“A participant archetypal of his technology of London-based, jazz-apprenticed session males”, trumpeter Eddie Blair was a stalwart of the ‘golden period’ of the Ted Heath band, a member of the Johnny Dankworth Seven in its heyday, and a a key inspiration for Kenny Wheeler. He handed away on Boxing Day 2020 on the age of 93. Simon Spillett pays tribute to “a grasp craftsman who not often – if ever – put a musical foot incorrect”:
After a sure whereas the notion of judging a musician by the corporate she or he retains turns into redundant, and, as in so many different issues in life, how one is seen turns into much less about how a lot a face would possibly match as to how effectively that face does the job at hand. Certainly, when you get previous the moderately naive distractions of novelty or shock worth, what emerges with essentially the most real lasting worth in music will not be ‘innovation’ nor ‘newness’ or any of the issues we’d blithely use to qualify a participant’s work however craftsmanship, that’s the fail-safe capability to do an important job, repeatedly, on the highest attainable customary.
The function of session musician – typically maligned, usually misunderstood and but indispensable to nearly any type of music – may function an apex instance of this type of work ethic. Give it some thought; they’re anticipated, day in, day trip, 12 months upon 12 months, to be ‘good’, not sometimes however each time they choose up their instrument. There isn’t a hiding place, because it had been, save that for the actual fact than a lot of what they do is uncredited or, worse nonetheless, ignored.
Theirs is a talent although, make no mistake. And it’s one that may create its personal legends and icons, these whose unfussy government skills could make them veritable giants in a world in any other case unseen and unnoticed.
Fairly often these toweringly completed figures lower a decidedly modest sprint – going about their enterprise with such little ceremony that the unwary would possibly contemplate them much less dedicated or energised than their extra extrovert ‘jazz’-focused contemporaries.
Take Eddie Blair, the Scots trumpeter who handed away on Boxing Day, aged 93.
Ask those that knew him they usually’ll let you know that there was no extra exemplary consultant of the many-layered necessities of a ‘session man’. Scratch somewhat deeper they usually would possibly let you know how extremely he was rated as a jazz soloist, a job he drifted out and in of all through a profession spanning almost sixty years. Dig additional nonetheless and also you would possibly discover them expressing the melancholy opinion that they ‘don’t make them like that any extra.’ They could be proper. One factor’s for certain although; with Blair’s passing there at the moment are lower than a handful left from these as soon as thought to be the London session mafia – the Lusher’s, Baker’s, Willox’s et al – gamers who got here up throughout an period with an optimistic catch-phrase – ‘you’ve by no means had it so good – which may have been coined particularly for them.
Hitting excessive previous age, Blair’s dying definitely wasn’t sudden, but it might come as a shock to many who may need thought that, with so a lot of his friends lengthy gone, he’d already handed on to the nice brass part within the sky. Unerringly modest and a workforce participant via and thru, not for Blair the high-profile valedictory fanfare that was the latter-day profession of his long-term colleague and fellow trumpet-man Kenny Baker. As a substitute, his was a quiet retreat from the music enterprise, slipping unceremoniously away from being a as soon as ubiquitous member of the career who – because the saying goes – had ‘executed all of it’ to a well-satisfied man in retirement. After 1992, studio calls and sight-reading had been changed by snowboarding and golf.
The truth is, should you had been searching for a participant archetypal of his technology of London-based, jazz-apprenticed session males then Blair was your man. His CV ticked all the same old containers – pop periods with the likes of Tom Jones, Dave Clark and Savoy Brown, limitless uncredited contributions to TV themes like ‘The Benny Hill Present’, quite a few movie soundtracks together with a number of entries within the James Bond franchise, even recording with Frank Sinatra. In the direction of the tip of his taking part in days he retreated into the moderately much less pressured worlds of West Finish exhibits (‘Something Goes’) and the occasional Ted Heath memorial gig, however there was little trace of anti-climax to such a step. His was a life well-lived, usually, at his peak, lived at full-tilt.
It had begun in Johnstone, Renfrewshire on June 25th 1927, the place, born right into a musical household he joined the native Silver Band on cornet, aged simply ten. Native brass band work each gave him a strong grounding and saved him occupied till 1945 when aged eighteen, he was known as up for a 3 12 months stint within the Royal Corps of Alerts. Half-time blows in numerous service dance bands, this time on trumpet, helped gasoline a rising ardour for jazz and when he was demobbed in 1948 his daytime research as Glasgow’s School of Expertise had been balanced by night-time residencies with the likes of native bandleaders Bert Tobias and George Scott Henderson, with whose outfit he gained a ‘Melody Maker’ ‘All Britain’ contest in 1949.
This accolade piqued the curiosity of these additional afield, together with rising large band star Ken Waterproof coat, who briefly enrolled the younger Blair into his band for a Glasgow run. The promise of nonetheless extra work in London was a significant incentive, the younger trumpeter skipping faculty to grasp a dream he shared with a lot of his contemporaries; to make it ‘down south’.
Quite disappointingly, this break lasted a mere two weeks earlier than Blair… headed residence to begin one other stick with Tobias, taking part in an prolonged run at Glasgow’s Locarno Ballroom, this time lasting till August 1951 when he was known as to to exchange his fellow Scot Jimmy Deuchar within the then nonetheless crimson sizzling Johnny Dankworth Seven.
It’s somewhat troublesome, given the passage of time, and our distinctly blasé 21st century tackle such issues, to convey simply how vital a transfer Blair’s recruitment by Dankworth then was.
Not solely was the younger altoist (born the identical 12 months as his new trumpet soloist) then the person in British trendy jazz circles, his band – a extremely stylised seven-piece that cocked a snook at lots of the conventions of the dance band circuit on which it was pressured to work – was a proposition as radical as, say, the Intercourse Pistols had been to be twenty-five years therefore.
Shoe-horning in as a lot bop-based methodology as they dare into conditions demanding a industrial outlook, the band had made stars of its horn soloists, saxophonist Don Rendell, trombonist Eddie Harvey and trumpeter Jimmy Deuchar, the latter rising as an particularly pure exponent of the brand new language of Dizzy Gillespie, Fat Navarro and co. To step into this hallowed firm – and specifically into Deuchar’s sneakers – was a significant achievement for an unknown like Blair.
The information even made headlines within the day’s main commerce paper ‘Melody Maker’ (‘Dankworth indicators Scots trumpeter’), with the Seven’s chief telling the press, ‘Eddie is a good participant. He deserves this chance.’ The paper went on to disclose how ‘Johnny made a splash to Glasgow…and signed Eddie’. If all this now sounds a tad dramatic, consider it in Premier League Soccer phrases; Blair within the place of, say, a as soon as per week newbie, gifted however in obscurity, being picked to play in a Cup Remaining.
Over the next 12 months and a half, he recorded a number of instances with the Dankworth unit earlier than the Seven discovered itself absorbed into the leaders first even large band line-up. On these sides – eight or so 78rpms mixing hip bop themes like Bud Powell’s ‘Strictly Confidential’ with populist fare such because the execrable ‘Mr. and Mississippi’ – we hear the younger trumpeter discovering his ft, his phrasing and harmonic grasp not as agency as that of his predecessor, but his head nonetheless nonetheless stuffed with the newest concepts.
In some methods it was tragic that Dankworth ought to have subsequently determined to then bury Blair within the brass part of his new large band as this was a enterprise much less pushed by idealism than the Seven been. To his credit score, Blair stayed till spring 1954, his solos dotted about just a few early Parlophone’s taped by the band, but when anybody anticipated his subsequent musical leap to be right into a setting extra suited to a nascent bopper then they couldn’t be extra disenchanted.
Blair joined the Ted Heath band in spring 1954, simply in time for what is usually thought to be its ‘golden period’, 5 or so years through which a characterful mix of accuracy and showmanship mixed with broadcast-driven recognition to make it a veritable trade big. Work was greater than plentiful, the wages astronomical compared to the Dankworth Seven’s co-op pay, and the possibility to play repeatedly unrivalled. However there was a value to pay for all this luxurious. Though sympathetic to jazz, Heath appreciated to maintain these in his cost on a musically tight leash, even insisting well-regarded jazz soloists like Danny Moss preserve their improvisations tight and repeatable. This was no place for taking musical possibilities and accordingly many jazzmen hated Heath for it, as Blair quickly discovered. There’s a story – probably exaggerated however proving a degree – in regards to the chief hissing at him after a very adventurous solo on a dance date in Birmingham; ‘Subsequent time, take the boxing gloves off!’
But, regardless of these restrictions, Blair grew to become a well-loved determine within the band, a part of the legendary Heath workforce that famously broke the transatlantic deadlock in 1956, changing into the primary British large band to tour the USA. Though dance music was the order of the day, occasionally Blair’s bop-chops would get an outing, comparable to on the 1957 LP ‘Highlight on The Sidemen’ (Decca), the sleeve notes of which describe him precisely as ‘essentially the most trendy of all of the [band’s] trumpet soloists’. (this album showcased the very best of all Heath’s trumpet groups: Blair, Bobby Pratt, Duncan Campbell and Bert Ezard).
Though Blair was to stay an everyday Heath worker till 1965, when the band started to slip as a stay act and morph into an altogether extra nameless studio entity, he was additionally sustaining his connections with a number of different, way more jazz-friendly, bandleaders. And it was on albums below the management of musicians like Johnny Keating, Dave Lee and Stan Tracey that his jazz soloing got here into its personal.
place to listen to him in his mid-1950s prime are Keating’s two recorded for US-export LP’s ‘British Jazz’ and ‘Swinging Scots’ (regardless of their differing titles the personnels have loads of cross-over), the primary of which finds the trumpeter featured on a bit he’d written himself with the unforgettable – probably unforgivable title – of ‘Eddie Blair’s Picnic’.
So, listening to it on these albums, the place does Blair’s taking part in sit within the nice panoply of latest British jazz trumpet? Much less dramatic than Kenny Baker’s, nor as waywardly ingenious as that of Dizzy Reece, and definitely not as finely-poised as Jimmy Deuchar’s, it really marks out a moderately efficient middle-ground, drawing on Gillespian sources definitely, but with a way of phrasing – elastic, removed from earth-bound – and harmonic ambiguity that suggests one thing way more adventurous than typical bop.
You’ll be able to hear this start to blossom additional on two releases below Tubby Hayes’ identify; ‘Blues At The Manor’, comprising archive materials by the Hayes-led Downbeat Huge Band, taped in 1959-60 (Acrobat, 2017), and ‘Jazz For Moderns’, a BBC broadcast from 1962 issued on the high-end vinyl specialists Gearbox in 2010. Each units juxtapose Blair with Jimmy Deuchar and due to this fact afford the chance to listen to how every males’s strategies differed. Whereas Deuchar is all über-hip and battened-down ‘modifications’, Blair’s solos all of a sudden dart free from their underpinnings, as if the trumpet itself had been giddy on the prospect of constructing music freed from its normal studio restrictions.
That Blair was included in such firm stated loads. Regardless of by no means making it above the trumpet additionally rans within the annual recognition polls performed by ‘Melody Maker’ round this time, he was clearly effectively considered by his friends. In addition to working with Tubby Hayes, Ronnie Scott employed him briefly in a short-lived septet in 1962 (a BBC recording exists), and he was a first-call for the gifted Ellington-inspired arranger Ken Moule. Additional appearances on report additionally confirmed his excessive rating. The truth is, do a fast rely of the acknowledged ‘basic’ British trendy jazz albums he seems on, as each soloist and part participant – Tubby Hayes’ ‘Tubbs’, Joe Harriott and John Mayer’s ‘Indo-Jazz Suite’, Stan Tracey’s ‘Alice In Jazz Land’ distinguished amongst them – and also you quickly realise that his was a high drawer expertise, appreciated and booked by the very best.
The latter-named album additionally features a Blair solo that means not solely the place he may need gone given extra publicity as a jazz participant however which gives proof that for a time he and his better-known up to date Kenny Wheeler had been working alongside parallel strains. The 2 males had recorded collectively below the management of one other distinguished British pianist Dave Lee a 12 months earlier (the ‘Jazz Improvisations of Our Man Crichton’ LP), thus enabling shut inspection of their shared goals (hear ‘Our Form of Individuals’) however on Tracey’s ‘Portrait of A Queen’ Blair gives a solo that’s virtually Wheeler to the letter; these hovering, overarching strains, the fats full tone within the decrease register that all of a sudden spirals upward into wistful arabesques, the flavour of melancholy whatever the brassiness of the setting.
Nothing in artwork exists in a vacuum and this one solo alone – which could effectively be Blair’s finest on report – reveals a expertise a lot deeper than that of a mere ‘employed hand’ part participant.
Aside from than although, it’s a must to go looking for Blair solos. There may be the stunning (oh-so-Sixties-titled) ‘Blues For A Smashing Hen’ on multi-instrumentalist Alan Branscombe’s 1968 double-LP ‘Swingin’ On The Sound Stage’ and a trawl via Johnny Keating’s many Decca Part four extravaganzas from the mid-to-late 1960s will reveal a number of extra finely-crafted gems, however sadly Blair by no means helmed his personal album, a destiny that befell far too a lot of his technology of UK jazzmen.
Nonetheless, there are different methods through which to gauge his reward. Writers like Johnny Keating and Duncan Lamont – fellow Scots, and likewise happy with it – each wrote options for him, the latter casting Blair as Buttons in a jazz model of ‘Cinderella’ (this theme was later retooled below the title ‘Fred Astaire’ and seems on vocalist Tina Could’s lately launched album of Lamont materials, ‘52nd Avenue and Different Tales’) and when within the late 1970s Scottish Tv launched a brand new present, ‘The Jazz Collection’, hosted by vocalist Annie Ross, Blair was a member of the home band, an undemonstrative, middle-aged determine who may nonetheless nonetheless blow with energy and fervour; the last word sideman.
It’s considerably exhausting then, given Blair’s constant talent at making different leaders sound good, to determine exactly what his musical legacy is. In his capability of session king he’s left a lifetime’s value of recorded proof, in fact, not all of it traceable, sadly, given the character of the job. In that sense, his passing crops a memorial stone on a complete manner of constructing music. But it’s not that easy, on condition that his surviving improvised solos, scattered about on numerous albums like sprinkled gold mud, are under no circumstances forgettable doodles. Certainly, they’ve left their very private mark at a number of key junctures in British jazz. This in flip makes his dying so very way more than that of merely a ‘sideman’. And, furthermore, how are we to evaluate his place within the jazz scheme of issues given the intriguing proposition that he could have been a key inspiration to a different trumpeter very a lot thought to be an innovator, Kenny Wheeler. This absolutely elevates his work into complete new degree of significance?
Nonetheless, Blair’s personal character, the modest can-do perspective that made for an ideal slot in so many settings, was such that he by no means ever shouted about his expertise. In contrast to Kenny Baker, say, or Jimmy Deuchar and even the notoriously self-effacing Kenny Wheeler, he didn’t go away a defining verbal tackle his personal taking part in, or speak extensively about his ‘artwork’ or furnish us any of the opposite issues an obituarist would possibly draw upon in an effort to codify a life.
As a substitute, he left a realistic instance which spoke for itself; that of a grasp craftsman who not often – if ever – put a musical foot incorrect. Even his uncommon interviews had been refreshingly freed from ego. ‘Being a musician entails the power to maneuver simply and precisely from one be aware to the subsequent,’ he stated in a ‘Melody Maker’ function in 1962, an announcement that’s as truthful as it’s unvarnished.
How Eddie Blair moved them, although, was a factor of magnificence.
Edward Dunning ‘Eddie’ Blair
Born: Johnstone, Renfrewshire, Scotland, June 25 1927
Died: Rustington, West Sussex, England, December 26 2020
Author: ” — londonjazznews.com ”