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A Short Bio:
Karl William Jenkins was born in Swansea, Glamorgan, South Wales, in 1944. He started music studies at Cardiff University in 1963, joining the National Youth Orchestra of Wales. While there he began playing jazz, co-leading (with Roger Parker) the Cardiff University Jazz Quintet. He graduated in 1967 (Bachelor of Music), after which he spent two weeks at the Barry Summer School jazz course, and completed a postgraduate course at London's Royal Academy of Music in 1968 (Licentiate of the Royal Academy of Music). While in London, he became acquainted with the local jazz scene and soon joined Graham Collier's band, of which he was a member from 1967-69. He also played with Ronnie Scott and became active as a session musician on both woodwinds and keyboards. And he endured commercial tours with P.J. Proby, Paul and Barry Ryan and Scott Walker.
Eventually, Karl Jenkins was a founding member of Nucleus, writing most of the material on the band's first two albums. He had become aquainted with Ian Carr when the latter was one of the judges of the semi-final of the Inter-University Jazz Competition, in 1966, and the band that was voted into first place - and later won the final - was led by Jenkins. A couple of years later, a series of informal rehearsals involving Carr, Jenkins (playing oboe, baritone sax and electric piano) and John Marshall (who played with Jenkins in Graham Collier's band at the time), took place at the Troubadour, during which some of Jenkins' tunes were played. By the following summer, Jenkins was contacted again by Carr. His father had died a few weeks previously, and Jenkins was feeling depressed. Not doing anything particular since he'd left Collier's band, he was ready for a fresh start.
Jenkins stayed in Nucleus through many line-up changes, although only the original combination (which released three albums in less than a year) left any recorded legacy. While in the band, he also worked in various jazz ensembles, including Keith Tippett's Centipede, the Spontaneous Music Ensemble and the Jazz Composers' Orchestra. Among the musicians involved in Nucleus during Jenkins' stint were future Soft Machine members Roy Babbington, John Marshall and Dave MacRae. Jenkins left in June 1972, during a period of semi-inactivity caused by management problems, shortly before the band went back in the studio to record Belladonna. Replacing Elton Dean in Soft Machine proved a much better opportunity.
A prolific composer and imaginative arranger, Karl Jenkins rapidly left his mark on Soft Machine's musical style. He soon became equal leader of the band with Mike Ratledge, and in fact ended up taking over from him when Ratledge grew bored and left in 1976. At that point, Jenkins had almost entirely abandoned woodwind in favour of keyboards and was writing most of the band's material. His sidelong tour-de-force on "Bundles" (1975), "Hazard Profile", was a reworking of the riff of "Song Of The Bearded Lady" from Nucleus' second album, "We'll Talk About It Later".
Under Jenkins' influence, Soft Machine's music gradually lost its element of free-form improvisation, not to mention its eccentricity. It became more academic and moved from jazz-fusion territories to a rockier form of instrumental music. Yet the debate on whether the name Soft Machine was still to be kept proved sterile, as it would hard to find two albums by the band that really sound similar anyway, due to the constant changes in the line-up. With Jenkins and John Marshall as co-leaders, Soft Machine existed as a band for a couple more years and two more albums, "Softs" (1976) and "Alive And Well - Recorded In Paris" (1978). It was later resurrected for a final studio album, "Land Of Cockayne" (1981), and a week-long series of low-key live appearances at Ronnie Scott's in London, in 1984.
After Soft Machine ground to a halt at the turn of the decade, Jenkins moved on to studio work with Mike Ratledge, composing and recording music for orchestras, films, television and the theater. Both ran a studio (DeWolfe) together until the mid-90's, with Ratledge designing and building his own computer to drive it, and Jenkins acting as musical director. They provided music for commercials directed by Tony Kaye, Ridley Scott and Hugh Hudson, and twice won the distinguished D&AD award for music. Among the advertisement music they produced were cover versions of Marvin Gaye's "I Heard It Through The Grapevine" for Levi's and Cream's "I Feel Free" for Renault cars (which saw the renewed collaboration between Jenkins and Jack Bruce).
Whilst spending much of the eighties writing music for commercials, Jenkins experimented with various ideas and started composing a piece for string orchestra, ethnic vocals and percussion. In 1996, a CD under the name of Adiemus, featuring the music for a Delta Airlines ad, was released, involving both Jenkins and Ratledge and featuring Miriam Stockley on lead vocals. "When I conceived the Adiemus concept initially", he says, "I was thinking of it purely as a recording. My intention was to compose a work based in the European classical tradition but with the vocal sound more akin to ethnic or world music". The music from Adiemus was performed in the autumn of 1996 at London's Royal Albert Hall, the first of several live performances. Thanks to the considerable commercial success of Adiemus, two further albums have seen the light of day, as well as classically-oriented releases under Jenkins' own name.