The mid 1950s...
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Mid 1950s groups...
This page was adapted and edited from a page that Harry Francis wrote some years ago for Ron Simmonds, now defunct, 'jazzprofessional' website. It can now be found in full somewhere on the website of The National Jazz Archive...
So much happened on the British jazz scene during the ‘fifties that any attempt to deal in detail with all the important groupings of those years would entail endless personnel lists. A practicable alternative might be to take a look at the picture around the 1955 halfway mark.

In the April of 1955 the National Jazz Federation presented their “Jazz Today” concert at the Royal Festival Hall, which included a band described simply as The Ensemble. It was led by trumpeter Kenny Baker, and comprised George Chisholm {trombone), Bruce Turner, Kenny Graham and Harry Klein (reeds), Dill Jones (piano), Cedric West (guitar), Frank Clark (bass) and the other Benny Goodman (drums). The personnel was broken down into three smaller groups described as “Interlude for Moderns”, which brought in Eddie Thompson on piano and Vic Ash on clarinet to join Klein, Clark and Goodman: “Tribute to Benny Carter”, a group led by West Indian alto saxophonist Bertie King, which consisted of The Ensemble minus Turner and Graham; and the Kenny Baker Quartet. There was also a solo spot from Dill Jones.

It was during the ‘fifties that Kenny Baker organised his famous “Dozen”, which commenced its activities in the field of broadcasting in 1951 and throughout the years until 1958 set a standard that was second to none. Reed players who graced the band at various times were Harry Hayes, Keith Bird, Freddy Ballerini, Harry Klein, Don Rendell and Bruce Turner. Along with Kenny at various periods were trumpeters Tommy McQuater and Freddy Clayton, and the trombone chair was usually taken by either George Chisholm or Keith Christie. Pianists Bill McGuffie, Norman Stenfalt and Derek Smith all played their stints with the band, and bassists remembered are Frank Clark and Jack Seymour.

In 1955 the “Jazz Jamboree” of the Musicians’ Social and Benevolent Council still presented the best in jazz. Ted Heath, one of the founders of that annual event, was there again with his orchestra which remained in the forefront of Britain’s big bands long after his untimely death. The ‘Squadronaires were also on the programme, but directed by Ronnie Aldrich, and with only two others from their wartime personnel - Cliff Townshend and Archie Craig. Another regularly participating group present was the Ray Ellington Quartet.

In 1955 drummer Tony Crombie was leading a driving band of ten, comprising Derek Humble, Al Cornish, Fred Perry and Jack Fisher (reeds), Jimmy Deuchar and Les Condon (trumpets), Mat Minshull (trombone), Lennie Bush (bass) and a pianist who was later to make an important impact upon the jazz scene - Stan Tracey. The vocalists were Johnny Grant and the superb Annie Ross.

Tenor playing leaders were well in evidence with Tubby Hayes directing Mike Senn and Jackie Sharpe (reeds), Dickie Hawdon and Ian Hamer (trumpets), Pete Blannin (bass), Bill Eyden (drums) and Harry South, another pianist who was later to front one of the larger and most impressive orchestras. Ronnie Scott's big band had Dougie Robinson, Joe Harriott, Benny Green and Pete King (reeds), Jimmy Watson, Stan Palmer, Hank Shaw and Dave Usden (trumpets), Ken Wray, Mat Minshull, Jack Botterell and Robin Kay (trombones), Norman Stenfalt (piano), Eric Peters (bass) and Phil Seamen (drums), whilst Tommy Whittle’s personnel comprised Ronnie Baker and Joe Temperley (reeds), Kenny Wheeler (trumpet), Keith Christie (trombone), Don Riddell (piano), Freddie Logan (bass) and Eddie Taylor (drums). Bobby Breen sang with the Hayes band and vocalists with Scott were Art Baxter, Lynda Russell and Steve Curtis. It was during the following year that Tubby and Ronnie formed their thrilling Jazz Couriers, when the ,two truly great jazz men were backed by Bill Eyden, along with pianist Terry Shannon and bassist Phil Bates.

The Tony Kinsey Quartet, in which Tony was supported by Bill Le Sage (piano and vibraphone), Eric Dawson (bass) and Ronnie Ross (baritone saxophone), with vocalist Doris Steele, made its usual impressive modern jazz impact, as did The New Jazz Group, comprising Harry Klein (baritone saxophone), Derek Smith (piano), Sammy Stokes (bass) and Allan Ganley (drums).

Dizzy Reece, Tony Crombie, Joe Harriott and Lennie Bush (sometime in 1955)

Jack Parnell, who in previous years had directed an orchestra that included many of the musicians already listed, took a personnel into the 1955 Jamboree that comprised George Hunter, Brian Gray, Kevin Balenzuela, Red Price and Don Honeywell (reeds), Bill Bedford, Terry Lewis, Jo Hunter and Ronnie Baker (trumpets), Maurice Pratt, Johnny Edwards, Pat Kelly and Clarrie Baines (trombones), Hugh Currie (bass), Ronnie Roullier (piano) and Fred Adamson (drums).

Nevertheless, these impressive personnels were but a few of the many who had collectively raised the standard of the British jazz scene to an unprecedented level, among them John Dankworth. John, or Johnny as he was then, had completed his army service in 1947 and, with some good clarinet training at the Royal Academy of Music, had entered the profession at the age of twenty with a technical ability that was equalled in its immensity only by his interest in good jazz.

It was in those early years of John’s career that, along with Ronnie Scott and others, he accepted engagements on the boats (transatlantic liners) in order to enjoy opportunities for studying at first hand some of America’s best jazz players. He then had a fairly catholic taste in jazz, playing clarinet with some of the Dixieland bands of the time, including those of Joe Daniels and George Webb. He continued to play and arrange for various bandleaders including Ambrose, with whom he was still working in the Spring of 1949 - the remaining members of the reed section being Harry Hayes on lead alto, with Ronnie Scott and Bob Burns on tenors. By some point in 1950, however, the decidedly boppish Johnny Dankworth Seven was formed which, in addition to John on alto and clarinet, consisted of Don Rendell (tenor), Jimmy Deuchar (trumpet), Eddie Harvey (trombone), Bill Le Sage (piano), Eric Dawson (bass) and Tony Kinsey (drums). The only singer then was Marion Williams. At the Jamboree in October of that year the group made a significant impression upon not only the enlightened audience but also upon the other musicians taking part in the concert.

There was also a second very excellent bop group from the old Sunset Club, led by Jamaican trumpeter Pete Pitterson, who had previously been a member of the orchestras of Vic Lewis, Tommy Sampson and the Kirchins, all of whom were prominent in the ‘forties and ‘fifties.
Pianist Alan Clare was then around thirty and was thought to be fairly new on the jazz scene having been away on military service from 1941 to 1946. In fact, he had commenced his professional career at the age of fourteen and at seventeen was a member of the Sid Phillips band. After leaving the army he joined Sid Millward’s Nitwits, which was hardly a jazz environment, although Millward was, in fact, one of the finest of jazz clarinetists, and then, in 1949, Alan had joined the Stephane Grappelli Quartet, where he succeeded George Shearing. With an original style that was all his own, Alan was to build a reputation as a soloist that has stood him in good stead throughout the quarter century that has since elapsed, and anyone who knows him will tell you that it could not have happened to a nicer or more modest person.

This page was last updated during January, 2016.
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