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Remembered by Ron Simmonds

Cyril Narbeth
The trumpeter and bandleader Cyril Narbeth has died in Coventry on the 8th March 2001, aged 86.

Cyril was the man who helped me on my way when I was fumbling around on my very first trumpet in 1944. There were no teachers in those days and I had to work out how to play the thing all on my own. I even played scales with the wrong fingering, pure trial and error, until he put me straight on that.

Cyril was a boy wonder back in Aberystwyth. He started playing cornet at age 9 and before anyone had time to catch a breath he was a Gold Medallist and Principal Cornet in his local brass band. He moved to Coventry later on, an industrial town with very many works bands.

I first met Cyril when I joined the Jack Owens band, resident at Neal's Ballroom in Coventry. He was on first trumpet, while I spluttered around on third. Pete Warner played tenor in that band and Bunny Roberts was our drummer. I was proud to be in such distinguished company

We were lucky to have a big name band visiting practically every weekend, so I was, at once, rubbing shoulders with some of the great names of the business. I was too overawed to speak to any of them, but, to my great pleasure, both Eddie Calvert and Freddy Clayton of the Geraldo Orchestra went out of their way to be friendly with me - a lanky 17 year-old trumpetCyril Narbeth player showing no signs of talent whatsoever. That cheered me up no end, and no doubt inspired me to greater things. I was able to remind them of this later on, when we worked together, and thanking them for their help cost me several pints of beer. Memories, memories...

Cyril and I, undaunted by the music we were playing in the ballroom, seized at once upon all the innovations arriving on the easily breakable 78 rpm records from the USA. Dizzy Gillespie had just started his amazing band. Almost at once a book of his trumpet solos was published and we grabbed it.

The neighbours were then treated to almost daily renderings of our efforts to reproduce all of Dizzy's solos in unison. No one complained, except Cyril's wife Margaret, who preceded us into the front room on these occasions, laying thick layers of newspaper to catch the drips from our water-keys.

When I mentioned this several years later to Dizzy Gillespie he was astounded. He said that he had never imagined that anyone could play the stuff. He certainly could not - he said he couldn't even read it.

In 1947 we both joined Tommy Sampson's band up in Redcar. I was in the RAF, so I could only play weekends and holidays, but Cyril stayed in the band, playing in the trumpet section with Stan Reynolds, Duncan Campbell and Alec McGregor.

After a while he moved on to Teddy Foster's band, and, later on, did some deps in Oscar Rabin's band and the Squadronaires.

After I left for Germany I didn't see him for a long time until he turned up at a Berlin Jazz Festival, where I was playing with both Don Ellis's big band and Lionel Hampton. By then he had long given up touring around and had returned to his job as an engineer at one of the Coventry factories.

Thirty years went by until I visited him in 1997, just after attending the Stan Kenton Reunion at nearby Daventry. He didn't look any different. He was running a big rehearsal band full of my old school and workmates and they didn't look any different. What is it about musicians? They never seem to grow old!

Cyril used to write me wonderful letters of reminiscence: meeting the star cornet player Jack Mackintosh, his hero, down in Tom Wray's Magic Mouthpiece cellar in Shaftesbury Avenue, was one of the great moments of his life.

I can truthfully say that, together with Bunny Roberts, the drummer - we were, and always have been, great pals - Cyril certainly played a big part in my life. It saddens me to know that we will not meet again in this world, but I've no doubt that he'll be waiting for me in the next. Then we can get out that Gillespie book again, and, this time, have Dizzy join us.


Obituary published in the Coventry Evening Telegraph

It is with sadness that I have to report the death of well-known Coventry musician Cyril Narbeth, at the age of 86. Cyril was rehearsing the New Mayfair Dance Orchestra (also billed as the Cyril Narbeth Big Band) right up to a few weeks before his death.

Coventry saxophonists Bill Gray and Ron Darlison kindly provided me with numerous details of Cyril's musical life, such as the time he spent as a trumpet player in Tommy Sampson's band shortly after the Second World War, that band being well-known as the launch pad for many professional musicians in the 1940s.

A Cheylesmore resident for the last 50 years, he played for the Jack Owens Band, and, during the 1950s, the resident orchestra at the Rialto Casino. He organised and ran the Coventry School of Dance Music at the Queen in Primrose Hill Street, where young musical talent would cut its teeth, much as today's youngters do in the Midland Youth Jazz Orchestra.

Nationally known name bands Cyril played for included the Squadronnaires and Teddy Foster's Band, but he will always best be remembered for his contribution to big band and dance music in the city.

Many thanks to Pete Warner for providing me with this clipping.

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