Hear you, Jimmie

<h1 itemprop="headline">Hear you, Jimmie</h1>

His nickname was ‘The London Scotsman’, a tribute to the fact that, although Dundee-born and proud of it, as a boy he’d lived for a time almost as far south of the border as could be imagined. As such, there was often barely a trace of a regional accent when he spoke. The dialect that emerged from his horn whenever he played, however, was more easily discernible; it was the language of modern jazz circa. the late 1950s/early 1960s, delivered with all the off-hand, casually dispatched cadences he’d come to know from studying the best New York could offer. This disparity of location of birth and assumed musical ‘voice’ wasn’t to be the only thing to make him a hard-to-codify character. Naturally gifted, he could be as contrary about music as they came, one minute diligent and hard-working, the next beset by laziness, admitting ‘if I did an hour’s practice a day I would be consistent’. The memories of his colleagues were also far from uniform, one stating that ‘when [his] lip is ‘in’ he is one of the most thrilling soloists in jazz’, another recalling with horror ‘when he used to get pissed it was a different thing completely’. Even the music’s scholars couldn’t quite decide where to put him, his one-time producer thinking him ‘a Conte Candoli-type figure’, a key reference work summing him up as ‘a hybrid of Bunny Berigan and Fats Navarro.’ Perhaps tellingly, even the spelling and pronouncing of his name varied from person to person. He preferred ‘Jimmie’, the press plain Jimmy. And on the lips of some his surname – Deuchar – would oscillate wildly between Dew-kar, Du-char and Deu-ca, the latter the pronunciation he and those close to him rightly adhered to.

The story of Jimmy Deuchar is, possibly, that of a man who realised his promise early on in life and then, through a combination of personal choice, environment and ill-health, seemed to spend much of the final twenty years of his life in a slow, hard for others to fathom, decline. In the 1960s he was indeed ‘Europe’s foremost modern jazz trumpeter’, as his then bandleader saxophonist Tubby Hayes liked to introduce him as. Yet by the time of his death in 1993, aged just sixty-three, he was a player half-remembered, and only occasionally glimpsed in all-star big bands (those of old colleague, baritonist Jackie Sharpe’ and new benefactor, Rolling Stones’ drummer Charlie Watts). In these settings, even late in the day, Deuchar remained more than capable of a head-turning solo, full of the graceful way of handling time, harmony and instrumental attack that had earlier prompted one former colleague to dub him ‘the English Clifford Brown.’ Deuchar himself would have doubtless amended that to Scottish. And he might well have baulked at the comparison with a man he indeed considered something of an idol. In fact, having spent much of the first decade and a half of his professional life being reminded, in the words of one fan, ‘had [he] been black and American instead of a Scotsman, he would have been raved about worldwide’, he suffered from a condition which though not exclusive to UK-based jazz musicians was one that was certainly something of a speciality of the day; you might call it comparison-itis. Like his close friend (and arguably closest musical mind) Tubby Hayes, his was a talent of world class proportions which just happened to be hot-housed in Britain. Opportunity may well have been greater elsewhere – as he himself proved by spending large chunks of his playing career in continental Europe – but I cannot for one moment imagine Jimmy Deuchar would have been any better a jazz musician had he been born in New Jersey, Illinois or California.

The purpose of this essay, however, isn’t to engage in the posthumous parlour games of ‘could he’ or ‘would he’. It’s not even to tell Deuchar’s whole story, which someone really ought to do in book form some day. To that end, there’s latterly been a Facebook group donated to his music and memory, which has flushed out still more stories about a figure whose ubiquity during the 1950s and 60s was only matched by the paucity of accurate information available on him. Thankfully though, his best body of work – the sessions he led for the tiny Tempo label between 1955 and 1958 – has recently been compiled into a handy double-CD retrospective by the enterprising Acrobat imprint, complete with a booklet which more or less outlines the A to Z of his career, from its beginnings as an RAF bandsman in 1950 to its rather sorry conclusion as an all-but-forgotten veteran some fifty-odd years later. These early sessions are valuable not only for their remarkably clear-headed musical vision, which centred upon mid-sized bands scored in the leader's incisive yet lyrical manner might be compared with the contemporary work of, say, Thad Jones, but for the beginnings of Deuchar’s relationship with his musical soul mate, a man five years his junior, Edward Brian ‘Tubby’ Hayes.

He couldn’t be followed

Five years might not seem much of a gap age-wise, but the circumstances surrounding the two men’s first meeting reveal just how much of a chasm could exist between a would-be jazz star and an actual one back in the early 1950s, even within the same generation. The night in question was Monday September 4th 1950, the location the unprepossessing environs of the Rosehill Community Centre in Sutton, Surrey. The occasion was the opening of the new T&H Modern Rhythm Club, a new weekly jazz venture masterminded by local jazz fan Les Tomkins. The star attraction on this evening were ‘Britain’s Musician of the Year’ and ‘his own Band of Radio and Recording fame’ the Johnny Dankworth Seven. The foot of the bill spotted a local support band – the Tubby Hayes Group. Some seventy years later it’s a little difficult to grasp just how radical a proposition this evening must have been. Aged between 25 and 20, Dankworth’s men were youth heroes every bit as subversive and shocking as, say, the Sex Pistols were to be twenty-six years later. As a new band, attempting to shoe-horn as much outré modern jazz as was possible into a business still centred on the pre-war rules of the dance band leader and his draconian ideas of discipline, the Seven was as hot a potato as could then be imagined. Heard now, its music very often sounds little more than polite, but at the time its measured mix of bop and cool was the very height of hip. To catch their missive from the future in what was, to all intents and purposes, a suburban village hall was like greeting men from Mars, the leader’s white plastic saxophone as modernistic as a ray-gun.

Years after this fateful night – which found the soon to be twin figureheads of British modernism under one roof for the first time – Dankworth recalled that his band had been ‘frightened about going on’ after the local boy wonder’s set ‘because he couldn’t be followed.’

It’s probably not cricket to question the memory of someone who was there, but recorded evidence from around this time reveals Hayes to be very far from the potentially terrifying machine-gunning bopper he’d become a decade later. Indeed, as with Ronnie Scott’s more widely-known account of first hearing Hayes at the same venue (some two weeks later), there may even be a little politic ‘reading back’ going on in Dankworth’s glad-handing recollection of that night in Sutton. What is undeniable though is that Hayes, even aged fifteen, was a musician seemingly confident in his resources. That alone, in what was then even at its highest level a rather chancy kind of art, was enough to get you noticed. Hayes did more than carry himself well though; ‘he sort of exploded,’ was how the Seven’s trombonist Eddie Harvey put it.

However, the band’s trumpeter was less easily impressed. Interviewed in Jazz Journal in 1987, he remembered the teenaged Hayes as ‘a callow youth, really’, a young man with talent, for sure, yet with little methodology underpinning his mechanics. That said, in the still miniscule world of ‘British modern jazz’ of the early 1950s, it was unsurprising that, once Hayes turned professional the following year, all of of sixteen, he and Deuchar should soon find themselves occupying the same bandstand. Not that there was much glamour in it. Playing places like the Streatham Baths Hall, New Cross Palais and the Lion’s Den, Sutton, they began to cement a certain understanding. First and foremost it was built on mutual aims; both men were fiercely dedicated to the cause of modernism, Deuchar at this point being better positioned to play the latest music in his role as soloist in the Ronnie Scott nine-piece, then the hottest new band in British circles. Hayes was just as eager, yet had still to break free of the foxtrots and novelty numbers of Bert Ambrose, Jack Parnell and the like. Around late 1954, though, something clicked. One observer, Record Mirror’s Tony Hall (the man about British jazz) noted how Hayes and Deuchar;

‘have done so much to improve the ‘theme’ situation in British jazz. Not for them ‘Lester Leaps In’ (except under extreme pressure from audiences in places like Chingford) [instead] they turn to the newest unissued American discs. They come up with exciting Horace Silver compositions.’

Practice, man!

Nobody (in the UK at any rate) was yet calling the music by the name under which it would eventually be recognised - Hard Bop - but in essence this was the direction in which Hayes and Deuchar were headed. For the saxophonist though, there was also inspiration to be had right next to him on the stand. Deuchar was the ultimate professional; able to ‘hear’ harmonic sequences, transcribe themes off records and hastily pen demanding but playable originals, he made his young partner realise that to play this music – really play it – required theory as well as chutzpah. ‘Jimmy was the one who really made me start taking music seriously,’ Hayes said in 1957. ‘I’d been on the road with big bands from 1952-54 and didn’t worry much about anything, except having a ball. Then that Christmas came the group at the old Flamingo club [the basement of the Mapleton Restaurant, off London’s Leicester Square] with Jimmy, [pianist] Terry Shannon, [bassist] Phil Bates and [drummer] Bill Eyden. Jimmy was so good that I had to try.'

The gods for these men were no longer Parker, Gillespie, Wardell Gray, Max Roach and the first generation beboppers but their successors; players like Kenny Dorham, Hank Mobley, Horace Silver, Doug Watkins and Art Blakey and while translating this new language into digestible pieces was made all the more difficult for the non-availability of many of its best records (especially those on the Blue Note label) by the end of 1955, Deuchar, Hayes and co. had come up with a more than passable local version. Again, it would be somewhat disingenuous to say that the music on, say, the Jimmy Deuchar Ensemble (taped April 1955) or Hayes’ first EP release The Little Giant (taped March 1955) is really Hard Bop per se, but the style is there in essence. So too is the beginnings of the Hayes-Deuchar alliance, the former's smooth yet punchy sound a perfect fit for the trumpeters’ dark, low-register-favouring inventions. The two had planned a full-time association (‘a dream band’ according to Record Mirror) but finances intervened, Hayes taking off on the road with his own outfit and Deuchar seeing out the year in the neither fish nor fowl line-up of drummer Tony Crombie. Sadly, by the time both men were again free agents – early 1957 – their musical courses were headed in very different directions. Starved for work, Deuchar accepted an offer from German bandleader Kurt Edelhagen, taking regular confrères altoist Derek Humble and trombonist Ken Wray with him. In total they were away for almost three years (with odd sorties home), the sojourn providing both a healthy wage and plenty of opportunity for Deuchar to further hone his considerable arranging skills (hear the recently issued 3-CD set Kurt Edelhagen and his Orchestra 100: the Unreleased WDR Jazz Recordings).

Back in London, Hayes finally teamed with the only other British saxophonist of the same heavyweight calibre, Ronnie Scott, forming the Jazz Couriers, a band that right from the off raised the bar expected of the local product. Not only that, Hayes himself began to iron out his very few remaining technical wrinkles (a sometimes matt tone, a tendency to take the odd route through the changes), found a mouthpiece that could finally broaden his sound, and began to work on the finer aspects of harmonic understanding. By the final year of the 1950s, he had shot from wunderkind to world-class. Returning to the UK permanently late that year, Jimmy Deuchar was shocked at the progress of his former boy-colleague and with tentative plans to form a trumpet-bass-drums trio, hearing the newly polished Hayes changed his mind. ‘I just didn’t believe the change in that guy, it was incredible,‘ he later recalled. ‘In a year he must have gone into the woodshed. I know he did that because that’s the only damn way to do it. He did it and he proved the rule – practice, man!” Once again, circumstances intervened, preventing their union from becoming more solvent; in a round of musical chairs typical of how British modern jazz reshuffled its bands during this era, after the Jazz Couriers split in the late summer of 1959, Hayes wanted to lead a quartet, free at last from the constraints of too much written music. Scott, however, wanted the opposite, rehiring Deuchar first for a resuscitated version of his 1953-55 nine piece band then, in March 1960, for a co-headed group named simply ‘The Quintet’.

Greatest ever

It was at this juncture that the Hayes/Deuchar axis ceased to be academic and began to become a genuine force within parochial modernism. As if engaged in some antiquated exercise in royal courtship, Hayes was frequently invited to be the Quintet’s guest at Scott’s newly opened Gerrard Street premises, Hayes reciprocating by using both the band’s front-men in his reinvigorated Downbeat Big Band (hear the Blues at The Manor album on Acrobat). Telling the press the trumpeter was ‘blowing up a storm’ he even announced plans for ‘a sextet’ augmenting his regular line-up with Deuchar and trombonist Keith Christie. Clearly it was only a matter of time until their partnership became permanent. This eventually happened in somewhat awkward circumstances at the beginning of 1962 when the rhythm section of Hayes own band walked out en masse after a heated dispute about wage disparity. The new Tubby Hayes Quintet which launched under a fanfare of press notices that February was, therefore, a band somewhat comprised of oddments; pianist Gordon Beck was an untried newbie, bassist Freddie Logan more workhorse than soloist and drummer Allan Ganley a genuine outside bet, coming from the end of modern jazz that might be charitably called cool. Nevertheless, with Hayes and Deuchar out front, and both men writing, the new group quickly found its feet. Ensconced on a three-nights- a-week residency at Ronnie Scott’s which lasted until late summer of 1964, the critics had ample opportunity to examine its wares in detail.

Melody Maker called the unit ‘Britain’s greatest ever’, while Jazz Journal’s John Howes found as much diffidence as determination in the group’s disparate concept. He was especially savage about Deuchar, who he thought guilty of ‘sabotage’ in his solos, wrong-footing the course of a number with cliches, sour notes and ‘flippancy’. Visually too, they made for an unlikely pair; Deuchar, slim, handsome, a dead ringer for the actor James Donald (Quatermass and the Pit); Hayes, short, corpulent and, in the words of one writer, ‘resembling a school boy who’d borrowed his father’s Saturday night special.’ Even the way they approached their respective instruments was markedly different; Hayes thrusting his tenor outward like some saxophonic phallus, Deuchar pointing his trumpet at the floor, as if, as one journalist noted, it might explode at any given moment.

The period of the Scott residency was nonetheless a high point for all concerned, Hayes finally striking the right balance between aggression and lyricism and Deuchar relaxing into a setting perfectly suited to his love of both small band ensemble writing and spontaneous creation. The Ur-texts of the unit are two albums taped by the Fontana label at the club in spring 1962, Late Spot at Scott’s and Down In The Village, both of which brim with intoxicating atmosphere and first-class jazz. Their highlights are too many to mention, but Deuchar’s contributions alone (among them the muted-but-not-Miles solo on Down In The Village, the powerful explosion that is his entry on Johnny One Note) make these records keepers.

This, of course, wasn’t the whole story. Towards the end of 1962, Terry Shannon returned to the fold, replacing Gordon Beck, whose edgy sense of time had never really suited the band, Hayes' old colleague  lending a welcome touch of tasteful economy. Around this time Deuchar also brought in the mellophonium, the oddly elongated, French Horn-like instrument then being used by the Stan Kenton band to bellowing effect. In his hands, however, its mellow tone gave the quintet still another texture to sit alongside Hayes’ juggling of tenor, flute and vibraphone. And it was at this point that the band truly became a genuine five-man operation, as can be heard of various live recordings that have surfaced since the early 1980s. Each has its merits; a 1963 volume recorded at Nottingham’s elegantly named Dancing Slipper ballroom (Humphrey Lyttelton called it ‘the Golden Gumboot’) titled Tubbs: A Tribute (Spotlite, 1981) focuses on the more lyrical aspects of their music, including a suitably terpsichorean Hayes’ arrangement of Cole Porter's  All of You. A few months later at the same venue (Dancing in The Dark, Savage Solweig, 2011), the leader is all rippling muscles and ‘look not hands’, demolishing both the Schwartz/Dietz title track and the almost comically fast-forwarded Suddenly Last Tuesday in a welter of tenor invention.

The band also found its way (inevitably) into the highly controversial tranche of tapes recorded at Ronnie Scott’s by the late Les Tomkins at this time, excerpts of which can hear heard on various Harkit, Candid and Jazz House CDs. These range from the gallopingly exciting but uneven A Simple Waltz (Night and Day; JD on mellophonium here), the Benny Golson-esque As Close As You Are (Live In London Vol. 2) and the absurd romp that is Opus Ocean (Live in London Vol. 1) on which Hayes ends up playing alone so demanding is the accelerated tempo. It’s not always the saxophonist’s show though; on Candid’s Tubby Hayes Inventivity, Deuchar goes up against both Cat Anderson and Rolf Ericson (in town with the Duke Ellington band) and in his own gentlemanly way cuts both to ribbons (Split Kick), while his arranging – heard in this series on originals like the naggingly catchy If You Knew and on standards like With The Wind and The Rain In You Hair (a masterpiece of small band jazz scoring) – consistently gives the band an edge it somehow lacks when merely blowing a top a chord sequence. Occaisonally, the sound if off-kilter on these unsanctioned releases; the music rarely less than engrossing.

It all fell so naturally

But, as with all things in British modernism, it couldn’t last. By mid-1964, Hayes admitted that he was beginning to run out of ideas for the patented ‘classic’ quintet instrumentation. Additionally, the impact of John Coltrane has spurred him to try some ‘way out’ material with the band, including the fabulously overstretched Modes and Blues (on the Gearbox Records’ LP Live at Ronnie Scott’s, 2017), a decision that had gone down especially badly with Allan Ganley. ‘Not my thing at all,’ the drummer later said. That summer, the band enjoyed two of its greatest breaks though. Having played the Antibes and Lugano festivals over the previous two years, this time jazz internationalism came knocking on their front door. That August, the famed American composer/arranger Benny Golson flew to London to record an episode of BBC-2’s new series Jazz 625. Hayes was asked to assemble a mammoth orchestra, augmenting the traditional big band line up with woodwind and tuba and naturally he rowed in his quintet partners, the highlight of the resulting programme being Jimmy Deuchar’s affecting account of I Remember Clifford. Here at last, playing Golson’s threnody for one of his trumpet heroes, Deuchar was proving to all that his was a deserved world-class ranking.

Although the band folded formally in September 1964, this wasn’t quite the end of the Tubby Hayes Quintet. In 1965, they appeared in a full-length feature film (produced the previous summer) titled Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors, a portmanteau made by the Amicus company in direct competition with the Hammer franchise. In some ways, Amicus had thought big – cheekily borrowing Hammer stalwarts Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, as well as the general ‘look’ of its competitors creations – but in other aspects they’d badly misfired. The Hayes quintet appeared in the story Voodoo, an improbable tale of stolen West Indian rhythms, cockney agents and unexpected tornadoes, the risibility of which wasn’t helped by lead actor Roy Castle’s relentless mugging. The fee however, was a great sweetener – a cool £100 a week, according to Allan Ganley – although at times even this couldn’t prevent the musicians falling foul of the kind of boredom familiar to anyone who’s ever been on a film set. In one scene, a clearly glassy-eyed Hayes is seated at a table with Ganley, Castle and Lynch, the drummer later revealing that his drunken colleague was being held up by an out of shot stage hand. And when a wind machine was turned on in one scene, the aim to simulate a curse-induced hurricane, Hayes and co’s laughter caused endless, costly retakes. Even in the final cut, you can see the leader and Deuchar (who wisely spends almost all his time in the movie behind sunglasses) just about to corpse.

Hayes and Deuchar stayed connected after the quintet’s ‘official’ split, the trumpeter continuing to be a presence in the tenorist’s big band (the iconic Jazz 625 telecast) up to May 1965 when he again decided to try his luck in Germany, this time with the multi-national Kenny Clarke/Francy Boland band. Interviewed in Jazz Beat magazine before he left he was honest about both his frustrations with the local jazz scene and his hopes for the future, which he saw focused largely on writing. ‘I may be lazy as far as practice is concerned, but not as regarding writing. You can always turn out an adequate arrangement but if your lip’s not in shape you can’t always hit the right note.’ A short-lived quintet co-led with trombonist Keith Christie formed in the autumn of 1964 had been his last ‘permanent’ London band, one which although promised an album by Philips’ Records’ Johnny Franz never made it into the studio. Broadcast and live tapes exist (a planned album on Candid again came to nothing) but they make a for a somewhat thwarted end to what had been a decade and a half of glittering achievement.

For the trumpeter’s former quintet colleagues though, his remained an example hard to beat, Allan Ganley admiring ‘the way Jimmy phrased...the accents he put in the line made it so easy to play with, it all fell so naturally.’ Hayes himself never wasted a chance to praise his running buddy either, while those who heard them together were left with an impression of something very special indeed. Pete King, Ronnie Scott’s partner and the Hayes’ quintet’s agent for its entire two and a half year run, considered them ‘one of the finest trumpet and tenor teams around’ while one of the two men’s earliest champions, Tony Hall, considered the pairing equal to the front lines heard in Horace Silver’s groups of the time. ‘Horace Silver’s a hard act to follow’, Allan Ganley responded, ‘but I think we came pretty close, especially with the guys in the front line. The way they played together was just phenomenal.’

A very serious maybe

In what was to effectively be his jazz swan song, in the late 1980s Deuchar came almost full circle, playing the music of Tubby Hayes in the tribute band assembled by Jackie Sharpe, taking some still characterful solos on their live Jazz House album Roarin’, yet by this time ill-health had begun to plague him, resulting in the amputation of a foot shortly before he died, aged 63, on September 8th 1993. Not long before the trumpeter, who’d long since returned to his native Scotland, had said he was considering a return to the fray. ‘Everybody keeps saying ‘Why don’t you move back down?’ he told Jazz Journal’s Martin Isherwood in 1987. “I’m thinking seriously about it. A very serious maybe.’ Yet it turned out to be a false hope. There was no ‘comeback’, no ‘last’ album (a 1979 set on the Hep label never quite scales the heights of those vintage JD's) and no valedictory purple patch of career visibility. And yet, although the music may have been stilled the memories persisted. Delivering a typically sidelong eulogy at his old friend’s funeral, Ronnie Scott – the man who had once marvelled as Deuchar’s ability to produce note perfect arrangements in a distraction-filled tour bus and who was, in effect, the glue between the trumpeter and Tubby Hayes – ended simply ‘he couldn’t play anything but good music’. Much of the best of that music was made in the company of Hayes, a fellow traveller he’d seen blossom from ‘callow youth’ to contender in barely a few years. ‘Jimmy was so good I had to try,’ Hayes had once said. Indeed, without the ‘London Scotsman’ goodness knows how things might’ve turned out.

Trying in tandem: Tubby Hayes and Jimmy Deuchar, possibly in Germany, summer 1963.

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