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Jazz Heritage and Blue Plaques

Thursday 25th June 2015

The Dankworth family and Blue PlaqueThe London Borough of Waltham Forest, in north-east London is close to the home of the National Jazz Archive in Loughton, Essex. Waltham Forest Council enthusiastically operates a Blue Plaque scheme which celebrates many aspects of local history and cultural heritage.

For several years, the National Jazz Archive has been working with Waltham Forest to identify the residences of jazz musician within the Borough, which covers Leyton, Leytonstone, Walthamstow and Chingford. This project is part of the telling of the Story of British Jazz that the Archive began during the 3- year period of funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund 2011–14.

In 2013, Waltham Forest arranged for plaques to be placed on houses previously occupied by Sir John Dankworth and clarinettist Dave Shepherd. Sir John was one of the finest British jazz musicians and composers, whose work is known both by jazz fans and the public at large. In his career, Dave has played with Billie Holliday, Gerry Mulligan, Teddy Wilson, Digby Fairweather (the founder of the Archive), and many other renowned jazz performers.

Jackie  Free

Jackie Free and Blue PlaqueIn September last year, a plaque was placed on the house in Leyton where trombonist Jackie  Free, another of Dave’s band colleagues, spent his first 25 years and learnt the trombone at the local Boys Brigade. The Archive has the honour to hold a copy of a photograph taken in 1956 of Jackie performing with Louis Armstrong during his UK tour. Jackie’s Blue Plaque contains the dedication that Louis inscribed on the photo.

Kenny Wheeler

The sad loss of trumpeter and composer Kenny Wheeler at the end of 2014 delayed plans to unveil a plaque for him but his family gave the go-ahead for a low profile ceremony in January 2015. Although born in Canada, Kenny moved to the UK in 1952, and made an indelible mark on Britain’s jazz scene. He lived here for over 60 years, much of this time in Leytonstone where the plaque is located.

In the 1960s, Kenny played alongside Ronnie Scott, John Dankworth and Tubby Hayes, before recording a series of albums including Gnu High and Deer Wan in the 1970s. However, for many the 1990s were considered Wheeler’s career peak, when he released influential albums such Music for Large and Small Ensembles and Kayak. In 1997, he received critical acclaim for the album Angel Song, which featured Bill Frisell, Dave Holland and Lee Konitz. More recently, he became the founding patron of the Junior Jazz Kenny Wheeler Blue Plaqueprogramme at the Royal Academy of Music and was the focus of a year-long exhibition by the Academy Museum.

In a statement when Kenny’s passing was announced, Nick Smart, head of jazz at the Royal Academy of Music, paid tribute and described Wheeler as “one of the great musical innovators of contemporary jazz”. “Kenny was an important and much loved figure to the jazz department here at the Academy… His harmonic palette and singularly recognisable sound will live on in the memory of all who heard him and in the extraordinary legacy of recordings and compositions he leaves behind, inspiring generations to come.”

Following further detailed research, two more jazz musicians with reputations in the UK and around the world have been identified as spending part of their lives residing in Waltham Forest and worthy of Blue Plaque recognition.

Kenny Clare

Kenny Clare was born and spent his early years in Leytonstone. Highly regarded by the likes of Buddy Rich, Kenny Clarke and Louie Bellson, Kenny began his playing career in his 1920s with the Oscar Rabin band before joining Jack Parnell. For an extended period in the 1950s and early 1960s he was featured with the John Dankworth and Ted Heath bands. In 1963 Kenny began playing drums with the Kenny Clarke-Francy Boland Big Band and by 1967 he was regularly paired with Clarke in what became a two-drummer band for performances, concerts, and at least 15 recordings.

The list of singers and musicians that Kenny performed with include some of the jazz greats of the 20th century – Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennett, Cleo Laine, Stephane Grappelli, Johnny Griffin, Harry James and many more. He died in 1984. Currently, negotiations are underway between Waltham Forest and the current owner of Kenny’s house in Leytonstone.

Freddy Randall

Born in Clapton in 1921, cornetist/trumpeter Freddy Randall lived in Chingford during the 1980s and at present, is the final nominee of the Archive. Following military service in WWII, Randall joined Freddy Mirfield & His Garbage Men. The Garbage Men included the young John Dankworth and recorded for Decca in 1944. In the late 1940’s – early 1950s Freddy lead his own band, featuring some of the UK’s finest jazz musicians. The Freddy Randall Sunday sessions at the Cooks Ferry Inn, Ferry Lane, Edmonton (run for the Cleveland Rhythm Club by Freddy's brother, Harry) have earned a legendary place in British jazz history.  In 1956 Randall was the first British post-war jazz group to tour the United States – in exchange for the Louis Armstrong All-Stars. As previously stated, it was during Louis’s tour of the UK that Leyton-born Jackie Free, Freddy’s one-time trombonist, played alongside Louis.  In 1958 Randall retired due to ill health and, after several ‘come-backs’, died in 1999.

The National Jazz Archive is delighted and privileged to join with the London Borough of Waltham Forest in recognising and celebrating these much loved jazz musicians who contributed greatly to the Story of British Jazz.

Mike Rose  
National Jazz Archive