Ross, Scott and Deuchar in New York
Tribute by Ron Simmonds
The death of the trumpeter Jimmy Deuchar has brought an end to the saga of what I used to call The Incredible Five. These were Phil Seamen, Tubby Hayes, Derek Humble, Ken Wray and Jimmy Deuchar. Jimmy outlived the rest of them by more than twenty years. The others died far too young.
I first met Jimmy when I joined Jack Parnell’s band in the 1950’s. Jimmy Watson had left due to ill health and Derek Humble recommended me for the job. The other trumpet players in the section were Jimmy Deuchar and Jo Hunter, both brilliant jazz soloists, both with an astounding technique. Between them, the Jimmys, Watson and Deuchar, had written the bulk of the arrangements in the library, and there were some truly terrifying trumpet unisons in there, which all three of them played with a total disregard of the difficulties involved.
When I played them, Jimmy Deuchar’s own fierce execution used to drag me along with him. Now and again Jimmy Watson played the odd session with us and then things really used to liven up. Jimmy Deuchar had a way of slowly looking around at me after we'd torn our way through one of those trumpet unisons and giving me what I used to call his heavy grin.
"How bad," he would say.
I played with Jim Deuchar in lots of bands. Apart from the Ronnie Scott band there were the bands of Jackie Sharpe and Tubby Hayes, which usually contained all the same guys, and often the same arrangements.
The way Ronnie Scott conned me into playing with his band should be a lesson to all bandleaders. He phoned me and said, ‘Hey, we’re going up to Glasgow for three weeks. You don’t want to go all the way up there, do you?’
‘Well you’d probably want too much money for a job like that.’
‘Maybe not. How much are you offering?’
‘Good. That’s fixed then.’ And he rang off.
I had just started my summer holiday so I went up to Green's Playhouse. He had five brass, with Jimmy Deuchar, Les Condon, Ken Wray and, I believe, Mac Minshul. Derek Humble, Pete King and either Benny Green or Kenny Graham were in the saxes. Vic Feldman and Tony Crombie were there and I think Lennie Bush was on bass. This was over forty years ago, so I'm relying purely on memory.
The band was great, and the people of Glasgow were ecstatic. As a feature number Ronnie and Pete used to sing and play a tenor duet. I can't remember the title but it was all about being buddies. At the end, locked in a fond embrace, they sang the last note and finally kissed one another. Then they both stomped around all over the bandstand going yuck, yuck, spitting and wiping their mouths in disgust.
Jimmy was forever changing his mouthpiece. While most trumpet players desperately sought the elusive one which would allow them to play louder and higher, Jimmy always changed to a larger size in order to get an even bigger sound.
This had the effect of drastically reducing his range to around two octaves. As he was never, ever, required to play any lead parts this didn’t matter in the least. Tubby Hayes and I had bought a big, heavy tape recorder between us, one of the first that appeared on the market, and we used to lug it around everywhere with us. Vic Lewis had given me some of the original Gerry Mulligan tapes and we listened to them all the time. Jimmy was infatuated with Chet Baker and he stood there listening to those tapes night after night shaking his head. He spoke a lot of another player called Dennis Rose, who played the London clubs, telling me I had to go and hear the man. Jimmy said that he was the greatest jazz soloist he had ever heard.
Brilliant player or not; Jimmy and the others were rarely booked on a regular studio session. The contractors probably felt that such members of the jazz fraternity would be unreliable, which was far from being the case. When Manny Albam made a big band LP in the IBC studios I was given the job of booking the musicians, and I booked Tubby, Jimmy and Phil Seamen. The band really took off with the three of them firing it up. When I called up Jimmy for the date his wife Margot came on the phone.
Jimmy was in the bathtub. ‘Ask him if has a bucket,’ I said. (For non-musicians this refers to a special kind of mute.) ‘What do you mean? Of course we’ve got a bucket.’ ‘Just go and ask him.’ She came back and said yes, Jimmy had a bucket, so I said to tell him to bring it along.
Jimmy, Derek Humble and Ken Wray later went to work in the Kurt Edelhagen band in the Cologne radio station Westdeutscher Rundfunk. Milo Pavlovic, who was playing first trumpet there at the time, told me that they hit the band like an atom bomb. Edelhagen was a strange guy at the best of times, and the three of them probably frightened the life out of him. Click photo to enlarge.
While they were there Jimmy and Derek also did the gig with the Clarke/Boland band. They didn’t stay in Germany too long, but later on Jimmy came back over to Berlin with Tubby. We made some recordings with them in the Sender Freies Berlin radio station, when Herb Geller was in the band, and Joe Harris on drums.
Tubby brought over some of the scores from his album Tubb’s Tours, including Jimmy’s The Killers of West One. The two of them were a perfect pair in every way. I gave a party for them which included Herb Geller and the two Viennese jazzmen Fatty George and Hans Koller. Afterwards we all went down to Herb’s club, the Jazz Gallery, where Hans had an exhibition of his paintings.
They were in great form that night.
‘And now’, said Tubby, ‘we’re going to play a number called I’ve Thrown a Custard in her Face, from My Fair Lady. We’re a bit Mozart, and there are some dodgy Norwegians in there, but we’ll do our best.’
‘What the hell is he talking about?’ said the German sitting beside me. I explained that the tune was, indeed, I’ve Grown Accustomed to her Face. Mozart was rhyming slang for Mozart & Liszt, i.e. drunk, dodgy meant difficult and Norwegian Fjords were chords. As the band began to play I overheard him muttering something about the crazy British to his wife.
Jimmy wrote a lot of arrangements for the Parnell band. Jack only had a five-piece brass section at the time, and Jimmy wrote everything in open harmony, so that sometimes the trumpets were miles apart. When I asked him about that he seemed to be amazed that there was any other way of doing things. Max Harris had shown him how to do it, and he’d never thought about it any more. I vividly remember one score he wrote for the band, the name of which unfortunately escapes me at the moment. It was a number supposedly representing a carousel, and he’d written the band in 4/4 with the trumpets in 3/4.
This is much more difficult to play than it sounds. While we were waltzing away on this hurdy–gurdy effect the rest of the band was thundering along grimly with something entirely different. Every now and again we came together for a brief moment. The result was absolutely delightful. Later on he began writing for the Berlin band, and he could really go to town on that because we had nine brass. No longer committed exclusively to open harmony, he wrote some terrific scores for us. When we visited the Festival Hall for a concert with that band he came down from Dundee for an Old Pals night out with Milo and me.
I never saw him again, but Milo asked me afterwards how it was possible for a Scotsman to have an almost Cockney accent. I’d never thought about it before, but Jimmy did speak like a Londoner, so it was easy to forget he was from the Highlands.
On one of Tubby’s band dates at Manor House a very small old man turned up in the room over the pub where we were playing. He was dressed entirely in black and smoked an enormous pipe. He spoke to me in a guttural snarl out of the corner of his mouth. I couldn’t understand a word of it, and started to walk away. He seized me by the throat and repeated what he had just said. I now made out the word Doodgggmaaa.
‘Hey, Jim!’ I shouted. ‘There’s a foreigner here wants to talk to you.’ He came over, grinning.
‘It’s my uncle, from Aberdeen,’ he said.
Shortly before Jim died in 1993 I was living in Spain. One day I received a phone call from a Benidorm newspaper office telling me that Jimmy was playing in Alicante and he wanted to see me. The caller added that he had only one leg. I dismissed the call as yet another hoax, only to discover, later on, that he had, indeed, lost a leg a few years previously. That would have been our last meeting and I will never forgive myself for not going to see him that day.
I'm proud to have been Jim's colleague, and, I hope, his friend. Even today, when I'm confronted with a particularly tricky bit of trumpet gymnastics, I think of Jimmy, and just know that he would have sailed through it effortlessly. Then he would turn to me with his heavy grin.
"How bad," he would say.
The photo of Jimmy Deuchar, Derek Humble and Milo Pavlovic kindly supplied by Milo Pavlovic
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