Jazz Professional    


Ron's Pages

The Great Big Bands

Jack Parnell

By now I had one foot in the big-time. Jack Parnell’s first trumpet player, Jimmy Watson, had suffered a nervous breakdown, and was now in a Kingston rest home. Derek Humble had recommended me and so I left the Squadronaires at once to join the band.

Jimmy Watson had been an exceptional player, and some of the trumpet parts he’d written for himself in this band had been unplayable for some of the guys who deputised for him. You probably had to be a little crazy to even attempt them. (See examples)

As far as I was concerned they were easier than the stuff I used to practice from the Dizzy Gillespie book of solos, so I had no trouble playing them.

When they let Jim out of the rest home from time to time we used to perform these things together in unison, something which caused him to flip out dangerously one night in Southsea. He got so excited at what we were doing together that he had a really frightening bout of uncontrollable hysteria, right there on stage, and I had to clobber him to straighten him out.

Jim’s main problems were paranoia and acute claustrophobia. When we played anywhere on the road I had to sit in his room with him afterwards until he fell asleep. He was afraid of being in a room alone. Poor Jim—he ended up as an outdoor car park attendant in Kingston somewhere. Plenty of open spaces there.

Jack Parnell was tall, slender, dark-haired and good-looking. He was a nephew of the theatre impresario Val Parnell. Jack had been Ted Heath’s drummer at a time when Ted Heath was the Number One super-duper big band, which gave Jack one hell of a step up in the pecking order among other musicians. I personally was in awe of the man, just as I was in awe of most of the people in the Heath and Geraldo bands.

Ronnie Scott was starring with the Heath band at the time, a job carrying an enormous amount of prestige, and when he came along to one of our rehearsals to speak to Jack for just a moment it caused a sensation.

‘Look at that,’ said the baritone player, Kenny Graham, to me, ‘How big time can you get? Ronnie Scott coming along to say hello! Big stuff, eh?’

Kenny himself was deep into African folklore. It was clear that, together with many of his contemporaries, Kenny identified being black as the last word in hip. When in his cups  he lapsed into a sort of pseudo-Bantu guttural dialect. ‘WHAT YOU MEAN, MON? I DOAN WANNNA KNOW, MON! YOU JUST DOAN GIMME NO TROUBLE MON!’

He was also very uptight on his own views of jazz, so that no one ventured to ever cross him or his convictions. At the Kursal in Southend one night he got into a long complicated discussion with some guy he’d never met before on the qualities and talents of the American jazz pianist Joe Bushkin, whom Kenny didn’t rate at all. The guy waxed enthusiastic over Joe, and nothing Kenny could say would alter his opinion, so in the end he told the guy to get lost.

After the dance we were entertained by the sight of our coach driver, Bert Harris, who was having a great time trying to back the band bus out of the loading bay without demolishing all the cars carelessly parked behind him. About a hundred people stood around watching, while one man very importantly bustled around at the rear of the bus shouting instructions.

Finally Bert got out, very red-faced and shouted at the man, ‘Twenty-five f______ years I’ve been driving this f______ bus, and I don’t need you to tell me how to drive it f______ backwards.’ For that he got a sustained round of applause from the onlookers.

As we boarded the bus the man who had been bugging Kenny Graham suddenly appeared by his window and shouted, ‘Joe Bushkin! Joe Bushkin!’ At once Kenny dashed out in a rage and chased after him. They disappeared into the Kursal grounds and we had to hang around waiting for Kenny. He returned, breathless and red with anger. When he sat down he kept muttering, ‘Him and his Joe Bushkin. I’ll kill the idiot.’

Later in life Ted Heath hit on the idea of having three or four arrangements written of some hit pop tune, the idea being that he would buy the one that pleased him the most. Kenny was one of the arrangers involved, but Ted didn’t like his score. He was then able to go around saying that he was one of the lucky ones who had lost the great Ted Heath Arranging Competition. I thought Kenny was a very talented musician, and he also wrote some brilliant articles for the Crescendo magazine. He ran an Afro-Cuban group for a while, then, for no apparent reason, ended his career quite abruptly and became the caretaker to a block of London flats.

Jimmy Watson and Jimmy Deuchar had written the bulk of the library for Jack’s small band, and most of their arrangements featured some really staggering unison work for the trumpets. Jim Deuchar had a dazzling technique on such things and used to pull Jo Hunter and me along with him on some of the stuff that was almost physically impossible to play. His score of The Champ was one of the high spots of the night, containing a tremendous drum duet between Jack and Phil Seamen that always brought the house down.

The Champ was also Ted Heath’s show-stopper. It was an entirely different arrangement, of course, but, when we played a Jazz Jamboree at the Royal Albert Hall the trouble started. There were about five or six bands in the programme, and Ted’s band, accepted as being the best by popular acclaim, naturally went on last. Jack’s band went on just before Ted, we being number two in the pecking order.

Because of his popularity, Ted Heath was able to dictate terms with quite a lot of muscle. On this occasion he stipulated that only his band should play The Champ, otherwise he would not appear in the jamboree. This didn’t please Jack one little bit, and he argued about it bitterly with Ted, and with the Jamboree promoters. Ted was adamant—no Champ.

We did the mass rehearsal, and played some other tune as a finale, probably Catherine Wheel, which was one of Jimmy Watson’s most sensational arrangements.

On the concert, just before our last number, Jack went down to the microphone to make an announcement. I turned my head and saw Ted standing only a few feet behind me, trying to see the name on the next piece of music on my stand. He was out of luck, because I very rarely got out any of the music, having memorized it all long before. All he could see was the top number in my book, which probably looked innocent enough.

‘Normally, at this stage of our performance,’ said Jack into the microphone, ‘We would have played the number you have probably all been waiting for. I’m referring, of course, to The Champ.’

There was a stir in the audience, turning to excited, spontaneous applause. He waited until the noise had died down.

‘Unfortunately, we have been ordered not to play this, as the Ted Heath band claims exclusive rights to the number.’

Uproar! Cries of ‘shame!’

Speaking over the angry commotion, he continued calmly, ‘So we are going to play another piece instead, and we hope you like it. Here it is—The Joke.’

He sat down at the drums, gave us the beat, and we tore right into the introduction of The Champ.

Ted didn’t get it for a moment. He probably hadn’t listened to our record properly, but it started off with one of those thrilling trumpet unisons of ours at an truly incredible pace. By the time we’d sat down again I was able to steal a look at his face, and he’d got it by then, all right. There was very little he could do about it now, though—he could hardly refuse to let his band appear at this late stage of events.

We tore the hell out of the number, with extended drum solos, great solos from Jimmy Deuchar and Joe Temperley, the whole works. Jack had brought a huge military band bass drum on stage and he walloped that every now and again. The delighted audience saw through the gag at once, and went haywire after we finished. When I found the time to turn around again Ted had gone.

His band came on a few minutes after we had ended. Of course, his was the slickest presentation of all. The band was immensely popular, and, with Dickie Valentine and Lita Rosa coming on in a blaze of glory at the end it was wonderful show business, but it wasn’t a jazz band like Jack’s, and that stood out a mile. He played The Champ, too, but after our version it came as a bit of an anticlimax. Of course, he was furious afterwards, which didn’t make a whole lot of difference to anyone.

A side effect to the occasion was that he phoned me a few weeks later, and invited me to a band party at his house in Wimbledon. Until I stepped through his front door and shook hands with him I had never met or spoken to Ted before. Maybe he’d taken a liking to the back of my head. Later on he booked me on various sessions, and jingles, until it was obvious that Bobby Pratt was no longer able to continue playing with him, and then I joined the band properly.

Shortly after the Albert Hall incident I left Jack to join the new Ambrose big band (see Ambrose). This didn't last long and when Jack reformed, this time with a big band with eight brass, he asked me to come back again. 

Jack Parnell’s new band had a lot of fresh faces. Johnny Edwards and Bobby Lamb were there on trombones, and I had my old pals Terry Lewis and Jo Hunter in the trumpet section. Bobby Lamb had just returned from the States, where he had toured around for a while with the Woody Herman band, sitting beside the great Bill Harris.

Jo was the son of the film actor Ian Hunter. He had been kicked around in Hollywood and West Point during his youth, and was a very quiet man indeed, hardly ever speaking at all. He was a brilliant jazz trumpet player though. He told me once of an incident that had happened just before he joined the Parnell band.

The clarinetist Frank Weir had been holding auditions for a trumpet player. Frank’s was a small band, so he only needed one jazz trumpet. Jo went in to the audition and waited while two or three other guys played. When it came to his turn Jo lost his nerve and left. He told me the names of the other candidates. I knew them all, and he was much, much better than all of them.

Jack played drums the way you’d expect he would after taking one look at him — elegantly. He was a very talented musician, and a really sensational soloist. Jack always employed other great drummers in his band. Phil Seamen was the first; when he left Allan Ganley came on the band, and then Kenny Clare. In the drum duets they played, always a big hit with the crowd, each outdid the other. It was marvellous show-business. In the Jazz Wagon show Jack had an enormous rostrum built for the two drum sets, which moved them slowly down towards the footlights for their big finale.

In that same show was an elderly black American named Taps Miller. When I first saw him I thought yeah, wow, Taps Miller—we all knew the name, but nobody associated this guy with the man we’d all heard about. But this jaded old trouper, doing his little tap-dance, playing trumpet, and singing a piece of nonsense called Steak and Potatoes, was the original dancer who’d worked with Count Basie around 1944, and Count had even written and recorded a number in his honour, called Taps Miller.

I asked him why he didn’t include the number in his show, anything would have been better than the stuff he was using, and we would have loved to have played the Basie arrangement, but he clammed up on that, so maybe he had some unhappy memories on it he wasn’t about to share with us.

With all of his considerable talents Jack was by no means immune from making the odd mistake from time to time. In his feature Dragnet, after a long and complicated workout on the drums which brought the audience to its feet in a standing ovation, he once emerged from the solo a beat in front of everybody else. Now, this didn’t matter one little bit, because we only had to start playing when he brought us in again, and no one would have been any the wiser.

At any rate, the whole band came in spare. He then made the mistake of accusing us of not feeling the beat. To a jazz musician this was, of course, a deadly insult, and it caused everyone in the line-up to count religiously right through the drum solo the next time he played it, and to start playing exactly on the downbeat after he had finished.

‘WRONG!’ he screamed.

‘RIGHT!’ we roared back, whereupon he hurled his sticks down and stalked back out to the front of the band. Once there he glared at me, and drew a big square in the air with his forefingers, as if I were the ringleader, and to blame for everything.

I muttered something appropriate..

When he was upset, Jack used to put on what we called his Tight Face. This was his very own version of the bandleader Benny Goodman's infamous Death Look. He wore his Tight Face now as he walked over to where I was sitting in the trumpet section.

‘What did you call me?’ he gritted.

With us in the trumpets at the time was Alan Franks, who had, for some reason, decided to champion me several years back when I began working in the session world. He now leaned over towards Jack and told him what I'd said, adding, ‘I must say that I agree with him.’

Jack was stunned for a moment, then said, ‘Oh,’ and walked back out front.

Alan was, by then, a greatly respected member of the trumpet community. He had already worked with the Geraldo and Heath bands, and was now in the fabulous Sinfonia of London, which was a co-operative orchestra composed of very many of the most versatile of the London classical musicians.

Alan and I had done many things together, including one epic trip to a horse race at Aintree, where he said he knew a trainer called Bert Backem. I should have been warned by that name, but Bob Adams and I went with him from Blackpool, where we were working at the time. This was only a couple of weeks after we’d visited the same place for the British Formula One Grand Prix, to see Fangio drive the new BRM..

As soon as we arrived Alan disappeared, saying that he was going to get all the hot tips of the meeting from his friend Bert. When he came back clutching the list we backed every one of them heavily, and they all lost. Right at the end I laid my last couple of pounds on a horse running at Worcester. There were bets on two runners only, one at 40 to 1 and the other at 1 to 40. On Alan’s advice I bet on the outsider, and lost again.

I think Parnell was a bit piqued because I didn’t play jazz. Every now and again he’d say to me, ‘Why don’t you play some jazz in the band?’ My reply was that I had enough to do playing lead, and there were always two or three excellent jazz players in the section. Usually Hank Shaw, Jo Hunter or Ronnie Hughes were there, and I wasn’t going to compete against them.

I did it once, though, on a Sunday concert in Sheffield. We had an arrangement of Jeepers Creepers, which I believe had been written for us by Manny Albam. There was a whole chorus for trumpet in the middle. Just before we arrived at it Hank nudged me and said, ‘You play it.’

I strode down to the mike and let ‘em have it, full blast, a screech-up fireworks display from beginning to end. I shoved all my Dizzy Gillespie tricks in there, showing a reckless disregard for the harmonic sequence, and I did that for the entire thirty-two bars. When the solo ended the whole place went wild. I walked back to my seat to thunderous applause. As I passed Jack he was wearing his Tight Face.

‘Don’t you ever do that again,’ he gritted.

Now and again he got me to write an arrangement, and we recorded some of them, the best of the lot being the highly successful Sky Blue Shirt, for which I never received a penny in royalties. In view of the miserable performance of both the Performing Rights Society and the Musicians' Union at the time I doubt whether Jack received anything either.

Phil Seamen was on drums in the Parnell band when I joined, with Jimmy Deuchar, Derek Humble, Ken Wray, and Kenny Graham also in the line-up. Sammy Stokes, who had been with me in the Tommy Sampson band, was on bass. I’d only been with Jack's band for a couple of weeks when Sammy came up and told me that a lot of the guys were leaving in protest. Jack had wanted to get my old girl-friend Marion Davis in as vocalist, but she would only come if her husband, the tenor player Ronnie Keene, came with her. That meant Jack getting rid of Pete King, whom everybody loved.
Jim Godbolt recalls

Ronnie didn't quite click with the guys in the band, and I don’t think that anyone really liked him. Bob Burns hated him at once, and, as far as I know, never spoke to him all the time he was in the sax section. I don’t know why Marion married him at all. They seemed to be worlds apart. Before I met her she’d been going around with the drummer Tommy Maxwell, who was a great guy. Knowing her as I did, I couldn’t imagine her being happy with a man like Ronnie, but it seemed to take her several years to find this out for herself. Later on she married my old pal, the bass trombonist Ken Goldie.

Unfortunately, for Marion, the first night she sang with the Parnell band was also Pete King’s last. He spent the bus journey back from the gig sitting beside her, telling her what a drag she was, and what an even bigger drag her husband was. Ronnie hadn’t joined yet, of course. Marion sat right through the trip looking out of the window with two big red spots in her cheeks. To my everlasting shame I didn’t try and rescue her.

Pete went on after leaving to become Ronnie Scott’s manager, successfully running his Soho club to this day. Most of the rest of the band left at once. They excused me from the deal as I was a new member. Jimmy Deuchar, Derek and Ken went straight over to Cologne to work with the Kurt Edelhagen band. I was suddenly surrounded by new players.

Now I met, for the first time, the Canadian lead alto player Bob Burns, trombonist Laddy Busby and the pianist Max Harris. These three men, through their own experience, reshaped my playing considerably. I was helped and encouraged by them immensely, although I’m sure I didn’t deserve their attention.

They heaped praise upon my playing at all times, and I drank it all in gratefully. One day Laddy said to me, ‘Hey! You can compliment me on my playing, too, if you feel like it. A bit of praise now and then goes down very well.’

I was amazed to hear this. Laddy was well established as one of the leading players of the day. I began at once to heap compliments on his head at all times, until he told me rather gruffly to lay off.

The only people I’ve met who don’t give praise to their colleagues are the Germans. I quickly learned not to do this in Berlin, when I complimented a classical French Horn player on his performance. He turned to me, red with embarrassment, and muttered, ‘We don’t do things like that here.’

The new Parnell band was different, but Allan Ganley was on drums, and he could easily hold his own with Jack on their famous drum duets. I tagged on to the Burns, Harris, Busby group. We played, drank, and drove everywhere as a team.

Bob Burns was a large, slow, cumbersome man, with a bright red face, probably brought on by his heavy drinking. He was a brilliant saxophone player, often bitingly sarcastic over the performance of others. In the Wood Green television studio, where we later took over as the resident ATV orchestra, he once raised his voice to soundly curse out the equally talented members of his sax section loud and long for some misdemeanour. There was an embarrassed silence, then the second alto player, Dougie Robinson, who was probably an even better lead player than Bob, said. ‘Oh, give us another chance, Bob.’

Laddy was the son of the celebrated conductor Robert Busby. He was slight and wiry, the perfect foil for Bob. Max Harris was a solid man, favouring dark business suits, and looked more like a successful accountant than a pianist. Max had a grave face, heavy jowls, and an almost imperceptible twinkle in his eye. He had a deep slow infectious laugh, rather like a gruff department store Father Christmas, HUF! HUF! HUF! 

On one long night drive up to Glasgow, in two cars, the four of us stopped in a lonely country lane. Tall trees lined the road, whistling and bending in the wind. In the light of the full moon it was a ghostly atmosphere, pretty scary if I'd been on my own.

We got out our instruments and had a jam session in that spooky place. We'd all had a few beers, of course, or we wouldn't have done anything like that. But we felt like it and we did it. Luckily no one heard us.

So there were Bob, Laddy and me, blowing away. Max, who had nothing to do, beat time with us by hitting the roof of his car with the flat of his hand. This went on for about half an hour.

The next evening, just before we started to play in Green's Playhouse, Max came up to me.

'Here, did we do anything particularly weird last night?'

I assured him that we had not.

'Well, it's a funny thing, but when I awoke this morning my hand was all swollen up. Look at it.'

It was Max who taught me to drive. Normally, on the long night drives back to London Max would carry on as long as possible, then park at the roadside for a sleep. He did so fitfully, and every time another car passed us by he awoke with a start, gripped the wheel in panic, and shouted, ‘What was that?’

On a trip back from Glasgow he was utterly exhausted, and asked me to take over. I had never driven a car before. He instructed me in the intricacies of clutch and gear lever, climbed into the back seat and fell asleep once the car was rolling. His last words were, ‘Don’t blow the horn.’

‘Why not?’ There was no reply, he was already well away, curled up with a blissful smile on his face.

It was a beautiful Sunday summer morning, about six o’clock, and no traffic whatsoever. We were on the main road somewhere in the middle of Leicestershire. I began to enjoy myself, driving carefully. There were hundreds of birds on the road, pecking at insects. They scattered in clouds as I drove through them, obediently refraining from tooting the horn as a warning.

I pulled up in a lay-by for a moment. Max snored peacefully in the back. I opened the boot and removed the last bottle of beer from the crate in there. I looked in vain for an opener. Then I remembered—Max carried it on his key chain, the one in his pocket with his house keys. I positioned the bottle in the approved way on the back bumper and hit the cap. It came off with a whoosh, and I was immediately drenched from head to foot in best bitter. There wasn’t even a drop left in the bottle for me to drink. I climbed back in, soaking wet, and managed to get the car going again.

We came to a small village, and there was a red traffic light. A policeman was standing by the lights. I stopped the car and we looked at one another. I smiled the innocent smile of a driver with long experience and no criminal record. He approached the car, and stuck his head in the window.

‘Can you give me a lift to the next village?’

‘Of course.’

He took off his helmet and climbed in. Miraculously, I managed to move off without projecting him through the windscreen. He sniffed.

‘Bit of a pong.’

‘It’s beer.’ I laughed lightly and explained the circumstances. He lowered his window and didn’t join in my amusement. ‘What’s the matter with him?’ jerking his thumb over at Max.

I dropped my voice to a murmur. ‘Don’t you recognise him? That’s Sir Max Harris, the famous concert pianist. We’re on the way back from a recital in Glasgow. He’s exhausted.’

‘Oh,’ whispered the policeman, and nodded.

The birds were all over the road now, thicker than ever, and in my relief I blew the horn without thinking. Max awoke at once.

‘I told you not to blow the horn,’ he snapped, crossly. Then he saw the policeman.

‘Oh my God! What have you done?’ He struggled to an upright position.

“I’m giving the officer a lift, sir.’

‘What? Oh—er—of course.’

I dropped our guest at the police station in the next village. He got out, put his helmet back on and saluted. Max nodded back regally. As we drove off I explained what had happened. He settled back down again. Every now and then I heard him go HUF! HUF! HUF! in his sleep.

Driving alone in the country one day Max hit a farm tractor that emerged from a concealed opening right in front of him. His car went totally out of control when he braked. Max came out of it white-faced and shaken, but the car was a write-off.

After that Allan Ganley came around in his station wagon and gave me driving lessons until I passed the test.

Tubby Hayes came on the band for a while, and the singer Annie Ross. Annie was a wonderful singer, and she very quickly left for America, where she helped form the Lambert-Hendricks-Ross trio.

Henry Shaw joined the trumpet section. Hank was a very interesting character, who seemed to be capable of believing just about everything anyone told him. He had thus been talked into several things, including Yoga and vegetarianism.

Watching Terry Lewis and me playing snooker one evening he challenged us to a game, saying that he would win because he had a new, infallible system. He then disappeared into the bathroom. When he didn’t return after some minutes Mac Minshull took a look through the keyhole. He returned to report that Hank was standing on his head.

When Hank reappeared everyone in the room beat him soundly at the game. At his discomfiture we said better luck next time, and advised him to go stand on his head some more.

His vegetarian fixation only lasted for a short time, but it nearly finished him off. During a tour of Eire he only ate frugal salads, while the rest of us, used to the miserable food rationing still in force in England, went to town on the steaks.

He just folded over and collapsed during a number one evening, and was rushed to hospital, where it was pronounced that he was suffering from malnutrition. He was finally persuaded to eat meat again, and, having done so, loved it so much that from then on he took to carrying a few cold cuts around in his pocket, just in case he felt peckish.

This also took the rest of his family off the hook, and they returned thankfully to being carnivorous. Henry had two sons, whom he, of course, had christened Miles and Lester.

On the boat back from Ireland a lot of the guys were drinking heavily, and seasick with it. Henry was OK, though, and when he spotted a young Irish priest sitting in the saloon he said he was going over to talk to him. We tried to put him off, Henry being Jewish and all, but over he went and sat down beside the young man. They became engaged in earnest conversation, and the priest soon began looking confused. After about ten minutes he was in tears. Henry was cross-examining him on the Catholic faith, and relentlessly dissecting and shredding every bit of dogma the guy could trot out.

In the middle of all this, just as the guy had taken about all he could handle, Joe Temperley, in the penultimate stages of violent seasickness, staggered through the saloon on his way to the leeward side of the ship. Spotting the pair of them sitting there he veered in their direction. As he passed by he tapped the young priest on the shoulder.

‘Hey! Up the Pope,’ said Joe, or words to that effect. The priest fled.

‘What did you have to say that for?’ said Henry, indignantly. ‘It was just getting interesting.’ Joe looked at him solemnly for a moment, then he rushed over to the leeward railing. He discovered, alas, too late, that this side of the ship had been completely enclosed in glass.

‘Serves you right,’ said Henry.

When the first tape recorders emerged Tubby Hayes and I bought one between us. It was an enormously heavy Grundig, and we lugged it around everywhere. We had some tapes of the Kenton band made on location that Vic Lewis had given me, plus the very first Gerry Mulligan Quartet recordings, with Chet Baker, and we played them almost non-stop. At the time I could see no future in the medium, as the tapes were very thin, and often broke. It was a long time before the studios began using tape on commercial recordings.

The BBC were still using the huge old Marconi microphones. The best of their engineers was a man named Fred. As far as I can make out he never had a surname, just Fred. He was a genius with the junk he had to work with. The switchboard was primitive, even by the standards of those days, and all the rest of the equipment was loaded with enormous valves which became red-hot at working temperature.

Fred’s favourite studio was the Æolian Hall in New Bond Street. This was coincidentally a nightmare parking area for the musicians. Finally someone discovered a mews around the back where we all gratefully left our cars. A cranky old woman who lived there stopped all that by pouring sugar into the tanks, and knotting up the windscreen wipers of several cars before she was apprehended.

We turned up at the Æolian one morning at six o’clock in the bus, after having travelled back all night from Newcastle for a live broadcast at nine a.m. The fog in London was so thick it was impossible to see more than a few yards. As we unloaded our gear a car drew up opposite the studio, several men leaped out, and we witnessed a very professional smash and grab raid on a jeweller’s shop, right under our noses. There was no way we could have stopped them, so we just kept quiet and watched.

In the studio Fred used an endless stack of old telephone books to raise or lower the microphones, and fixed a bit of cardboard on the backs with elastic bands to make them directional. Fred made the bands sound very good, and everyone was in awe of his talents. Afterwards we would make our way to Guy de Buire’s basement studio in Bond Street to listen to the broadcast.

If you liked a certain number Guy would put it on an aluminium disk thinly coated with shellac, and you could buy it from him. There were no copyright laws as yet for the medium. The discs ran at 78 rpm and quickly wore out. Anyone complaining about the quality of the CD or audio cassette today should think of our problems in those days with compassion.

Jack Parnell took on a tour of South Africa, where we’d be accompanying the singer Eve Boswell. Eve’s dad owned a circus down there and was instrumental in arranging our tour with Africa Theatres.

We had a couple of singers in the band by this time. Annie Ross had left to join the revue Cranks and went later to America to join the Lambert-Hendricks-Ross trio. Dennis Hale was one of the new singers, together with a girl called Irene Miller.

The bass trombonist Clarry Baines had only one leg. He was older than the rest of us, and had lost his leg in the war. With his artificial one he could run around like everyone else, and even play football.

Going home in the bus from a gig at night he used to unstrap his leg and lay it up in the baggage rack. When the bus stopped in the middle of the night at a transport cafe one of the guys would sometimes take the leg into the cafe with him.

A few minutes later Clarry would hop into the cafe, which would usually be jammed with truck drivers, shouting, ‘Which one of you buggers has got my leg?’

As the hotels got more and more expensive some of the musicians tried sleeping in the bus. It was most uncomfortable, and got very cold, so Kevin Balenzuela, our Australian second alto player, bought himself a sleeping bag.

We asked him to demonstrate it. It was midday, and we were travelling up near Doncaster at the time. He got into it and zipped it all up. When the zip was right up over his head one of the guys put a padlock on it.

The bus stopped then, so we got out and went into the cafe, carrying Kevin with us. We dumped him on the floor, where he wriggled and cursed while we drank tea.

The owner came out to take a look.

‘Is he with you?’

‘Yes, he is.’

‘Why is he in that bag?’

‘Because he’s an Australian.’

‘Would he be wanting tea?’

‘Will you be wanting tea, Kevin?’

There was a certain amount of indistinct shouting.

‘Er—better leave it. Sometimes he gets very upset.’ He did, too.

One of Kevin’s better tricks was to ask a hotel manager to awaken him at a certain hour. He always had a terrible time getting up in the mornings, and usually missed breakfast because of this. Most of the hotel managers knew him by now, and they refused to do it. None of us would risk it either. Kevin was a killer in the mornings.

Now and then he would manage to convince one of the hotel staff to awaken him anyway, vowing on his mother’s life that he would behave properly when so roused. On those days we would sit having our breakfast, listening to the uproar upstairs as Kevin screamed around, knocking over furniture as he tried to catch the guy who’d woken him up. He probably held the world record for being thrown out of hotels.

When he got mad his face would assume a strange sunken form, like a wax effigy that had been heavily punched in. We called this his Kicked-in Face. Any time he looked like losing his temper people would say, ‘Look out! Kevin’s wearing his Kicked-in Face.’

Later on Kevin rode all the way from London to Singapore on a motor scooter, from there taking the boat to Australia. Kevin was even crazier than Hughie Curry, our bass player, who’d wanted to drive down to Johannesburg in a minibus.

Just before leaving for South Africa we did a couple of TV shows, one with Mel Torme and the other starring Billy Eckstine. Both of them played in a drum duet with Jack, and they were great. I didn’t get a chance to talk to Eckstine, who had previously had a band with both Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker in it. Benny Bailey, whom I met later on in Munich, had also been in the band, and he said that Dizzy had spent most of his time down front, playing solos, while Charlie was usually fast asleep in the lead alto chair. He invariably had to be woken up to play.

We were playing Green’s Playhouse in Glasgow when Wally Heider arrived to visit a friend there. Wally had a big recording studio in Los Angeles,  right above Shelly Mann's nightclub, Shelly's Manhole. He had brought with him a load of Bill Holman, Gerry Mulligan, Manny Albam, and Ralph Burns scores that Stan Kenton had asked him to give to his pal Vic Lewis. He even had all the written band parts with him, making it a tremendous load of luggage to lug halfway around the world.

He was so pleased with what he heard when we played that he gave all the scores to me. I got the band to rehearse some of them without Jack knowing about it. The next night we arranged to play one of them to surprise him, so when he called out some tune or other we played Holman’s Kingfish instead. It’s a beautiful composition, and we played it really well. 

When he heard the first few bars Jack rushed up and down looking at the parts on the music stands. I’ve never seen anyone look so surprised. Then we had to play it again, and this time he insisted on playing drums himself on it. In the end Vic never got the scores because we kept the lot, and Jack added them to our regular repertoire. There must have been several thousand dollars' worth of music there.

Parnell 2 >>>

Copyright © 2001, Ron Simmonds. All Rights Reserved