The Orpheans


  Jazz Development in Britain

I have previously described, as milestones in the development of ,jazz in Britain, the periods when first the Orpheans and Havana bands and later Fred Elizalde's band were broadcasting from the Savoy Hotel.

My reason for holding this opinion was that, in addition to their undoubted popularity with radio audiences, they did much to foster interest in jazz among the more discriminating members of the music profession who were, perhaps unfortunately due to increasing unemployment. also able to listen.

Old recordings by these bands, like earlier ones by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band and others, now hardly stand the test of time, except for reasons of nostalgia, although the playing of Frank Guarante with the Havana, Silvester Ahola with the New Orpheans and Adrian Rollini, Bobby Davis and Chelsea Quealey in the various contingents of the Elizalde band, particularly the "Hot" Music, must be regarded as having had an enormous influence upon many of the best British players of the time.

There were also some fine players among the British members of these bands, although those in the Elizalde band were rarely given an opportunity for showing their metal— the main solo work invariably being allotted to their American colleagues. Nevertheless, musicians like Harry Hayes, Rex Owen and Norman Payne, all of whom were excellent stylists when they joined the band, did great work in the jazz sense in various bands in the years leading up to World War II.

The Savoy bands, Elizalde's included, were never jazz bands in the conventional sense but they were. for their day, big bands playing arrangements that made provision for solo "hot" work by certain players. Much depended upon the standard of both the arranging and the soloists, for the latter could hardly extract inspiration from an arrangement that did not quite come off. The Elizalde arrangements were superior to those available to most of the other bands— the Ambrose Orchestra being perhaps the outstanding exception— in the sense that they were always aimed at achieving something new, and often did.

During the period when Elizalde's Americans were in London, several of them took part in recording sessions with various studio groups— frequently in contravention of the terms of their work permits! At that time. however, this probably did more good than harm from the angle of jazz appreciation in Britain, particularly, perhaps, among the British musicians with whom they played. It also encouraged the then few existing recording companies to experiment with jazz- orientated groups consisting of players of both nationalities; although during the period with which we are now dealing, 1926/ 30, few of them produced any jazz performances of note.

The standard of musicianship was nevertheless generally first- class. One of the best of these groups in my recollection was perhaps Bert Firman's Rhythmic Eight which recorded on the old Zonophone label in 1927. Firman, incidentally, was one of three brothers, the others being Sydney, who directed the original London Radio Dance Band for the BtBC, and John who was well- known in the publishing world. Bert and Sydney were "straight' violinists and John a pianist.

The Eight consisted of three Americans in the persons of Perley Breed on saxophones and clarinet Joe Brannelly guitar and banjo (both borrowed from the Ambrose Orchestra) and Frank Guarante, from the Savoy Orpheans on trumpet. The other trumpeter was Canadian Max Goldberg from the Savoy Havana Band, who became one of the great names in British jazz and dance music. The English members were Bill Barton on tenor, Billy Bell on tuba, John Firman on piano and Max Bacon, who was also borrowed from the Ambrose Orchestra, on cymbal. With the exception of "Polly", a tinkling novelty number of the time, all the numbers recorded by the Rhythmic Eight were jazz- orientated and about their best was a recording of the old stomp "Cornfed"— sti11 to be heard in the BBC album entitled "British Jazz, Volume 1"— which shows off the great baritone style of Perley Breed to perfection.

It is important to note that, despite the decades that have since passed, the performance still makes good listening; although dated, it is by no means "corny" as the title of the number might imply.

Breed's baritone style was very like that of Don Murray, who normally worked with the Ted Lewis Orchestra, but also worked with various recording jazz groups, including Joe Venuti`s Blue Four, where he filled the chair sometimes occupied by Adrian Rollini with his bass saxophone. It is clear that, like many other baritone players of the time, both Breed and Murray were influenced by Rollini. "Cornfed", incidentally, along with "Tiger Rag" and "San", was a number that every self- respecting gig musician was expected to be able to busk in those early years! Another recording group of the period led by American alto saxophonist A1 Starita, was the Gilt Edged Four. Starita had long since left the 'Savoy Orpheans and for several years had led Jack Hylton's Kit Kat Club Band (which, it is worth recalling, had included a young trombone player named Ted Heath), but by 1928 was directing another band for Hylton· at the Piccadilly Hotel where he had succeeded his brother Ray who had moved on to lead yet another Hylton band at the Ambassadors Club. This incidentally, included a third brother, Rudy, on drums. The Gilt Edged Four consisted of various combinations and personnel including A1 Starita on alto and clarinet, Ray Starita on tenor, Max Goldberg on trumpet, Rudy Starita or Max Bacon on drums, Ted Heath on trombone, Len Fillis on guitar and banjo and Sid Bright on piano The latter, like Heath and Fillis had worked with Al at the Kit Kat Club and was also a member of the Piccadilly Hotel Orchestra, of which he took over the leadership when Al ultimately returned to America.

Another such recording group was The Rhythm Maniacs who, despite their title, played some good jazz, which was hardly surprising when it is recalled that their line- up included Sylvester Ahola, Norman Payne, Adrian Rollini, to whose work I have already referred in this series, Danny Polo, another American musician from the Ambrose band, on clarinet, and the then well- known British pianist, Claud Ivy.

There were several other jazz- orientated recording groups during the period, but their existence, like that of the three to which I have referred, was a reflection of the interest in jazz that had been stimulated, rather than a milestone. Meantime the influx of jazz recordings from the States had been increasing steadily from 1927 onwards and British musicians continued to study the work of such groups as the Original Memphis Five, the Original Wolverines, the Goofus Five and Goofus Washboards (who never used a washboard!) and the California Ramblers as well as those of Bix Beiderbecke, Red Nichols, Miff Mole, Joe Venuti and Frankie Trumbauer.

During that period, of course, they developed no special characteristics of their own and most were at best first- class imitators. Several hotel and stage bands of the period also recorded the odd "hot" number or two, and among those to be recalled are two first- class arrangements by Billy Ternent for Jack Hylton's Band (in which he was then a member of the reed section) of "Tiger Rag" and "Limehouse Blues'.

I still own a copy of the original ten- inch 78 and, despite its poor condition, there is still to be heard some great trumpet solo work by Philippe Brun a leading young French player who had joined Hylton when Jack Jackson had moved over to Jack Payne's Band, and some stylish trombone work from Leo Vauchant, another tontinental player, who in recent publications has been described as a Frenchman but who, I feel almost certain, hailed from Belgium.

Also to be heard is some really driving saxophone and clarinet work from Joe Crossman, some piano playing that would stand up anywhere today from Billy Munn and, of all things, an ocarina solo in "Tiger Rag" from Harry Berly, who played viola in the string section. But for me the outstanding feature was the string bass playing of the late Clem Lawton. Despite the still primitive standard of recording in those days, plus the poor condition of my 78, Clem's bass still comes through as the driving force upon which the band was able to ride, with a rock- solid but nevertheless lifting beat.

I worked with Clem a great deal during the 'thirties, but lost touch with him during the second world war. After the war, however, we corresponded during the period when he was based in Leeds as a member of the long- defunct Yorkshire Symphony Orchestra, in which he ended his days playing tuba.

Here was a musician who really "crossed the line"; his enjoyment of jazz was as genuine as was his enjoyment of the symphonic repertoire. There was also a recording made by Ray Starita's Piccadilly Revels Band, of a couple of stomps entitled "Go Joe, Go" and "Buffalo Rhythm", but these did not really come off as well as one would have expected from the high standard of musicianship to be found among the band's personnel.

A recording by Billy Cotton s Band made a year or two later, around 1930, I think, of "New Tiger Rag" and "Bessie Couldn't Help It' was a much better effort. At the time the brass section consisted of Sid Buckman, Nat Gonella and Joe Ferrie, the section that later left Cotton to join Roy Fox when he formed his band for the Monseigneur Restaurant, and the two sides have plenty of Armstrong- influenced solo work from Nat.

There are also driving though now dated, saxophone solos from Mickie Burberry, a musician who had a great feeling for jazz In "Tiger Rag" there is also a brief double- stopping violin solo from Syd Lipton, who was then the only violinist in the line- up. With the mention of the influence of Louis Armstrong upon the work of Nat Gonella (and of course scores of others) I should add that with the introduction by EMI of their Rhythm Style series on the Parlophone label— I think it was around the early part of 1929— we had been hearing some excellent well- recorded examples of the work of Armstrong and others. "West End Blues", in company` with Earl Hines, "Ain't Misbehavin ;" ` Knockin' A Jug" and "Mahogany Hall Stomp" were typical of these.

Later came the recording, to which I referred in my article of April 1973, of "That's A Plenty" and "I've Got A 'Feeling I'm Falling" by Miff Mole and his Molers when for probably the first time, a complete kit of drums— those of Stan King were properly recorded. I have previously described how this record revolutionised the work of British drummers who for some years previously had been concentrating upon their "hot" cymbal work, and this influence was to be noted just as much among the top British recording drummers as it was among the less fortunate ones to be found all over the UK. The technique used by the Okeh Company to record Stan King's drums quickly found its way to the British studios and so, very soon, we had drummers like Max Bacon and Bill Harty recording in the Stan King style.

Probably the flrst record made by Max following this new development was with the Ambrose Orchestra in a number called "'Leven Thirty Saturday Night", the arrangement of which was by Lew Stone. This seems to be as good a point as any to break off until next month when I shall move on to the 1931/ 35 period and write of the important contribution made to British jazz development by the orchestras of Bert Ambrose and Lew Stone.