Jazz Professional



Continuing the Minstrel's Tale down along the Costa Blanca
The events portrayed in this series are not necessarily in chronological order
Two of the most unpleasant persons on earth were
Buddy Rich and Irv Cottler and I had to have both
sons of bitches in my band.
Tommy Dorsey

Chapter Twenty-three

And the Band Played On

Sunday August 29th, 2004
I watched the Formula One Grand Prix at Spa on television today. Shortly before the race started there was an interview with Michael Schumacher. Then the camera roved around looking for someone else to talk to and suddenly stopped on dear old Toots Thielemans who was standing there in the pit lane playing the harmonica. Well he lives there in Belgium, doesn't he? Most natural thing in the world. Stand there right in the middle of the action on your home Grand Prix, play the blues. Oh, good, I thought, they are going to interview him. But the camera moved on.

A few moments later the race started and almost at once there was a terrific five-car pile-up on the first bend. Out came the Safety Car, people were running around all over the place, drivers were climbing out of the wrecks, shaking their heads, television commentators rapping away.

In my mind's eye I could see Toots standing there, still playing the blues, while around him all hell was breaking loose. Cool.

Some friends of mine up in Darlington asked me some time back if I could help them find one or two musicians who had been with them in the Royal Corps of Signals band way back. They wanted to invite these old comrades to their yearly reunion. I asked around on the Internet and found a couple of them in Sydney, Australia. Then I spotted another on the Perth Jazz Society website. It was alto saxist Lew Smith who had emigrated down under with his wife June Robinson back in the 1960s. Well was I glad hear from them again!

First thing I received from Lew and June after my initial email greeting was this photo. Don't laugh. The guy in the middle is me. The two gorgeous girls are tenor saxist Betty Smith, (left), and trumpeter June Robinson. Both girls were playing locally with Blanche Coleman's band, while I was with Teddy Dobbs on the pier in Clacton-on-Sea. The photo was taken in 1946. Click the pic to enlarge.

Betty was playing in the early 70's with The Best of British Jazz group, together with trumpeter Kenny Baker, trombonist Don Lusher, Tony Lee, piano, Tony Archer, bass and Jack Parnell, drums. They recorded two albums before Betty's illness halted activities for seven years. Betty did not play again, so the group later re-formed.

I'd always associated Lew with playing lead alto with Teddy Foster's band, but Derek Burn, the man in Darlington who was looking for Lew, now told me that they had both been with Charlie Amer's band up in Redcar in the early 1950s.

Charlie Amer! STONE THE CROWS! I just can't get away from the man! (See Chapter 17 - The Magnificent Delaney.)

In Perth Lew and June are very much in demand with their small group. June has given up the trumpet and has developed into a sensational jazz singer. They recently put on a tribute to Fats Waller and there's one for Benny Goodman coming up soon.

Derek has just sent me a photoshoot made with Johnny Dankworth's band in 1954, and there is Lew, in all his glory, playing lead alto with that great band. There is a special page for the saxes in there, with a caption that says: Lew Smith...Secretive comedian and Rex Morris...Makes the band laugh. Take a look. Rex is down on his knees, gripping his tenor by the neck and snarling at it. The others are looking glum. Only Lew is smiling. Secretively. Click the pic and give the photos time to load.

The bottom photo of the display was taken when I was in the band later on. There weren't many photos taken of the band in those days, don't ask me why. Not my fault. You can see how photogenic I am in that picture with the girls.

I am blessed with a hearing-aid that gives out a very high-pitched primal scream whenever it feels like it. Although the earpiece is shoved deeply into the side of my head I am the only one who cannot hear it. On a visit to the ayuntamiento (local council office) in Benissa one day, to argue about something, I was amazed to see, upon entering, the entire office staff begin running around in panic, switching off computers, mobile phones and every other piece of equipment in the place and generally behaving as if the end of the world had arrived.

I grabbed one wild-eyed man as he rushed by and asked him what was up. There was an electronic whistle that was driving everybody crazy. Maybe a warning, better clear the building, call the bomb squad. I reached up and switched off my hearing-aid and everything ground to a halt. They all stood and looked at one another. Eyebrows were raised.

"It was me," I said, pointing to my ear. The office erupted into relieved laughter, everyone nodding and shaking my hand. I was the local hero, kept my head, defused the bomb, saved the world. Everyone deserves his moment of glory and that was mine.

I was at a party the other night, well barbecue really, that's what they call it here. I didn't know one of the girls there but when we left afterwards I kissed her goodnight just the same. Girls get three kisses, one on each cheek, and one for luck, starting on the left. It's good manners to moan enthusiastically into the recipient's ear while doing so, mmmmmm...mmmmmm...mmmmmm, like that. I'd no sooner started when the girl exclaimed, "It's you!"

"It always has been," I said, but she said, "No no. The whole evening I thought there was a siren wailing away somewhere nearby. But it's you!" No one else seemed to have noticed it, or they were being tactful. I kissed her just the same. Three with moans. She wasn't getting away with it like that.

Seriously, if you do hear a continuous high-pitched whistle at any time, and you are not boiling the kettle, or practising the nose flute, take a look around before flipping your lid. I may be right behind you.

Chapter Twenty-Four >>>

Copyright © 2004, Ron Simmonds. All Rights Reserved