- Ken Colyer
Kenneth 'Edward' Colyer (
April 18 1928– March 8 1988) was a British jazz trumpeterand cornetist, devoted totally to New Orleans jazz] . His band was also known for skiffleinterludes [http://music.guardian.co.uk/rock/story/0,,2283223,00.html Accessed 1 June 2008] .
He grew up in
Sohoin Londonand was a member of a church choir. When his older brother Bill (born William John Colyer in 1922—still alive) went off to serve in World War IIhe left his jazz records behind, which hooked Ken. He joined the Merchant Navy at 17, travelled around the world and heard famous jazz musicians in New Yorkand Montreal.
In the UK he played with various bands and joined, in 1949, the Crane River Jazz Band (CRJB) with
Ben Marshall, Sonny Morrisand Monty Sunshine. The band played at the Royal Festival Hallon 14 July, 1951, in the presence of HRH Princess Elizabeth.
Parts of that group merged with other musicians to form the
Christie Brothers' Stompers. Ken rejoined the Merchant Navyand jumped ship to get to New Orleanswhere he played with his idols in the George Lewis Bandwhere he was offered the job of lead trumpeter on a tour but was then put in prison and deported. Bill posted his famous letters from New Orleans on the door of Dobell's Jazz Record Shop—so he returned home to a crusader's welcome.
He was invited to take the trumpet lead for the Chris Barber Band and so formed the first Ken Colyer Jazzmen:
Chris Barber, Monty Sunshine, Ron Bowden, Lonnie Doneganand Jim Bray (born James Michael Bray, 24 April 1927, in Richmond, Surrey). They made their first recordings on Storyville in 1953.
The next, brief, band in the mid-50s featured Bernard "Acker" Bilk on clarinet.
Then came what most young, now old, fans ("when I was young and easy under the apple boughs"
Dylan Thomas) consider their favourite in all of Ken's oeuvre: Mac Duncan (trombone), Ian Wheeler (clarinet), Johnny Bastable (banjo), Ron Ward (bass) and the still remarkable Colin Bowden (drums), later joined by Ray Foxley(piano). This band played together until the early 1960s when the new front-line featured, at various times, Sammy Rimingtonand Tony Pyke (clarinet), Graham Stewart and Geoff Cole (trombone), Bill Cole (bass) and Malc Murphy (drums).
In 1971, after a bout with
stomach cancer, Ken took his doctors' advice to stop leading a band.
He continued with a solo career into the 1980s. He had a row with Bill at the "100 Club", threw his trumpet down on the stage a la
Bunk Johnsonand moved to the south of Francein his last years. He felt that he was let down by everybody throughout his life. Lake Recordswas started by a reissue programme of Ken Colyer albums (from the Decca catalogue) and the current catalogue contains most of his best recordings.
Ken was sometimes seen as a kind of musical
Luddite, opposed to all progress in jazz. It is true that, for himself, he only ever wished to play in the New Orleans style but he was more open than many people thought as was shown by his record collection and his playing of the tenor sax. He famously played with the Modern Jazz Quartetand "they did it my way".
His biography is being written by
Mike Pointon(trombonist, musicologist, broadcaster extraordinnaire) and ragtime pianist Ray Smith (who played at St Paul's Covent Garden for the Celebration Service) and will be published by the Ken Colyer Trust—set up on Ken's death to preserve the music and publish his autobiography "When Dreams are in the Dust" now on their website—next year
It is believed by some that Ken peaked so early and then gradually burnt himself away ("he was a fool to himself"—Sonny Morris) so his best recordings were in his early years with the CRJB and in New Orleans, followed by the Christie Brothers Stompers ('Rum & Coca Cola').
* "Just a Closer Walk with Thee",
Tempo Records, A 117, 1956
* "If I Ever Cease to Love", Tempo Records, A 120, 1956
* "Decca Skiffle Sessions",
Lake Records, LACD 7, ?
* "Live at York Arts Centre" (1972), Upbeat, URCD 210, ?
* "The Crane River Jazz Band"
* "Club Session with Colyer"
* [http://www.kencolyertrust.org Ken Colyer Trust]
* [http://music.guardian.co.uk/rock/story/0,,2283223,00.html My 20-year love affair with the joy of skiffle. The Observer 1 June 2008}
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