Jazz Professional               



Bookcase Index

A JAZZ JOURNEY - 1925-1994


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

CONCLUSION: (1994 - here and now, that is . . . . . )

. . . . . "NO "IF ONLY'S!', NONE AT ALL! " . . . . .

WELL, it's here . . it's now . . . after burrowing among my scrapbooks, diaries and assorted memorabilia, all familiar recollections, the rest of this year is surely an unknown quantity, but, if the previous 61 years are anything to go by, something is sure to turn up. Yes, ever since that day in 1933, quite coincidentally on Louis Armstrong's birthday (4th July, Independence Day and that precise date is, I believe, a shade speculative - nobody seems to know really) when I did my first paid jazz gig (12 1/2p in new money!) as pianist in a real jazz band, specialising in blues and Bessie Smith numbers, painstakingly copied from her records, ever since then, I've had the great good fortune, through disgustingly good health, never to have missed one single opportunity to honour invitations to perform jazz The one interruption, eight long years from 1978 to 1986, with those awful dental problems, is now a fading memory. It's a known fact that the bad times rarely stay so fresh in one's recollections as the good times and, in that respect, nature is kind.

But it's also common knowledge that you only ever get out of a project what you are prepared to put into it - it's little use just sitting and waiting for the phone to ring - you need to ring it yourself: people can only say "No" and then there are many, many more folk to approach. They say this is tenacity, an important enough attribute in the world of freelance endeavour.

I have often been asked why, after the war, I didn't opt for London rather than the Midlands. Good enough question, but the simple answer is that I like it here; like all the jazz people - there are some tremendously talented guys and gals on every side and I like to be able to get back home, feet under my own table - I've always loved home. And, since my dear wife, Elsie, died last year, home and its associations, going back over 52 years of happy times, has become even more precious. We built it together, shared everything and she loved the jazz. Always supportive, always involved. Whatever achievements there have been (these, I feel, all down to her wonderful support, encouragement and battling tenacity), one or two of which, as I've previously observed, didn't really displease either of us.

It's been a grand life - certainly inspiring no "If only's" - and I'd surely do it all over again if that were possible. All so nice that now, at 74, I still retain the hunger to blow (and even do the odd gig on piano!), to compose, arrange, transcribe solos, talk about jazz and review recorded and live jazz performances (this latter function I regard as one of great responsibility, a delegation of trust and one which I still find the most onerous of all; you see, it's other folks' life and best ambitions you're over- viewing and Heaven knows just what effort and dedication goes into the achievement of aesthetic and technical excellence!).

That recent book of mine - DUKE ELLINGTON, JAZZ COMPOSER - a product of the last ten years or so of "eyes-down" concentration, has made me so many friends from all over the world. I've kept a scrapbook (one or my abiding obsessions, this) of all the letters - and it's amazing how much solid erudition there is out there, what passionate regard for jazz in general and for Duke Ellington in particular. How true it is, as you have been advised in popular song, to hitch your wagon to a star! No brighter star than the Duke and now after 14 years of deep research and ofttimes taxing study, I am still discovering new situations of wonderment, pacing fresh fields of fallow inspiration. I know I've said this before, but wasn't/isn't he the greatest jazzman ever? I don't think I may be far off the mark when I volunteer that his will be the very last jazz name to totally survive, perhaps hundreds of years on . . . . . .

The jazz fraternity - and I chose that word with care - is one of the closest knit assemblies ever to be collected together by a love of one or other of the arts. When two (or more) perfect strangers meet and discover a common love of the music and its musicians, an instant friendship strikes up - as though you'd known one another for years and years. There are no reservations, it's instant communication, a veritable crescendo of enthusiastic parley literally erupts into the discourse and we invariably emerge with even more conviction that what we like is simply the best there is.

I once read somewhere that jazz musicians are rarely well-known outside their own fraternity and I suppose that's pretty well the truth; but they survive, battle on, create gorgeous sounds and give enormous pleasure to their audience. Maybe a tiny minority of that great multitude of creators has managed, just, to become what is known as "household names" (and what an indistinct, confused categorisation this is, to be sure?), but jazz goes on living and breathing and always will.

During all my years spent labouring at the music, I've never harboured the slightest doubt that what I was attempting was anything but the best way to spend my life. The involvement, the warmth, the camaraderie, inspire a kind of happiness which I feel privileged and, indeed, honoured, to enjoy. AND IT WILL ALWAYS BE SO . . . . . . . . . .

Copyright Ken Rattenbury © 1994