A Short Bio:
Steve Cook was born in St Albans, Hertfordshire in 1948, but at a very early age his family moved to Otford, in Kent, and around 1956 to Sevenoaks, where he attended Sevenoaks School. His interest in music began very early : "I started playing the piano aged about 6, and went to regular piano lessons until I was 11, when I took up the trumpet. At first I was influenced by Louis Armstrong and keen on trad jazz, but got progressively more into modern jazz. Big influences were Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, Dizzy Gillespie, and Miles Davis. I was in a band at school, imitating these various influences. I recall our music being banned from the school concert by the headmaster, because it was too loud and modern. I took up double bass aged about 16, mainly because we needed a bass player to play the kind of music we wanted. I fondly recall our chemistry teacher, Willy Bleyberg, taking us teenagers to the Bulls Head at Barnes Bridge to see various modern jazz groups".
Subsequently, Cook went to Cambridge University, where he joined the University Jazz Club and ended up organising it. "Actually I was studying Physics, but I somewhat lost interest in that and spent increasing amounts of my time involved in music!". While at Cambridge he became friends with Ian Hamlett, who later joined CMU, and also met Roger Odell who lived locally. As organiser of the jazz club he was able to book himself as the bass player for visiting well-known musicians, including Art Themen, Dick Heckstall-Smith, Don Rendell, Ian Carr, Ronnie Ross, John Surman and others. During this period he was also involved in theatrical music, particularly in the Footlights dramatic club, where he met Pete Atkin, Clive James, Julie Covington, and Daryl Runswick.
In 1969, Cook left Cambridge and went to work for the BBC as an engineer. "In the evenings I used to hang around clubs and pubs in London, looking for gigs. Pete Atkin called me to play on his album [Beware Of The Beautiful Stranger (1970)], which was natural as we'd played a lot at Cambridge". This was Cook's recording debut. In mid-1971, he joined a reconfigured CMU and played on their second album Space Cabaret (1973). "I was recruited by Ian Hamlett because their previous bass player, Ed Lee, had left. I jumped at the opportunity, because I was completely fed up with working at the BBC, and it seemed a route into something interesting. I stayed with the band until it split up, I think in 1973. Looking back I don't think the music was that interesting - I think we were all searching for some kind of musical identity, but we couldn't agree on one, so the band kept being pulled in different directions. Various people were in and out of the band over that time: when I first joined we had Frank Roberts on piano".
Thanks to CMU's drummer Roger Odell, Cook was then introduced to Alan Gowen, then leader of Gilgamesh, which he then joined in late 1973. "I think Alan called me up some time after CMU split up, and asked me to join Gilgamesh. I wasn't that keen on Gilgamesh's music, in fact, it seemed over-complicated to me, and not fiery enough. I don't recall doing any gigs, but we did at least one BBC session. I think I left because I didn't think it was going anywhere. I can't remember hearing the album" [which included one composition co-written by Cook]. His playing is featured on the archive release "Arriving Twice" (2000).
During this period, Peter Lemer was briefly added as second keyboard player. "I don't actually remember playing with Peter in Gilgamesh, although I may have done a couple of times. In fact I met Peter through getting a gig with Barbara Thompson: one day I got an urgent call from a bass player (I forget who) asking me to deputise for him in Barbara's band at the Bulls Head in Barnes, and there I met Peter and Barbara, and as I recall I joined Barbara's band there and then". While in Thompson's band (he was a member for four years), Cook played on Don Rendell's album Just Music (1974). "I had met Don at Cambridge, and since he was playing with Barbara it was natural for him to use Barbara's rhythm section, which at that time was Laurie Allan, Peter and me. We did some gigs, but I don't remember where". In spite of their longtime association, Cook didn't actually record with Barbara Thompson, who only made her recording debut as leader in 1978.
Another association with Peter Lemer around the same time was Seventh Wave. Cook played on their second album Psi-Fi (1975). "My involvement in that happened through Peter, after the previous bass player left for some reason. We did quite a few gigs, and I often organised the hotels and did the driving. We got paid almost nothing. The act was very loud and included fire-eating. It was quite fun. I got fired from that band. I think I was too much into jazz...".
Towards the end of 1975, Cook formed Mirage alongside Brian Godding, George Khan, Dave Sheen and John Mitchell. After the latter's departure to National Health, the group recorded one album, Now You See It, for the Norwegian label Compendium. "Mirage used to play every week at the King's Head in Upper Street, Islington. Basically it was a jamming band - we used to make most of it up on the spot. We also played at Dingwalls a couple of times. I think at that time I was also playing in Mike Westbrook's Solid Gold Cadillac, where I met George and Brian. In fact at that time I was quite in demand on the London jazz scene - I played with most of the people around. Another person I played with quite a lot around that time was Michael Garrick".
In November 1976, he joined Soft Machine, replacing Percy Jones of Brand X. "I think I was offered the job by John Marshall, but I don't really remember. I knew of the band and I'd seen John play before. I didn't really know their previous albums, though. I enjoyed the intensity and complexity of the music; but I didn't enjoy being on the road with them much: they were a rather morose bunch, with the exception of John Etheridge". With that line-up, Soft Machine recorded only one album, the live set Alive And Well - Recorded In Paris. "I think it's quite a good representation of the band's music while I was with them".
On a few occasions during his stay in Soft Machine, Cook had the opportunity to play with Allan Holdsworth. "We did a couple of gigs in Europe with him as John Etheridge was touring with Stéphane Grappelli, but I particularly remember one we did in Portugal. We just flew there and back for the one gig. As I recall, one of the other bands on the gig was Cecil Taylor. It was fairly surreal !". Cook finally left Soft Machine after a tour of Italy, in the summer of 1977 (although he did return to play the band's final gig in Germany in December 1978). "They never paid me anything much, and I couldn't afford to keep doing it. I don't know much about what happened to them after that".
In 1978, Steve Cook was one of many contributors to Annette Peacock's X-Dreams album alongside Peter Lemer and all his colleagues of Mirage, which suggests that this group had carried on in parallel to Cook's involvement with Soft Machine. "I don't remember the sequence of events to answer this. It's quite probable that Mirage played while I was in Soft Machine. Anyway, it was through Peter Lemer that I met Annette".
Subsequently, Cook gave up full-time music and went back to university to study computer science, and ended up doing research. "I was also playing with Mike Westbrook quite regularly from 1978 onwards. Also during that period I used to play regularly in the Hammersmith Palais dance band : I took over that gig from Trevor Horn, who used to play with Roger Odell, and afterwards became a successful producer". Around the same time he also played on the soundtrack of the David Bowie movie "The Man Who Fell To Earth".
With Westbrook, Cook did several tours and three albums - the triple The Cortege, London Bridge is Broken Down and On Duke's Birthday. "All the while I was an academic researcher at the University of London. I did play a season with the Gil Evans big band at Ronnie Scotts sometime not long before he died, though. I stopped playing with Mike at the time that I formed my own software consultancy at the beginning of 1990. I admire Mike very much - I learnt a lot from him. I don't play at all now. I have worked for IBM as an Executive Consultant since 1994. It keeps me very busy. I'll do that for a few years, then we'll see. Music is still in my soul. Something else may happen...".
And indeed it did ! Since 1999 Cook has occasionally reunited with ex-colleagues Peter Lemer (keyboards) and Roger Odell (drums) for the odd jazz gig.