Nat Gonella and Tommy McQuater


  Jazz Development in Britain

In the Spring of 1935, Nat Gonella left the Lew Stone Orchestra and was replaced by a newcomer to the London scene in the person of Tommy McQuater, about whom more later. Forming a small group which he called the Georgians, a play on the title of Hoagy Carmichael’s "Georgia”, which had been one of his featured numbers with Stone, Gonella met with considerable success.

Before the end of that year the group were playing variety theatres as well as one- night stands in ballrooms and recording for Parlophane. Gonella had Pat Smuts (tenor), Bob Dryden (drums), Charlie Winters (bass), Harold Hood (piano) and Jimmy Messini who, in addition to playing guitar, handled the more ballad- type vocals. Gonella was criticised by some who regarded him purely as an Armstrong copyist but, at least instrumentally, the criticism was unjust in the sense that although he certainly copied Armstrong's style, as did many others at the time, he applied it to his own melodic ideas. A more important and positive fact is that the Georgians, though basically a commercial unit, certainly took much jazz to a wider public.

Similarly, and several years earlier around 1933 or late in 1932, Billy Cotton had engaged Teddy Foster, another trumpeter who modelled his style upon that of Armstrong, with the result that those items in the band's stage show in which he was specially featured had certainly introduced jazz to audiences made up of people who normally heard little of it. Another jazz group that had commenced activities before 1935 was that of drummer Joe Daniels, who was then a member of Harry Roy's Band.

Then mainly a recording group, known as the Hot Shots, the personnel varied from session to session, but in the line- up I remember players like Nat Temple on clarinet, who was also a member of the Roy Band, Freddie Gardner, also on clarinet, Pat Dodd on piano, Archie Slavin, from Lew Stone's Orchestra, on guitar and, on trumpet and bass respectively, Leslie `Jiver’ Hutchinson and Tommy Bromley, both of whom were, many years later, to meet tragic and untimely deaths in road accidents. The Hot Shots experienced various changes of personnel and, after Daniels left the Roy Band, played the theatre and ballroom circuits.

My earlier mention of Doug Bastin, as a member of Arthur Rosebery's Band, reminded me of an interesting engagement in which we were both involved when jazz was taken into the theatre pit, at a time when such experiments were, to say the least, uncommon. In 1935, at London’s Arts Theatre there was a brief try- out production of a musical show called Mysterious Universe, which had been inspired by the book of the same title by Sir James Jeans. Much of the music was specially composed by one of the bandleaders of the time, Reggie Bristow, with whom I had the pleasure of working during the following year at the old San Marco Restaurant in London's Mayfair Place— yet another of the many establishments that are long since past memories.

The arrangements for the Arts Theatre show were by its music director, George Crow, and were designed to produce a fairly large Swing band effect from a necessarily small group of eight musicians, including George himself, who had to be squeezed in underneath the theatre's s tiny apron stage. The interesting characteristic of the orchestra, however, was its ability to feature passages for as many as five brass as well as for three reeds, due mainly to the multi- instrumental ability of some of the players, but also to George's skilful and imaginative scoring.

I cannot remember the names of all the players but, in addition to George at the piano and myself on percussion, there were Frank Cousins on trumpet, a trombonist whose identity I cannot recall Doug Bastin and Billy Sutton, each playing alto saxophone, clarinet and trumpet, a tenor saxophonist who doubled clarinet, but whose name also escapes me, and a bass player who doubled second trombone— yet another unremembered name. The use of the group's versatility was, of course, somewhat complicated, but the scoring was such that you could stand at the back of the stalls, where the orchestra was invisible, and barely detect the various points where the players switched from one instrument section to another.

The effect was great and the opportunity for trying it out reflected the then growing interest in big band jazz. This reference to scoring reminds me of another interesting experience I enjoyed later in the same year when working with the orchestra at the Waldorf Hotel in Aldwych. I had been arranging for several years,. and the Waldorf Orchestra, which was directed by Howard Godfrey, provided an instrumentation that was most interesting from a music writer's point of view, consisting of trumpet, two trombones, baritone doubling clarinet, violin, piano, bass and drums. Godfrey, himself a drummer, had been leading a quartet at the hotel for some time, the other three players being Bill Taylor (reeds), Sid Rubens (violin) and Eddie Crosse (piano), but when the opportunity for augmentation came he decided to front the orchestra and also to adopt the style of one of the American "sweet music" orchestras of the day— either Shep Fields or Eddie Duchin— I forget which.

Either Eddie Crosse or I, when invited arrange for the orchestra, were particularly interested in the "sweet music" style, however, for Eddie was a commercial arranger with excellent ideas and rhythmic sense whilst I was then one of a number heavily influenced by the style and scoring of the Casa Loma " orchestra, to which I have already referred.

So the style of the Waldorf Orchestra enveloped a decided leaning to Swing, Eddie arranging the current numbers of the day and myself the evergreens. Among the latter, I recollect adding `After You've Gone", "Alexander's Ragtime Band", "I Never Knew" and, inevitably, "Tiger Rag" to the library. Bill Taylor was an extremely well trained and competent musician who a few years earlier, had been a member of Jack Payne's BBC Dance Orchestra, but he presented me with a problem, for I discovered that he was quite incapable of jazz extemporisation on either of his instruments.

Although I could write the odd eight bars solo for some instruments in a reasonably stylish manner, I did not consider myself to be a writer of jazz solos which, in any event, I considered should be extemporised rather than written. So, when arranging "After You've Gone", I wrote in the Jimmy Dorsey clarinet solo, with due acknowledgement on the score, which I had transcribed from the Spike Hughes Decca record mentioned earlier To say that Bill played the solo well would be a gross understatement; he simply lapped it up, and first time through handled the phrases in a manner that could not be faulted.

He begged me to "write more of this sort of thing" for him to tackle which I did, and I recall a solo in "Tiger Rag", originally played on alto saxophone and later written dawn by a musician named Ken Baker, who had been another of my friends in the Tricity Restaurant band, which, on baritone, had Bill beginning to sound like Harry Carney.