Jazz Development in Britain 1924—1974

4. The Jazz Today Concert


  The History of British Jazz

So much happened on the British jazz 3 scene during the ‘fifties that any attempt to deal in detail with all the important groupings of those years would entail filling many chapters of this account with endless personnel lists. A practicable alternative might be to take a look at the picture around the 1955 halfway mark.

 In the April of that year the National Jazz Federation presented their “Jazz Today” concert at the Royal Festival Hall, which included a band described simply as The Ensemble. It was led by trumpeter Kenny Baker, and comprised George Chisholm {trombone), Bruce Turner, Kenny Graham and Harry Klein (reeds), Dill Jones (piano), Cedric West (guitar), Frank Clark (bass) and the other Benny Goodman (drums).

The personnel was broken down into three smaller groups described as “Interlude for Moderns”, which brought in Eddie Thompson on piano and Vic Ash on clarinet to join Klein, Clark and Goodman: “Tribute to Benny Carter”, a group led by West Indian alto saxophonist Bertie King, which consisted of The Ensemble minus Turner and Graham; and the Kenny Baker Quartet. There was also a solo spot from Dill Jones.

It was, of course, during the ‘fifties that Kenny Baker organised his famous “Dozen”, which commenced its activities in the field of broadcasting in 1951 and throughout the years until 1958 set a standard that was second to none. I first recollect hearing and seeing Kenny at work with the Band of the R.A.F. Fighter Command in 1942, when they and the London Fire Forces Dance Orchestra were playing for one of the war–time charities in the Grosvenor House Ballroom, and I recall how even then we were knocked out by his solo work. And I, for one, still am—over three decades later! I recall that some of the Dozen’s arrangements were in the style of the Red Nichols Five Pennies, during the period when Vic Berton’s pedal timpani and Adrian Rollini’s bass saxophone were featured, and the British players responsible for these parts were respectively Eric Delaney and E. O. “Poggy” Pogson, although Harry Gold sometimes deputised for the latter. Other drummers with the Dozen over the years were Tony Kinsey, Johnny Flanagan and the late Phil Seamen.

“Poggy” was usually among those present, even when the bass saxophone was not needed, because he. played just about anything with a reed on it, and other reed players who graced the band at various times were Harry Hayes, Keith Bird, Freddy Ballerini, Harry Klein, Don Rendell and Bruce Turner. Along with Kenny at various periods were trumpeters Tommy McQuater and Freddy Clayton, and the trombone chair was usually taken by either George Chisholm or Keith Christie. Pianists Bill McGuffie, Norman Stenfalt and Derek Smith all played their stints with the band, and bassists remembered are Frank Clark and Jack Seymour.

One man who should never be forgotten for his contribution to not only the development and radio presentation of the Dozen but to the general presentation of jazz in radio, is the late Pat Dixon, an enthusiast if ever there was one. It was my pleasure to meet him during the war years, when he produced some of the broadcasts by the London Fire Forces Dance Orchestra, and on every session insisted upon the inclusion of more swing arrangements than even we had planned. A rare experience indeed in those far–off days! In 1955, too, the “Jazz Jamboree” of the Musicians’ Social and Benevolent Council still presented the best in jazz.

Ted Heath, one of the founders of that annual event, was there again with his orchestra which, of course, has continued to remain in the forefront of Britain’s big bands long after his untimely death.

The ‘Squadronaires were also on the programme, but directed by Ronnie Aldrich, and with only two others from their wartime personnel—Cliff Townshend and Archie Craig (who are still around). Another regularly participating group present was the Ray Ellington Quartet, about which I have already written. It was, however, the presence of the newer groupings of the ‘fifties that demonstrated the increased wealth of jazz talent that by then existed.

Drummer Tony Crombie was then leading a driving band of ten, comprising Derek Humble, Al Cornish, Fred Perry and Jack Fisher (reeds), Jimmy Deuchar and Les Condon (trumpets), Mat Minshull (trombone), Lennie Bush (bass) and a pianist who was later to make an important impact upon the jazz scene––Stan Tracey. The vocalists were Johnny Grant and the superb Annie Ross.

Tenor–playing leaders were well in evidence with Tubby Hayes directing Mike Senn and Jackie Sharpe (reeds), Dickie Hawdon and Ian Hamer (trumpets), Pete Blannin (bass), Bill Eyden (drums) and Harry South, another pianist who was later to front one of the larger and most impressive orchestras. Ronnie Scott was then directing Dougie Robinson, Joe Harriott, Benny Green and Pete King (reeds), Jimmy Watson, Stan Palmer, Hank Shaw and Dave Usden (trumpets), Ken Wray, Mat Minshull, Jack Botterell and Robin Kay (trombones), Norman Stenfalt (piano), Eric Peters (bass) and Phil Seamen (drums), whilst Tommy Whittle’s personnel comprised Ronnie Baker and Joe Temperley (reeds), Kenny Wheeler (trumpet), Keith Christie (trombone), Don Riddell (piano), Freddie Logan (bass) and Eddie Taylor (drums). Bobby Breen sang with the Hayes band and vocalists with Scott were Art Baxter, Lynda Russell and Steve Curtis. It was during the following year that Tubby and Ronnie formed their thrilling Jazz Couriers, when the ,two truly great jazz men were backed by Bill Eyden, along with pianist Terry Shannon and bassist Phil Bates.

The Tony Kinsey Quartet, in which Tony was supported by Bill Le Sage (piano and vibraphone), Eric Dawson (bass) and Ronnie Ross (baritone saxophone), with vocalist Doris Steele, made its usual impressive modern jazz impact, as did The New Jazz Group, comprising Harry Klein (baritone saxophone), Derek Smith (piano), Sammy Stokes (bass) and Allan Ganley (drums).

Jack Parnell, who in previous years had directed an orchestra that included many of the musicians already listed, took a personnel into the 1955 Jamboree that comprised George Hunter, Brian Gray, Kevin Balenzuela, Red Price and Don Honeywell (reeds), Bill Bedford, Terry Lewis, Jo Hunter and Ronnie Baker (trumpets), Maurice Pratt, Johnny Edwards, Pat Kelly and Clarrie Baines (trombones), Hugh Currie (bass), Ronnie Roullier (piano) and Fred Adamson (drums).

Nevertheless, these impressive personnels were but a few of the many who had collectively raised the standard of the British jazz scene to an unprecedented level, among whom we have yet to recall the importance of the work of John Dankworth through the years we have so far covered, which were prior to the return of the American bands to Britain.

From June 1945 to February 1949 my work for the Musicians’ Union required me to spend most of my time organising musicians in the Union’s South–East District, which then consisted of the coastline counties from Hampshire to Suffolk, plus Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire; so I met the London–based bands of the time only during periods or on one–night stands when they came to work in the district, which was not infrequently, or when I attended the annual Jazz Jamboree each year in London.

My earliest recollection of seeing John Dankworth at work, therefore, was at the Jamboree of April 1948 when, as I have previously mentioned, he was playing alto with the Tito Burns Sextet, his partner on tenor being Ronnie Scott.

John, or Johnny as he was then, had completed his army service in 1947 and, with some good clarinet training at the Royal Academy of Music, had entered the profession at the age of twenty with a technical ability that was equalled in its immensity only by his interest in good jazz.

It was in those early years of John’s career that, along with Ronnie Scott and others, he accepted engagements on the boats (transatlantic liners) in order to enjoy opportunities for studying at first hand some of America’s best jazz players. He then had a fairly catholic taste in jazz, for I do recall his playing clarinet with some of the Dixieland bands of the time, including those of Joe Daniels, of whom I wrote many chapters ago, and George Webb. He continued to play and arrange for various bandleaders including Ambrose, with whom he was still working in the Spring of 1949—the remaining members of the reed section being Harry Hayes on lead alto, with Ronnie Scott and Bob Burns on tenors.

By some point in 1950, however, the decidedly boppish Johnny Dankworth Seven was formed which, in addition to John on alto and clarinet, consisted of Don Rendell (tenor), Jimmy Deuchar (trumpet), Eddie Harvey (trombone), Bill Le Sage (piano), Eric Dawson (bass) and Tony Kinsey (drums). The only singer then was Marion Williams.

At the Jamboree in October of that year the group made a significant impression upon not only the enlightened audience but also upon the other musicians taking part in the concert.

I next saw the Seven perform in the October of 1951, first at the Jamboree and then, a few days later, at a concert organised by the New Jazz Society and presented at London’s Kingsway Hall, which was perhaps my first opportunity for studying their work in some detail.

By then Eddie Blair had taken over the trumpet chair, Eddie Taylor the drums, and Cleo Laine, the future Mrs. Dankworth, was astonishing everybody with her distinctive voice, great jazz style and natural musicianship. Another vocalist who had by then joined the band was Frank Holder, from Guyana, another fine stylist who also played bongos in many numbers.

At the Kingsway concert there was also a second very excellent bop group from the old Sunset Club, led by Jamaican trumpeter Pete Pitterson, who had previously been a member of the orchestras of Vic Lewis, Tommy Sampson and the Kirchins, all of whom were prominent in the ‘forties and ‘fifties.

Along with Pitterson I recall another West Indian on bass in the person of Rupert Nurse, drummer Tommy Jones and pianist Dave Fraser.

There was also an excellent young American singer named Jimmy Branch who had a solo spot, and who I remember enrolling into the MU when he decided to settle in Britain after demobilisation from the USAF, although I have heard nothing of him for many years. The remaining soloist was pianist Alan Clare, who also accompanied Jimmy for the occasion.

Alan Clare, who in the ‘seventies is too well–known to need introduction from me, was then around thirty and was thought to be fairly new on the jazz scene–having been away on military service from 1941 to 1946. In fact, he had commenced his professional career at the age of fourteen and at seventeen was a member of the Sid Phillips band.

After leaving the army he joined Sid Millward’s Nitwits, which was hardly a jazz environment, although Millward was, in fact, one of the finest of jazz clarinetists, and then, in 1949, Alan had joined the Stephane Grappelli Quartet, where he succeeded George Shearing.

With an original style that was all his own, Alan was to build a reputation as a soloist that has stood him in good stead throughout the quarter century that has since elapsed, and anyone who knows him will tell you that it could not have happened to a nicer or more modest person.

It was not until November 1953 that the first Johnny Dankworth Orchestra, some twenty strong, made its debut at the Royal Albert Hall, but unfortunately I was not able to attend the performance.

I did not, in fact, have an opportunity for seeing the big band in action until the 1954 Jamboree when, in addition to John and vocalists Cleo Laine, Frank Holder and Tony Mansell, the personnel comprised Don Pashley, Rex Morris, Maurice .Owen and Alex Leslie (reeds), Derrick Abbott, Bill Metcalf, Jimmy Venn and George Boocock (trumpets), Maurice Pratt, Keith Christie, Eddie Harvey and Bill Geldard (trombones), Derek Smith (piano), Eric Dawson (bass) and Alan Ganley (drums).

The passing of a couple of years saw a considerable change of line–up, with only three reeds, including John himself, but with five of each in the two brass groups. Notable changes in personnel had been the inclusion of South African Dave Lee on piano and drummer Kenny Clare, who was to build for himself an international reputation.

In earlier chapters I listed as milestones in British jazz development the jazz items included in the broadcasts of the ‘twenties by the Savoy Orpheans and Havana bands, Fred Elizalde’s Savoy Music and, throughout the ‘thirties, the orchestras of Bert Ambrose and Lew Stone. During the early post–war years, however, so many fine players and bands came to the fore that it would be quite unfair to select any one as a milestone.

Nevertheless, in listing the ingredients for a kind of collective milestone, one of the important influences that would first come to mind would surely be the partnership of John Dankworth and Cleo Laine which, supported by the various Dankworth orchestras, has now contributed to keeping British jazz composition, arrangement and performance to the fore on the international jazz scene for so many years.