pianist and double bass artiste was laid to rest in London. His sister who rushed off to London gave us the news, that it was unfortunate as he suffered a heart ailment.

Valentine Manickawasagar was a gifted pianist. Along with his talented brothers Nesan on double bass and Lucky on drums they called themselves the Manickawasagar Brothers and their repertoire was mainly jazz. Dave Brubeck was a profound inspiration for him and he knew all of Brubeck’s numbers. His particular favourite being “Wonderful Copenhagen”. There was an underlying wish in him to be able to see Dave Brabeck in action and that wish came true when he left Sri Lanka in 1972, and went off to London to seek greener pastures. He was 27 years then and he got the opportunity to play along with Dave Brubeck and his sons who were themselves then a group. Since 1972 musicians and music lovers who enjoyed hearing professional performances have missed him. Saxophonist Rodney van Heer, himself a gifted musician was long associated with Valentine when he was in Sri Lanka. We asked him for his comments.

Valentine was a pianist of great calibre and then he became in London a greater double bass player, performing and recording with many leading bands and musicians in London. He first played with me in our family band “The Art Van Heer Quintet’. He was the pianist, and this if I remember right was in the early 60s. We there-after moved to play with the Louis Pedroso Band at the Mascarilla at the Galle Face Hotel with Gazzali Amit and Jimmy Mannel. We were joined later by Eden Pompeus.

It was during this period that the jazz band Night birds was formed with Valentine-piano, Nesan double bass Lucky-drums and myself on saxophone. I can proudly say that we introduced for the first time the Sitar and Tabla performing fusion jazz.

The late Wadham Dole also joined us in jazz bookings. After his stint at the Mascarilla, Gazzali Amit moved over to the Blue Leopard, Taprobane. Valentine played double bass, Jimmy Mannel was on piano, I played sax, Geoff Labrooy - drums and Geoff’s wife Antoinette was the vocalist.

Once our term was over with Gazzali Amit, Valentine and I joined Rex de Silva’s band. The nightclub was called 388 and the members were Valentine on piano, Tom Menezes – trumpet, Ishan Bahar-guitar, Lucky Manickawasagar-drums, Ralph de Silva – double bass, Marie Rozairo – vocals and I played sax. We had many interesting moments until Valentine decided to go to England. There, according to reports, he was the most sought after bass player. We musicians in Sri Lanka honour Valentine – a self taught musician who inspired and entertained all those who heard him perform.”

In London Val Mannix as he was called by the Londoners was an extremely popular bassist with almost all the performing bands.

He was the first choice for recordings, for concert stages and night club performances. He was happy he told us that he got an opportunity to play at Ronnie Scott’s Club – the Mecca for jazz men in England.

Valentine was determined to hit the high spots in London by extending his musicology. He studied with David Baker, Jamey Abersold, Rufus Reid, Cecil Mc Bee and Slide Hampton.

He attended Goldsmith Jazz Dept and worked with the Howard Riley Trio, Jazz Warriors, Courtney Pine, Steve Williamson, Phil Bent, Errol Clarke, Clifford Jarvis, Don Welley, Rudy Jones, Elton Dean, Peter King, Jim Mullen, Harris Becket and many more.

As for the CDs. He played for saxophonist/flautist Jo Fooks for her album, Here and Now which became a hit seller. For drummer Teddy Pope’s album “Scott Jazz Exhilarate”, for Alto Saxophonist Bob Martin’s “Bio Rhythm”, for Geoff Mason/Roland Lacey Quintets’ Vol 1 & 2 CDs, for trumpeter Dick Pearce’s CD – the list is long.

At his funeral it was unbelievable, but all the musicians he played with were present, as told to us by his sister. There were emotional eulogies by his friends, the musicians.

Buster Birch the drummer in the Jo Fooks Quartet said that Val was an amazing musician. He had great timing on the double bass and what’s more he was friendly and generous.

Ted Tomkins a teacher of music in Clapton said he had known Val for nearly 40 years. They met at a gig and he was an excellent double bass player with a good sense of humour. Ted said he had spoken to Val two days before he passed away. “Val was on oxygen but he sounded like his own self.”

And so the era of Val Mannix (Valentine Manickawasagar) has come to an end. We will always remember his skilled musicianship as a pianist and a bassist and can confidently say no one can take his place.

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