Jazz Professional               

Unfounded Gossip

overheard by Ron Simmonds

Before the bandleader and trombonist Ted Heath joined the Ambrose band back in 1928 he worked as a street musician. Tom Wray, the mouthpiece maker, told me that the leader of the group didn’t get on very well with Ted, so, when they stopped to play, he always managed to leave Ted standing over an open drain.

Hey, now wait a minute…

The arranger Dave Lindup once sought a job on piano with Lou Praeger’s band. Lou had a pianist but needed a new tenor player, so Dave borrowed a tenor, practiced for a week and got the job.

Time for Lunch

Trombonist Charlie Messenger in a Guards band, on horseback, riding forwards in column of two. As they turned inwards to ride back the horse in the other column grabbed Charlie’s trombone slide in his mouth, wrenched it out of his grasp and ate it.
Pianist Billy Penrose used to entertain his colleagues by eating razor blades. As an encore he would push a huge safety pin through his cheek into his mouth and fasten it there. Then he’d have breakfast.

Speak Low

When Jack Parnell’s band was booked to do a month in South Africa bassist Charlie Short bought a mini van with the firm intention of driving to the gig down there, from London, in seven days.

Johnny Hawkesworth could make his bass talk. If you politely asked, ‘How are you, Bass?’ it would answer, ‘Very well, thank you.’

Handsome Harry

Harry Roche, good looking, elegant, always immaculately dressed, with his white Triumph TR2 sports car, was a big hit with the ladies in Monte Carlo when playing a season there with Geraldo. One day he was invited on to Daddy’s yacht to meet the family. Over cocktails the hostess asked, ‘And what do you do, Mr. Roche?’ ‘I’m a trombone player,’ he replied, and was thrown off the yacht at once.


On a session one day I hit a high note with such force that the little–finger ring of my trumpet broke off and I punched myself in the face. We spent all the rest of our spare time during the session looking for the ring. It was finally discovered in Derek Abbott’s top pocket the next day.


On my eighteenth birthday, feeling on top of the world. There was a knock on the door. ‘Why haven’t you registered for National Service?’ said the man on the doorstep. ‘I don’t need to,’ I cried, ‘I’m Canadian.’ ‘I don’t care if you’re a———Zulu,’ he sneered. ‘Sign here.’

…and ignorance

After the huge success of the Manchester premier of West Side Story, before it moved down to London, the management decided to throw a party for the cast. Only the section leaders of the orchestra were invited. Upon hearing of this all the section leaders, together with many members of the all–American cast, refused to attend the party, and the management had to back down. It wasn’t much of a party. I went along with Laddy Busby, and I had to more or less hold him down later in the evening when he wanted to take a swat at George Chakiris. ‘I’m going to belt him one,’ snarled Laddy, struggling with me. ‘To hell with him. If it wasn’t for us catching him up every night he’d never get through any of his songs.’ But I was stronger than Laddy, and I dragged him away out into the fog to a pub.  

If it moves, clap it

Mike Smith’s small jazz group plays an open–air concert once a week in Benidorm. Thousands of people attend. The group consists mainly of London session musicians and we play some highly technical and challenging written music. In spite of this many amateur musicians turn up with their instrument cases, wanting to sit in with us.

We’ve had them all: trumpets, trombones, tenors, ukuleles, harmonicas, washboards and singers. One man even brings his own sound equipment with him on holiday. Most of them are pretty bad. They all have one thing in common, though, and that is an egotism that one can only view in awe. Ken Rattenbury, commenting on the phenomenon, put it neatly when he said: Their egos are in direct inverse proportion to their talents.

Why do they push themselves so? I blame the audiences for encouraging them. They have been trained to clap anything that moves on a stage. After a perpetrator on, say, clarinet, with a vibrato like a nanny–goat, has finished posturing, someone will invariably come up to me and say, ‘That trombone player is brilliant, isn’t he? Is he famous?’ To which I can only reply, ‘Oh, yes, brilliant. And famous—of course.’ What else can one say?

In fifty years of playing I have only experienced two occasions where a professional musician wanted to sit in with a band in which I was playing. The first was Zoot Sims with the Dankworth band. He played a solo in John’s arrangement of Stomping at the Savoy with us, but he wanted the whole score a semitone higher, so we did it. The other time was with Peter Herbolzheimer in Ronnie Scott’s club, when Paul Gonsalves came on to play a couple of choruses in Blues in My Shoes. We were in Bb, but he asked us to put it up a tone when he played so we did that as well.

One of the most admirable incidents of sitting–in occurred during the broadcast of a Jazz Jamboree in September, 1945. It involved two of the finest trumpeters around at the time: Jimmy Watson, from the Squadronaires, and Chick Smith, who at that time was first trumpet with the Skyrockets. On the broadcast Jimmy Watson was appearing with the Harry Hayes combo, and was due to play a solo spot in  I Can’t Get Started. After playing about six notes, Jimmy collapsed, falling flat on his face with his trumpet beneath him. Fortunately for all concerned the Skyrockets were waiting in the wings as the next band on. Harry Hayes calmly took over the chorus and Chick dashed over to take Jimmy’s place for the rest of the broadcast. The unconscious trumpet player was carried off and the crowd cheered when it was announced, later on, that he had recovered. The people listening at home, and I was one of them, had no idea of the drama taking place. It was a fine example of first-class musicianship, presence of mind and comradeship. Chick Smith was, of course, Jimmy Deuchar’s uncle.

Up, Up and Away

On one of the Saturday Spectacular TV shows with Jack Parnell’s orchestra a visiting American arranger came over to the trumpet section and said, ‘Hey, back in the States these things used to sound a whole lot higher than that.’ I said, ‘Do you want us to play it an octave higher?’ and he said that would be great. So the entire brass section played his two numbers up an octave. After a while Bob Burns came over and asked, dead-pan, whether he wanted the saxes up an octave as well. We did it as a joke, because it sounded unbelievable, but he rushed in, shouting, ‘Great! Great!’ so we did it on the show as well. Can’t remember his name.

Water World 1

The Squadronaires band bus stopped in the night to allow some of the guys off for a moment. It was pitch dark. As he prepared to alight Ronnie Aldrich noticed that they had stopped right beside a ditch full of water, so he stepped over it. Hard on his heels came Charlie Hall, the band manager, who didn’t. When he slowly came up again, all covered with mud and weeds, someone said, ‘The Return of Frankenstein,’ and Charlie’s wife laughed so much that she peed herself.

Water World 2

On a tour of Japan with the RIAS band our bus stopped for lunch at a restaurant beside a beautiful lake. There was a small wooden boat pulled up nearby. During the meal we looked out to see that trombonist Åke Persson was rowing the boat out to the middle of the lake. Once there he waved to us, lazily stripped off and lay down in the boat to sunbathe. As we watched the boat slowly began to sink. Finally it vanished from view. After a moment or two Åke’s head emerged. He kept bobbing under, obviously searching for something. Then he waded back to shore, clutching his sodden clothing. We gave him a slow handclap. He had lost his valuable gold watch. Divers would have to be called; the lake drained, perhaps. But we had to move on, couldn’t wait. ‘All right, then, I’m leaving, right now,’ he said, angrily. ‘Here’s your plane ticket,’ said the bandleader, handing it to him. We were miles from anywhere.

Domo arigato

On that same Japan trip, flying the Alaska route, we arrived, very tired, in Tokyo late evening and were expected to play a few numbers for the newsreel cameras. While we were changing into our tuxedos Åke complained bitterly about this, saying he never wanted to come to Japan anyway—and now this. He threw open our bedroom window and screamed, ‘———Japan!’ into the night several times to express his sense of outrage.

Next morning we were awoken early. With hardly time for breakfast we were pushed into a bus and rushed to the Tokyo Television Centre, to appear on breakfast television.

The place was crammed with high officials. We had no need to rehearse the music, but there was a short run-through, beginning with an address of welcome in both Japanese and English from one of the VIPs. Our German bandleader, Werner Müller, read his reply in English from a prompt written in chalk on a huge black­board. After the run-through I went over and took a look at it. Werner must have seen my face because he was beside me in a flash. ‘What’s the matter? No good?’ ‘It’s hilarious. Look at that: WE BEG THE ILLUSTRIOUS JAPAN GESTGIVERS HUMBLY TO BE ETERNALY GREATFUL. WE ARE HERE. Who wrote this rubbish?’ ‘I did.’ I quickly chalked him up something more suitable to the occasion.

On the show, after the welcoming address by the Japanese dignitary, Werner had hardly opened his mouth to say his piece when Åke stood up in the middle of the trombone section and replied in fluent Japanese.

Everybody in the band was stunned. When he finished there was a spontaneous burst of applause from everyone in the studio—technicians, cameramen, make-up girls, the lot. ‘Domo arigato,’ said Åke, and sat down. I found out later that he’d arisen at six a.m. and charmed a girl receptionist into writing him the little speech, which said how glad he was to be in Japan, and how he was looking forward to many happy days on the trip. That man could charm people into doing anything he wanted.

My country, right or wrong

A woman came up to me during the gig and asked me to play I Don’t Know Why I Love You Like I Do. ‘I want to sing it to my husband,’ she said, and sang me a couple of bars. ‘Well, it won’t be very romantic if you sing it with that Liverpool accent,’ I said. ‘But—‘ she cried—‘I’m British!—I’m from Sheffield!’

Who are these people?

After Eleanora Fagan left the band she was replaced first by Doris von Kappelhoff, and later on by Lilian Kleotz, who brought a load of new songs written for her by Lionel Begleiter. Male vocals were taken care of by Augustus Kwamlake Quaye. The line–up of Arthur Arshawky’s band in those days was: Harry Finkelman, Milton Rajonsky, Henry Shalofsky (trumpets); Joseph Firrantello, Ronald Schatt, Bill Evans (tenors); Kenneth Skingle (baritone); Julius Gubenko (vibes), Herman Blount or Ahmad Jamal (piano), Blind Willie Dunn (guitar), Aladar Pege (bass), Frank Grillo (percussion) and Luigi Paulino Alfredo Francesco Antonio Balassoni on drums. What a band that (never) was!

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