The Skill and Professionalism of Kenny Clare

Tribute by Les Tomkins

Session King
Kenny & Jake Hanna Parts 1 2 3
Drum School
Every night a first night
Atmosphere and adaptability
The Skill and Professionalism

If anyone epitomised the international level of the best British musicians, it was Kenny Clare. An occasion that he regarded as an absolute high point in his career was the concert at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in 1972 when he performed alongside Buddy Rich and Louie Bellson, backed by the Bobby Lamb/Ray Premru Big Band. In the sequence of drum solos that climaxed the evening, Kenny more than held his own, in spite of a split snare. Afterwards, Buddy and Louie were full of praise for his playing as they were at all times. On many recordings, tours etc. Kenny enhanced greatly the work of some of the world's most demanding singers, as Ella Fitzgerald, Cleo Laine and Tony Bennett can testify. Communication was his prime consideration, and audiences in Britain, America and worldwide received greater enjoyment from performances because of what Kenny added to them.

My own recollections of Kenny's live playing range from the exhilarating revelation of the way he propelled and swung the Dankworth band of the 'fifties to the way, at Ronnie's last April, he was the major reason for Shorty Rogers and Bud Shank saying this was one of the very finest rhythm sections they'd ever worked with (the other members were John Critchinson and Ron Mathewson). The Vic Lewis-directed album they made together stands as permanent confirmation of their complete unity; the big band drumming must be some of the most mightily swinging he ever put down. Kenny's comment was; "It's dates like these that remind you what you started to play for in the first place." The encounters I had with Kenny were at concerts, in clubs, in the studios, at his home and at mine; they included lively two-way discourses with drummers Louie Bellson and Jake Hanna. Always well in evidence was Kenny's great sense of humour, a factor which increased my pleasure in editing the copy he provided during 1984 in his capacity of Hon. Secretary of the International Drummers Association. His account of the hazards of studio balance and separation, was particularly witty.

Kenny's funeral service was at St. Partrick's Church, Wallington, Surrey on the sunny, though chilly afternoon of January 22. Chief mourners were his wife Marjorie and his daughters Sue and Lesley. The service was conducted by the Rev. Robert Key, and the three hundred-plus congregation sang two of the most musical hymns: "The Lord's My Shepherd" and "Dear Lord And Father Of Mankind".

During the service also the last recording Kenny made was played "Sing, Sing, Sing" with a big band; unfortunately, the P.A. was faulty and the volume of the music varied, fading away completely when Kenny's solo started. (Somebody said later: "Kenny would have loved that sound system!") Four speakers made their personal statements, recalling his skill and perfectionism as a musician, his support and dependability as a friend; they were bassists Daryl Runswick and Arthur Watts, Pianist Bill Le Sage and Mrs. Garry Brown. Letters in the same vein were read from his doctor and from John Dankworth, who had been unable to postpone a States visit to be there.

Among the drummers who attended were Brian Bennett, James Blades, Martin Drew, Bill Eyden, Tristan Fry, Allan Ganley, Tony Kinsey, Don Lawson, Art Morgan, Bobby Orr and Jack Parnell.

Photographer Dennis Williams and myself were also present.

From the BBC were Ray Harvey, Laurie Monk and Peter Clayton. Dick Hawdon represented Leeds College of Music.

Some of the other colleagues and friends of Kenny at the funeral were: Johnny Barnes, Phil Bates, Peter Boizot, Ian Carr, Mike Carr, Dick Esmond, Dave Green, Ian Hamer, Eddie Harvey, Max Harris, Ronnie Hazlehurst, Jack Honeyborne, Ronnie Hughes, Pete King (of Ronnie's), Bobby Lamb, Dave Lee, Tony Lee, Brian Lemon, Henry Mackenzie, Ron Mathewson, Danny Moss, Johnny McLevy, Tommy McQuater, Ray Premru, Stan Roderick, Ronnie Scott, Dave Shepherd, Colin Smith, Erik Van Lier, Ken Williams.

-Les Tomkins