Sels, Jack


Sels, Jack

Embers for Jazz Bigband (first print)



Jack Sels
(Berchem, 29 January 1922 – Antwerp, 21 March 1970)


Apart from a couple of piano lessons, jazz saxophonist and composer Jack Sels was self-taught, with the phenomenal record collection he assembled in his youth as his teacher. It were mainly Lester Young’s recordings that got the young Sels started as a tenor saxophonist. In addition, the concert by the Dizzy Gillespie Big Band on 18 February 1948 at the Cercle Royal Artistique in Antwerp also made a huge impact, as well as the legendary Birth of the Cool sessions by Miles Davis’s nonet, which were crucial for his further development. These models explain why Sels started big ensembles at the beginning of his career, such as the All Stars Bop Orchestra in 1949, including a young Toots Thielemans, and the Jack Sels Chamber Music Orchestra. In 1951, he travelled to Germany to perform for the American troops, and after his return to Antwerp he played in basement pubs, dance halls and jazz clubs. In those years, he also played with stars like Nat King Cole, and in 1959 he had the opportunity to perform with his idol Lester Young in Brussels. In the meantime, he made radio programmes about jazz for the BRT, the national public-service broadcaster, and he created arrangements for the saxophone section of the BRT jazz orchestra, which at the time performed as Saxorama. However, the more rock music began to take the place of jazz, the rarer the performances became, forcing him to start working as a dock worker from 1963 onwards. He gave his last big performance in 1966 at Jazz Bilzen, but at that time he was already in poor health. On 21 March 1970, he would die suddenly of a heart attack, at only 48 years old.

Despite his great talent, he did not achieve international success, unlike his contemporaries, saxophonist Bobby Jaspar, guitarist René Thomas or Toots Thielemans. He left many arrangements and compositions, for quartet, big band and (chamber) orchestra, including this big band work Embers.

A large part of his compositions and of his archives is housed at the library of the Royal Conservatoire of Antwerp.

Jan Dewilde

This ‘medium tempo’ composition for big band is one of the most complete scores written by Sels. The tempo, dynamics and articulation are all clearly indicated and highly detailed. The piece leaves room for a couple of solos: the first one for baritone saxophone, the second one for trombone and finally a solo for piano. Between the solos, there are a number of delightful tutti and saxophone passages. Embers (pieces of glowing hot coal or wood) is a great example of Sels’ composing style, which is deeply rooted in blues and bebop and exposes a great amount of big band experience.

On 31 July 1962, the piece was performed by the BRT’s Amusementsorkest (‘Entertainment Orchestra’), which was led by Francis Bay at the time. Undoubtedly, Jack Sels himself played along in the saxophone section.

Marike van Dijk
(translation: Jasmien Dewilde)

This score was published in collaboration with the Study Centre for Flemish Music ( and Labo XIX&XX, a research group of the library of the Royal Conservatoire of Antwerp. Marike van Dijk edited this score based on the autographic manuscript of the Collection Albert Michiels, which is housed in the library of the Royal Conservatoire of Antwerp (KVC 211.546). This publication is part of the research project ‘Jack Sels (1922-1970): “the white nigger of the docks.”’



Read Flemish preface > HERE

Score Data

Special Edition

The Flemish Music Collection



Performance Materials



First print



Special Size

420 x 297 mm landscape format

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