My Brother George
Letter from Les Evans, April 6th 1993
That was very kind of you to write, and to offer your condolences.Yes, that was a great shame, and George was a very fine musician. Although he had stomach cancer, diagnosed in early December, and he died on Feb.16th, we were thankful that he went very peacefully, and without the pain usually associated with this type of cancer.
We have had a lot of calls and letters, including contact with about a dozen of the original ten saxes, five trumpets band of 1946/47, and a few from George's later band with eight brass and six saxes, from 1949 onwards.
You are right about Don Rendell being in the first band for a short time, but I don't recollect Albert Hall ever being with us. Maybe he was with a later band of George's. Don Rendell did the early gigs in 1946, and the 3 month stint at Hammersmith Palais, but when George went into sanatorium in the September, at the end of the Palais period, and I took over to go out on the road, Don left the band. The 1946 personnel was: rhythm section: Eric Jupp, piano, Malcolm Mitchell, guitar, Don Raine Young, bass, and Dougie Cooper, drums. Eric Jupp left after a couple of months or so, and was replaced by Arthur Greenslade.
Trumpets: Ricky Derges, Ted Hunt, Bill Jackson, Graham Smith and Frank Pritchard. Frank was later replaced by Hank Shaw, and Graham, by Denis Shirley.
Altos: Charlie Payne, Frank Rogers, Roy Ringrose, Charles Chapman and Freddie Syer. Charles Chapman waslater replaced by Ronnie Chandler.
Tenors: Erik Maxwell, Dennis Hughes, Syd Dowel (and bass sax) Don Rendell, Kenny Kaye on baritone.When Don left, Kenny moved up to tenor, and Jimmy Paul came in on baritone. Also Shirley Gray, vocalist.
That was a good band. George led the band in 1946 from about May to September. I went on the road (George asked me to give up all my teaching which naturally I did gladly) from September until Feb. 1947. That was a terrible winter, and it was no surprise when we had to fold up.
Prior to that, George formed that same combination to record on Decca, in 1944. He used all session players, according to who was available at the time..
There were several sessions to cut ten sides. George was still in the Welsh Guards at the time, and there was a ban on army personnel playing or working with civilian bands, so George thought it best to use my name. I had come out of the R.A.F in March 1944. The first four sides were actually released on Decca 78's, and called The George Evans Orchestra, directed by Leslie Evans. I did play on those four sides in fact, but I didn't direct.
Some of the musicians on the various sessions were Jock Cummings or Jack Parnell on drums, Pat Dodd, piano, Jack Llewellyn guitar. Kenny Baker, Billy Riddick, Cliff Haines on trumpets. George Shearing also did a couple of takes. Then there were Poggy Pogson, Aubrey Frank, Izzy Duman, Bill Apps, probably Jimmy Durrant, George and myself on saxes. I can't remember all the names. The four sides released at that time, were Great Day, The Toy Trumpet, Sweet and Lovely, and The Lone Prairie. The six not released (but I hear that very recently some of them haee been included in L.P.'s sort of Big Bands of the Past, or whatever, were Rockabye Basie, Temptation, Out of Space (a feature solo for Leslie Gilbert) Grasshoppers Dance, Early one Morning, and The Song is You.
You may well have played some of those, and many others, at the rehearsals with my so-called Student Band, of which I ran several, and a load of good lads came through. I remember you coming along with Kenny Clare, but I had known Kenny for a long time before that. Apart from playing for a long time with the "big band" before that he played with another of my student bands, called Saxes 'n Sevens comprising three altos, four tenors and four rhythm. This group used mainly George's Embassy Club arrangements, and quite a few of my own, always rehearsing at Mac's Rehearsal Rooms, just off Piccadilly Circus.
In fact, I was looking at a load of old Melody Maker contest programmes the other day, tucked away in the loft, and I came across the All Britain Final of 1948, at Belle Vue, Manchester, when the Saxes 'n Sevens group took part. Tony Arnopp (later lead alto with the B.B.C. Radio Orchestra) and Tony Symes were a couple of the altos, and Pete King (later Ronnie Scott's partner) was one of the tenors. Kenny Clare was on drums. I was one of the judges, but they still didn't win. From 1945 through to 1958, I judged well over 200 M.M. contests. Then skiffle, rock and roll, and then "pop"took over, and the contests finished late in 1958. I also found the programme for the 1946 All Britain Finals held at the Winter Gardens Blackpool, and the two house-bands were us, the George Evans Orchestra, and the Teddy Foster band. I also judged that one and I think we did our bit after the contest was over.
When George recovered after his operation for T.B. he did arrangements for one or two bands; also went back with Geraldo as vocalist for a short time. Then he formed rehearsal bands, and from among them, in 1949, he formed the band that went out on the road, with four trumpets, four trombones. six saxes, four rhythm and a vocalist. I know Tony Symes and Jackie Sprague went with that band, both my pupils, and Bill Geldard was on trombone. Later on Gracie Cole joined the band on trumpet, and Bill and Gracie married when the band was doing a spell at Green's Playhouse in Glasgow.
The band was on the road for two years, then George got the residency at the Oxford Galleries, Newcastle, and was there 1951 until 1957/58, when he retired, and didn't play anything or write anything for twenty-five years - except in early 1958, when Decca persuaded him to come down to London, and fixed a big session band for him ... large sax section, a smaller woodwind section, trumpets, and five rhythm. They did the session in the huge organ hall at the Alexandra Palace, in mono and in stereo.They were released on the Ace of Clubs label. As usual George wrote every arrangement specially.
He was married for 42 years, and Jane, his first wife, died in 1981. George began playing again, practised really hard, sat in with a couple of local Newcastle bands, and played jazz a couple of times a week at local pubs ... for interest, not for money, I hasten to add! Then a few months or so before his 70th birthday in 1985, he re-wrote a lot of his best scores to add in 5 trombones, and from local pros. and teachers, he formed an eleven sax band, five trumpets, five trombones, four rhythm, vocalists, and, on his birthday, he did a big Nostalgia Night Ball, at the Mayfair Ballroom, Newcastle (The Oxford had long ago turned into a Mecca Bingo Hall) and there were 1,400 dancers, most of them who had met, married and had kids, since they danced to George at the Oxford between 1951 and 1957. He did a second one a couple of weeks later, and got another 1,100 in.
He did a concert at the People's Theatre up there, just after that, with the big band, plus Carol Kidd and her trio from Glasgow, plus Tommy Whittle and Roy Williams, as guest artists from London. But again he did that for interest only, and wasn't keen to go on finding other venues. The boys all wanted to go on rehearsing anyway, because there isn't much chance of playing with a big twenty-five-piece band, with a guy like George writing and taking the band. But he wouldn't continue. George married his second wife Helen in 1986.
On March 1st, 1993, BBC's Alan Dell devoted a whole half-hour just to George. He has always been quite a fan of George's, and played various recordings over the many years, mostly of the period when George virtually governed everything the Geraldo band played. Alan recorded a couple of long conversations he had with me, on the phone, and used a lot of the material I gave him, during that broadcast. He also had a chat with Harry Hayes, and used his comments as well.It was a very well edited, and produced programme, thanks to Alan.
So you see, Ron, the George Evans scores have indeed been played again. I have a lot of the original parts, and I know where most of the scores are, but honestly, I wouldn't want to put the thing together again, at this stage. In any case, the cost of getting anything recorded would be enormous.
My very best wishes, Sincerely,
Around 1941, George Evans formed his Saxes ‘n Sevens group . . . three altos, four tenors, and four rhythm. They played at the Embassy Club, New Bond Street, and appeared at the 1941 Jazz Jamboree. Nothing to do with classical music at all.
The pad included many of the earlier accepted jazz standards such as Sunny Side of the Street, Body and Soul, China Boy, Lover Come Back, Lady Be Good, Stardust, Blue Moon, Limehouse Blues and many more.
The altos were Harry Hayes, Les Gilbert, Tommy Bradbury, the tenors, George, Andy McDevitt, E.O.(Poggy) Pogson and Jimmy Durrant, Bobby Midgeley, drums, Joe Deniz, guitar, Wilkie Davidson, bass, and either Ronnie Selby or George Shearing on piano. Some aggregation!
Later in 1945 when I formed my first of many so-called advanced ‘student-bands’ I borrowed all that library from George (I’ve still got all the parts), and I added arrangements of my own, Sophisticated Lady, Touch Of Your Lips, ‘C’]am Blues, Harlem Nocturn, At Last, Beautiful Love, and many others.
In 1948, one such rehearsal-group of Saxes ‘n’ Sevens reached the Melody Maker All- Britain Finals in Manchester. I have found the programme and I see that... then in their semi-pro days... the leader and first tenor was Pete King (later to become Ronnie Scott’s partner), first alto was Tony Arnopp (long-time lead alto with the BBC Radio Orchestra) and the superb Kenny Clare on drums. We played well.. .and didn’t win! Les Evans