Jazz Development in Britain 1924—1974

Part 2 - The advance of jazz


  The History of British Jazz

I have tried to give some idea of the undoubted advance of jazz in Britain during World War II, and this was demonstrated mainly m the development of bigger swing bands, containing many outstanding soloists, and a ready acceptance of jazz by a broader public than ever before. Jazz, in fact, was no longer a dirty word, and I would go so far as to claim that the annual Jazz Jamboree made an important contribution to this welcome advance. With many of Britain’s best musicians in the various Services, it was logical that much of the best in jazz performance came from the Service bands, but the progress to which I have referred was also reflected in many of the better civilian bands, such as those of Lew Stone, Ivy Benson, Eric Winstone, Harry Parry, Carl Barriteau and others—some of whom I have already mentioned.

Meantime, there were significant developments across the Atlantic that were to have far–reaching influence in Britain during the decade immediately following the war. The big swing bands had developed during the second half of the ‘thirties, slightly ahead of those in Britain, and such bands as those of Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, Woody Herman, Count Basie, Jimmy Lunceford, Artie Shaw, Glenn Miller and, of course, Duke Ellington, continued to set the trends.

In 1938, however, there began a revival of the New Orleans style jazz and this continued throughout the war years.

 Many of the pioneers were brought out of retirement, such as Bunk Johnson, Tommy Ladnier, whose trumpet playing had set the fashion even before that of Louis Armstrong, the great stride pianist James P. Johnson, drummer Baby Dodds, clarinetist George Lewis and trombonists Jim Robinson and Kid Ory. The clarinet, trombone and one or two trumpet frontline back by three or four rhythm became common once again after a lapse of almost two decades.

Alongside this trend and throughout the war, however, there was another development in the form of a Dixieland revival led by such New York personalities as guitarist Eddie Condon, cornetist Muggsy Spanier, trombonist George Brunies, drummer George Wettling, clarinetist Pee Wee Russell and saxophonist Bud Freeman, to name but a few. I can well remember hearing programmes transmitted by the BBC that had been recorded in New York’s Town Hall and consisted entirely of extemporised jazz. A notable one for me was the session when Miff Mole, for years tucked away in the studio bands, returned to the scene to demonstrate that there was still nobody around to teach him anything about jazz trombone playing! The result of such developments was that 78 rpm records trickling through from the States demonstrated a variety of styles. Among war–time recordings still in my library, and in remarkably good condition, are “Dipper Mouth Blues” and “Big Butter And Egg Man” (1940) by Muggsy Spanier’s Ragtime Band in which, if my ears do not deceive me, Brunies was also featured; “Royal Garden Blues” and “Wholly Cats” (1941) by the Benny Goodman Sextet, ultramodern at the time and featuring guitarist Charlie Christian and trumpeter Cootie Williams; “Four Or Five Times” and “I’ve Found A New Baby” (1941) by the Lionel Hampton Orchestra, the maestro playing in his own inimitable style vibraphone on the first of these tracks and featuring his incredibly fast two–fingered piano technique on the second. I think that Teddy. Wilson was the pianist, and some of the muted trumpet work sounds like that of Cootie Williams.

There was also a 1942 disc from Harry James and his Orchestra of “Jeffrie’s Blues” and “Sharp As A Tack”, which was driving, big band swing at its best.

If ever a leader really led his orchestra it was Harry James, a fact which he demonstrated most effectively when he brought a band to Britain some twenty–nine years later in 1971! Then, in 1943, there was the historic recording of “Body And Soul” by Coleman Hawkins, which completely over–shadowed his own “Meet Doctor Foo” which, on the reverse side, swung like mad.

“Dipper Mouth Blues”, incidentally, was the Oliver/Armstrong original, frequently called “Sugar Foot Stomp”, although when the Blue Six recorded it in 1933 they called it “In The Ruff”, and attributed its composition to their leader Joe Venuti.

There was yet another trend, more significant in that it did not represent a revival, that was to have truly far–reaching influence on both sides of the Atlantic. This, of course, was the style that came to be known as bebop, or sometimes rebop, and later just bop, with which such incredible technicians as Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Charlie Christian and Kenny Clarke were experimenting in the late ‘thirties. It did not infiltrate the British scene until the post–war years, and I recollect that the first recording in the style to have real impact among us was of “Shaw ‘Nuff” recorded in 1945 by Dizzy Gillespie and his All–Star Quintet, and a joint composition of the leader and Parker, whose alto saxophone technique staggered us. The remainder of the group consisted of pianist Al Haig, bassist Curly Russell and the great Sid Catlett on drums. On the reverse side, in “Lover Man”, the group were joined by Sarah Vaughan, who was until then unknown in Britain, although her experience went back to 1942 when, as a virtual discovery, she had joined the powerhouse band of Earl Hines as second pianist and vocalist at the New York Apollo Theatre. Also in the band had been Gillespie, Parker (playing tenor), trombonist Benny Green and drummer “Shadow” Wilson. Parker had, in the previous year, played alto with Jay McShann’s Band at Harlem’s Savoy Ballroom.

Discharged from the N.F.S. in January 1945, I was compelled to continue hospital treatment for a couple of months, and it was around that period that the Executive Committee of the Musicians’ Union first sounded me out about becoming a full–time official, as I had been one of the Union’s unpaid activists in pre–war years and had continued in a similar capacity as a member of the Fire Brigades Union throughout the war. I expressed interest in the idea, despite the prospect of having to give up playing, which was for me a considerable wrench, but as the Union did not come across with a definite offer until May of that year I was able to return to the profession for about three months, playing gigs with bands of various sizes. Among these was that of the late Phil Cardew, whom I had known from the days when he had been a member of Fred Elizalde’s Savoy Music. Phil was a musician of the highest calibre, and a personality for whom it was a pleasure to work. His death in 1962 represented a loss to the music profession that can hardly _be assessed. In the band I recall such musicians as trumpeters Sonny Weston and Jack Coles, trombonist Tony Thorpe, saxophonists Harry Hayes, Stan Flaum, Harry Gold and his brother Laurie, pianist Ronnie Selby, who later emigrated to the States, and bassist Roy Bowles who, like myself, later became a full–time official of the Union. His premature death in 1955 was a shattering blow to his colleagues and an enormous loss to the Union.

The transition from war to a troubled peace in 1945 created many problems for the music profession along with the rest, but there were also many developments in the profession that could be regarded only as progressive. For example. the renaissance of the Palais bands during the early months of the war, to which I have already referred, brought about an immensely improved situation which continued well into the ‘forties and early ‘fifties. The Palais became the home of many of the better big bands and, in addition to those long–established ensembles of Joe Loss and Oscar Rabin, about which I have already written in some detail, there were during the decade leading up to 1955 bands such as those of Lou Preager, Johnny Swinfen, Ken Mackintosh, Les Ayling, George Evans, Nat Allen, Arthur Rowberry, The Kirchins, Harry Leader, Sid Dean, Phil Tate, Jack White, George Birch, Bob Miller and Denny Boyce, whose books included first–class arrangements with much scope for jazz solo work, and whose personnels contained musicians who were to become our most distinguished jazz stylists.

In my opinion, the fact that bands of this calibre were now playing to far wider and working–class audiences, rather than for the elite who patronised the pre–war West End hotel and restaurant, represented an important advance.

Lou Preager was typical of the point I am making. In pre–war years he had been the music director at Romano’s Restaurant in London’s Strand, with a competent West End–type band which only the clientele of the restaurant ever heard but, from the year he opened up at Hammersmith Palais (I think it was 1944) his band became, with the aid of regular relay broadcasts, one of the best–known in Britain with an appropriatelv high standard of performance; their book containing many fine swing arrangements to add to the interest. Many well–known players passed through its ranks, such as pianist Billy Penrose, drummer Norris Grundy, trombonists Bobbie Mickleburgh, Rusty Hurren and Don Lusher, trumpeters “Tich” Charlton and Duncan Campbell and saxophonists Ken Oldham, George Hunter, Johnny Gray and Jack Carter, who was blowing first alto there for some years. Many other bands of national repute also played the ballrooms in those years, usually for one–night or one–week stands, including those of Ted Heath, Roy Fox, Teddy Foster, which in 1949 included saxophonists Johnny Roadhouse, Derek Humble and Joe Temperley and trumpeters Ronnie Hughes and Bert Courtley, and Vic Lewis who, by 1948, had commenced demonstrating his admiration for the music of Stan Kenton by organising one of the biggest and best of bands to plav the latter’s arrangements. At that time his reed section included Kathy Stobart and Ronnie Chamberlain, among the trumpeters were Johnny Shakespeare and Reg Arnold, and the three trombonists were Nobby Clarke, Ruth Harrison and Fred Mercer.

The Squadronaires, the personnel of which by 1950 had altered little since the end of the war, except that Don Lusher had replaced Eric Breeze. Jimmv Watson had replaced Clinton Ffrench in the trumpet section and Firth Archer had replaced Arthur Maden on bass, also did the rounds of the ballrooms in those years, in addition to stage, concert and recording work and broadcasting. The Skyrockets, however, became the super pit band of the London Palladium, directed first by Paul Fenhoulet and later by Woolf Phillips. This was the band which, in 1949, accompanied Benny Goodman for his first ever performances in Britain and surprised the maestro by its enormously high standard of efficiency and understanding of the jazz idiom. Three of the regular members, Les Lambert, Arthur Verrey and Izzy Duman, were on holiday at the time; so replacing them were Kenny Baker, Harry Roche and John Dankworth, whilst an additional quartet was also engaged, consisting of Tommy Pollard (vibraphone), Pete Chilver (guitar), Charles Short (bass) and “Flash” Winstone (drums). Goodman was also permitted to bring along his own pianist from the States—a man named Buddy Greco! Another of the great Swing band leaders to move into the theatre pit was Lew Stone who. in 1947. became the music director for Irving Berlin’s Annie Get Your Gun when it was first presented in Britain at the London Coliseum.

Throughout the period, Bert Ambrose had maintained a band of the high standard normally expected of him, although it was no longer possible for him to hold a position along with Lew Stone way out in front of the rest, as he had done for so many years prior to the war. This, of course, was due to no deterioration of ideas on his part, or of the standard of musicians he employed, but simply that there were by then more highly competitive bands in the field. Those of Ted Heath and Geraldo being only two obvious examples.

It is, however, worth recalling some of the musicians who were to be found within the ranks of the Ambrose band around 1949 when he was broadcasting, which he liked, and playing one–night or one–week stands, which he hated, and there was also a comparatively brief period when the band played at the Nightingale Club which was situated in London’s famous Berkeley Square. Some of the noted jazzmen who graced the band in those days were trumpeters Kenny Baker, Moe Miller, Freddy Clayton and Tony Osborne, trombonists Harry Roche, Joe Cordell and Eric Breeze, saxophonists Bob Burns, Ronnie Scott, John Dankworth, Harry Conn, Harry Hayes, Al Baum and Albert Torrance, pianist Norman Stenfalt, drummer Norman Burns, guitarist Peter Chilver and bassist Joe Mudele. It is interesting to note the number of those listed who are still in the forefront of our profession over a quarter of a century later.

By the latter part of 1950, Ambrose, after reluctantly undertaking more tours, decided to settle for management work and left the leadership of the big band scene to Ted Heath and Geraldo. Both had regular mass exposure through the medium of radio, particularly the latter, and both played concerts to packed audiences. The Heath Sunday night concerts at the London Palladium are still a subject of historic importance to British jazz. The Heath personnel then comprised Les Gilbert, Roy Willox, Dave Shand, Tommy Whittle and Henry Mackenzie (reeds), Stan Roderick, Bobby Pratt, Stan Reynolds, Ronnie Hughes (trumpets), Jackie Armstrong, Jimmy Coombes, Maurice Pratt and Rusty Hurren (trombones), Frank Horrox, Sammy Stokes and Jack Parnell (rhythm), whilst with Geraldo one heard Dougie Robinson, Bob Adams, Bill Jackman, Phil Goody and Keith Bird (reeds), Alfie Noakes, Alan Franks, Derrick Abbott and Leslie Hutchinson (trumpets), Lad Busby, Les Carew, Joe Ferrie and Jack Thirwall (trombones), Sidney Bright, Ivor Mairants, Jack Collier and Jock Cummings (rhythm).