Harps, Stanelli and Leslie Clare


  Jazz Development in Britain

A recent telephone call from Bob Farnon set me off down one of those roads of reminiscence of the kind to which I have referred before. It seemed that his brother Brian, who lives in Hollywood, writing to congratulate him upon his "Showcase For Soloists" album {reviewed by Alan Elsdon last month), had also paid some compliments to the album's sleeve-notes, for which I was personally responsible, and had expressed himself as being particularly intrigued by my having remembered the great jazz harpist Casper Reardon.

My reference to the latter was made in connection with the contribution made to the album by David Snell, playing Bob's "Walkin' Happy", and David, of course, is probably the best-known of the few present-day harpists who have crossed the line into the field of jazz. Reardon made an all-too-brief impact upon the international jazz scene in the mid-'thirties, when he took part in several recording sessions with Jack Teagarden's band. I particularly remember two of the numbers, "Junk Man" and "Stars Fell On Alabama", although the discs are not in my collection. I also recall that others on the sessions included Benny Goodman, Art Tatum and Jack's brother Charlie. Reardon was a very successful musician, who earned a good living playing in small groups or completely solo in clubs in addition to session work. Born in 1907 in Little Falls, NY, he unfortunately died in New York in 1941. In pre- war days he was just about the only harpist who really understood and played jazz.

Trying to think of others, I remembered Harry Chapman who, although not a jazz musician, was an extremely versatile and entertaining performer. In the 'thirties, apart from session work. he was a member of Jack Hylton's Band and later joined Geraldo's Gaucho Orchestra, where we became extremely good friends. His death some years ago was both untimely and a great loss to the British music profession. Then there was Mario Lorenzi, who first became well- known as a member of Fred Elizalde's Orchestra in the late 'twenties, having previously played with Jay Whidden's Orchestra at the old Hotel Metropole in London's Northumberland Avenue.

Another extremely versatile and entertaining musician, who included many of the popular tunes of the day in his repertoire, but his highly technical extemporisations could not be described as jazz. I remember working with him, when he was appearing in cabaret at Grosvenor House and I was in the accompanying orchestra, and being deeply impressed with his great skill and musicianship— the harp is not on instrument that easily lends itself to a great deal of rhythmic up- tempo playing, much less to jazz. All the more power then to the elbow, or rather, the fingers, thumbs and feet, of David Snell, and any other harpists who care to demonstrate their understanding of the jazz idiom as well as he does. Remembering cabaret at Grosvenor House reminded me of another fine musician and artist with whom I worked there, in the person of the late Stanelli, a sophisticated comedian and an excellent violinist with a good feeling for jazz, who ultimately became best- known for his playing of something he called his "Hornchestra", to which I will refer a little later.

I first remember Stanelli as a member of a double act known as Stanelli and Edgar, the latter, to the best of my recollection, being the straight man— both as regards the comedy and the violin, which he also played. They later formed an excellent stage band, which I remember seeing in Cine- Variety at the Dominion, Tottenham Court Road, in the early 'thirties, although I can now remember only one member of the band, trombonist Miff Ferrie— an old colleague whom I have not seen for many years. Returning to the subject of Stanelli's "Hornchestra", I would explain that this contraption consisted of a long tubular steel frame on wheels to which were attached all manner of bulb- type motor horns, as well as a few of the "klaxon" variety.

The bulb horns were, of course. tuned and, considering their various shapes and sizes, remarkably in tune and I seem to recall that Stanelli could extract about two- and- a- half octaves from among them.

Two numbers I especially remember playing with him were "I Want To Be Happy" and the A flat movement of Tiger Rag". The thing was a riot, with Stanelli nipping back and forth along a couple of rows of bulbs plus an odd button or two; the musicians enjoyed the performance as much as the audience! Stanelli had been a municipal orchestra conductor and ended his days leading a small dance band at a well- known holiday resort. He was a great trouper who, I recall, included another celebrated comedian/ violinist among his friends in the person of the one and only Ted Ray. To see the two of them walking together through the West End of London was to see a couple of "characters", in the warmest sense of the word ! Ted, incidentally, has a remarkable memory for faces. A few years ago, one Sunday morning, I was filling in time whilst waiting for a flight call at Heathrow by drinking the brew they lightly refer to as coffee in their cafeteria, when I saw Ted approaching in my direction and, though it was easy for me to recognise him, I was amazed when he showed signs of recognition and stopped for a brief chat. Yet I knew that the last occasion upon which we had met had been some thirty years earlier when we were both working variety at Liverpool Empire! Mind. you, I suppose with a face like mine it could have been a case of once seen. . .

Before moving away from my Grosvenor House recollections, I would mention one other "character" with whom I found myself associated during that period. He was the pianist of the band, Leslie Clare, whose real name was Leslie Solly. An extremely Rood and versatile musician, Leslie could, without being a virtuoso, make a pretty good showing on any kind of music he was called upon to play and, when playing dance music, was normally a good section player. At that time, however, he was studying for the Bar, and I can remember how on his left, the side furthest from the dancers and bandleader, he would have his law books, which he would be reading whilst continuing to play.

Whilst I would not claim that this ever resulted in bad playing on his part, there were times when the rest of the rhythm section felt that we were not getting all the help possible from the piano! Leslie was ultimately called to the Bar and operated a` successful practice for a number of years and then, immediately following World War II, he entered politics and was elected to Parliament as Labour member for Thurrock in Essex. His premature death a few years ago brought to an end what was undoubtedly a remarkable career. Last month I wrote about the Moog synthesiser and during a recent holiday in West Cornwall, I was reminded of my own article in a peculiar sort of way. In my Newquay hotel I noticed an advertisement for the West Cornwall Museum of Mechanical Music, where one was invited to see and hear self- acting organs, pianos, violins, music boxes, orchestrions, barrel organs, etc., and, having decided to visit the museum, situated at the village of Goldsithney, near Penzance, my wife and I spent an absorbingly interesting afternoon.

I have insufficient space left to deal with the museum in detail, indeed, this would have to be the subject for a separate article, but one reminiscent moment proved most intriguing for me and I think, for the director of the museum who was demonstrating the various instruments. One of these was the "Violano Virtuoso", produced by an American company between 1908 and 1929 which, in simple .terms. consisted of a complete violin and the "works" of a piano in a glass- fronted cabinet, both instruments being played mechanically when a penny (old style) was pushed into the slot. The museum in fact owns two of these.

I surprised the director by telling him that I had last seen one of these gadgets in 1930, in an amusement arcade under the railway bridge at the bottom of London's Ludgate Hill and he in turn surprised me by informing me 'that both of his "Violanos" had been discovered in a locked warehouse, that had previously been an amusement arcade, "under the railway bridge at the bottom of Ludgate Hill". They do say it's a small world!