Jazz Development in Britain 1924—1974

9. The Return of Count Basie


  The History of British Jazz

February 1959 saw the return of the Count Basie Orchestra and Louis Armstrong’s All Stars for separate tours of Britain, both organised by Harold Davison and, although there had been little change in Basie’s personnel since his visit of 1957, there were certainly some new faces around Louis. Peanuts Hucko had taken over from Edmond Hall, Mort Herbert from Jack Lesberg and Danny Barcelona from Barrett Deems, but the overall sound was much the same, although I always felt that Ed Hall’s style of clarinet playing was more suited to the group than that of his successor.

The band which shared the Armstrong concerts on this second tour was that of Alex Welsh, then already one of Britain’s finest jazz groups and one that continued to flourish throughout the difficult years that were to come, all the while contributing significantly to the raising of British jazz standards. In 1959 trumpeter Welsh was leading Roy Crimmins (trombone), Archie Semple (clarinet), Fred Hunt (piano), Bill Reid (bass) and Johnnie Richardson (drums), only Hunt being still with the band in the mid–‘seventies.

Next, in April, came the series of concerts by the Woody Herman ‘Anglo/American Herd,’ as it was called.

A little later in the same year the National Jazz Federation organised an exchange in which the old New Orleans clarinettist–the late George Lewis–was presented with his band for some British performances. As I had no opportunity for seeing or hearing the band, I can offer no comment and, for the same reason, cannot recall the names of the other musicians who came over with Lewis.

Twelve months to the day from its first presentation in Britain, Norman Granz’s Jazz At The Philharmonic was brought back to Britain by Harold Davison for another tour, again with Ella Fitzgerald and Oscar Peterson topping the bill. Also participating for the second time in Britain were Sonny Stitt, Roy Eldridge, Herb Ellis (though not as a member of the Peterson trio), Lou Levy, Gus Johnson and Ray Brown.

New members of the package were bassist Wilfred Middlebrook, drummer Ed Thigpen, who had replaced guitarist Herb Ellis with the Peterson Trio, and the Gene Krupa Quartet which, in addition to the leader, comprised pianist Ronnie Ball from Birmingham, England who had emigrated to the States, bassist Jim Gannon, and Eddie Wasserman playing saxophone, clarinet and flute.

Sonny Stitt was accompanied in his spot by Levy, Thigpen and Brown, Eldridge by the Lou Levy Quartet, which was completed by Ellis, Johnson and Middlebrook. Ella was backed in one set by the Levy Quartet and for another by the quartet plus Eldridge. Needless to say the programme was one of considerable variety, not the least interesting contributor being Gene Krupa, who, having discarded his big band exhibitionism of the previous decade, was playing much better jazz, such as we had heard from him during his days with Red Nichols, Benny Goodman, and his own Chicagoans of the mid–‘thirties.

In September came yet another package presented by Harold Davison, but this time produced by George Wein and described as the ‘Newport Jazz Festival,’ which comprised the Dave Brubeck Quartet, to the first British tour of which I have already referred, of the Dizzy Gillespie Quintet, which in addition to the master of bop trumpet playing, comprised Leo Wright (alto saxophone, flute), Junior Mance (piano), Art Davis (bass) and Lex Humphreys (drums); and the Buck Clayton All Stars, which included some of the greatest names in jazz.

The Clayton band proved to be one of the finest American ensembles to visit Britain, and comprised the leader and Emmett Berry (trumpets), the magnificent Dickie Wells (trombone), Buddy Tate and Earle Warren (saxophones), Al Williams (piano), Gene Ramey (bass) and Herbie Lovelle (drums). In addition there was the rotund and swinging Jimmy Rushing, making his first visit to Britain, whose death just a few years later robbed jazz and the blues of one of its greatest vocal exponents.

To round off the package there was the Vic Ash Quintet, in which Vic, on clarinet and tenor saxophone, was leading Ian Hamer (trumpet), Alan Branscombe (piano), Jeff Clyne (bass) and Dave Pearson (drums). During the course of the tour, the Quintet won the considerable respect of the Americans.

The next exchange, which occurred in the following month, presented Kid Ory and his Creole Jazz Band, which featured Henry “Red” Allen, whose trumpet work was of a considerably higher standard than the trombone playing of Ory who had, in fact, been brought back out of retirement.

The British band on the tour was Terry Lightfoot’s New Orleans Jazz Men, all British, of course, and excellent. When Ory played a concert at Glasgow’s St. Andrews Hall, however, the British contributors were the Clyde Valley Stompers.

The British tour for the final exchange of 1959, presented by the National Jazz Federation, proved to be yet another mixed–nationality package. The Americans, the Modern Jazz Quartet, making their second British tour, were joined as guest stars by baritone saxophonist Ronnie Ross and the late Joe Harriott on alto. Needless to say, some delightful and interesting music was heard at every concert.

In the Autumn of the same year, many of the British orchestras and bands to which I have referred in previous chapters, as well as many others, were still going strong, including those of Ted Heath, Vic Lewis, Johnny Gray, Acker Bilk, John Dankworth, Humphrey Lyttelton, Bob Miller, Chris Barber, and the specialising groups of Tubby Hayes, Joe Harriott, Don Rendell, Ronnie Scott, Tony Kinsey, Allan Ganley and Ronnie Ross.

Dankworth, for ever experimenting with new sounds and ideas, was by then using the instrumentation that many will remember, consisting of a large brass section, a rhythm section of three, and a front–line that included trumpet and trombone quite independently from the brass section and three saxophones.

So, for the record, on the several occasions when I saw this particular orchestra at work, the personnel list ran as follows. Front–line: John Dankworth (alto), Danny Moss (tenor), Alex Leslie (baritone), Dickie Hawdon (trumpet), Laurie Monk (trombone); rhythm section: Joe Palin (piano), Eric Dawson (bass), Kenny Clare (drums): brass section: Derrick Abbott, Stan Palmer, Bob Carson, Kenny Wheeler (trumpets), Tony Russell, Danny Elwood, Ken Wray (trombones), Ron Snyder (tuba). It all added up to some glorious and well–remembered sounds. It is, perhaps, interesting to note that Messrs Abbott, Dawson and Leslie had been members of the original Dankworth orchestra of around 1953/4, and Dawson of course, was a member of the Original Seven. There were in the years to follow, more changes in instrumentation and personnel but, with Dankworth’s original compositions and arrangements, and musicians drawn from among the finest in the profession, it is hardly surprising that the orchestra’s standard of perfection was maintained throughout.

 With the arrival of the ‘sixties. the wisdom of the reciprocal exchange policy of the British and American unions had fairly well dawned upon most of those who had first attacked it; the few critics left being found among some who, for one reason or another, had not been invited to participate, in one capacity or another, in any exchanges! Despite the protection offered by the policy, however, there were by then far fewer purely British jazz concerts promoted on anything like the scale of those of the previous decade. Jazz audiences, it was found, tended to save their money only for the concerts in which American bands or individual musicians were starred and, even then, it seemed they could be relied upon to patronise only a limited number of visitors, such as Ella Fitzgerald, Peterson, Basie, Ellington, Brubeck and the MJQ.

Even the annual Jazz Jamboree, which had been a regular sell–out throughout the ‘forties and ‘fifties, began to feel the effect of the American competition during the early ‘sixties. Between 1960 and 1965, however, the standard of British jazz musicianship continued to thrive, as was demonstrated at the Jamborees of those years, and many of the smaller groups who had appeared regularly during the previous decade continued to do so. In addition, there were many new ensembles, although some of the larger of these were formed more or less especially for the occasion—a fact that did not detract in any way from their high level of performance.

Among the smaller groups heard at the Jazz Jamboree during what were to prove to be its last years, were those of Joe Harriott, a quartet which then included “Shake” Kean (trumpet), Pat Smythe (piano), Coleridge Goode (bass) and Tommy Jones (drums); Tubby Hayes, who was supported by Terry Shannon (piano), Jeff Clyne (bass) and Tony Mann (drums); the Vic Ash–Harry Klein Jazz Five, which was completed by Brian Dee [piano), Malcohn Cecil (bass) and Bill Eyden (drums); the Ronnie Scott Quintet which, in addition to its leader, comprised Jimmy Deuchar (trumpet), Colin Purbrook (piano), Kenny Napper (bass) and Bobby Orr (drums), and the Dick Morrissey Quartet, in which the leader, on tenor, was backed by Harry South (piano), Phil Bates (bass) and Jackie Dougan (drums).

There was also the Ronnie Ross Quartet,. comprising the leader on baritone, Bdl Le Sage (piano, vibraphone), Spike Heatley (bass) and Tony Carr (drums); the Tony Kinsey Quintet, with Gordon Beck (piano), Les Condon (trumpet), Peter King (tenor) and Bruce Wayne (bass); the Ronnie Scott Quartet, in which the leader was supported by Stan Tracey (piano), Malcolm Cecil (bass) and Ronnie Stephenson (drums), and George Chisholm and his Tradsters, an octet, in which George was supported by Tommy McQuater (trumpet), Billy Amstell (tenor), Al Newman (clarinet), Alf Reece (sousaphone), Dill Jones (piano), Tony Pitt (banjo) and Lennie Hastings (drums). The vocalist was the stylish Jeannie Lamb.

More regular small groups that took part during the same period were the Ray Ellington Quartet; their vocalist by then was Carole Simpson; Terry Lightfoot and his New Orleans Jazzmen, Bob Wallis and his Storyville Jazzmen; Acker Bilk and his Paramount Jazz Band; Alan Elsdon and his Jazz Band; Dick Charlesworth and his City Gents, with vocalist Jackie Lynn; Alex Welsh and his Band, Eric Silk and his Southern Jazz Band; the Clyde Valley Stompers; Kenny Ball and his Jazzmen, and Chris Barber’s Jazz Band with Ottilie Patterson. It is indeed good to note that many, indeed most, of these are still going strong.

During the same period, the orchestras of Ted Heath and Jack Parnell. due to commitments elsewhere, were unable to take part in the Jazz Jamboree, but the John Dankworth Orchestra did so in 1960, 1963 and 1964. By then John was back with the more conventional instrumentation of four trumpets, three trombones, tuba, five saxophones and three rhythm, and there were several individual changes of personnel at different performances. Other well–known orchestras that took part during the period were those of Johnny Howard and Ray MacVay, and also the then BBC New Radio Orchestra which, at the 1965 event, comprised pianist/leader Tommy Watt, Stan Newsome, Jimmy Harrison, MO Miller, Denis Roe (trumpets), Bobby Lamb, Jimmy Wilson, Derek Tinker, Tommy Cook (trombones), Jimmy Chester, Andy McDevitt, Duncan Lamont, Colin Rathmel, Derek Hyams (saxophones), Malcolm Cecil (bass), Jackie Dougan (drums) and Denis Newey (guitar).

By far the greatest set–back for the development of jazz in Britain came during the period now under review and resulted from the loss of an audience of a younger generation to phoney pop, beat and rock scenes and just as it hit the ordinary commercially–run jazz concert, it also hit the Jazz Jamboree, even though the quality and quantity of talent and skill demonstrated each year could never have been presented in a single concert had not those taking part given their free services for the cause for which the event was organised—the Musicians’ Union Benevolent Fund.

Until 1962 the Jamboree was run as a single event at such venues as the Gaumont State, Kilburn, the Stoll Theatre, Kingsway, the London Palladium and the Gaumont (now Odeon), Hammersmith but, in 1963, in an effort to cater for several tastes and to celebrate the event’s silver jubilee, the organisers presented four events in one weekend comprising a Folk Song Concert at the Royal Albert Hall, a Modern Jazz Concert at St. Pancras (now Camden) Town Hall, a Modern Jazz Concert at Hammersmith Town Hall and a Traditional Jazz Concert at the Royal Albert Hall. Compared to what had gone before, and due to the greatly increased overheads. the financial result was virtually disastrous, despite the fact that the Musicians’ Social and Benevolent Council ran the events in conjunction with the old Daily Herald newspaper. In the following year. this time in association with the Melody Maker, the Jamboree was split into two events a week apart. The first of these, described as an ‘All–Star Concert’, presented various well–known artists of the day, with only the bands of Kenny Ball and Johnny Howard to provide any kind of jazz ingredient, and took place at the Empire Pool, Wembley. The second. a modern jazz. concert at the New Victoria Theatre, presented the John Dankworth Orchestra, the Tubby Hayes Big Band, the Ronnie Scott Quartet and the American Trio of Ahmad Jamal. There was also vocalist Sandra Barry supported by a group described simply as ‘The Boys’.

The 1965 and last Jazz Jamboree was given the additional title of ‘Big Band Bonanza’ and, presented at the Hammersmith Odeon, included, in addition to the bands of Johnny Howard and Ray MacVay and the BBC to which I have already referred, Tubby Hayes’ Commonwealth Jazz Orchestra, The London Jazz Orchestra, directed by trombonist Tony Russell. The Harry South Orchestra and The New Jazz Orchestra directed by Neil Ardley. We shall come a little later to the personnel details of the first three, which of course bristled with many of the best–known names in British jazz, but for the Ardley ensemble it has to be said that it produced a grand performance with a personnel, many of whom had not yet received the well–deserved recognition that was to come. Notable among these were trumpeter Ian Carr, the superb Barbara Thompson and her husband, drummer and composer Jon Hiseman.

Unlike his orchestra of the ‘seventies, Ardley was then scoring for four trumpets, French horn. three trombones, tuba, flute, five saxophones, piano, bass and drums–with not a synthesiser in sight!