Black British swing...
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Black British swing...
One of the features of the late 1930s and the war years was the presence on the London club scene of a number of exiled West Indian swing/jazz musicians. Prominent players included Dave Wilkins, Leslie 'Jiver' Hutchinson, Frank Deniz, Yorke de Souza, Lauderic Caton, Carl Barriteau and Bertie King and they remained after the war finished, some of them in the fledgling bop scene. These bands made few records and many of those that were made were of poor acoustic quality.

Topic Records Ltd in association with the British Library Sound Archive have produced an excellent CD - Black British Swing which includes rare recordings from the period 1938 to 1944 featuring the music of Ken 'Snakehips' Johnson, Yorke de Souza, Lauderic Caton, Frank Deniz, Leslie 'Jiver' Hutchinson and others. It is accompanied by an excellent 40 page booklet with photos, biographical details and full discography of titles on the CD. Some of the notes below are based on this booklet...
Many of the clubs where this music was played were the haunt of fledgeling jazz musicians such as Jimmy Skidmore and Kenny Baker, who often sat in with the coloured groups. The Nest Club, The Bag O'nails, Shim-Sham Club and The Cuba Club are names that occur over and over again in jazz history from this period.

The best known band was Ken 'Snakehips' Johnson's West Indian Dance Band which was formed in early 1937. Johnson was a dancer, not a musician, and the band was initially assembled and rehearsed by trumpeter Leslie Thompson. The band attracted top West Indian musicians such as Dave Wilkins, Carl Barriteau, Leslie 'Jiver' Hutchinson, Bertie King and Yorke de Souza. The band was a success and they had a punishing work load of clubs, music hall, cinema tours, radio broadcasts and commercial records. They were more than a band and employed dancers who encouraged the jivers at their swing performances, many ballrooms only allowed strict tempo dancing, so those wanting a hot night out looked for the swing bands. They had a long run at The Old Florida Club in Bruton Mews in the west end of London, and made their first broadcast in 1938. Other residencies followed at Willerby's from April to October 1939, and the Cafe de Paris at Leicester Square in the heart of the west end. It was said that Johnson's band got the job because being a 'coloured' band it accepted a lower rate of pay than other name bandleaders.
The band got little oportunity to play jazz, dance music was the order of the day with a few 'hot' solos, the records made for British Decca (1938) and HMV (1940) were aimed at buyers of dance band records, not jazz, and those who heard the band live reckon these are a pale shadow of what the band could be like.
On March 8th, 1941 the Cafe de Paris suffered two direct hits in an air raid, substantially destroying it and killing Johnson and sax player Dave 'Baba' Williams plus a large number of the Cafe's well to do dancing clientele. Other musicians were injured, some badly - it was the end of the Ken Snakehip's, Johnson era...
Some musicians were snapped up by white bandleaders, looking to inject a sense of swing into their own recording dates, Bertie King and Tommy Wilson went into the merchant navy and RAF respectively.
'Jiver' Hutchinson, Dave Wilkins, Carl Barriteau, Joe Deniz and Tommy Bromley all appeared on the famous November 1941 First English Public Jam Session Recording, an event organised by HMV, and Barriteau organised a re-formation of the Johnson band later in 1941 and 1942.
Selective discography of the main bands and performers that are currently available on CD. This page contains brief profiles of musicians Yorke de Souza, Joe Deniz, Lauderic Caton and others.
The website contains profiles and discographies for best known of the musicians Bertie King, Carl Barriteau and Dave Wilkins. This will be updated in the future...

Following the demise of the 'Snakehips' Johnson band in 1941 it was not until 1944 that trumpeter 'Jiver' Hutchinson revived the all-black British swing band concept. Bertie King, Dave Wilkins, Yorke de Souza and Joe Deniz were among those who had been in the 'Snakehips' Johnson band with Hutchinson. Billed initially as Leslie 'Jiver' Hutchinson's All-Coloured Orchestra the band toured for the agent and bandleader Bert Ambrose. Ambrose secured a Decca record date for the band but the results were not issued at the time. The band was becoming popular but no records were available to the record buying public. By 1945 they headed the billing in various locations and carried out a two month tour of India for ENSA, the first civilian band to play for British troops in that region. 'Jiver' Hutchinson was especially popular with women fans, black performers were rare at this time, and the band had many white women in its audiences.
The band swung up and down the country including some lengthy residencies such as the Hammersmith Palais. They played live location broadcasts for the BBC and played the famous London concert at the Stoll, on Kingsway, supporting the Glen Miller AEF Orchestra. That they were black was an obvious calling card as was their ability to really swing. By 1946, just after the second world war, their colour led to problems - Jiver's band faced what was then referred to as a 'colour bar' in securing bookings. The leader felt excluded from dance hall circuit bookings, hotel seasons, and even BBC broadcasts.Supraphon records. On his return work dried up but he did have a three month tour of Sweden in 1949 before re-joining Geraldo as featured soloist. He stayed with Geraldo until 1956, doing work under his own name whenever possible. In late 1956 he left Geraldo to start his own dance band which made it's debut at the Astoria in Brixton.

A life of one-nighters has always been hazardous, there is always the need to get to the next location. In November 1959 'jiver' Hutchinson was killed when his band coach overturned in Weeting, Norfolk. Yorke de Souza and Tommy Jones were badly hurt...

Yorke de Souza arrived in Britain in November 1935 via a banana boat, recruited by Happy Blake, (brother of bandleader Cyril Blake), to work in the Cuba Club in London's west end. de Souza was a fine pianist and besides work on the black club scene he toured in France with Benny Carter and Australia with Nina Mae McKinney before joining the 'Snakehips' Johnson band in 1939. He was with Johnson until the 1941 air raid, in which he suffered severe cuts to the head and an eye injury from shattered glass that needed a hospital stay. He joined Dave Wilkins in the Harry Parry Sextet in 1942 and stayed until early 1944 when 'Jiver' Hutchinson formed his 'All-coloured Orchestra'.
As well as his work on the Ken Johnson and Jiver Hutchinson records he can be heard on CD on a number of Harry Parry Sextet tracks. In 1940 he privately recorded four titles in a quartet that included Joe Deniz on guitar, and they are included on the Topic Records CD detailed at the top of the page.

Pioneer electric guitar player Lauderic Caton was born in Trinidad in 1910. After working in Europe in the late 1930s he came to London in 1940.
He was much in demand by the better swing bands of the day and worked with Cyril Blake, Harry Parry, Johnny Claes, Bertie King and Ray Ellington as well as leading the caribbean Club Trio from late 1944 to 1946.
His advanced jazz guitar style can be heard on several titles recorded at the Jigs Club with the Happy Blake Band also included on the Topic Records CD. This same CD features a private recording made by the Lauderic Caton quartet with trumpeter Frank Williams. In 1945 he recorded a guitar duet with Vic Lewis that can be heard on the Vic Lewis - The Golden Years CD.

Joe Deniz was the guitar player with the Ken Johnson band and later with 'Jiver' Hutchinson. Joe was born in Cardiff in 1913, his brothers also played guitar, with brother Frank he recorded with tenor sax player Jimmy Skidmore. Joe moved to London in 1934, his first regular job being in the Nest Club in Kingly Street where he got the opportunity to sometimes play with visiting American acts such as the Mills Brothers, Fats Waller and the Ink spots. He then worked at the Cuba Club in Gerrard Street, (later Ronnie Scott's first club), and then the Shim-Sham Club before joining Johnson. He suffered a compound fracture of the foot when the Cafe de Paris was destroyed in an air raid before working with Johnny Claes and Harry Parry in 1941/42.

This page was last updated during July, 2008.
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