Jazz Development in Britain 1924—1974

3. American Wartime Trends


  The History of British Jazz

As will be seen, the decade–and–a–half following World War II had enormous significance for the development of jazz in Britain—first and foremost, I think, because in those years it became clear that the music had a broad and enlightened public, the existence of which had been by no means apparent in the ‘thirties. But, equally important, there were now hundreds of musicians around of various age groups who were able to demonstrate their ability to meet the new demand for good jazz.

The various American wartime trends in jazz, to which I have already referred in some detail, were reflected on the British scene; the perhaps most important development being the formation of scores of out–and–out jazz bands, the members of which made no attempt to conform to the established dance hall type of policy, and who were, in fact, able to make a decent living out of playing a music they enjoyed.

Jazz clubs were opened throughout Britain, many being able to provide a substantial amount of employment for professional musicians, although there crept in an element of near–amateurism in many places, due to the existence of players of varying standards who were interested only in playing the kind of music they liked before an audience with little concern for the fact that they were being financially exploited—a situation, needless to say, which caused many headaches for Musicans’ Union officials! During the late ‘forties, much of the club jazz to be heard was in the form that then became known as Traditional or Trad, played by those inspired by recordings of the early jazz bands of King Oliver, Bunk Johnson, George Lewis, Sidney Bechet, and other from the same era. Unfortunately, imitators as they were, these British enthusiasts copied the faults as well as the good points of many of the pioneers. So to listen to them you often had to suffer shaky intonation, exaggerated vibratos—especially from the clarinet players, plonking banjos and a somewhat limited repertoire. Nevertheless, some important contributors to the best of British jazz performance came out of the period, such as Humphrey Lyttelton, Chris Barber, the late Sandy Brown, Keith and Ian Christie and Eddie Harvey, to name only an obvious few, who moved on to other trends—sometimes far removed from their earlier sources of inspiration.

One of the early British revivalists had, of course, been George Webb, whose band, formed during the war years included in its personnel at various periods players like Lyttelton (trumpet), Owen Bryce (cornet), Eddie Harvey (trombone) and Wally Fawkes (clarinet). Lyttelton, of course, moved on to better and more lasting trends in jazz, and over the years has produced some impeccable frontlines, which have included such superb musicians as saxophonists Kathy Stobart, Jimmy Skidmore, Bruce Turner, Tony Coe and Joe Temperley. Eddie Harvey too, a fine arranger and teacher, moved right across the board to the modern big band field, embracing various other trends on the way.

In those early days, most of the jazz clubs were organised into what was known as the National Federation of Jazz Organisations, the officers and committee members of which included well–known musicians, jazz critics, journalists and club proprietors or administrators, but at a later stage the N.F.J.Q. was superseded by an organisation called the National Jazz Federation.

Alongside the Traditional trend, there was also the two–beat or Dixieland trend, and those who continued to model their style upon the trends of the late ‘thirties, usually described as mainstream jazz.

And, of course, from around 1947 onwards, there were those who took the road to bop or, as it was then called, bebop or rebop! Among the former, more experienced professionals like Harry Gold, Sid Phillips and Joe Daniels met with considerable success, as did the newcomers of the time, ,who included Alex Welsh, Freddy ‘Randall, Acker Bilk, Terry Lightfoot, Alan Elsdon and Kenny Ball. The early Vic Lewis Jazzmen played in this style and, once he left the Squadronaires, George Chisholm organised one of the best of such groups.

There was a great deal of overlapping, as between the trends bearing all but the bop label; for in broad terms, whether ‘two–beat’, ‘Dixieland’ or ‘traditional’, they were all revivals of earlier styles, all of which sounded fresh and so much better when played by musicians of far higher technical ability than many of the pioneers, and in tune. Although I remember falling into a quite heavy argument on this point with one of the leading lights of the NFJO, a Trad purist, who was convinced that if a performance did not contain the crudities of the early jazz performances the result was simply not jazz! I am afraid that I started the thing off by expressing the opinion that no music form suffered by being played in tune!

The bop style, of course, had no such problems, as it was, in the ‘forties and ‘fifties, an entirely new development in jazz, which captured the imagination of many of the then up and coming British players like Ronnie Scott, Tubby Hayes, John Dankworth, Joe Harriott, Don Rendell, Ronnie Ross, Harry Klein and so very many others, including such lighter and perhaps more entertaining groups as the Ray Ellington Quartet and the Malcolm Mitchell Trio.

Some interesting line–ups can be recalled from those years. Around 1948, for example. there was the Tito Burns Sextet, with the leader playing accordion and singing stylish bop vocal duets with Terry Devon (who, incidentally became Mrs. Burns), plus John Dankworth and Ronnie Scott (saxophones), Duncan Campbell (trumpet), Bernie Fenton (piano), Tony Crombie (drums) and Joe Muddel (latterly Mudele) on bass. Tito has for years past been involved on the management side of things, as has that other superb musician, pianist Dick Katz who, like Fenton, can adapt to any style. Dick was an original member of the Ray Ellington Quartet, along with West Indian guitarist Lauderic Caton, who we had first heard during the war years with Harry Parry’s Radio Rhythm Club Sextet, and another West Indian, Coleridge Goode on bass. Ray himself had, of course, come to the fore prior to the war when he took over the drum stool with the Harry Roy Orchestra. The quartet was later joined by the charming and stylish vocalist, Marion Ryan and, ,when Caton and Goode moved on, the former was succeeded in turn by Laurie Deniz, Don Fraser and Judd Proctor, and the latter by Bob Duff, Ken Sprang and Peter McGurk. When Marion Ryan went solo. she was succeeded by yet another charming stylist in the person of Valerie Masters, who was to become Mrs. Katz.

It is no exaggeration to claim that at no previous period in the history of jazz development in Britain had such a wealth of talent come to the fore as during the fifteen years following World War II.

It is going to be difficult to do full justice to the work of all who contributed–very many of whom, happily enough, are still playing a leading part in the jazz story some fifteen to twenty years later.

Apart from the already mentioned Palladium engagement of Benny Goodman and Buddy Greco to work with British musicians in 1949. and a British tour of one–night stands fulfilled by Graeme Bell’s Australian Jazz Band in 1947 (following its considerable success at the Prague Youth Festival in the same year), no jazz groups from abroad visited Britain during the post–war years until the early ‘fifties. Nevertheless, there began an agitation for the admission of such groups—especially the Americans—sponsored by some genuine enthusiasts, who wanted to hear the foreign musicians in the flesh. There was also agitation by sections of the music press of the time. who were concerned to widen their own news value, and some promoters who, influenced Iby the then current jazz trend, saw that money was to be made out of British appearances by leading American bands and musicians.

Unfortunately, few of those who were then pressing the Musicians’ Union and the Ministry of Labour (now the Department of Employment) to throw open Britain’s doors to American musicians had any conception of what it would mean to the British music profession; neither, in most cases, did they care.

The perhaps most offensive phrase came with the argument that to have American musicians playing among them would be like a “hot in the arm to their presumably inferior counterparts! For me, the period was a difficult one for, from around 1949 onwards, it became my responsibility to deal with the problem on behalf of the Union, and although I was on the one hand completely in agreement with the policy of both the Union and the Ministry I was, on the other, just as keen as anyone else to hear once again, in the flesh, such musicians as Armstrong who, it will be remembered, I had previously met in 1932, Ellington, whose orchestra had thrilled so many of us on his first British tour back in 1933, and many others who had not yet visited our shores.

In principle, the Union was prepared to agree to the employment of foreign bands in Britain on the basis of reciprocity, and this ‘we made very clear to all concerned, and it was, in fact, the Union that convinced the Ministry that such a policy would be preferable to a continued firm refusal to allow foreign bands to enter Britain. It was, nevertheless, clear that such a policy could not be operated until also accepted by the American Federation of Musicians and the U.S. Immigration Department.

It so transpired that, following agreement being reached between the British and Dutch unions about conditions that would have to be observed for exchanges between the two countries, the first foreign bands to come to Britain in those years were the famous Ramblers, and the Skymasters. The exchanges were organised by the Harold Davison office, and I think I am right in recalling that in both cases it was the Vic Lewis Orchestra that went to Holland. In the years that immediately followed, other Dutch groups to come to Britain were the Rita Reys Sextet, the Pia Beck Trio, the Band of the Dutch Swing College, the Dixieland Pipers and, I think, the Down Town Jazz Band. Among the British bands involved in exchanges were those of Ted Heath, Geraldo, Ivy Benson, Victor Silvester and Edmundo Ros, as well as some of the best of our small jazz groups and soloists.

The Ramblers was the very fine, swinging broadcasting band of pre–war days, about whom I have already written in relation to their broadcasts and recordings with Coleman Hawkins. Founded in 1926 by Theo Uden Masman, originally from Indonesia, the line–up, when I met them in 1952, consisted of Masman (piano), Wim Sanders (guitar), Jac Pet (bass). Kees Kranenbura (drums). Wim Poppiuk, Tony Helweg, ‘Kees ’ Bruyn, Tinus Bruyn (reeds), Bert Grijzen. Jan Kelder, Bert Paige (trumpets) and Marcel Thielemans (trombone).

Formed in 1945 for the Dutch Radio, the Skymasters had already had several leaders by the time they came to Britain. Then, however, their leader was saxophonist Bep Rowold, whose fellow reedmen were Sandor Sprong, Eddy Snel, Aart Schol and Bert van Vliet. The trumpeters were Rinus van der Broek, Peep van der Elzen and Wim Kat, and their trombonists Tommy Green and Jan ter Beek. The rhythm section comprised Dick Scherpenhuizen (piano), Martin Beekmans (drums), Tom Disseveldt (bass) and Karel van der Velden (guitar).

Apart from the lovely Rita Reys, a modern vocalist of those years singing in the bop style, the remainder of her Sextet were all male, and there was a marked resemblance m the style of the group to that of the Tito Burns Sextet, about which I have already written. So it was perhaps appropriate that in his capacity as a booker Tito organised their first exchange engagement. They made a number of visits to Britain, as did pianist Pia Beck. another lovely Dutch girl, who played great boogie and stride style, as well as. contributing first–rate swinging vocals to the performance. She fulfilled engagements in various European countries and America.

The Band of the Dutch Swing College played, and in fact still plays, driving Dixieland jazz and, over the years. has made more visits to Britain than any other band from the European continent.

Clarinetist Peter Schilperoort was, in the ‘fifties, leading Dim Kesber (clarinet), Kees van Dorsser (trumpet), Wim Kolstee (trombone), Joop Schrier ‘(piano), Dick Backer (banjo and guitar), Chris Bender (bass) and Arie Merkt (drums) but, as the band is still successfully active after well over twenty years, I have no doubt that there have since been many changes in personnel.

Exchange arrangements were made between the unions of Britain and various other countries in Europe, resulting in visits from the group led by the Dutch violinist Svend Asmussen, a trio led by vocalist Diana Miller, a British girl who had settled in Denmark, baritone saxophonist Lars Gullin of Sweden, who was backed by the very modern British trio led by drummer Tony Kinsey, German saxophonist Hans Koller, who I remember played in exchange for engagements in West Germany fulfilled by Tubby Hayes, and Swiss violinist Hazy Osterwald.

Meantime, the British jazz scene continued to thrive, and I can recall concerts at the Royal Festival Hall organised by the National Jazz Federation, under the title “Jazz Today”, in which were presented the Johnny Dankworth Orchestra, the Bruce Turner Quintet,, the Dill Jones Trio and various groups m which were included Victor Feldman, about whom I wrote many chapters ago as the boy drummer but who was now very adult and a brilliant vibraphonist and pianist, Bobby Mickleburgh and George Chisholm (trombones), Cy Ellis and Kenny Baker (trumpets). Don Rendell, Bruce Turner, Harry Klein, Vic Ash and Bertie King (reeds). There were also pianists Eddie Thompson and Dill Jones, both of whom were to migrate to the States, bassists Jack Fallon and Frank Clark and drummer Tommy Jones.