John Fletcher (1941-1987)

English Tuba Virtuoso

John Fletcher - LP Cover

A John Fletcher "Fletch" Master class

Flight of the Bumblebee

Malcolm Arnold's Fantasy for Tuba

Philip Jones Brass Ensemble

Photo from February 1988 TUBA Journal

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The late John Fletcher (1941-1987) is England ’s most celebrated tuba player. John was known to his closest colleagues simply as “Fletch.” He was best known as the Principal Tubist with the London Symphony Orchestra and also the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble. It is fortunate that his artistry with the LSO and PJBE is documented on many recordings. Probably the most well-known of Fletcher’s LSO recordings is his performance of the Vaughan Williams Concerto in F Minor for Bass Tuba and Orchestra (RCA- 60586).

Although virtually all PJBE CDs include excellent representations of his playing, probably the first one to acquire would be the double CD Philip Jones Brass
Ensemble—Greatest Hits (Decca- 467746). Mr. Fletcher also published a number of solos and ensembles

John Fletcher was awarded the coveted Lifetime Achievement Award by the International Tuba-Euphonium Association (I.T.E.A.). A book entitled A Celebration: John Fletcher Tuba Extraordinary was published in 1997. There is also a CD of his playing entitled The Best of Fletch. Additional information about Mr. Fletcher also appears in the book The Odyssey of The Philip Jones Brass Ensemble, published in by Editions BIM in 1986

More information about Fletcher may be found at http://www.johnfletcher- [site may not be currently online]. The site includes a number of nice photographs, information about the book and CD mentioned above, as well as the John Fletcher Trust Fund.

-John Fletcher Trust Fund

John Fletcher: An Appreciation by Philip Jones

John Fletcher, known to his closest colleagues simply as “Fletch,” became a legend in his own time. With his premature death, aged 46, we have  lost a musician of refinement and a performer of truly virtuoso ability. These qualities brought about a standard of tuba playing previously quite unknown in Britain, and have since influenced the tuba fraternity everywhere. His travels, as a member of the London Symphony Orchestra since 1968, and even longer with the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble, led him to make friends all over the world. Wherever he went there would be players, both student and professional, waiting to meet him and to listen and to learn professional, waiting to meet him and to listen and to learn from his example. His zany brand of humor, allied to a wonderful ability to communicate with people, made his presence in any group an inestimable bonus. His knowledge of music was both wide ranging and catholic in taste. Those of us who had the pleasure of working with him over the years grew to value his musical judgment, delivered with a zest for a music turn of phrase and with a total lack of pretension. As a player he always put his prodigious technique at the service of the music. Who else could have played a Bach cello suite at a moment’s notice, during a PCBE concert I the Herkulessaal in Munich, to fill in while the “plumbing” was put right on our horn player’s instrument? Each of us who knew him will treasure their own memories of a very special person who gave his friendship and his enthusiasm for music making unstintingly.

-Philip Jones

John Fletcher recording of the Vaughan Williams Concerto for Tuba

Excerpt from The Modern Trombone, Tuba and Euphonium Player:

British tuba player. Born in Leeds, England, John Fletcher played tuba as a youth and French horn while studying natural sciences at Pembroke College, Cambridge. He joined the BBC Symphony Orchestra (London) in 1964 and played a large bore tuba in 13-foot E-flat. At that time, most British orchestral tubists played a 12-foot F tuba, which blended well with the narrow bore trombones (including G bass trombone) that were commonly in use. Fletcher’s advocacy of the E-flat tuba, and later a contrabass tuba in 16-foot C, coincided around the time that larger bore American-made trombones began entering British orchestras as a result of the end of a trade embargo (active from 1938-1958) that had kept foreign-made musical instruments out of the British marketplace. Fletcher joined the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble in 1966 and the London Symphony in 1970 where he played until his untimely death from a cerebral hemorrhage at the age of forty-six. Fletcher’s recording of the Tuba Concerto of Ralph Vaughan Williams (London Symphony, 1972) is widely considered to be one of the finest ever made.

-Doug Yeo

John Fletcher: Some Reminiscences by Denis Wick

I have to say that I was absolutely stunned by his musician-ship and technical facility. He was largely self-taught, although there had been two or three lessons when John was at school from Clem Lawton, then tubist with the Philharmonia Orchestra, during visits by the orchestra to Leeds, John’s home town. He had also been a member of the famous National Youth Orchestra, which had almost professional standards and where he made so many lasting friendships. All those years of dabbling with other brasses, particularly the French horn, had given him considerable embouchure problems, which, fortunately, I was able to help him solve. Over some months, I persuaded him to forsake the French horn and concentrate off the tuba, suggesting that a postgraduate course at one of the London Music Colleges should be the next step. To my horror and their everlasting shame, one of our most prestigious institutions turned him down, without a hearing. John then decided to take a postgraduate science-teaching diploma, while continuing his work on the tuba.

By the time the examinations for this had taken place, a vacancy for tuba had materialized in the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Their conductor-elect was Antal Dorati, with whom the LSO ha worked over many years. At a rehearsal interval I told him of my protege, and suggest that there should be a really thorough audition. At this time, with such a shortage of good players, auditions were often little more than a formality with a player appointed by recommendation. A tough audition would, at least, weed out the ex-army bandsmen and similar applicants, and show them what the tuba could do in the hands of a real musician, albeit one not yet completely developed as an instrumentalist. John’s performance at that audition was, I was told, al that I had expected and more; he was given the job.

The rest, you might say, is history. The period of 1964-1968 saw John established as a first-class orchestral tubist.

-Denis Wick (February 1988 TUBA Journal)