|The Service bands (1940 - 1945)...|
This page was adapted and edited from a page that Harry Francis wrote some years ago for Ron Simmonds, now defunct, website 'jazzprofessional'. It can now be found in full somewhere on the website of The National Jazz Archive... |
Service bands were at the forefront of swing during the war years with the Dance Orchestra of HM Royal Air Force (Squadronaires), the No. 1 Balloon Centre Dance Orchestra (Skyrockets) and the Royal Army Ordnance Corps Dance Orchestra (Blue Rockets), led by Jimmv Miller. Paul Fenhoulet and Eric Tann respectively, prominent.
All these orchestras enjoyed the work of some of the best British arrangers, including some to be found within their own personnel, and all favoured a Swing policy, the Squadronaires in particular featuring many arrangements in the two - beat style of the Bob Crosby Orchestra. The Squads, as they were known, featured the playing of jazz musicians that included George Chisholm, Tommy McQuater and Andy McDevitt.
Then came the joint and consistent trend setting of the orchestras of Bert Ambrose and Lew Stone, and the development in the recording field of small jazz groups. Next, came the freedom to develop big band jazz oriented Swing and small jazz groups, within the framework of the war time 'Service dance band' policy.
But there were a number of important small jazz groups within the various services and, of course, civilian bands. There were still some first rate bands of all sizes in existence, despite the call up.
Among the smaller wartime jazz orientated Service bands was the Blue Mariners, led by pianist/arranger George Crow. Although limited from the ensemble point of view, the band had the advantage of some excellent soloists, such as Freddy Gardner and Reg Pink, both of whom played tenor saxophone. The remaining members were Hugh Radcliffe (trumpet), Reg Clitheroe (trombone), Al Jennings (bass) and Fred Latham (drums).
The best of all small jazz groups were, in most cases, to be found in the ranks of the RAF One of these, described as HM Station Dance Band, was led by former Ambrosian Billy Amstell on tenor and clarinet. Another such band was led by Alfie Kahn, also a tenor saxophonist doubling clarinet, who had been a member of Fats Waller's British recording group. Others included Arthur Mouncey's RAF Quintet and Phil Watt's RAF Band
Perhaps the most significant small RAF group of those years, in the light of later developments, was that led by yet another of our best tenor saxophonists, Buddy Featherstonhaugh, a former member of the Spike Hughes Orchestra. He also doubled clarinet and was supported by Don McCaffer on trombone and Harry Raynor on piano. The group introduced for the first time to a wider audience, three newcomers in the persons of Jack Parnell, Vic Lewis and Charlie Short on drums, guitar and bass respectively. Within a year or so, however, the group split up and a new group, known as Vic Lewis - Jack Parnell and their Jazzmen, was formed. The rhythm section was completed by Dick Katz on piano and Bob Howard on bass, and the new front line consisted of Cliff Townshend (clarinet), Ronnie Chamberlain (alto and soprano saxophones) and Billy Riddick (trumpet), at least some of whom were civilians. The style of this group was decidedly Dixieland influenced, and the performance impeccable.
The war years (1940 - 45)...
With the end of hostilities, Parnell moved over to the drum stool of the
new Ted Heath Orchestra of 1946, whilst 1945 had seen the formation of Vic
Lewis' Jazzmen, which included Riddick, ChamberIain and Howard, plus Jimmy
Wilson (trombone), Jimmy Skidmore (tenor), Ken Thorne (piano) and Harry
Public performances or broadcasts took place in which several bands were involved. In October 1942, for example, the Squadronaires, the Skyrockets, the Blue Rockets, the Blue Mariners, and Billy Amstell's group all took part in the Jazz Jamboree, along with a band from the United States Army Engineers and the orchestras of Ivy Benson, Jack Payne, Geraldo and Edmundo Ros, Stephane Grappelli's Swingtette, the Victor Feldman Trio and a novelty group in which E. 0. 'Poggy' Pogson demonstrated his ability to play with full command a seemingly unlimited number of instruments.
The Jazz Jamboree took place at the old Stoll Theatre in London's Kingsway, as did the next one in 1943, for which the only Service bands available were the three RAF from the previous year, plus Buddy Featherstonhaugh's Sextet and another from the States described as the US Army Band of Headquarters Etousa. Civilian contributions again came from the orchestras of Ivy Benson and Edmundo Ros, but also taking part was Phil Green and His Basin Street Band, which included both civilian and Service personnel combined for the occasion, Carl Barriteau and his Orchestra. Roy Marsh and his Swingtette and Harry Parry and his Radio Sextet.
By the Jazz Jamboree of 1944, in addition to contributions by the Squadronaires and Skyrockets, the Melody Maker All Star Band was positively dominated by RAF personnel, the lineup being Kenny Baker, Tommy McQuater, Chick Smith and Arthur Mouncey (trumpets), George Chisholm, who also led the band, Woolf Phillips, Eric Breeze and Don McCaffer (trombones), Harry Hayes, Dougie Robinson, Aubrey Frank, Buddy Featherstonhaugh and Jimmy Durrant (saxophones), George Shearing (piano), Jack Parnell (drums), Ivor Mairants (guitar) and Tommy Bromley (bass). It was at the 1944 Jamboree that the American Band of the AEF the Glenn Miller Band made a distinguished appearance. Also taking part was one of the early Ted Heath Orchestras, Frank Weir with a super orchestra organised for the occasion, Geraldo, not with his usual large orchestra but with fifteen of our finest sessioneers of the day, Phil Green, this time with his Dixieland Band, a smaller group than his Basin Street outfit of the previous year, the Vic Lewis - Jack Parnell group, the Feldman Trio and Frank Deniz and his Spirits of Rhythm.
More on the musicians and the war years...