Jazz Development in Britain 1924—1974

1.. Gerry Mulligan Quartet


  The History of British Jazz

The Ellington Orchestra was back in Britain in January 1963 and, in the May of that year, the Gerry Mulligan Quartet returned, this time to share concerts with the Dankworth Orchestra. In the same month, Ray Charles brought his orchestra to Britain for the first time. Although excellent, it hardly reached the level of the best of the British orchestras.

Stan Kenton, who by then had made several tours of Britain with his orchestra, returned in 1964 and, although like those of Brubeck, Basie, MJQ and JATP, I have now lost count of the number of British tours fulfilled by the Kenton ensemble, I think that it was in 1964 that we first saw his quartet of mellophonium players at work. It was certainly the first year in which I remember seeing them, although they were featured in tracks that the orchestra recorded during the previous year. For recording purposes these rather unwieldy instruments sounded most effective but, on stage, they posed problems. The huge bells hid completely the heads and shoulders of the players and certainly looked most cumbersome. I would have gladly settled for a quartet of mellophones or flugelhorns.

The recreated Tommy Dorsey Orchestra came to Britain in 1964 and, led by tenor saxophonist Sam Donahue, they featured the Dorsey book and also their vocalist Frank Sinatra, Jnr. Sam, whose premature death a few years later robbed the big band scene of one of its finest and most musicianly leaders, had worked with the orchestras of Krupa, Shaw, Kenton and, of course, Tommy Dorsey; and, during the war years, had taken over the leadership from Artie Shaw of the U.S. Navy Band.

In the years that have followed we have seen the return of many familiar faces from the States, and some occasional new ones. I think I am right in recalling that it was in 1968 that Buddy Rich first brought his big band to Britain, an ensemble of young men led by a more mature but equally energetic one! Similarly, in the later ‘sixties and early ‘seventies Woody Herman has been bringing over bands composed of magnificent young players, most of whom were not yet born when he first achieved international fame. Nevertheless, the generation gap never shows. In 1965 we first saw the trio of the great jazz organist Jimmy Smith in Britain, when they shared a tour with the Dizzy Gillespie Quintet. With the exception of the fine work of Milt Herth in the ‘thirties, whose trio at one time featured Willie “The Lion” Smith on piano and O’Neil Spencer on drums, and, of course, the pre–war recordings made by Fats Waller, I had never gone much for the organ as an instrument of jazz until, back in the ‘sixties, I received Disc–Jockey copies of a couple of albums that caused me to modify my opinion.

One of these was by Jimmy Smith, backed by the Oliver Nelson Band, and the other by Wild Bill Davis, which he shared with Johnny Hodges. The latter, incidentally, never sounded better than he did in partnership with Davis, who later worked for a period with the Ellington Orchestra.

One of the most outstanding jazz presentations, which included soloists and bands from abroad as well as British orchestras and bands, was the Daily Mail International Jazz Festival, which took place at the Belle Vue, Manchester, 6–9 June, 1963. Organised in association with the National Jazz Federation, its direction was shared by Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, Harold Davison and Harold Pendleton, with artistic advice being given by the Hon. Gerald Lascelles.

The opening performance was unique for a jazz festival, inasmuch as it was given by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, with three of the five soloists coming mainly from the worlds of symphonic and operatic music. These were pianist Peter Katin, soprano Elizabeth Simon and Guyana–born baritone Thomas Baptiste. The other two soloists were Tony Coe, playing only clarinet, and Kenny Baker. The conductor, Hugo Rignold, was then the orchestra’s regular maestro and I cannot think of a symphonic conductor better able than Rignold to deal with the task of wedding his orchestra to a programme of the music of Gershwin, which comprised “An American In Paris”, the Piano Concerto in F, a selection from “Porgy And Bess” and “Rhapsody In Blue”.

Programmes on the following evening were spread over two ballrooms and shared by John Williams’ Big Band, which in those days played Sunday evenings at the Marquee Club, Alex Welsh’s Band, Ronnie Scott’s Quartet, the Temperance Seven, Kenny Ball’s Jazzmen, John Dankworth’s Orchestra and the Swinging Blue Jeans. The Saturday afternoon performances, given in two less suitable halls, included the first foreign ingredient to the festival: in addition to Gerry Brown’s Jazzmen, The Saints Jazz Band, Monty Sunshine’s Band, Dick Charlesworth’s City Gents, with Jackie Lynn, the Original Downtown Syncopators and Bruce Turner’s Jump Band, Sweden’s Cave Stompers, led by clarinetist Anders Hassler, also played two spots.

On the evening of the same day, the bands and groupings presented were those of Dick Charlesworth; Acker Bilk (joined for one session by Beryl Bryden); Alex Welsh, joined by Buck Clayton; Humphrey Lyttelton, also joined by Clayton; John Dankworth and Ronnie Ross, both of which were joined by Dizzy Gillespie; Bruce Turner; and the first jazz band to visit Britain from an East European country, that of Gustav Brom of Czechoslovakia.

An month or two prior to the festival, Chris Barber had taken his band, not for the first time I believe, to work in Czechoslovakia, Having the intention at that time of joining the International Federation of Musicians, the Czechoslovak Artists’ Union had suggested that the time seemed appropriate for one of their country’s bands to come to Britain where, in fact, little was known of the Czech jazz scene, although it was already well advanced. Having visited the country on several occasions, I had become familiar with the work of such bands as those of Karel Vlach, Karel Krautgartner, Dalibora Brazdy, the Prague Dixieland Band, the Studio 5 and, of course, Gustav Brom. Knowing that Brom was keen to bring his band to Britain, and that most of the others were committed to permanent jobs in Prague, I recommended him for Manchester, which I did with the authoritive support of clarinettist Edmund Hall, who had played with the band on a number of occasions in their own country.

The Brom band’s line–up in those days was unusual: although the brass section comprised three trumpeters and a trombonist, there was also a French horn player teamed up with the reed section of alto, tenor and baritone. The sound was very modern but never offensive, and the band, which contained Dixieland and bop groups, with one of the trumpeters doubling vibraphone in the latter, really swung. There was also the charming and stylish Slovakian singer Helena Bleharova who, judging by her version of “Moonlight In Vermont”, was a student of the great Ella.

I managed to travel to Manchester in time for the Sunday sessions of the festival, the afternoon concerts of which presented Charles Galbraith’s All Stars, Tony Coe’s Quintet, Bob Wallis’s Storyville Jazz Band, Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated, Alan Elsdon’s Band, the Merseysippi Jazzmen, the Fairweather–Brown All Stars and the band of the Dutch Swing College, whilst at the evening and final concerts the bands to be heard were those of Gustav Brom, Chris Barber, with Ottilie Patterson and Bud Freeman, Humphrey Lyttelton, with Buck Clayton, the Dutch Swing College, Ken Colyer’s Jazzmen, Cyril Davies’s All Stars, Terry Lightfoot’s Jazzmen, the quintets of Joe Harriott, Don Rendell and Tubby Hayes and the Ronnie Ross Quartet with Dizzy Gillespie.

As concerts took place simultaneously, it was not possible to see and hear everything; so I settled for the Lancaster Hall evening session, which gave me the contributions of Brom, Ross, Harriott, Barber and Lyttelton.

The promoters of the Manchester Jazz Festival were also responsible for other such festivals in the same year, which were described respectively as the Scottish, held at the Palace Grounds, Hamilton, also in June, the 3rd Northern, held at Redcar Racecourse in the same month, the 2nd East Coast, held in the Boating Lake Grounds, Cleethorpes during August, and the 3rd National, held at the R.A.A. Grounds, Richmond, Surrey, also in August and in association with the National Jazz Federation.

Slipping back for a moment to the previous year, there were two concerts held in 1962, the jazz content of which ensured that they would not go unmentioned in this account. The first of these, presented in March by William Victor Productions Limited, a company controlled by bandleader/manager Vic Lewis, was held at the old Finsbury Park Astoria and included the celebrated American group known as The Four Freshmen, whose style and ability, both vocally and instrumentally, was never less than superb. Their basically vocal quartet arrangements included solos on trumpet and mellophone from Ken Albers and on trombone from Bob Flanigan that would have graced any of the finest jazz ensembles past or pre sent, whilst Bill Comstock on guitar, Ross Barbour on drums and Flanigan, doubling on string bass, provided an ideal modern accompaniment.

British jazz performance was demonstrated with equal skill by trumpeter Kenny Baker leading Al Newman (alto and flute), Duncan Lamont (tenor and bass clarinet), Tony Coe (tenor and clarinet), Ted Barker and Pete Myers (trombones), Colin Purbrook (piano), Spike Heatley (bass) and Danny Craigie (drums) and, if he was not an out–and–out jazz man, the other British artist on the bill, Matt Munro, has always demonstrated a great sense of where the beat is in every song he sings.

The remaining artists in the programme were the charming girl from Nebraska, Jeri Southern, whose husky–voiced singing rated among the best and most stylish, and Danny Williams, the already internationally successful young singer from Port Elizabeth, South Africa.

The second of the two concerts was presented during June by the Musicians’ Union, in association with Harold Davison, on behalf of the Labour Party as a part of the Festival of Labour of that year. Held in the Royal Festival Hall, the bands taking part were those of John Dankworth, featuring vocalist Bobby Breen, and Chris Barber, with Ottilie Patterson. A great evening of jazz, both traditional and modern, was enjoyed by a capacity audience.

In addition to the many American musicians it was my privilege to meet as the result of their participation in Anglo/American exchanges, there were a number of others who, in most cases, visited me to discuss plans they had either for such participation or to discuss other ideas. These included Artie Shaw, Claude Thornhill, Phil Moore, Mary Lou Williams, veteran bandleader/recordist Ben Selvin and Tadd Dameron. There was also Benny Goodman, who invited me for drinks at his spacious Savoy Hotel suite back in 1959.

Other notable figures from the American jazz scene were Norman Granz, on a number of occasions, and writer Barry Ulanov, plus British musicians who, having made their homes in the States, were playing brief visits to Britain, such as violinist turned recordist Eric Siday and pianists Ralph Sharon and Marian McPartland.

Way back in 1956, Artie Shaw discussed with me a proposal that he might record in Britain with an orchestra, comprising members of the Musicians’ Union and totalling some thirty–five in number. The idea seemed to have no snags and I submitted it to the Union’s Executive Committee who gave approval subject to that of the American Federation of Musicians being also forthcoming. There would have been no exchange involved as the Union had in mind that Mantovani had already been permitted to carry out concert tours in the States with an American orchestra augmented by three British musicians in the persons of trumpeter Stan Newsome, bassist Wally Ashworth and drummer Charles Botterill. The A.F.M., however, vetoed the plan on the grounds that if Shaw wanted to record with an orchestra of such proportions he should do so in his own country with an American personnel—a point of view which both he and I agreed was understandable when discussing it during another meeting some twelve months or so later. Nevertheless, had those recordings materialised they could have been truly eventful, as were those made in Britain by Benny Goodman some ten years later when there had been a change of policy within the A.F.M.

Goodman’s impeccable British personnel owed something to the thoroughbred Ted Heath/Jack Parnell stream; it included among its reed men Tommy Whittle and Roy Willox and, among its brass, Kenny Baker, Jackie Armstrong and Ladd Busby, and from the Parnell ensemble, were Frank Reidy, Bob Burns, Don Honeywell (reeds), Bert Ezzard, Tommy McQuater, Derek Healey, Johnny Marshall, Chris Smith (brass), Lennie Bush (bass) and Ronnie Stephenson (drums). The other members were Judd Proctor (guitar), Bill McGuffie (piano) and, for at least one track, trombonist George Chisholm. The arrangements, by Peter Knight and Wally Stott were in keeping in their perfection with everything else about the orchestra’s performance.