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The Prolific Big Band Tenorman

Talking to Ron Simmonds

The Prolific Big Band Tenorman
See also Pete's biography on Earlsdon Online

I started playing clarinet in 1943...1944 to 46, then played Alto Sax/clarinet with all, yes all the bands in Coventry, except Billy Monk.  In December 1946 I was called up into the R.A.F. to do my national service and was stationed at Leuchers in Fife until demob in 1948.

I then changed to Tenor Sax and joined George Rowe at Coventry Casino, my first pro job. This lasted until May 1950 when Cyril Narbeth the well known Coventry trumpet player got me an audition with Teddy Fosters band. I was with him until the end of 1950 and then I joined the then famous Vic Lewis big Kenton–style band. I stayed there a about a year playing alongside the great giant of jazz, Ronnie Scott. You can’t buy experience like that. Kathy Stobart also came in bringing Derek Humble (magical).  Ronnie Simmonds was our majestic lead trumpet. It was some band.

1952 came and I found myself in Oscar Rabin’s immaculate sax section. We were Oscar Rabin saxes - click to enlargeon a Billy May kick, as we used to say then. It was soon after that I moved up to Edinburgh to my favourite band of all: Basil Kirchin and the swingiest band of the 50s. After that, back to Rabin, worn out with high living!

Soon after that I became associated with the Ken Mackintosh road band. Many of my dearest friends passed through that team, amongst them Bert Courtley, Alex McGregor and many others. This was during 1953 thru 1954. We did appear in the film An Alligator Named Daisy with a cast of millions. 

During 1954 Johnny Dankworth, as he was then known, heard me and invited me into his very, very slick band. I sight–read his library on my first night at Swindon with the band. It may have peeved him a bit although he was very complimentary. Alas, I did not leave him on good terms although I have the greatest respect for his work.

1956—and on to Eric Delaney’s drum band until it perished . One small happening during my stay with Eric. On a certain live radio broadcast from the Paris Cinema in Lower Regent St, I had a feature to play, On The Alamo. Eric absentmindedly beat it in at half tempo! Ron Simmonds who was on lead trumpet refused to budge on the tempo, I should have thanked him later as I got a good write up for my effort.

After Delaney, back to Ken Mackintosh again. I stayed until 1961 when I took my own band in to Mecca, in Glasgow—even did a T.V. with it whilst up there.

1962 joined Cyril Stapleton. I know you won’t mind if I tell you a short story of one of my best tries at becoming famous during that time. We were playing for the prestigious Carl Alan awards at the Lyceum ballroom, which was being televised live as usual, and attended by such musical luminaries as Ted Heath, Geraldo, Joe Loss, the King of Dance etc.  I was with Cyril Stapleton and we were to accompany Lionel Blair, the British Fred Astaire.

I was to play the Stan Getz version of Desifinado. On the floor Lionel minced around and our drummer (who shall remain nameless) sailed into a Mambo tempo but I stuck to half tempo and no-one noticed, including the drummer. We completed the number. Joe Loss who was present almost immediately offered me a  job on the strength of my performance.

1963 Savoy Hotel...1964. Back to Ken Mack again and into theatre work and lots of recording sessions and radio. In 1974 I joined the B.B.C. full–time as a member of the B.B.C. Radio Orchestra, which included the Big Band and many very interesting combinations.

I stayed with the B.B.C. until my retirement in 1987. I did much feature work with them, with Robert Farnon, Billy May, Bob Brookmeyer, Nelson Riddle and many other American musical directors of major importance. Something which took  no skill at all was solo spots on the Royal Variety shows from the Palladium with Joe Loss.

I have played for the great Don Lusher bands for a number of years including his Ted Heath band. A beautiful experience to work with Ted’s old combo of Jack Parnell and Norman Stenfalt with Lennie Bush. During a lot of this time I taught clarinet, flute and saxophone at the prestigious West Heath School at Sevenoaks, previously attended by H.R.H. Princess Diana.

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