Jazz Professional               


Fond Memories of the Coventry Bands
Barkers Butts School

Ron Simmonds was born in Winnipeg, Canada on 16th October 1928. He moved to the UK in 1937, lived in Brentwood for a time, then moved to Coventry in 1940, just in time for the infamous November 14th German air raid. There he attended the famous Barkers’ Butts Secondary School, alas, demolished in the 1980s; later on the Coventry Technical College.

Ron began playing trumpet in 1945 and in 1947 joined the fabulous Tommy Sampson orchestra.

In 1949 he began playing lead trumpet with that band, beginning a career that had him eventually playing lead trumpet with many of the finest jazz orchestras in the world.

The big bands followed in quick succession: Oscar Rabin, Leon Roy, then Vic Lewis, where he came into first contact with some of Britain’s top jazzmen: Ronnie Scott, Bert Courtley, Kathy Stobart, Ronnie Chamberlain and the composer Johnny Keating, who later moved to Hollywood, where he wrote, among other television and film backgrounds, the music to Arthur Haley’s Hotel.

He moved next to the famous wartime Squadronaires. By this time only pianist Ronnie Aldrich, now the bandleader, trumpeter Archie Craig, tenor saxist Andy MacDevitt and lead alto Cliff Townshend remained of the original band. After a year or two Ron joined Jack Parnell’s small band, where he worked with Derek Humble, Ken Wray, Jimmy Deuchar, Tubby Hayes and the legendary drummer Phil Seamen. Annie Ross later became the vocalist in that band. Then he joined a new big band formed by Ambrose, once again with Tubby Hayes and Phil Seamen. 

Ron played a concert tour of South Africa with Jack Parnell's big band and the singer Eve Boswell. After that he did a summer season at the Sporting Club in Monaco with Geraldo, in a brass section including Stan Reynolds, Ronnie Hughes, Leslie ‘Jiver’ Hutchinson, Harry Roche, Frank Dixon, Tommy Cook and Joe Cordell. Back in London again he rejoined Jack Parnell's big band.

He now led the brass section of Parnell’s big band for many years, including the mighty television orchestra, where the trumpet section included Tommy McQuater, Basil Jones, Freddy Clayton and Derrick Abbott—four of the most prestigious players in the country. The trombone section included Harry Roche, Laddy Busby, Jimmy Wilson, George Chisholm and Jackie Armstrong.

While contracted to work with the Parnell ATV Orchestra he also played regularly on the Goon Shows, Sunday Night at the London Palladium, in the West Side Story orchestra, Kenny Baker's Dozen, the BBC Show Band, sessions with Humphrey Lyttelton and was leader of the William Russo London Jazz Orchestra.

Bill Russo, Jiggs Whigham and RonHe moved over to the Ted Heath band in 1959, following in the footsteps of the great Bobby Pratt, and stayed for about two years. During a routine medical check-up it was discovered that his hearing was deteriorating. In a very short time he suffered a 50% loss of hearing, and remained in this state from then onwards. This did not affect his performance, however, and in 1961 he moved on to John Dankworth’s big band. All this time Ron had been playing regularly in the annual Norddeutscher Rundfunk Jazz Workshops in Germany. Now he received an offer to play with the ZDF television orchestra of Max Greger and moved to Munich in 1963.

In Max Greger's band he worked with Benny Bailey, Dick Spencer, Rich Richardson, Don Menza and Pierre Favre. One of the arrangers for Max's band was Russ Garcia, who came over regularly from Los Angeles.

In 1965 he moved to Berlin, to play first with Jerry van Rooyen at Sender Freies Berlin (Radio Free Berlin), then with Werner Müller in the RIAS Dance Orchestra (for which, as the station was being run by the US State Department,  he first had to be investigated and cleared by the FBI), then back to Sender Freies Berlin and the orchestra now directed by Paul Kuhn. Through this orchestra, over the next ten years, came a succession of American and European jazz stars, including Herb Geller, Leo Wright, Ack van Rooyen, Åke Persson, Heinz von Hermann, Slide Hampton, Carmell Jones, Joe Harris, Bob Burgess and Rolf Ericson. 

In Berlin he played in the visiting bands of Don Ellis, Lionel Hampton, Oliver Nelson, Quincy Jones, Henry Mancini and Stan Kenton at the annual Jazz Festivals. He was on call with various symphony orchestras in Berlin to play the famous George Gershwin trumpet solos in American in Paris, Concerto in F and Rhapsody in Blue, together with other bits and pieces that needed a bit of a jazz flavour. On one hilarious occasion he even made a recording with Acker Bilk's band, in a studio that had once been the wartime Abwehr headquarters of Admiral Canaris.

While in Berlin he had his own weekly jazz hour in the Radio in the American Sector (RIAS) Radio Station. He was also, for ten years, Chief Editor (English) for North America and the Far East for the Deutsche Welle, Studio Berlin. He was European agent for Benge trumpets, manufactured in Burbank, California.

Ron wrote big band scores for all the main German radio big bands, including the Bundeswehr Big Band, NDR Hamburg, WDR Cologne, RIAS and SFB Berlin, SR Saarbrücken, SWF Baden-Baden, HR Frankfurt Big Bands, the Saarländischer Rundfunk Concert Orchestra, Erwin Lehn's big band in Stuttgart, various concert and symphony orchestras and for Peter Herbolzheimer's Rhythm Combination & Brass. In 1985 he was commissioned to write a special score of Mozart's Symphony in G minor for the combined NDR Symphony Orchestra and NDR Big Band in Hamburg. While in Berlin Ron also authored a children's story, broadcast by Radio Bremen, two radio plays broadcast by RIAS and two UFA film scripts. His songs and lyrics written for Lili Lindfors, Miriam Klein and Manfred Krug were all recorded by those artists.

He began working regularly with Peter Herbolzheimer's Rhythm Combination & Brass in 1971 in a trumpet section containing Ack van Rooyen, Palle Mikkelborg and Art Farmer, and remained there until 1980, meanwhile holding down a contracted job with Radio Saarbrücken. 

In Peter Herbolzheimer's band he rubbed shoulders with many more American and European jazzmen, among them Clark Terry, Frank Rosolino, Gary Burton, Johnny Griffin, Herb Geller, Benny Bailey, Don Rader, Lew Soloff, Chuck Findley, Slide Hampton, Grady Tate, Åke Persson, Nat Adderley, Dusko Goykovic, Allan Botschinsky, Niels-Henning Ørsted Pederson, Stan Getz and Gerry Mulligan.Conny - click to enlarge

In 1980 Ron's lower lip became paralysed during a dental operation; he lost his extreme high register and had to stop playing trumpet professionally. He was then contracted as 1st Concert Pianist in the Radio Saarbrücken Symphony Orchestra until retiring in 1993.

Ron is married and now lives with his Dutch wife, Conny,  and several cats on the Costa Blanca and is playing with a small group made up of  professional London musicians from the Ted Heath, Syd Lawrence, John Dankworth and the BBC Show Bands.

The photo of Bill Russo, Jiggs Whigham and Ron was taken by Dennis Matthews

Click the pic to see Conny

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