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A JAZZ JOURNEY - 1925-1994


Ken Rattenbury
Parts 1 2/3/4/5/6/7/8/9/10/11/12/13/14/Conclusion

PART X: (1971 - 1980)


AND WHO remarked thus to me, nearly twenty years ago?

Well, none other than that great, superbly lyrical and melodic jazz comettist Bobby Hackett, when, during what was to be, sadly, his last tour of our country, he was a guest at our house (named - what else, indeed? - "Way Down Yonder") for a couple of days, en route from gigs in Scotland to more of the same in London. Stopping off here and playing like an angel at The Prohibition Night Spot in Birmingham - the venue itself long gone, but certainly not the memory of that lovely session when we all sat entranced by his artistry and sheer musicality.

But, back to that remark of his: Yes, my dear wife did display a certain facial similarity to the aforementioned talented jazzlady pianist. But there the coincidence faded. Her pianistic prowess extended to a quite passable rendition of  "The Ash Grove" in F major, but no further - but it must be said that she possessed an unerring, infallible ear for spotting the bum chord, the fluff, the flagging inspiration - a natural inborn editing facility which was unswervingly and lovingly dedicated to keeping my both feet firmly in touch with the ground throughout our fifty-two-and-a-bit years of very happy marriage.

Bobby Hackett was a splendid gentleman; we couldn't persuade him, no matter how leading the questions, to talk about himself; he was far more interested in talking about Louis. He loved Louis (who, in point of fact, ever didn't?) and his delight at first sight of Satchmo's portrait in oils, hanging in my music room, was a joy to witness. Bobby Hackett was a diabetic, already quite frail in those days and it horrified us when we took him to his train at Birmingham New Street where, in the coffee bar, he ordered black coffee, with sugar and an enormous plate of fresh cream doughnuts. But what a lovely little man he was; we'll never forget those two days with him in our home. One of the nights, in the wee small hours, we sat in the lounge and played cornet and trumpet duets. YES, REALLY! Scared me to death, in truth, but what a memory to cherish.

The remainder of the decade was spent, very pleasurably for the most part, in scuffling from one local jazz venue to another, blowing the while with all the jazz guys. For several years, I worked closely with a line, natural jazzman who played, principally, accordion, swung like crazy and we built up a considerable "library" of "heads". Steve Pacitto, a true-blue Midlander of Italian descent and an acknowledged expert on lore relating to pasta and ice cream was (is) an absolute dynamo of a jazzman; his up-tempo improvisations carried the aggression of a clenched fist, but with no suspicion of the associated pain! Happy, bubbly music, played with great technical skill and boundless assurance. Yes, indeed. We still work together from time to time and can remember most of those routines down to the last shock chord . . . .

Paul Degville, long recognised and rightly so, as a virtuoso of the jazz guitar, together with fine bassist, Ron Thomas; delicate brush drummer Colin Harper and myself on tightly-muted horn formed a quiet quartet which found much favour in hotel lounges. This group recorded over 100 tracks for local radio; it was all very enjoyable and seemed to gell from the very first rehearsal.

Then, concurrently, I held down a job at the thriving Crown Jazz Club near Wolverhampton (line-up: Joe Lees (reeds), Derek Halford (trombone); Bill Bickerton (piano); Don Gray (bass); Len Coton (drums) and myself on Conn Constellation - and we're all still blowing . . The painless aim was to back up visiting jazz stars. Forgive the blatant name-dropping at this juncture; but they included: Jim Galloway, Bud Freeman, Peanuts Hucko, the incredible septuagenarian, nearly octogenarian Benny Waters, our Digby Fait-weather and Wild Bill Davison. We struck up such rapport that Wild Bill, whenever touring subsequently, always rang me up at home for a chat. That was nice. And once, on a really "going" session, during which I played piano for one of his ballad medleys, he seemed a little disappointed I couldn't take on the reeds and trombone as well! No could do . . . . . What a Grand Old Man of Jazz, to be sure; what drive, what feeling, what a way (this in direct contrast to his burnished ebullience on the war horses), what a way with those ballads, too . . . . . .

But I suppose such devil-take-the-hindmost, heady peregrinations couldn't really survive at such a punishing pace. Something had to give somewhere and, with me, it manifested itself in severe dental problems. Bobby Hackett called his own encounter with the same setback a "serious interruption" - the understatement of the age! Now, due to the fortunate fact that I had never played with any pressure to speak of (only enough to prevent the wind escaping from the embouchure) and that is, if you do get the high ones you simply push the mouthpiece hard against your front chobblers and, with luck, up she goes! I went on a long, long time until it all finally ground to a halt. SILENCE. No horn, no gigs (I do play piano, but this never gave me the sheer pleasure of blowing the old Conn near-straight, and I still only use the keyboard to fix ideas for my compositions).

There was plenty of writing - orchestrations, magazine articles, reviews and still the old lugholes and the record collection, still the great friends in the jazz business I'd made and held on to all those years. The sense of deprivation at being in the wings was acutely felt and not a good thing, so I just had to find something else to do.

Just what I did some up with sets up an altogether different story, but - no surprise, eh?! - it was all music, all the way . . .

Copyright Ken Rattenbury © 1994