Colin H on Musings on the byways of British Jazz
That got your attention, didn’t it? Rather like the Afterword (definitively described once, by Hannah, as ‘still not as good as it used to be’), the British jazz scene has FOREVER been whingeing that it’s all gone to hell. There is some unreachable, vague point at which the British jazz scene was apparently great – but that point is ALWAYS years before the date at which a given person is stating it. Maybe in the 60s it was great in the 50s; maybe in the 70s it was great in the 60s, etc. etc…
Certainly, as my recently acquired April 1957 copy of British magazine ‘Jazz News’ would have one believe, the whole thing was all over already – flee at once, jump overboard, every man for himself…
I was delighted to find this on eBay recently. The magazine ran from 1957–63, beginning as monthly and then becoming fortnightly, even trying weekly at one point. I have many 1960-63 copies but ‘50s copies are much rarer.
I thought the Afterword might enjoy this wander down memory lane, around the beginning of the pop/rock era. So here is a glimpse of what was news in the British jazz world 60 years ago….
On the front page, ‘LYTTELTON SAYS “NO!” – Humphrey has turned down an opportunity to play in Moscow at the 6th World Youth Festival. Was it something to do with recent Hungarian outrages? Apparently not: Humph simply has other commitments. Though the fact that one cannot take money out of Russia is shrewdly noted. For those jazzers who do go, it will be ‘a jazz for love trip’. Ronnie Scott along with Brit-folk godfather Ewan MacColl and other lefties are up for it.
A similarly slender news item makes up the space on the front cover, with speculation that Louis Armstrong might do a ‘Bill Haley style’ cinema tour of Britain in 1958. Not likely, though, for New Orleans veteran Kid Ory, who recently toured Europe (not Britain): ‘Ory has vetoed any further attempts to get him to leave the States. “I want a rest,’ he says.’
Big news on Page 2: ‘The London modern jazz scene dies’ – or does it?
‘The signs in London are that British Modern Jazz is dying fast. Certainly this is the leanest time ever experienced by the modern musicians. Until recently, four clubs – the Flamingo, Basie, M and Florida – were still open; but now the M has swung over mainly to Rock’n’Roll.
‘The musicians have long since given up in despair. Don Rendell formed a new group and called it “Mainstream” in an attempt to win an audience. Jimmy Deuchar was reported as saying, when on his way to join Kurt Edelhagen in Germany, “There’s no British Jazz Scene”. Jeff Aldam commented, when asked for his opinion on the same Scene – “I didn’t know there was one”.
‘Even the promoters (eternally optimistic) can raise only the faintest hope. Bix Curtis stated that “things could be better” – and how right he is. British modern jazz desperately needs a thorough spring clean for at the moment it is very fusty and looks well set to disappear.’
Nevertheless, as promotor/manager/club owner Jeff Kruger “exploded” later in the same issue: ‘Modern jazz dying? Rubbish! I AM modern jazz in this country and I can assure you that I have never been in a healthier state. All of the modern jazz musicians of any note are under contract to me, and they are all guaranteed at least three nights work each week. The top boys such as [Ronnie] Scott, [Tommy] Whittle and the like can earn two or three hundred a week with no trouble at all. The musicians have never had it so good.’
On the same page another headline screams a solution: ‘THE WAY AHEAD FOR BRITISH JAZZMEN’.
The solution? Become middle-of-the-road:
‘Rising like a Phoenix from the dying embers of the British modern jazz world is a musical form that has been tagged “Mainstream”. This is no new jazz form – its roots are firmly fixed in the creative jazz of the thirties…’
In other news…
• Terry Lightfoot has a tooth infection and ‘doctors advise him to stop playing for a while’. Presumably ONE doctor advised this. Why are doctors always plural in news items? Nevertheless, an advert appears in this same issue detailing 23 Lightfoot dates this month.
• The Gerry Mulligan Quartet opens its first British tour with two concerts at London’s Festival Hall in one day – both sold out within a week and two further London concerts were announced… The GMQ are supported on tour by a pioneering new ‘Mainstream’ act, Jazz Today, featuring Ken Moule (pno), Arthur Watts (bs), Allan Ganley (dr), Ken Sykora (gtr), Don Rendell (tnr sax), Jimmy Skidmore (tnr sax), Dave Shepherd (cl), Jimmy Walker (alto & sop sax), Bert Courtley (tr) and Eddie Harvey (trom)… A dispassionate observer might suggest that divvying out revenues among a 10-piece is unlikely to be a sustainable ‘way ahead’ (as the earlier article bullishly trumpeted).
• “Police swoop on Richmond ‘Sinners’” – Black Marias storm an ‘impromptu skiffle session’ on a riverbank in Richmond. As the Jazz News correspondent observes, ‘there was an atmosphere of Chicago in the Twenties, little warranted by the innocuous affair that was the object of the raid. Prominent Richmond citizens are already questioning the apparently needless interference with harmless home-made pleasure, and there is a widespread feeling that policemen could be better employed in controlling the traffic that regularly blocks Richmond High Street.’ Apparently, local skiffle group The Lucifer Sinners’ had simply started to play in a meadow beside the river and up to 200 people had gathered by the time the boys in blue swooped. ‘Names were taken and the crowd streamed out of the park back to the coffee bars and ice cream parlours of Richmond.’
• Club owner Jeff Kruger (owner of the Flamingo premises) gives a “forceful and positive” interview stating that his new club in Wardour Street would open in the first week of April. He’s spent £10,000 on the club, although we are not told its name (the Flamingo has already been mentioned in the paper as existing). Jeff ‘dismissed as nonsense reports that his patrons had been asking for Rock’n’Roll. “I can pack my clubs to the door and turn people away by providing good premises and good musicians,” he said. “I don’t need Rock’n’Roll, and the customers won’t get it from me.” Mr Kruger did not comment on the fact that he is agent and manager for the Tony Crombie Rockets and Art Baxter’s Sinners – two of Britain’s most successful Rock’n’Roll groups.
• The 3rd Annual BBC Festival of Dance Music takes places over three nights at the Albert Hall, with several trad jazz (Chris Barber, Alex Welsh, Sandy Brown) and skiffle (Chas McDevitt, Bob Cort) groups involved plus modern jazzers Joe Harriott, Freddy Randall and Kenny Baker.
• Chris Barber & Ottilie Patterson are running a solo concert at the Festival Hall.
• The Modern Jazz Quartet is lined up to tour Britain early in 1958.
• Count Basie has a 20-date British tour (plus Dublin) this month, including three London shows (RAH & RFH), two at Newcastle City Halls and two at Glasgow St Andrew’s Hall.
• Plans afoot to film Ken Colyer’s Omega Brass Band – his New Orleans-style marching band – in concert at Acton Town Hall this month. The show will also see the debut of a new act, The Temperance Seven, whose musical style will be ‘broadly Dixieland, but with a bias towards Boyd Senter and the more hilarious aspects’. (60 years on, the Temperance Seven are still going…)
• After the success of first single ‘6.5 Special’, theme to a 13-part TV series dipping a toe into teenage culture, the Bob Cort Skiffle Group (which ‘comprises some of the real names in the jazz world’) have been given a two-year contract with Decca.
• A planned UK/US exchange tour involving New Orleans legend George Lewis coming to Britain and hard-core traditional jazzer Ken Colyer’s band going to the US has been ‘hurriedly and mysteriously cancelled when in an apparently advanced stage’. Jazz News reports all sorts of rumours and speculation – including US Embassy discomfort about Colyer giving Daily Mail interviews about his time in a US jail – without finding anyone involved to actually say anything concrete about the matter, save for some investigative work that discovers that on ‘the date set for the concert at the Dome, Brighton, a dog show was already scheduled. The management had no knowledge of any jazz concert to be held there – yet it was advertised widely in the musical press.’ Whatever was going on, Colyer and Lewis would end up touting the City Halls of Britain together in January 1958.
• For 13 shillings, you can enjoy a ‘Floating Festival of Jazz’ aboard the Royal Daffodil and the Royal Sovereign, from Tower Bridge to Margate, on a Sunday in June. Artists are firmly from the trad and ‘mainstream’ camps, including Lyttelton, Barber, Ken Colyer, Sandy Brown and many more
• In spite of ‘a concert at Cheltenham that produced a riot of near Haley proportions’, the Lennie Hastings Band (‘one of the most promising new jazz groups of the year’) has broken up due to a lack of engagements. Lennie has joined the Johnny Duncan Skiffle group.
• The first recordings Manchester’s Eric Batty Jazz Aces have had ‘such outstanding sales’ that the band travelled to London again to record some more. A purist traditional jazz act, they feature one novelty – Sue McManus, ‘the only lady banjoist in the jazz world, claims the band’. Elsewhere in the paper it is reported that a Decca live LP of a various artists National Jazz Federation concert, including tracks by another pioneering Manchester jazz act, the Zenith Six, has been so popular that they’ve recently cut an EP for Decca.
• Jill Toy, the recently crowned ‘Miss Ramsgate’ has joined Ted Heath & His Music, replacing Toni Eden. (No, me neither…)
• ‘In the face of scepticism, Alex Korner is fast making a huge success of his pure country blues singing. He claims to be Britain’s first professional country blues singer, and is determined to remain unsullied by commercialised Skiffle or Rock’n’Roll.’ Korner has just been given a contract with Decca and, with Cyril Davies, has ‘been engaged to play at the Nucleus Coffee House’. As the paragraph concludes, the accompanying photo shows Korner ‘in a typical blues mood’. They might, had they had a crystal ball, have added that it would be one of the few photos to show Korner – a man whose image would be defined by grizzled hair, sideburns, glasses and voice – looking young.
• ‘Following close on the very successful experiment of recording Mick Mulligan and his band [with George Melly] at the Railway Arms, Tempo are to record a similar session with the Dave Carey band.’ The Railway Arms is the pub next door to Decca’s recording studios, and engineers simply need to run leads out their windows and into the pub. The venue would later become Klooks Kleek and, 11 years after, Ten Years After would record their album ‘Undead’ there, using exactly the same means.
• The newly formed Don Rendell Jazz Six have recorded an LP for Nixa. The group is ‘mainstream flavoured but with a bias towards modern jazz’, and includes Kenny Wheeler on trumpet.
• A small paragraph announces a forthcoming EP on Esquire by the 2.19 Skiffle Group, with one Jack McLaughlin on bass. It can’t be, can it…?