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.
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.’
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
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.’
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
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
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.
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!
here for the line-up