|Recollections from an ex-trombone player...|
I used to dabble as a trombonist and occasional bass player in the late fifties and early sixties but never to the standard of the working guys. The best I could do was a sit in on the odd occasion at the Tally Ho at Kentish Town at the Sunday night jam sessions that always used to be absolutely alive with so much swing, driven by Vic Richards the drummer and compere/leader. Alan Littlejohn, Mike Hogh, Harry Lock, Hugh Ledigo and Peter Shade used to be regulars at these sessions along with such luminaries as Ziggy Ludwigsen, Wally Moffat and Dave Castle. The bar was always packed to the extent that it was wise to buy all your drinks when you went in as you couldn't move to get to the bar once the session had started.
Back in the eighties I was in Soho looking for records and I popped in to see the late John Kendall who used to have a little corner shop opposite a pub. I hadn't seen him for some years since the days when he used to work in the second hand department downstairs at Dobell's in the Charing Cross Road and we used to all gather in the 'Scots Hoose' for Saturday lunchtime drinks with Artie and Bill Colyer. At this time business was very slack for John and he would sit in the pub across the road all day watching for customers when I hove into sight over the horizon. The first thing he did was brandish a copy of a record called 'Jazz at The Tally Ho' which I snapped up for a couple of quid. One side of this was actually recorded live and is a great memoriam of those days even though the record is rather battered. I am eternally grateful to John for that find and as an added bonus the sleeve note was written by John himself who also used to be a Sunday night regular - handy for him as he used to live at Belsize Park.
One person of my acquaintance for some years was the great Phil Seamen who I consider to be one of the great all time drummers. He was not an easy person to know at times but could create gales of laughter with some of his anecdotes and general cracks. I once took a lady friend of mine to the Marquee when Phil was playing, (I seem to remember Tony Scott and Pat Smythe being in the line up), and Phil came over for a chat between sets and managed to ruffle the young lady's feathers somewhat as he was on a bit of a downer at the time. She knew straight away what the trouble was and said to me 'that young man is not going to live for very long the way he is going.' I never persuaded her to go to jazz clubs after that and lost a good opportunity because she thought that Phil was typical of 'jazzers' in general. We lost too many good ones too soon but, fortunately, their work lives on...
The clubs we used to visit were, The (old) Marquee, when it was in Oxford Street and later round the corner in Wardour Street, The Flamingo (some shady characters used to frequent that one), Ronnie Scott's, which was only a few doors down from the basement club where I used to dep for the regular bass player, Klooks Kleek at Hampstead and another place at Belsize Park, the name of which escapes me. There was also a club at Lambeth where we went a few times but the name of that one is also lost in the mists of time. The Hopbine at North Wembley was nice and convenient as I used to live at Colindale and for a while the Half Moon at South Harrow had a 'modern' session every fortnight. In later years Steve Lane's band played at the Half Moon so that was a complete contrast. There was the occasional gig at the Tithe Farm Hotel at South Harrow and also at the Headstone in Headstone lane by the Underground station. We also had a club at the White Lion at Edgware which was 'trad' for three weeks with a 'modern' group every month and the Don Rendell Quintet played there a couple of times.
When I was with the John Purves band we did a few interval spots there and I actually have a photo of one of those spots where I am nicely hidden so as not to get blamed. The Woodside Musicians Association used to have a Sunday lunch session in the Green Dragon at Borehamwood and we used to be able to sit in with some great people up there. I remember being on the stage with Jimmy Skidmore and Mike Hogh in the band both of whom were kind enough to give a few words of encouragement to a rank amateur with not a lot of talent. Of course there was the other Sunday gig at the Tally Ho where everyone got a chance to sit in and Mike Hogh used to be a regular there as well. I had some great times up until I married in 1967 and living out at Bletchley and being on shift work didn't leave much of a chance to play any gigs so I packed up altogether. My main instrument was the trombone and I was lucky enough to get some advice on technique from John Picard who was my favourite trombonist as he had such a tremendous blues feeling.
I had the pleasure of chatting to Benny Green on a number of occasions and his knowledge of all things 'showbiz' was astronomical - he was always so entertaining and to get him together with Ronnie Scott was a comedy double act par excellence with the repartee flowing like wine. More recently I was told that Benny didn't like Ronnie Scott which came as a surprise if it were true - sounds a bit like sour grapes from someone somewhere.|
Benny Green's remit went far beyond jazz and he was a prolific broadcaster on many things 'showbiz', especially musicals. He was a pretty good arranger and, apparently, composer but strangely I don't recall any tunes credited to him. As a journalist he was always as entertaining as he was in person, with a very dry wit similar to that of Ronnie Scott. As a reed man he was far better than his diminutive ego suggested but he always seemed to hide his light 'under a bushel' as they say. He appeared to have an innate shyness which was belied by his broadcasts on the radio but he was certainly, in my opinion, a good solid reed man. It's such a pity that so little of his identified work remains on record. Like quite a number of other jazzers he appeared on occasion on the BBC radio programme 'jazz score', a show that is sadly missed. My late father was also a fan but, unlike with his penchant for Brian Rust's 'Mardis Gras' on Capital Radio, he never saved any of the shows on tape. It would be nice to find that at least a couple of these gems of 'jazzical humour' had been saved for posterity.
For a while I used to hang out at Klooks Kleek at Hampstead and I seem to remember Dick Heckstall Smith playing there with quite a funky little band and I am sure that Peter King was there on one occasion i.e. not that Peter King - the other one. There was a bit of confusion about with all these identical names such as Colin Bates, one of whom changed their name to Collin to avoid confusion but I still can't remember who was who! Obviously we didn't have any trouble distinguishing Pat Smythe from Pat Smythe though!
I last saw Terry (Shannon) at the Hopbine in North Wembley in about 1966 (as far as my feeble old mind can remember). I recall the time as one when the 'trad' and 'modern' fans kept apart, for no good reason at all that I could find, as we used to go and hear Steve Lane at the Norfolk Arms over the other side of the railway on a Friday night. I do remember leaving the old Marquee Club late of an evening after having seen the Jazz Couriers or some other such band and we were on our way around to Ken Colyer's for one of his all-nighters. We always thought it wise not to mention to anyone at the Marquee where we were going for fear or derision and likewise we never mentioned to anyone at Colyer's where we had been for most of the evening for the same reason. We just liked it all. We were happy listening to any kind of swinging music and were not averse to listening to the Alan Kirby band at the Ritz Ballroom at Kingsbury, who could turn in some nice performances. I recall they had a trumpet player who was obviously a bebop fan and would occasionally upset the management by playing like Dizzy Gillespie but I never found out his name.
In the seventies and eighties we used to go to the Bull's Head at Barnes and there were many good sessions there. In the latter years of living in Slough from 1992 to 1999 we used to go to the Fifield Inn near Windsor and the Railway Inn at Cookham to see Century Jazz which was formed by the late drummer Keith Vitty who had spent many years in Hong Kong. The band is still in existence but is now run by trombonist Clive Burton but still gigs around the Thames Valley. The personnel is otherwise totally changed but I am told the band still swings like mad. Clive is a brilliant trombonist in the mould of Carl Fontana and Kai Winding and he plays some of the Gillespie/Parker stuff that many trumpet players used to fight shy of.
Like all jazz venues, of whatever persuasion the musicians are, there is an intimacy which enables the listener to get to know them and a little of what makes them tick and I think that accounts for the very friendly atmosphere of jazz venues in general. Between sets and at the end of the session I always felt that a few words of thanks were not out of place and the offer of a drink was seldom refused and it also offered the opportunity to request a number to be played. In this way you got to know any number of people as acquaintances and a few as friends. Many of the faces I could not put names to but they were just there and we chatted. If nothing else it helps the musicians if they are less inclined to think of an audience as critical or even hostile so that they relax and the end result is great music which is what we are all there for.