Lennie Best played vibes, and he played them very well. He appeared in the Melody Maker Readers Poll eight times between 1958 and 1967. It seems that he never recorded and attempts to find biographical details about him have failed. Visitors to this website remember him and their comments are printed below. Steve Potter, who grew up with Lennie has provided a photo of Lennie's quartet from the early 1960s with his dad, Ted Potter, on drums, Trond Svennevig on bass, and Brian Dee on piano:
Steve Potter, son of Ted Potter, who was drummer for a while in Lennie's quartet in the 1960s grew up with Lennie's family and via family members adds a bit of background. "My mother recalled that Lennie turned down an opportunity for the quartet to become fully profesional with a residency somewhere, as he wanted to stay true to the type of jazz he wanted to play. Apparently my dad was not too pleased at the missed opportunity to make some better money! She also is pretty sure that Lennie's day time job was working for a newspaper.London Evening News or Evening Standard she thinks. He was the manager of Potter's Music Shop in Kingston. My parents had three shops. The main one was in Croydon which they ran, my uncle ran the one in Richmond and Lennie ran the Kingston one for a while. That would have been in the early sixties."
Double bass player Spike Heatley adds "I certainly remember Lennie and worked with him often at the Bulls Head. He was indeed a fine player but can`t agree that he was the best of the British players as he was around at the same time as Bill LeSage who actually was phenomenal although perhaps his best playing was not recorded. On concerts however, he excelled, full of ideas and a technique most vibists could only dream of! Lennie played a totally different way, rather simpler but just as effective in his own way, on top of that, he was a real nice guy, modest and charming."
Ah Lennie! I used to co-run the Highgate Jazz Club at The Gatehouse, at the top of Highgate West Hill in the 1960s as bass player with the Colin Peters Quintet. We had a guest artist every Friday, John Dankworth, Ronnie Ross, Jimmy Skidmore, Joe Harriott, Bert Courtley, Ian Carr, Kathy Stobart, Tubby Hayes, Pete King ...... the list seems endless. Even Jimmy Witherspoon on one occasion but that's another story.
Lennie frequently guested with us and he was always a delight, both in his excellent musicianship and expansive personality. I can still see him In my mind's eye, clanking all the notes together at the end of the evening, before wrapping them in an old grey blanket, to the inevitable cry, "that's the best they've sounded all night, Lennie". He was hugely popular and quite rightly so.
I have been trying to find some evidence of recordings by Lennie Best. He was awesome! The finest vibesman I have ever heard, not excepting Milt Jackson. His improvisations involved long, intricate phrases and he used techniques I have never heard any other vibraphone player use. He would set a chord going with the pedal down and then change it by striking another note while using his hand to damp one of those already sounding. He would also play a semiquaver phrase with the pedal down, but strike each note without letting the hammer bounce so that it sounded as though the pedal was up, while a previously sounding chord continued... Tony Brookes
Lennie, who was around 6' 5" tall, ran a music shop in Kingston-upon-Thames in the late 50s/early 60s. I only ever heard him play at a Jazz Club at The Swan pub in Mill Street, Kingston in the early 60s but can attest to his great playing. Lennie died many years ago now (2002)... Stuart Little
When I moved to Wokingham, Berkshire in the summer of 1975, Lennie Best was landlord of a pub just south of the town centre called The Pin and Bowl. It was a great little pub, a good fire most of the year and exceptionally for those days, served hot bar food and snacks. My wife and I often lunched there on the way to work as we were on shiftwork with British Airways at the time. And of course, there was always cool jazz playing as background music in the bar. He still had his own band then, quartet or quintet, I'm not sure, but was often mentioned in the local press as doing gigs in the area. He would usually feature at the annual South Hill Park jazz festival in Bracknell - google confirms this. I *think* he moved away (or maybe retired - I'd guess he was well into his fifties by then) in the mid to late eighties, the pub closed about then and was derelict for some years before being demolished and the site redeveloped... David Smith
Although Lennie Best never made a commercial recording in the last few years a number of recordings have come to light. Stuart Little rescued a performance from a BBC programme broadcast in 1962. The tape, found by his brother Bob, was in very poor condition and was converted to an audio CD by Stuart's KLA Film and Video Communications in 2011. The CD consists of just four minutes of music. The title is "The St Vitus Dance" and it by the Lennie Best Quartet comprising Lennie (vibes), Stan Jones (piano), Ted Potter (drums), and an unknown bass player.
In January, 2011 six more tracks were rescued from a private recording of a BBC Jazz Club broadcast and in 2014 Robert Page posted two performances by Lennie for download from the internet. Details are shown below...
1962 The "The St Vitus Dance" by the Lennie Best Quartet comprising Lennie (vibes), Stan Jones (piano), Ted Potter (drums), and an unknown bass player.
A copy of this recording is available via this website...
1961/7 Seven tracks by the legendary vibes player who was never recorded commercially. One track is from a 1961 BBC recording and the other six come from a BBC Jazz Club of December 27th, 1967. Three titles from this latter date have a vocal from Norma Winstone.
A copy of this recording is available via this website...
Dick Morrissey with Lennie Best - recorded live at The Bell, 1972
Dick Morrissey (ts), Lennie Best (vib), Alan Barry (p), Bill Larue (b), Ron Hetherington (d).
Speak Low/St. Thomas/Whisper Not/Over The Rainbow/Unidentified Title/Down Home.
(Acrobat CD - Dick Morrissey Live at The Bell 1972)
1974 Two gigs recorded by Robert Page are available for free download from the internet. Lennie is accompanied by the Tony Lee trio and the recordings were made at The Bulls Head on October 30th, 1974 and at The Leather Bottel on July 11th, 1974. Link details...