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Spike Robinson Dies at 71

Spike Robinson, who interrupted his saxophone career with thirty years of electrical engineering but still managed to attain international prominence after his 1981 return to jazz, died last Monday at his adopted hometown of Writtle in central Essex, England. He was 71.

Spike was known as Henry Berthold Robinson when he was born in Kenosha, Wis. on Jan. 16, 1930. He took up the alto sax in his early teens, but found it difficult to make a living blowing the horn. He enlisted in the Navy as a musician in 1948. By 1950 he had taken up a post in the United Kingdom, where he spent his off hours jamming with prominent English beboppers including Tommy Pollard and Victor Feldman; he developed something of a following among jazz-loving Brits. When his tour was up, he tried to make a living playing stateside, but became disenchanted with the Chicago-area jazz scene. Taking advantage of the G.I. Bill, he obtained an engineering degree and worked for thirty years on aerospace projects for companies including the Honeywell Corporation.

Eventually, Robinson returned to jazz, this time as a tenor saxophonist, playing low-key gigs in local nightclubs. In 1981, he recorded Spike Robinson Plays Harry Warren with Feldman on piano; the record was received by critics and audiences with both pleasure at the music and astonishment that aerospace engineering had kept Robinson out of the loop for so long. By 1984, Robinson had given up engineering completely to focus on music. In 1991, he settled in the UK, where he lived and worked until his death.

Robinson tirelessly explored the Great American Songbook, playing with a gentle swing, mellow tone and cool style reminiscent of Stan Getz.

Originally Published