Sunday, March 19, 2017

Sunday Music: "Rule, Britannia!" by Wiggia

A rummage through the archives for British musicians since the forties in modern jazz produces a mixed bag of results. On the home front the list is fairly well spread since that date and encompasses instrumentalists and vocalists. The difficulty comes when reviewing those who made it on the world stage or at least became recognised in the USA , recognition there being the open sesame to world fame if not riches.

Those that made it across the pond are a relatively small band which is not surprising as breaking into a music scene as a jazz musician in the states is never going to be easy when they have so much home grown talent in what has now become a niche market.

George Shearing, Sir George after being knighted at the age of 87 in 2007, was a Battersea-born Londoner. Born blind to working class parents he was the youngest of nine, and he started to play the piano at the age of three. A pub in Lambeth was his first gig and after a relatively short spell he emigrated to the USA in ‘47. Influenced by Fats Waller and Teddy Wilson, his style was almost immediately successful and he formed his own group with Buddy de Franco and then formed the George Shearing quintet.

Two hugely successful singles of his own compositions, Lullaby of Birdland and September in the Rain guaranteed a career as performer and composer for the decades to come. He also had more than a passing interest in classical music and performed with several orchestras, along with TV appearances and playing with a long list of of musicians including Mel Torme with whom he won two Grammys, and later toured with Torme in the UK, a true international star and a rarity in the jazz world.

Some of his appearances were somewhat formulaic simply because his status would demand it but he was a true jazz musician at heart with a huge appeal.

Tubby Hayes also cracked it in the states, the most accomplished all round musician we have probably produced in modern jazz, a true multi instrumentalist. He was one of those whom you put an instrument in front of and he just played it, from vibes to flute but best remembered as a tenor sax player to most.

I had the pleasure of seeing Tubby live at the old Ronnie Scotts and at the Manor House pub by the tube station of the same name in north London where jazz artists appeared on many Sunday nights.

He started out with Kenny Baker in ‘51 and soon joined various British big bands of the period including Ambrose, Vic Lewis, Roy Fox , Parnell and then formed his own octet in ‘55. In ‘57 to ‘59 he played as joint leader with Ronnie Scott in the Jazz Couriers, a fondly remembered period; an invitation to play at the Half Note club in NY in ‘61 cemented his credentials over there and he played with many across the pond luminaries and returned again to the states in ‘62, ‘64 and ‘65 when he played at Shelly Manne's Mann-Hole in Los Angeles.

Back in the UK he formed his own big band and appeared on TV in his own series and also appeared in several films as well as being a much sought after session musician.

The sixties heralded a music revolution. Jazz suffered as a consequence and Tubby felt the impact along with many others so he toured abroad as London venues had changed their musical tastes. At this time he was in a rather painful story of drugs, difficult and personal relationships (he was married twice) and there are some anecdotes. A partner of his helped him access drugs.  All created a very muddled and confused last few years, his health rapidly declined and he had breathing problems that stopped all playing at one time. He then had a heart operation that was successful but a second in ‘73 wasn’t and he died in Hammersmith hospital at the age of 38.

Looking back it seems scarcely possible that so much had been put into those brief years. Much of his catalogue went missing and items became rare and collectible. I am fortunate to have a couple in my collection.

Here he is with Jimmy Deuchar on trumpet and introduced by Humph in ‘65:

"Humph": Humphrey Lyttleton was a self taught trumpeter and almost everything else throughout his long career as musician, composer, arranger, band leader, TV show host, radio ditto and raconteur extraordinaire and columnist plus; he even designed his own house in Hertfordshire. His privileged background reads like a chapter from Tom Brown's Schooldays and is worth a trip to Wiki for that alone.

He started out in music with a trumpet influenced by Louis Armstrong and his early years were in the blues tradition of traditional jazz, but he moved to mainstream in the sixties and by the end of his playing career could be said to have moved into a gentle form of modern jazz )my interpretation !) so he merits being here.

Above all Humph had style, be it with words or music, and is missed in all the professions he touched.

His personnel changed much over the years and he toured to sell out crowds everywhere. He also introduced Canadian singer Stacey Kent to the UK, Elkie Brooks sang with the band on several occasions and he even toured with Helen Shapiro in the nineties.

A small aside was that he hated telephones, a trait he shared with my late father who would disconnect the wires if he thought anyone was going to call him.

Here he is with Elkie:

Vic Feldman certainly cracked the American jazz scene, this was seen as important at the time as all American jazz artists had an inherently superior status attached to them.

Feldman was a musical prodigy, a young talent who became a world known pianist and percussionist and whose vibe playing became a trade mark despite the fact most people thought he was a better pianist.

Feldman came from a musical family and he played in a trio that had his brothers as the other partners for awhile. He went to work in the USA in ‘55 and on return while at his club Ronnie Scott suggested he emigrate to the USA; he did in ‘57.

He worked with Woody Herman at first and then Buddy de Franco, and then formed his own group on the West Coast that included the talented bassist Scott la Faro who was tragically killed in an auto accident aged 25. He played with various bands and groups including Miles Davis who asked him to join his group full time but Feldman said no, preferring the occupational safety of studio work as opposed to touring.

Settling in LA he specialised in film TV and session work and worked outside the jazz environment with the likes of Frank Zappa and Steely Dan.

Here with Scott la Faro and playing both piano and vibes.

During and after the forties big bands still held sway at the top of the music scene here and in the states, we had several big bands during this period but one stood out head and shoulders above the rest: Ted Heath. A tenor saxophonist himself at an early age he switched to trombone.

He actually started his musical career with his brother and three other musicians busking outside London Bridge station and on local streets. Heath was spotted and asked to join Jack Hylton's band; his lack of experience meant the gig was short lived.

He then played with various bands and rejoined Hylton in the late twenties and then a residence at the Kit Kat club followed, where he was influenced by touring American bands like Dorsey.

In ‘28 he joined Ambrose where he learnt to be a bandleader and his trombone playing developed the style he became famous for. Geraldo's orchestra followed during the war years and during this time a Heath composition “That Lovely Weekend “ was produced and the royalties he received from its success allowed to him to form his own band. It followed the American line-up style and was influenced by Glenn Miller; success followed touring with Lena Horne and backing Ella Fitzgerald. He became a huge hit and had long runs at the London Palladium.

1956 saw Heath make the trip to the states for a tour that was not only a sensation but cemented his standing in the jazz pantheon of great bands.

The 50s were the peak of his fame with a huge recording output and European tours. He carried on through the sixties and was still having chart successes in the states. In ‘64 he collapsed on stage in Cardiff with a cerebral thrombosis and though he recovered it was to all intents the end of his career. He died in ‘69 aged 67.

Here they are playing their version of Lionel Hampton's signature tune “Flying Home”:

John Dankworth did the reverse, playing at an early stage in his career in the States, playing the Newport jazz festival in ‘59, the band performed at the Birdland club in NYC and he shared the stage with Duke Ellington with whom he had a life long association. At this time Cleo Laine became the band's singer and he married her in ‘58. His biography is long and deserves a separate read so a link is the best way to access his history and the legacy he left:

He was also a composer wrote many theme tunes for TV and films including the “Avengers”. This is a video at the end of his career and sadly his life, back playing in the States with Cleo:

There are/were many others who had an influence on the British jazz scene but few who made an international career or impression. There is a flaw in my selection: Humph was never an international success, though he did record in the states with Sydney Bechet in ‘49, but his all round presence in playing, talking about and presenting jazz was a huge part of the music's promotion and for that alone he deserves his place.

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