|After the Service bands (1946 - 1950)...|
This page was adapted and edited from a page that Harry Francis wrote some years ago for Ron Simmonds, now defunct, 'jazzprofessional' website. It can now be found in full somewhere on the website of The National Jazz Archive... |
Jazz was no longer a dirty word, and the annual Jazz Jamborees made an important contribution to this
welcome advance. With many of Britain’s best musicians in the various
Services, it was logical that during the war much of the best in jazz performance came
from the Service bands, but progress was also
reflected in many of the better civilian bands, such as those of Lew
Stone, Ivy Benson, Eric Winstone, Harry Parry, Carl Barriteau, Harry Hayes and
There was yet another trend, more significant in that it did not represent a revival, that was to have truly far reaching influence on both sides of the Atlantic. This, of course, was the style that came to be known as bebop, or sometimes rebop, and later just bop, with which such incredible technicians as Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Charlie Christian and Kenny Clarke were experimenting in the late ‘thirties. It did not infiltrate the British scene until the post war years.
Post-war the renaissance of the Palais bands starting during the early months of the war continued. The Palais became the home of many of the better big bands and, in addition to those long established ensembles of Joe Loss and Oscar Rabin, there were during the decade leading up to 1955 bands such as those of Lou Preager, Johnny Swinfen, Ken Mackintosh, Les Ayling, George Evans, Nat Allen, Arthur Rowberry, The Kirchins, Harry Leader, Sid Dean, Phil Tate, Jack White, George Birch, Bob Miller and Denny Boyce, whose books included first class arrangements with much scope for jazz solo work, and whose personnels contained musicians who were to become our most distinguished jazz stylists.
The fact that bands of this calibre were now playing to far wider and working class audiences, rather than for the elite who patronised the pre war West End hotel and restaurant, represented an important advance. Lou Preager was typical of the point I am making. In pre war years he had been the music director at Romano’s Restaurant in London’s Strand, with a competent West End type band which only the clientele of the restaurant ever heard but, from the year he opened up at Hammersmith Palais (1944) his band became, with the aid of regular relay broadcasts, one of the best known in Britain with an appropriatelv high standard of performance; their book containing many fine swing arrangements to add to the interest. Many well known players passed through its ranks, such as pianist Billy Penrose, drummer Norris Grundy, trombonists Bobbie Mickleburgh, Rusty Hurren and Don Lusher, trumpeters 'Tich' Charlton and Duncan Campbell and saxophonists Ken Oldham, George Hunter, Johnny Gray and Jack Carter, who was blowing first alto there for some years.
Many other bands of national repute also played the ballrooms in those years, usually for one night or one week stands, including those of Ted Heath, Roy Fox, Teddy Foster, which in 1949 included saxophonists Johnny Roadhouse, Derek Humble and Joe Temperley and trumpeters Ronnie Hughes and Bert Courtley, and Vic Lewis who, by 1948, had commenced demonstrating his admiration for the music of Stan Kenton by organising one of the biggest and best of bands to plav the latter’s arrangements.
At that time his reed section included Kathy Stobart and Ronnie Chamberlain, among the trumpeters were Johnny Shakespeare and Reg Arnold, and the three trombonists were Nobby Clarke, Ruth Harrison and Fred Mercer.
The Squadronaires, the personnel of which by 1950 had altered little since the end of the war, except that Don Lusher had replaced Eric Breeze. Jimmv Watson had replaced Clinton Ffrench in the trumpet section and Firth Archer had replaced Arthur Maden on bass, also did the rounds of the ballrooms in those years, in addition to stage, concert and recording work and broadcasting.
The Service bands (1940 - 45)...
The war years (1940 - 45)...
More on the musicians and the war years...
Ted Heath playing for dancers...
The Skyrockets, however, became the super pit band of the London Palladium, directed first by Paul Fenhoulet and later by Woolf Phillips. This was the band which, in 1949, accompanied Benny Goodman for his first ever performances in Britain and surprised the maestro by its enormously high standard of efficiency and understanding of the jazz idiom. Three of the regular members, Les Lambert, Arthur Verrey and Izzy Duman, were on holiday at the time; so replacing them were Kenny Baker, Harry Roche and John Dankworth, whilst an additional quartet was also engaged, consisting of Tommy Pollard (vibraphone), Pete Chilver (guitar), Charles Short (bass) and 'Flash' Winstone (drums).
Another of the great Swing band leaders to move into the theatre pit was Lew Stone who, in 1947, became the music director for Irving Berlin’s Annie Get Your Gun when it was first presented in Britain at the London Coliseum.
Throughout the period, Bert Ambrose had maintained a band of the high standard normally expected of him, although it was no longer possible for him to hold a position along with Lew Stone way out in front of the rest, as he had done for so many years prior to the war. This, of course, was due to no deterioration of ideas on his part, or of the standard of musicians he employed, but simply that there were by then more highly competitive bands in the field. Those of Ted Heath and Geraldo being only two obvious examples.
It is, however, worth recalling some of the musicians who were to be found within the ranks of the Ambrose band around 1949 when he was broadcasting, which he liked, and playing one night or one week stands, which he hated, and there was also a comparatively brief period when the band played at the Nightingale Club which was situated in London’s famous Berkeley Square. Some of the noted jazzmen who graced the band in those days were trumpeters Kenny Baker, Moe Miller, Freddy Clayton and Tony Osborne, trombonists Harry Roche, Joe Cordell and Eric Breeze, saxophonists Bob Burns, Ronnie Scott, John Dankworth, Harry Conn, Harry Hayes, Al Baum and Albert Torrance, pianist Norman Stenfalt, drummer Norman Burns, guitarist Peter Chilver and bassist Joe Mudele. It is interesting to note the number of those listed who were still in the forefront of the profession over a quarter of a century later.
By the latter part of 1950, Ambrose, after reluctantly undertaking more tours, decided to settle for management work and left the leadership of the big band scene to Ted Heath and Geraldo. Both had regular mass exposure through the medium of radio, particularly the latter, and both played concerts to packed audiences. The Heath Sunday night concerts at the London Palladium are still a subject of historic importance to British jazz. The Heath personnel then comprised Les Gilbert, Roy Willox, Dave Shand, Tommy Whittle and Henry Mackenzie (reeds), Stan Roderick, Bobby Pratt, Stan Reynolds, Ronnie Hughes (trumpets), Jackie Armstrong, Jimmy Coombes, Maurice Pratt and Rusty Hurren (trombones), Frank Horrox, Sammy Stokes and Jack Parnell (rhythm), whilst with Geraldo one heard Dougie Robinson, Bob Adams, Bill Jackman, Phil Goody and Keith Bird (reeds), Alfie Noakes, Alan Franks, Derrick Abbott and Leslie Hutchinson (trumpets), Lad Busby, Les Carew, Joe Ferrie and Jack Thirwall (trombones), Sidney Bright, Ivor Mairants, Jack Collier and Jock Cummings (rhythm).
In 1948 the legendary bebop Club Eleven opened in London's Soho...