1967A richly revealing recap on 20 years of British jazz
Let me say, first of all, that what follows is a personal record, rather than a comprehensive account. It will relate to the development in Britain of what is generally termed ‘modern jazz’—although this music has been developing for well over 20 years now. Also I shall be dealing, mainly, with small group jazz —the area in which I have been operating most of the time.
The fountainhead of the ‘modern’ movement in this country is usually said to have been the Club Eleven, which existed in the late ‘forties. Actually, though, things started happening a little earlier at a club in Old Compton Street, known then as the Fullado Club, where jazz was played non-stop from 3 p.m. until midnight. Most of the musicians who were associated with the Club Eleven used to play there. The difference being that, at the Fullado, we played only for kicks—not for cash!
I spent most of my spare hours there. I was working with Duncan Whyte’s Band at the Astoria, Charing Cross Road, and at the end of the evening I used to go, with guitarist Stan Watson and other friends, down to the Nut House, a night club in Regent Street. Which was where, as a kid of 18, I counted myself extremely lucky to get some chances to play with several great American musicians. This was towards the end of the war—and Sam Donahue’s U.S. Navy Band was in town. Hearing the whole band at the Queensberry All-Services Club was a thrill that is still vivid in my mind, as I’m sure it is also with Jack Parnell, who was sitting next to me that night.
The Donahue men, such as trombonist Dick Le Fave and clarinettist Ralph La Pola, would go around the clubs after the gig when they were in London. I can recall Kenny Baker and Johnny Claes sitting in with excellent fellow-trumpeters like Johnny Best, Frankie Beach, Don Jacoby and Conrad Gozzo. It seemed to me then that the Americans had more fundamental ability to produce sound— probably through more college training in the early stages of learning instruments. The sax players, too, had more power than anyone I knew over here.
Another frequent sitter-in on trumpet was Dennis Rose—who I would unhesitatingly name as the guv’nor during that period (around 1945-’47, that is). He was always around, along with Ronnie Scott, Tommy Whittle, Johnny Dank-worth, Hank Shaw, Terry Brown, Dave Goldberg, Tommy Pollard, Lennie Bush, Laurie Morgan, Jack Parnell, Tony Crom-bie and many others.
Undoubtedly, Dennis Rose was the most progressive-thinking of all the jazz musicians that I met in those years. He was practically living in Archer Street—as we all were. (In fact, just prior to joining Duncan Whyte I had 13 weeks out of work, which was mainly spent drinking tea all day in Archer Street cafes.) Dennis ran a rehearsal band, which met downstairs at the Fullado Club. We did things like the Gillespie arrangements of “That’s Earl, Brother” and “Cubano Be, Cubano Bop”. Without having a particularly strong tone on trumpet, Dennis had a very thorough understanding of Dizzy’s kind of music. And sometimes he’d play songs like “You Go To My Head” and “Embraceable You”, which require a very good ear to get the right chords all the way. I remember him teaching Laurie Morgan, the drummer, simple ways of making tunes sound nice on the piano. Laurie would plonk out, say, “All The Things You Are”, with Dennis Rose’s voicing— just using about three fingers to get the essential notes of those chords. In turn, I learned quite a lot from Laurie.
There was always some action going on with Dennis. There were two clubs in Stepney where music just used to happen. I never knew when it would happen, but, through being down Archer Street with Ronnie Scott, Tony Crombie and Dennis—it seemed that quite often we’d go off down to Stepney and play in these enormous school halls. Afterwards we’d go round to someone’s house and continue. Dennis would always be organising it all, by giving us the notes for riffs and so on.
Ronnie Scott, too, was fast gaining recognition and prestige, and was acknowledged by all the other musicians. But, somehow, Dennis—being a little older, I think—was considered to be the one who could really say what was what.
For a time he was regular with Johnny Claes and his Clae-Pigeons, as was Ronnie. Then he joined the Tito Burns Sextet, which broadcast every Saturday lunchtime on Accordion Club. This became a very amazing band to listen to— with Ronnie, Dennis, Pete Chilver on guitar, Ray Ellington on drums. I often wonder what the accordion authorities used to think of having such an un-accordion-like sound on their programme.
After this, Dennis Rose held a job with Jack Amlot’s Band at Hammersmith Palais, where he worked afternoons and evenings six days a week. But he was still playing jazz—because there were some very good reports of his music. Other musicians tell me that he is only playing solo piano nowadays.
A more legendary trumpet player, perhaps, even than Dennis, at that time, was a man called Derry Gascoigne. He never became a ‘name’, and has since vanished into oblivion. But I knew him pretty well, because we formed a band together and went into a night club for a few months. He was one of these remarkably gifted people who—without being able to read a note or know any of his chords or the keys we were in— would just play—really brilliant jazz. His ears were of the un-cloth variety.
Anyway, a lot of jazz activity was consolidated by the formation of the Club Eleven—which was quite a milestone. It was the first regular paid modern jazz gig for London musicians, who ran it themselves. They used Mac’s Rehearsal Rooms in Great Windmill Street. Two groups were featured. One was fronted by Johnny Dankworth, with Leon Calvert on trumpet, Bernie Fenton on piano, Joe Muddell on bass and Laurie Morgan on drums; the other was led by Ronnie Scott, with Hank Shaw on trumpet and the rhythm of Tommy Pollard, Lennie Bush and Tony Crombie. The eleventh man was a non-musician—the late Harry Morris, who, being a good businessman, took care of the financial side. When Ronnie Scott left to go on the boats to the States, I was asked to fill the vacancy in the Eleven.
It was quite a closed circle that we had at the Club Eleven. I have the feeling that not everyone was very popular if they got up and tried to join in. Just those whose gig it was did the playing—with very few exceptions.
But the people didn’t seem baffled at all by the new music we were playing. It seemed to be so obviously right. What we were hearing on record from Parker, Gillespie, the early Miles Davis, tenor players like Wardell Gray, Dexter Gordon, Stan Getz and Allan Eager—we just fell naturally into it. And the audiences just lapped it up.
Through being there, of course, I got to meet Johnny Dankworth. Actually, Johnny wanted Ronnie Scott to be in the original Dankworth Seven, when he formed it in 1950. But evidently Ronnie had other feelings, or some snag cropped up—so Johnny asked me. In organising the group, he was greatly aided by pianist Bill Le Sage, who took a hand in the administration of it.
The trumpet position was filled, briefly, by Leon Calvert and Terry Brown, while we were waiting for Jimmy Deuchar to get his RAF discharge. The remainder of the line-up was Eddie Harvey (trombone), Joe Muddell, soon replaced by Eric Dawson (bass) and Tony Kinsey (drums). In the three years of the Seven’s existence only two major personnel changes were made—Eddie Blair for Jimmy Deuchar and Eddie Taylor for Tony Kinsey. The group became very highly rated throughout Europe, as well as being written about in America.
What made the Seven outstanding was, basically, the musical content. Every man was a good jazz player and Johnny himself, of course, is a fine arranger. But, after several months of just playing jazz, he was on the point of packing it all in—because the money we were making was really negligible. However, he decided instead to try to widen the field of the Seven.
Already we had Marion Williams with us—a tremendous singer. Her tone was beautiful; she sang with such sincerity, and with great jazz feeling. In fact, it was some of the best singing I’ve ever heard in this country. One session that stays firmly in the memories of Joe Muddell and myself, particularly, we played somewhere near Colchester. She sang “How Deep Is The Ocean”, and it was being recorded privately. Really excellent.
As part of our expansion, we started to take Sunday concerts, where we were playing to audiences which were being entertained by variety bands. Then, to make it more commercial, we added a comedy number. This was always absolutely hilarious, because—well, the idea of doing comedy was completely foreign to some of us. Jimmy Deuchar flatly refused to take part—he liked to keep jazz very pure. I felt very much the same way.
Later on, we did have two superb comedians in the band—Eddie Taylor and Eric Dawson. Eric did a kind of dumb Harpo Marx act and Eddie had a very astute line of Lancashire wit. On a couple of occasions we were booked by the West End Restaurant in Edinburgh. And the week before we came the first time they’d had the Ray Ellington Quartet—and you know what kind of a showman he is. So we more or less demanded from Johnny that he put Eddie on as an act. He went on and did his impressions and a few jokes—which really broke us up, and most of the customers, too.
It made the group much more of a wide entertainment thing. Coupled with which we had to play dance music. There was a certain promoter in Yorkshire who used to give a kind of a speech half-way through the evening: “The dancers have come to dance. The jitter-buggers must keep their acrobatics over in the corner”. Also he seemed to be regularly announcing the appearance of “Freddy Randall at Ramsbottom on the 28th . . .”Which always amused me.
Although the Seven had set out to please dancers, we were still doing everything with a jazz feeling. We made many straight jazz sides for Carlo Krahmer’s Esquire label, such as “I Hear Music”, “The Slider”, “Webb City” and “Leon Bismarck” (a nice original of Johnny’s). We also had some commercial things released—especially when Cleo joined.
The funniest story about Cleo Laine is a perfectly true one, though almost unbelievable. It was about the time that the organ-type piano attachment— the clavioline—was invented. And the poster billing at one place where we played up North announced proudly, but erroneously: “The Johnny Dankworth Seven, featuring Frank Holder and the cleolaine”!
When you’re spending all your life on a coach—as we were in those days, doing tours of one-night stands all over England, Ireland and on the Continent—you have a large amount of time to do things. So we’d get up to all kinds of party games or band jokes, in which everyone took part. We had a ‘band badge’, which was awarded each week to whichever member of the Seven had performed the most amazing feat. It didn’t matter what it was—just some out of the ordinary thing—usually crazy. I think Eddie Blair had the actual control over this point. And Johnny did everything in his power to win this badge. But you know how unpopular a leader always is. He never won it—and he used to get mad about this.
So, one day, the week was coming to an end, and the badge hadn’t been awarded to anyone. Reminded of this, Eddie organised a race—stopped the coach; we all got out in a country lane. And we all raced down the road! Johnny—going flat out—won the race. But Eddie decided he’d award it to the one who came last that day!
There were other positions that people could win. Such as the ‘band bum’— that meant the one who looked the most disreputable all the time. I seem to remember Frank Holder or Eddie Harvey winning that more often than not. It was all very much in good humour. Cleo Laine won it one time!
I’ve always regarded Johnny as a most exceptionally talented musician. One night he stayed at my place, and we had a commercial-type broadcast the following morning. He got up at about 8 o’clock in the morning and scribbled down a vocal arrangement—first chorus front-line and the backing for the vocalist —over tea and toast. And we performed it on the broadcast. He’s that type of musician. He always works that way— often leaving things to the very last minute. “A dressing gown and fast car” was Eddie Harvey’s neat description of this trait in Johnny.
Without doubt, his writing for the group was responsible for its success. I was listening through the Dankworth Seven recordings the other day—and they’re beautifully written. It’s also interesting to note that there were ‘headed’ bridges and second themes, as happens in “Webb City” and “The Slider”, for instance. Jimmy Deuchar, Eddie Harvey, Bill Le Sage and myself—Eddie Blair, too, when he joined—all had a hand in suggesting a different line, or an occasional modulation to get from the first chorus into the second. On listening back, I think there was possibly some influence from the Miles Davis Tentet, as on that “Birth Of The Cool” LP. But, on the other hand, it was not just imitation—merely a matter of liking that kind of music.
There were definite elements in his writing then that you can follow through to the big band. I’ve done the odd gig with the big band, filling in for Art Ellefson, Danny Moss, or whoever it was. And it’s very noticeable to me— I can still feel the Seven here and there all the way through the music.