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Photograph courtesy of T.A. Cryer/ John Latham/ Sandy Brown Newsletter
Sandy Brown was born in Izatnagar, near Bareilly in India on 25th February 1929 where his father, John Brown was working as a Traffic Manager for the Indian Railways. His mother was Williamina Ward Brown (nee Henderson). The family home was in Wishaw, Scotland, south-west of Glasgow, but on their return from India, Sandy, his parents and his brother Jimmie went to live at 4 Abercorn Crescent in Edinburgh.
From there, Sandy went to Edinburgh's Royal High School. He taught himself to play an Albert System clarinet and with friends from the school, including Stan Greig, Al Fairweather and Stu Eaton he formed his first band in 1943.
On leaving school, Sandy did National Service with the Royal Ordnance Corps and then returned to Edinburgh where he studied at Edinburgh College of Art for a Diploma in Architecture. In the evenings he played jazz with his re-formed band.
In October 1949, Sandy's band made its first (now rare) recordings that appeared with other recordings made in 1950 on the S&M (Swarbrick and Mossman) label. The recordings were followed by a major concert in 1952 at the Usher Hall in Edinburgh where the band played the first half of the concert and Big Bill Broonzy the second half. In 1953 they travelled to London to take part in a National Jazz Federation concert at London's Royal Festival Hall.
When the rest of the band returned to Edinburgh, Al Fairweather stayed in London and joined Cy Laurie's band, but soon afterwards Sandy was appointed as Acoustic Architect to the B.B.C. (British Broadcasting Corporation) and returned to London with his wife, Flo. He formed a new band with Al and other London musicians, and continued to record. They developed their music within the 'traditional' jazz format, but introduced new tunes of their own, some such as 'African Queen' utilising themes from West African music.
Listen here to African Queen:
Their milestone 1957 record McJazz, made up of original compositions by Sandy and Al, was named in 1959 in the Melody Maker journal as one of the twelve greatest jazz recordings of all time.
Here is Go Ghana from the McJazz album.
Other recordings followed - Al and Sandy, Doctor McJazz, and The Incredible McJazz, accompanied by radio broadcasts and tours, but by the mid-1960s jazz bands were experiencing difficulties in finding work as the music of Rock and Roll, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones grew in popularity.
In 1966, Al Fairweather left to join Acker Bilk's Jazz Band whilst Sandy continued to play with a variety of bands and make a number of broadcasts in the London area. His acoustic architectural company 'Sandy Brown Associates' was a successful concern and his working and clarinet playing life continued to be demanding. That year (1966) Sandy recorded a live set in Nottingham with the Brian Lemon Trio issued as 'Splanky', and in 1969 he recorded with visiting American Blues Pianist, Sammy Price - the two takes of 'In The Evening' are quite magnificent and essential listening.
Between 1968 and 1971, Sandy guested at a number events in Eastern Europe. Here he is playing In The Evenin' with the Polish band The Old Timers in 1968:
There is an expression ‘As rare as hen’s teeth’; well, I am grateful to Alvin Roy for showing me a hen’s tooth - some film footage of Sandy - it is around 32 minutes of good quality film with equally good quality sound. The recording comes from 1968 when Sandy played a gig in Prague in the Czech Republic. The translation of the wording with the video says: ‘Scottish clarinettist Sandy Brown played in one of two alternatives to the cancelled concerts of the 5th Annual Jazz Festival in Prague's Lucerna in 1968. He was accompanied by the rhythmic group of Gustav Brom Orchestra’. Milos Kejr, who was there at the gig tells me that the members of the rhythm section were Josef Blaha on piano, Imre Mozi on bass and Bill Moody (USA) on drums.
Gustav Brom was a Czech bandleader, arranger, clarinettist and composer whose big band started playing Dixieland, moved on to Swing and then into the West Coast jazz style. He died in 1995.
The five tunes played are Lady Be Good, When Sunny Gets Blue, Sermonette (thank you to those who helped me out on this one), In The Evenin’ (with a vocal by Sandy) and The Brotherhood Of Man (from the show How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying). Why, in his introduction to the last tune, Sandy says that the audience wants to hear that tune I don’t know. Bill Brown in Australia wonders whether ‘the Brotherhood reference be to the socialist set up of that time? I know that when the Graeme Bell Band went there in 1947 it was before the communist takeover’.
1971 saw Sandy recording an entire LP just backed by the Brian Lemon Trio, also essential listening.
In 1974, Sandy flew to New York to record with Dill Jones, Major Holley, Eddie Lock and ex-Count Basie band members including Earle Warren, Eddie Durham and Bill Dillard. No-one realised that Sandy was very ill and a year later he died of a heart attack brought on by malignant hypertension. He was almost 46 years old. He died sitting in his armchair in front of the television with a glass of whisky and watching Scotland play England at rugby.
Whilst Sandy himself admired the clarinet playing of Johnny Dodds and Barney Bigard, Dr John Latham has argued that Sandy Brown had a clarinet style of his own and was the most original musician to emerge in British jazz music (see Forum page).
He missed his Albert clarinet when he changed to a Boehm, but developed a power of playing that was marked by a fierce vibrato or lip trill that he used from time to time, and freak high notes and upper harmonics that he achieved by biting hard on the reed. It was losing his upper teeth as a young man that allowed him to put extra pressure on the mouthpiece, and Sandy used his lack of teeth to spectacular advantage!
There is an expression ‘As rare as hen’s teeth’; well, I am grateful to Alvin Roy for showing me a hen’s tooth.
At last, some film footage of clarinettist Sandy Brown. The 32 minutes come from 1968 when Sandy played a gig in Prague in the Czech Republic. The translation of the wording with the video says: ‘Scottish clarinettist Sandy Brown played in one of two alternatives to the cancelled concerts of the 5th Annual Jazz Festival in Prague's Lucerna in 1968. He was accompanied by the rhythmic group of Gustav Brom Orchestra’. Milos Kejr, who was there at the gig tells me that the members of the rhythm section were Josef Blaha on piano, Imre Mozi on bass and Bill Moody (USA) on drums.
Gustav Brom was a Czech bandleader, arranger, clarinettist and composer whose big band started playing Dixieland, moved on to Swing and then to the West Coast jazz style. He died in 1995.
The five tunes played are Lady Be Good, When Sunny Gets Blue, Sermonette (thank you to those who helped me out on this one), In The Evenin’ (with a vocal by Sandy) and The Brotherhood Of Man (from the show How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying). Why, in his introduction to the last tune, Sandy says that the audience wants to hear that tune I don’t know. Bill Brown in Australia wonders whether ‘the 'Brotherhood' reference might be to the socialist set up of that time? I know that when the Graeme Bell Band went there in 1947 it was before the communist takeover’.
Peter Maguire of Jazz Clubs Worldwide tells us that The Prague Spring started in January 1968, and that the Tschechoslowakisches International Jazz Festival took place at Lucerna Hall on 21st November, which the organizers succeeded in putting through in spite of the the invasion by Russia and the Warsaw Pact countries.
This was a significant period in the history of Czechoslovakia. 'The Prague Spring was a period of political liberalisation in Czechoslovakia during the era of its domination by the Soviet Union after World War II. It began on 5 January 1968, when reformist Alexander Dubček was elected First Secretary of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (KSČ), and continued until 21 August when the Soviet Union and other members of the Warsaw Pact invaded the country to halt the reforms'.'
According to Wikipedia 'The Prague Spring reforms were a strong attempt by Dubček to grant additional rights to the citizens of Czechoslovakia in an act of partial decentralization of the economy and democratization. The freedoms granted included a loosening of restrictions on the media, speech and travel. After national discussion of dividing the country into a federation of three republics, Bohemia, Moravia-Silesia and Slovakia, Dubček oversaw the decision to split into two, the Czech Republic and Slovak Republic. This was the only formal change that survived the end of Prague Spring, though the relative success of the nonviolent resistance undoubtedly prefigured and facilitated the peaceful transition to liberal democracy with the collapse of Soviet hegemony in 1989.'
This could well have been the reason for Sandy Brown's comments.
Chris Miles says: 'I note an interesting sartorial contrast between his appearance and the band's. That shirt and tie combo!'
Here is the video, it is good quality film with equally good quality sound.
On seeing the above video of Sandy Brown, David Keen in Canada recalls the occasion when he met Sandy Brown:
I’d actually been playing the clarinet for quite a while, was in a band and was gigging before I heard Sandy Brown play. It was quite customary, back in the day in London, on a weekend club gig, for the band to be enticed back to a house party after the gig, with promises of loose women, lotsa booze and lotsa food. In reality the folk who invited us just wanted a band to play for the rest of the night for free. Mostly when you got there, the women were all spoken for, the food was all but gone and the booze was off limits to musicians, but we’d play anyways. We all just lived to play back then and any chance to play for another couple of hours was always a no brainer.
On one occasion another clarinet player showed up at one of these house parties and when he heard me play he said “Jesus do you ever sound like Sandy Brown!” or words to that effect. I had no idea what high praise that was at the time. Especially as I had never even heard of Sandy Brown, let alone heard him play (the old inner tree theory: The reason you’re attracted to certain players is ‘cos that’s the way you’d sound even if you’d never heard them?). I replied in my usual ‘Keen’ fashion of the time: “Who the f***’s Sandy Brown then ya wanker?” He replied somewhat sarcastically: “You should check him out then ya wanker?” or a facsimile thereof. Fortunately for me most folk thought my off the cuff remarks back then were due to a somewhat warped sense of humour. But lamentably not always, ‘cos on a few occasions I got the snot beaten out of me for my off the cuff remarks.
On every occasion, when it happened, I was reminded of Mr Rhor my housemaster at boarding school, who called me into his room one night, I was barely 10 years old at the time and he said to me: “Keen, you will remember me for the rest of your life for what I’m about to tell you boy!” To which I replied “ Wwwwhhaats ttthhhat thhhheen sssir?” (I had rather a bad stutter at the time). He responded with “Your mouth will get you into trouble boy!” and here 60 odd years later, turns out he was right on both counts!
The following week I purchased a copy of the Melody Maker, as I always did on a Thursday, ‘cos that’s where you got all the latest club booking information, and there on the back page, amongst the club listings, was Sandy Brown playing at the Six Bells in Chelsea. Apparently Sandy played every weekend at the Six Bells in Chelsea. The Six Bells was a pub on Chelsea High Street that had a rather large banquet room above it that they opened up on the weekends as a Jazz Club (I think that 'banquet room' might be rather an extravagent memory - Ed). So Dave Spence (the trumpet player in the band I played in at the time) and I went down to see what all the fuss was about. The Jazz Club was independently operated. If you wanted a pint, they’d stamp your hand and you’d go down to the public bar. You’d have to drink it down there. The gigs in those days were four hours long and you played two sets with a 30/40 min break in-between sets, so musicians and patrons alike could get down to the boozer and get liquored up.
I’ll never forget the first time I walked up that wide oak staircase and heard that magnificent big clarinet sound. I got goose bumps. That was it. That was the sound and approach I was hearing but couldn’t quite find on the horn. There it was. I’d finally found it and even though 50 odd years have passed since the first time I heard Sandy, and I consider myself a saxophone player these days, I still got goose bumps watching this video.
(Click here or on the picture to see the video David is talking about).
Sandy was a completely self-taught musician and played semi-pro all his life. He had a day gig - he was a very well respected acoustic architect by profession. He had his own practice, Sandy Brown Associates, which even though Sandy passed back in the '70s at age 45 from malignant hypertension, the firm is still going strong to-day in London (click here). Sandy also played bass clarinet on occasion, sang (as you’ll hear on the video ‘In de Ebenin’) and did a pretty good job of playing barrelhouse/blues piano as well. Sandy went from being a Johnny Dodds devotee clone playing Trad jazz back in his university days to being, IMHO (in my humble opinion), the most magnificent and original mainstream jazz clarinet player I ever heard. As demonstrated on this video, filmed, arguably, at the peak of his playing ability, which was from the mid ‘60s on. Magic.
His last album, not that long before he passed, was recorded in 1969. The music was from the stage play Hair with the crème de la crème of musicians in the UK at the time. Kenny Wheeler (a displaced Canuck by the way), George Chisholm, John Mclauglin, Lennie Bush and Bobby Orr (not the hockey Player). Brian Lemon, who was Sandy’s first call piano player at the time, was the recording engineer and I believe he did all the arrangements also.
Anecdotally I actually played on the horn and mouthpiece that Sandy’s playing on in this video. His first clarinet, ironically, was a Boosey and Hawkes 1010. I say ironically ‘cos the 1010 was designed specifically for classical players. It had a bigger bore than the standard Boosey Imperial 926 which was favoured by jazzers and dance band musicians alike. The horn cracked and Sandy took it into Bill Lewington’s in London to have it repaired along with his normal mouthpiece which was an old Rosewood piece. Bill Lewington lent Sandy the LeBlanc that he’s playing on in this clip. The mouthpiece, a Brilhart Ebolin 6*, was one, which, in Sandy’s own words, he found lying about the house in a drawer. Sandy told me he liked the LeBlanc and the setup (the Brilhart) so much, he stuck with it.
The reason I know this is, because of one Saturday night when I’d gone to hear him play at the Six Bells. When he took his break at the end of the first set, I asked him if I could try his horn. When I saw it was a LeBlanc, I asked why he used a LeBlanc. I was using a Selmer Centered Tone at the time and figured everybody else should be as well! He related the story about taking the 1010 into Bill Lewington’s to get repaired. Guess what I did the next week much to my chagrin later on?
Al and Sandy at the Six Bells, Chelsea, June 1968
© Hugo Strötbaum
He handed me his horn and must have seen the horrified look on my face. He took it back and mumbled in his Scottish accent something to the effect of “Ock away laddie that’s just a coupla weeks of beer and curry” as he wiped the reed clean with his fingers. The first thing I noticed was that the reed was on the mouthpiece crooked and he’d just played an amazing first set. I tried playing it but couldn’t get a sound out of it, so I pointed out to him that the reed was on crooked and asked if I could straighten it. He mumbled something like “Ock away laddie is it really?” - clearly sorry he’d ever agreed to let me try in the first place! I straightened the reed in the hope that’d I’d be able to get a sound out of it. I still couldn’t play on it, the set up was way too hard for me. Sandy used a fairly hard Vandoren reed which along with the cavernous Brilhart 6* mouthpiece was just too hard of a setup for me to play on.
Notwithstanding it was such a rush to hear and see him play again on this clip. It bought back really great memories.
Click here for our page on the Six Bells.
The article was first written to commemorate the thirty years that had passed since Sandy died in 1975. Bill says: 'In an Archive issue coinciding with the thirtieth anniversary of Sandy's passing I felt that mention should be made of this great jazzman. Whilst the purpose of the Archive is to preserve Australian jazz, we have a broad view on the music and the men who helped to give so much pleasure over the years'. For more information about the Victoria Jazz Archive click here: www.vicjazzarchive.org.au.The fifteenth March, 2005, marked the thirtieth anniversary of the death of the legendary Scottish jazz clarinettist Sandy Brown.
I don't use the word 'legendary' lightly. A lot of musicians world-wide would concur with this terminology.
Sandy was born in India in 1929 of Scottish parents but spent most of his choldhood and subsequent early years in Edinburgh. Sandy claimed in his writings, put out in the McJazz Manuscripts, that his mother was Indian, but his friend pianist/drummer Stan Greig (part of his original Edinburgh band and cohort later in London) has stated 'this was just one of Sandy's stories'. I met Stan in Melbourne at the Fiftieth Jazz Convention in 1995 and he reiterated those opinions to me over a liquid lunch.
Sandy's early band, I suppose, was similar to most Revivalist groups at that time, Following the Armstrong Hot Five, King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band, Jelly Roll Morton, Clarence Williams style of Hot Jazz. The early Twenties white music or the later Condon sound in Edinburgh was covered by the Alex Welsh/Archie Semple crew (another story perhaps).
Sandy displayed the hot spikey clarinet of Johnny Dodds. His jazz partner for life, Al Fairweather, followed the dictum of the young Louis and remains one of the best exponents of getting inside the ground-breaking Armstrong of the Twenties (along with Bent Persson [Swedish trumpet player - click here or click here to listen] and our own Bob Barnard [Australian cornet player - click here or click here to listen]). Not for Al the later 'Hello Dolly' bit - indeed in his latter years when appearing as a guest with other bands, Al would say to the leader: 'I don't sing or tell jokes". Sandy made up for Al's shy reticence. In some ways he was larger than life. A gifted writer and raconteur extraordinaire.
In 1954 both musicians went down to London. Humphrey Lyttelton helped them get known although Humph admitted that on hearing Al play he had to do a bit of 'wood shedding'. Sandy's initial London band stayed pretty well within 'Trad' boundaries but like Humph, had the Aussie trait of writing original tunes. One of Sandy's great interests was incorporating West African High Life music (Whilst based in Edinburgh he had played some gigs in Paris opposite a band of African drummers). So in 1955 he recorded the first of a series of High Life tunes that he had composed - 'Africa Blues' and 'African Queen'. The latter was a hit, and as Humph has stated 'struggled into the lower half of the hit parade before it fell back exhausted'. It swings, and has great solos from Sandy, Al and the trombone player - one John R.T. Davies. On its own merits it owes nothing to Bogart or Hepburn!
It was obvious that musicians like Sandy and Al would find the confines of the traditional field a bit constricting, so accordingly they moved into the then emerging Mainstream scene in which Humph and Bruce Turner were involved.
Around this time during my Merchant Navy years, I often saw the duo at the 100 Club. Their repertoire by that time (circa 1960) encompassed all sorts of material from Oliver to Art Blakey; Basie to Benny Golson, plus of course their original compositions. Some of those appeared on a great LP called 'Doctor McJazz'. They included 'Harlem Fats' - obviously for Mr Waller (a version recorded by Bob Barnard in Canada), 'Wee Jimmy' (a Scottish mate of theirs), and 'Portrait of Willie Best' (seemingly a character played by the actor Stepan Fetchit who took the part of a 'negro' in some of the old films).
Sandy had a career in acoustic engineering and therefore didn't have to rely on jazz for a living. When the Beat movement more or less destroyed the Jazz Scene in the late Sixties, he still appeared with various groups and made the odd broadcast. He even appeared on a record with fellow Scot trombonist George Chisholm featuring the music from the show 'Hair'. At the same time he appeared with Avant Garde musicians in a session which included a 'Suite Sandy Brown'. As far as I know this was not recorded.
A long way from Johnny Dodds or the West End Cafe where his band played in Edinburgh in the Fifties. Ill health caught up with him in the Seventies and he died in 1975 drinking whisky and watching Scotland lose to England in a rugby match. Perhaps that was the last straw, and he said 'stuff it!'.
Although time has passed he is still remembered by the faithful. Once asked how there were so many good Scottish jazz musicians he said something along the lines that 'The bagpipes were a fact of life'. Two things I recall - his announcement at the end of a set in any club: 'You are welcome to join us at the bar in the interval but not at our expense'; and another was when a guy approached him asking if he would play 'Stranger on the Shore' and Sandy politely said that it wasn't in their repertoire. As the guy walked away, Sandy pointed his clarinet like a rifle and shot him in the back.
He had a few critics. Clarinettist Buddy De Franco thought his style was 'primitive'. British writer Benny Green had similar views, but in his playing days he was a very ordinary saxophone player. I go along with Roger Bell's comment to me a few years back when I broached the subject. Roger intimated 'the most original voice in the UK we heard' and that's despite him being mates with the great Humph.
So there you have it. A unique voice stilled too early - not the first time that happened. Although in his latter years he could evoke the breathy style of Jimmy Guiffre's modernism or the angular strains of Pee Wee Russell, for me it's the Dodds heat of the 1955 'Nothin' Blues' with the gutteral vocal that remains in my mind. 'Busy Doin' Nothin', Nothin's What I Want To Do'. Hardly! Sandy's life was the opposite, full to the brim. To quote an antipodean phrase: 'Onya Sandy'.
This article by Bill Brown in Victoria, Australia was written in 2005 for the Victorian Jazz Archive in Melbourne: www.vicjazzarchive.org.au
Send us your memories and thoughts on Sandy
Pete Batten recalls:
I have one story which may interest Sandy Brown fans. One evening early in September 1958 I was in the Blue Posts at the rear of 100 Oxford St. I bumped into Sandy, whom I knew slightly. We had friends in common and I had also played on the same jazz club bill as his band on one or two occasions. I told him I was feeling fed up because I wanted to apply for a new job, but did not have any decent references because I was only a year out of University. He asked me to give him my address and promised to write me a reference. 2 or 3 days later I got a note from Sandy plus a short but glowing reference typed on the notepaper of his architectural firm. I got the job and began a successful career in Adult Education. Just one example of Sandy – a great musician and a wonderful human being.
Tiffany Oben writes:
I just found you by chance, whilst searching for something completely other. Sandy and Flo lived downstairs from my Grandma. She had a drawing of him on her living room wall playing the clarinet. She remained friends with Flo after he died, for many years. My Grandma Pam was married to the jazz pianist Michael Jefferson. I loved her stories of dancing and music and remember going once to a smokey jazz club I think in Seven Sisters, London, although it must have been after Sandy died.
This month's photographic memory also comes from Johnny Johnstone, pictured below with Sandy Brown. Johnny was twenty in 1957 when Sandy's band played in Nottingham. Johnny says: 'The photograph below is of Sandy and myself taken by Al Fairweather in the dressing room of the Regents Hall, the night they played there. Sandy sent the other photograph to me. It was probably a publicity picture, and the very attractive blonde must remain a mystery as far as I'm concerened. It might be worth asking if anyone can identify her?' utting it in the webpage,and asking the question,as to who she is/was,in the hope that Sandy used it,more than once,and identified her?
Why the picture of Sandy and the blonde was taken in front of a memorial to John Nash is also a mystery. John Nash was an architect responsible for most of the layout of Regency London, but he designed many other buildings in England, Wales and Ireland. This memorial could, presumably, be anywhere.
The other interesting feature is that in this picture, Sandy is holding a bass clarinet, rather than the clarinet he carries in most other pictures. Contact us if you have any ideas.
Sandy's acoustic engineering colleague David Binns subsequently wrote saying:
'I think that I can shed some light on the photo of Sandy with the mystery blond. If my memory serves me right, The memorial to John Nash, is in the portico of All Souls Church, Langham Place, next to the BBC. Sandy was working as their chief Acoustic Architect for the BBC at the time and would have popped out for a publicity? Photo. Being an Architect he would have selected the spot.'
David Stevens writes from Australia. David played piano on the Al Fairweather tune Candy Stripes featured on the 1956 album Sandy's Sidemen.
I was with Sandy's band for a while in the fifties. As you may know, I was featured on one track in the "Sandy's Sidemen" album. I was playing with the band at the time, so I guess that's why Al chose me for the album. I was - and still am - an enormous fan of Sandy's, and am sad that my playing at that time was well below the standard of the rest of the band. Mainly laziness - I just didn't practice. At that time I was a full-time accountant, and at Sandy's request I formed a company for him called Acoustic Designers Ltd. I think it's still in existence. As well as my short time with Sandy, I played with John Haim's Jellyroll Kings, Mick Mulligan's band, Beryl Bryden's Backroom Boys, Alexis Korner's Blues Incorporated, and a short time with a little band led by Dickie Hawdon, a great friend. I moved to Australia with my family in 1964, and have played with various Australian bands. Now 87, I still get maybe a couple of gigs a month and do a weekly jazz program on radio.
My radio program is pretty wide- ranging. I've played everything from Oliver's Creole Jazz Band to Ornette Coleman (the latter only once - two people phoned and complained). I have about 200 Ellington LPs and CDs, so several of them get played every week. On piano, Hines was my first love and is still up there, but my Piano Spot on the program has included Cripple Clarence Lofton, Teddy Wilson, Monk, Randy Weston, Jimmy Rowles, Jessica Williams, and a couple of dozen others. I can't recall anything much about the time when I was with Sandy, except that I loved him as a musician and a person, particularly his dry sense of humour. You probably know the story of a concert at which his band was one of several on the bill, and Sandy and some of the band were drinking backstage when an avant garde saxophone player was performing. After some ear-splitting shrieks and honks, someone asked Sandy what he thought. He said quietly "I respect the right of the younger musicians to push out the barriers... but I reserve the right not to f***ing well listen".
Todd Allen interviewed David for Roger Trobridge's 'Cyril Davies' website and you can read the interview and more about David and his memories if you click here.
John Cox sent us details of a page on the Jazz professional site which gives the text of a discussion in 1963 between Sandy, Harry South and Jimmy Deuchar where they were presented with unidentified recordings and asked to discuss them. Click here to read the discussion.
David Keen in Canada was watching a video about vintage cars on a website www.kidston.com. An interview takes place with Robert Coucher, editor of Octane who was taking a Bugatti along with a Mercedes 300SL Gullwing over to France to meet someone for lunch. The text on the site says: 'Once upon a time, many years ago, in an age before cramped budget airlines or bumper-to-bumper traffic on congested freeways, there was an era when Continental travel promised glamour, adventure even...Of course, practicality usually comes at their expense, but occasionally it’s good to put aside such considerations and take a step back in time.
It's still dark and our two vintage sports cars are spearing through the night, engines humming and ancient headlights showing the way. Robert Coucher and I are tired, hungry and still wearing black tie from the awards dinner the previous evening. France here we come!'
As you reach the 01.01 minutes into the video (click here and play Midnight Express - The Continental Dash Part II), David noticed a photograph on the wall of the channel ferry. 'I did a doubletake 'cos I was pretty sure it was Sandy (Brown) - if you look closely you can see a copy of (his book) the McJazz Manuscripts in his hands - the question is, who's in the picture with him andwhy is it on the wall of, Iassume, the dining room on the Ferry?'.
Coops and Sandy
Photograph courtesy of Jamie Evans
We think the other person in the photograph could be Alan Cooper ('Coops') of the Temperence Seven? (click here for details of the picture we have included above from Jamie Evans from March 2011 on our Photographic Memories page). Why is the photograph on the channel ferry? - now that's a mystery.
David Binns writes: “David (Keen) noticed a photograph on the wall of the channel ferry. 'I did a double take 'cos I was pretty sure it was Sandy (Brown) - if you look closely you can see a copy of (his book) the McJazz Manuscripts in his hands - the question is, who's in the picture with him and why is it on the wall of, I assume, the dining room on the Ferry?” David Binns says: 'Sandy is on the right but the book cannot be The McJazz Manuscripts as this was published after Sandy died.'
The late Graham Collier in Spain wrote to us recalling the occasion when he was in hospital at a time when there were limited visiting hours. Sandy Brown came to visit him. He said," I told them I'd come down from Scotland ... to visit you. But I didn't say when I'd come down from Scotland!"
Roger Todd wrote to comment on the fact that Sandy Brown had a plate of false teeth that he used to take out when he played clarinet:
'In my experience, you get the higher notes with more pressure and the lower ones with relaxed pressure - that means that both breath pressure and lip pressure and pressure from the upper front teeth. But at the top end you also have to 'hear' the notes you cross-finger and can slide about adjusting the pitch. I would have thought the lack of upper teeth would have made it more difficult. So far, with all my own teeth, I've never had to 'gum' the mouthpiece. I was also interested in the coin burning exercise on reeds - a new one on me. Last year, after many years of experimenting, I found that a new reed is best immersed in a mug of warm water for 24 hours to take the resistence out of it. If it works, then you have a great reed, if it still doesn't work - get another.'
'One of my erstwhile work colleagues - an Ulsterman - was squaring up to a Scot in a Fleet Street bar when he decided to remove his plate. The Scot did likewise - hilarious collapse of two stout, pissed parties. The Ulsterman, Ted Oliver, had previously found fame when Vinnie Jones drew blood by biting his nose - one part he couldn't remove. But it doesn't explain the proliferation of Scots without their two front teeth. Do they lose them through bad dental hygiene or the dreaded Glasgow Kiss?'
Todd Allen has come across a review of the Sandy Brown Band by Ken Colyer on the Ken Colyer website. Apparently Ken reviewed records in the mid-50s for Challenge, a left-wing newspaper, and Todd sends us this excerpt from the Jazz Column about a Big Bill Broonzy concert at the Stoll Theatre in ?1957 where the Sandy Brown Jazzband was also featured:
Big Bill Really Sings the Blues - by Ken Colyer
... Also featured at this concert was the Sandy Brown Jazzband. While some of our Jazzmen prefer to delve back in search of the original Jazz of New Orleans, others look ahead. Some of them lose the feeling of Jazz in their attempts to create “new sounds”. Sandy and his colleagues, however, manage to be original and stimulating while creating ever better and better Jazz.
Much of their repertoire consists of originals by Sandy and trumpet-man Al Fairweather (of whom Satchmo had some nice things to say!). Many Basie numbers get the Brown treatment. Sandy’s highly individual clarinet style makes it doubly important that the front-line be “with him”. It is precisely the sympathy of expression between Sandy, Al Fairweather and Jerry French on trombone which first strikes the listener.
In the rhythm section Diz Dizley’s guitar shines, particularly when he plays brilliant solos with his instrument plugged into an amplifier. Sandy has a principal which stands him in good stead, “To play anything but mediocre Jazz,” he says, “you must disregard what’s generally held to be ‘good taste’ and be prepared to have a go! - rush in where angels fear to tread.”
His professional liking for Spiritual groups such as the original Five Blind Boys is shown on such Brown discs as “Nothin’ Blues” and “Somethin’ Blues”, while his interest in West African music reveals itself in “African Queen”, “Africa Blues” and “Gold Ghana”. A great band with a great future.
To see a copy of the original article click here.
Drew Landles was one of the Edinburgh crowd playing piano in Sandy Brown's band in 1952-1953. Drew passed away in September 2010.
Stu Eaton remembers how:
'Will Redpath, Drew and I shared a well-known and well-used apartment for a couple of years. It belonged to Will and was frequently visited by Brown, Fairweather, Craig, Sandy Currie, Semple, etc. - even probably young Dizzy Jackson. Drew and Will were both from the Borders - Hawick, I think. Drew was an excellent piano player. I remember playing with a band (?his) at a dance at King's Buildings shortly before I came to Canada. Sandy, Will and Drew all attended the Art College, becoming in time successful architects. Sandy and Will then became London based (although they both travelled a lot), while Drew remained in Edinburgh. I don't believe he ever intended to be a full-time musician although he could certainly have.'
Jim Keppie says:
'Drew, Bill Strachan, Donald Murray and I and have met regularly each Wednesday fortnight for some years now when, as part of the Edinburgh Jazz Archive Group (EJAG), we have discussed matters relating to the Group's aims and Drew will be sadly missed.'
Drew's funeral took place on Friday 1st October at Warriston Crematorium, Edinburgh.
Eddie Fowler has brough to our attention an article by Kenny Mathieson as a preview of the 2010 Edinburgh Jazz Festival:
'Typically for jazz, there were two differing schools of thought in Edinburgh in 1950. One looked to the New Orleans jazz of King Oliver, Louis Armstrong and Jelly Roll Morton for inspiration, the other to the Chicago school of Eddie Condon, Bix Beiderbecke and Jack Teagarden.
Clarinettist Sandy Brown and the so-called Royal High School Gang lead the New Orleans faction, along with such musicians as trumpeter Al Fairweather and pianist Stan Greig, while the Condon-ites united around the Semple brothers, Archie and John, and trumpeter Alex Welsh.
Mike Hart was allied with the Royal High group. He remembers going to listen regularly to the clarinetist at the Edinburgh Jazz Club in a church hall in Riego Street in Tollcross as a teenager in 1950, and later played drums in Brown's band.
"Riego Street was a grotty church hall where some of us were underage," he recalls, "and we used to have tea and biscuits at the interval while the musicians went across to the pub. There was a much younger audience at that stage – jazz was our music, our pop music if you like.
"I found Sandy very irascible. He was not an easy person to get on with. When he announced the tunes, he would tell Al Fairweather, and Al would turn round and tell us – he seemed to have an aversion to talking to the young whipper-snappers in the rhythm section.'
This is just part of an interesting and longer article - click here to read the full version.
Todd Allen has sent us a short quote from Tony Standish's article 'Muddy Waters in London' from 1957. Todd says that Tony was writing for 'Jazz Journal' at the time and that the quote refers to Chris Barber's set for a Muddy Waters show in 1957:
'They played "Fidgety Feet", "Chimes Blues", "Maryland", "Majorca", the strangely discordant "Golden Striker" and , near the end, a thundering, roaring "Saratoga Swing" that might have penetrated even the calculated deafness of the local disparagers. Americans apart, this ranked with the Omega Brass Band marching in the streets, and some solos by Al Fairweather, Sandy Brown and Tony Coe, as the hottest, most exciting jazz I have heard since arriving in England nearly two years ago.'
Todd says that Tony Standish went on to run Heritage Records and now lives in his native Australia where he still comments on jazz Forums.
Franz Hoffman has written to us from Germany to say that he has some recordings that were made when Red Allen came to Britain in the 1960s and played with Sandy's band. They include a session from Westminster Central Hall in January 1964 with Alex Welsh and at a party (this recording apparently sounds as though it has been recorded in a hall); and from the Six Bells in Chelsea in January 1966 (this recording is of rather poor quality). Franz has recordings made by Red Allen with other personnel also. Taking account of the quality, Franz says the recordings with Sandy are mainly of historical worth. If anyone is interested in finding out more, Franz can be contacted at his email address: email@example.com
Jim Douglas writes: 'I was born near Edinburgh in 1942 and came into jazz at the back end of Sandy's reign in the West End Cafe in that city. I first met him whilst appearing at a concert with Pete Kerr's Capitol Band in the Usher Hall in the late fifties when he topped the bill with the band he co-ran with Al Fairweather. Later as a member of Alex Welsh's band our paths crossed many times and I like to think I became a good friend of both he and Al. I was delighted to be asked by Sandy to play at his Christmas parties in his home in Hampstead on several occasions with bassist Tony Archer. As you can imagine they were less than sober occasions! In the sixties I played on a cover version of 'Those Were The Days' with Sandy and Bobby Mickleburgh. As a fellow 'Auld Reekian' and musician I considered him a good friend and a wonderful clarinettist.'
Photograph © Jim Douglas
When Alex Welsh died, Jim was involved in running a restaurant in Woburn but he kept in touch with Alex's wife Maggie: 'We started seeing each other and eventually married and have a son William. I returned to professional ranks in 1986 to join Digby Fairweather's 'Superkings' and subsequent shows such as 'Let's Do It' with Paul Jones, 'Lady Sings The Blues', Val Wiseman, and 'The Great British Jazzband'. I also toured Germany with an all-star American band led by Bob Haggard, and played the Berne Festival, etc. I was involved in quite a few recordings during this period including three CDs for a Post Office sponsored band - the 'First Class Sounds'.
Jim returned to cooking two years ago in a small pub near Woburn Abbey, but is considering retirement and just playing a few gigs again.
"I went down with my great friend, Ferdie Favager, the banjo player in the Barber band, also a Dodds fan. It's difficult to describe my feelings on hearing that great clarinet playing for the first time. It was one of those seminal moments in one's life. Did one just give up, or practise more and try harder? Later, I used to go straight from work to hear the band rehearsing in Mac's Rehearsal rooms. This was the band that made Everybody Loves Saturday Night, etc. Sandy, Al, John R T ( complete with fez), Alan Thomas, Mo Umanski, Graham Burbidge. I remember being amazed at Sandy's overall talent, let alone his wonderful clarinet playing. He'd say to Alan. 'I want you to play this, Alan', then sit down at the piano and demonstrate. The same with Graham, showing what he wanted from the drums. Talking of Graham. I remember how we all teased him unmercifully when he left Sandy to join the Barber band. With all due respect to Chris, none of us could understand why anyone would leave Sandy to join Chris - apart from the money, of course!
"I've never in my whole life heard a better clarinet player than Sandy - and I've heard a good few. If he wasn't a genius, he was bloody near it. In my book, Sandy and Al were world class musicians, the equal of anybody in the world, then and now. Even in the early 50s, when they were still wearing their influences on their sleeves, they had such a great, authentic sound. A sound we were all then still trying to achieve - the Humph band included - but which Sandy and Al seemed to have without even trying. Great chaps, great music. An inspiration to all who knew and heard them."
Tom King writes from New Zealand: Your website so evokes the great personality of Sandy. I was lucky enough to hear him in 1971 when visiting Britain. It was a Thursday evening in June at the 100 Club, and he was appearing with his fellow proud Scot, George Chisholm. That was a memorable week for me, with Sandy on Thursday, Chris Barber on Friday, a re-formed (but not reformed Temperence Seven on Saturday, and a Riverboat Shuffle on Sunday with Alex Welsh's band and Ken Colyer's. I was recently able to 'score' a second-hand LP copy of Sandy's ' Hair', which our local jazz broadcaster of old (Keith Edmonston, of Shetlandic origin) called the most disgusting cover he had ever seen. My mother is from Glasgow, emigrated with her parenets to Kansas, and must be the only Kiwi alive who heard Bix at a Whiteman concert in Salina, Kansas in 1928.
Jeff Matthews wrote: From the first time I heard Sandy Brown play I was knocked out by his sound. I am returning to playing myself now and listening again to Sandy. Is there any information about Sandy's clarinet and mouthpiece set-up? Does anybody publish the music for Go Ghana and African Queen? Are the head arrangements still in existence? I started a band about 2 years ago and I want to add some of these gems from the Sandy Brown portfolio of tunes. Thank you for any information you can give me about Sandy and his playing. What a sad loss to British Jazz - As was Archie Semple. (If anyone can help, please contact us).
[Recollections in the Newsletter during 1999/2000 indicate that Sandy started with a simple Albert System clarinet and changed to a Boehm around 1950. He then moved on to a Boosey and Hawkes 8-10 and by 1971 was also playing a Leblanc. There is debate about the mouthpiece. Although the B&H seemed to have a B&H mouthpiece, apparently clarinet players can 'personalise' their mouthpieces by having the original altered by widening the 'lay' to get more penetration. Sandy did use hard reeds to get extra volume and shrillness and it was remembered that he would burn off the top edge beteen two coins to make them harder still. It should be noted that Sandy had a plate of false teeth that he would take out when he played and this would also have an effect on his tone. Someone else also recalled that he played with his fingers straight. If anyone can help regarding the publishers, please let us know. IM]
Howard Gabe in Brazil says: I used to play clarinet (a little!) and I remember once looking at Sandy Brown's and the part of the reed that entered his mouth was all chewed up and closely resembled the cutting edge of a rough saw blade. I'm sure that helped to produce his unique sound, and it was unique. I just read your 'What's New' page and saw the piece on Tony Milliner. What a nice person he was (still is - Ed), I remember talking briefly with him at the Dancing Slipper, in West Bridgeford, one night. I was at Nottingham University in the early sixties and used to be a regular at the Saturday night jazz sessions there. It was a legendary jazz club back then, and just like the Six Bells on the King's Road, where I saw the Sandy Brown/Al Fairweather band on several occasions - a fairly regular Saturday night spot for that band too, if my memory is serving me well. I also was a fan of Roy Williams, who followed Tony Milliner, and I also enjoyed listening to him during the many years that he was with Alex Welsh; another great band.
David Keen adds: I am a 62 year old ex-pat Brit from London living on Vancouver Island off the west coast of Canada, I have been here since 1970. I met Sandy at the Six Bells in Chelsea in the late sixties. I was a clarinet player myself at the time and a huge fan. I asked him about his clarinet and the set up he used. He generously offered to let me try his horn, which I did, and he was happy to talk at length about what kind of set up he used.
At that time he was using a Leblanc clarinet and a Brillhart Ebolin 6* mouthpiece with, I believe, a medium to medium-soft 2½ Vandoren reed. Apparently the top joint of his Boosey and Hawkes Symphony 1010 clarinet (not 8-10 as stated elsewhere on the Forum) had cracked and was being repaired. The mouthpiece he used with the 1010 was a wooden one made out of rosewood and he had no idea what make it was or what the tip opening was. He told me he acquired the Leblanc to use in the interim while the 1010 was in being repaired, that the Brillhart mouthpiece was 'in the drawer at home', and he just thought he'd give it a try. He liked the set up so much he never did go back to the Boosey or the rosewood mouthpiece. He told me he felt the Leblanc had way more clarity in the upper register and that's why he liked it so much.
There's no mystery with regards to burning off the end of a reed over a coin and certainly not something that was exclusive to Sandy, many reed players used the coin trick in lieu of commercially available reed trimmers. After many hours of use reeds tend to soften up, burning off the tip or trimming off the tip with a reed trimmer tends to restore some of the stiffness. With regard to the Boosey and Hawkes Symphony 8-10, I don't believe there ever was such an animal. Booseys made two pro-model clarinets in those days. An Imperial 926 designed for dance band players. The 926 designation was in reference to the bore diameter in thousandths of an inch. Its bore being .926" in diameter at its largest point. The other model was the Symphony 1010 designed for symphonic/legit players, its bore being 1.010" thousandths of an inch in diameter at its largest point. Bigger bore instruments generally speaking are designed to give a darker sound and to blend better in a section.
I have a huge collection of Sandy's albums; a whole bunch of 45 rpm EPs and probably half a dozen or more of his LPs. I have recently discovered 'Webster Records. Jazz by Mail' (www.jazzbymail.com), a North American based company out of St Louis, Missouri who seem to be reissuing a huge amount of British Jazz on the Fellside and Lake labels including some of Sandy's stuff that I had not seen before.
[Recollections in John Latham's Sandy Brown Newsletter during 1999/2000 indicate that Sandy started with a simple Albert System clarinet and changed to a Boehm around 1950. He then moved on to a Boosey and Hawkes 8-10 and by 1971 was also playing a Leblanc. There is debate about the mouthpiece. Although the B&H seemed to have a B&H mouthpiece, apparently clarinet players can 'personalise' their mouthpieces by having the original altered by widening the 'lay' to get more penetration. Sandy did use hard reeds to get extra volume and shrillness and it was remembered that he would burn off the top edge beteen two coins to make them harder still. It should be noted that Sandy had a plate of false teeth that he would take out when he played and this would also have an effect on his tone. Someone else also recalled that he played with his fingers straight. If anyone can help regarding the publishers, please let us know. IM]
Jeff Matthews writes again: Thank you very much for the information. I have spoken to John (Latham) and he told me that there was a (Boosey and Hawkes) 8-10 clarinet which was an 'affordable' professional model. Wouldn't it be interesting to know where that clarinet is now?
Fiona Jenkinson writes: We are pleased to report that Sandy Brown's Boosey and Hawkes clarinet is alive and well and being played by 8 year old Emma Jenkinson in East Yorkshire. Emma's mum, Fiona, told us:
'Sandy gave the clarinet to my father, Alex Burd, who worked with him at Sandy Brown Associates. My parents had bought me a second-hand clarinet, and when Sandy heard that I was interested in learning to play, I believe he said that my clarinet had difficult fingering, and that we would probably be better with this one. I played it for about 3 years and got up to grade 5 with it - I think it was probably about 1972-1975, but I am not sure of the exact time. It is the Boosey and Hawkes 8-10 that was being discussed in the Forum pages.
Photo courtesy of Fiona and Emma Jenkinson - Click on the picture for a larger image.
My daughter Emma is just starting to learn and will be having her first proper lesson in September. I am trying to show her that it is exciting to have an old instrument, and really she shouldn't want a shiny new one! - I think your website has convinced her! We are hoping her teacher has heard of Sandy Brown and is suitably impressed!
(Does anyone know what happened to any other of Sandy's clarinets? Please contact us with any information you might have).
Brian Hills says: 'There sure was an 8-10 B&H clarinet - I have one! The serial number is 171711 - I read somewhere that the '8-10' model was for export (to where, I wonder?). I use 1010 as my main instrument now, but the 8-10 was great, not quite the wide bore of a 1010. I also acquired a Selmer 'Centred Tone' recently, also wide bore. I would love to try a Leblanc sometime.'
John Iggleden has come across an old B&H catalogue from around the 1950s and writes:
'I read your comments about Sandy Brown with interest and noted the reference to model 8-10. I thought that you might find the enclosed copy of a catalogue interesting. I obtained it around the mid-1950s when I started playing jazz clarinet. Most of my years I have spent playing Leblanc L.L. models, but over the last year or so I have used a 1960s model B&H 1010 and thought that a coincidence with the Sandy Brown history.' John plays every Tuesday evening at the Bolton Arms in Leyburn, roughly between Harrogate and Darlington in the UK's Yorkshire Dales. The photocopy of the catalogue John sent is too large to reproduce it all, but click here for the details of the 8-10 clarinet and the 1950s price list.
Jeff Matthews is interested in whether there any of Sandy's music is written down:
I am interested to know if the Sandy Brown Band used head arrangements when in the recording studio? Does anybody publish the music for Go Ghana and African Queen? Are the head arrangements still in existence? I started a band about 2 years ago and I want to add some of these gems from the Sandy Brown portfolio of tunes. Thank you for any information you can give me about Sandy and his playing. What a sad loss to British Jazz - As was Archie Semple. (If anyone can help, please contact us).
David Corkindale also wrote: Do you know if the music scores are available for some of the pieces that Sandy played? I'd love to be able to obtain the music for the original pieces on McJazz particularly. In about 1961 Sandy and the band played for a Durham University jazz club gig and I was in the uni trad band and 'shared the billing' which was a great thrill.I have wanted to play the McJazz pieces ever since and having played in all sorts of music ensembles but not jazz ones since then I have now helped form a trad jazz bandin far off Australia and would love to introduce the McJazz pieces to a new audience here.
Geoff Roberts also writes: I read on the Sandy Brown website that Jeff Matthews asked if anybody published the music for Go Ghana and African Queen. I’m asking the same question, having played these numbers many times in Roger Bennett’s Blue Note Jazz Band at the Old Duke, Bristol, latterly at the Undercroft, St.Mary Redcliff. Roger is sadly no longer with us but I now run the Blue Notes. I’ve actually just been given the pad which Roger left but he had his own peculiar method of writing tunes down, not one which I can easily transmit to the present front line members. I can remember him saying to Chris Pearce “These are your clarinet notes” – which Roger would then play for Chris on his soprano! I would dearly like to get hold of the sheet music or head arrangements if available. I have the chords but need trumpet, clarinet & trombone parts. Hope you can help.
Bass player Dizzy Jackson says: When we did that fabulous fortnight in London in 1953, the band produced an EP with four tunes on it. There was no special arranging and we just played each number as we normally did, trying to keep to the time allowed. Sandy of course always went over the suggested time. The studio was really primitive and I remember having to play behind a screen which separated bass and drums. For some reason, I also had to play standing on a chair with the bass similarly supported - makes it a real problem to swing without falling off the chair, never mind the beat. Of course swing was never a problem playing with Al and Sandy as that pair swung so strongly they could have pulled anyone along with them.
Bassist / pianist Ron Rubin says: About Sandy's arrangements: I'm pretty sure they were all head arrangements, definitely for piano, bass and drums. Tony Milliner might remember whether there were any 'dots' for the front line.
Trombonist Tony Milliner added: My recollection is that some numbers had arrangements and others didn't. There was always a 'talk it through time' with people's features being discussed. I remember an argument at the Dancing Slipper where people kept asking for tunes but we couldn't play them because we didn't have the music - Sandy didn't like people seeing us read music. In the end we did use band parts and put them on the floor to read. 'Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting' and 'Worksong' were certainly written down. I remember Sandy called me an 'enigma' for wanting parts written down!
Dr John Latham (Sandy Brown Society Newsletter) has looked to see whether he has any information: I have now dug out the Sandy Brown boxes and been through them. They do not contain any musical scores. There are two very short bits of printed music used in one of Sandy's articles, used to illustrate a point, but they consist of only a few bars and are nothing to do with McJazz. The best and probably the only way to have the McJazz pieces is to set them down from the CDs. Basically, if the pianist or guitarist can pick up the chord sequence by ear, and the trumpeter can pick up the main theme by ear, they have enough to work from. All the rest is up to the individual musicians. Of course, if a note by note score is needed, that will take a lot more time, but I doubt there ever was a note by note score in the first place. Of the many times I saw Sandy play, I never saw him look at a piece of written music. Sandy's genius above all was in his on the spot improvisation. If you listen to the two versions of African Queen that exist, they are quite different.
Alastair Clark asks: 'There's another story that some of your correspondents might be able to help me with. Back in the mid-Fifties, in the Crown Bar in Lothian Street, Edinburgh, where Sandy Brown had weekly sessions before he set off permanently for London, I met up with him and complimented him on a '78' which he and Al Fairweather had made with the band of Humphrey Lyttelton (who famously said he was 'scared' - as he had every right to be - when he first heard Al). The disc was called, I'm pretty sure, 'Four's Company', and the King Oliver-ish marriage of the two trumpets was brilliant. But Sandy (surprise, surprise!) had a bee in his bonnet about the whole thing. He told me that they had cut a much better track, where Al Fairweather - then, of course, nearing the peak of his powers - had totally outshone Lyttelton. "The gulf," said Sandy, and I remember these exact words to this day, "was so big that Humph never agreed to having it released."
Those were his exact words - I, as a teenager, was having my very first conversation with the man who was my local musical hero, and there is no way that I would ever forget these words. In reporting this conversation, I mean no disrespect to Humph, the greatest of guys and a huge admirer of Sandy and Al: there surely could have been all sorts of solid musical reasons for Humph disliking the recording. But if anyone out there knows anything about this missing masterpiece, I hope they will post it to the website.'
Alastair Clark also writes: You probably know this already, but Sandy Brown, wearing his acoustic-architect cap, set up an office in South Queensferry, just outside Edinburgh. This office is still functioning under his name, and because I live in this little town I pass it often in the High Street, always looking up to see the marvellous portrait of Sandy playing clarinet, which is hung in a prominent position behind the big window that Sandy put in when he took over what was at one time the South Queensferry cinema. Above the office is a wonderful flat, with a huge patio area overlooking the river Forth and the two bridges, the Forth (railway) bridge and the Forth Road Bridge. I'm sure Sandy would have sat on this patio of a summer evening, dram in hand, and enjoyed the view. I'd simply suggest that any Sandy Brown fans planning a Scottish trip which involves crossing the Forth Road Bridge should stop off first at South Queensferry, at the southern end of the bridge, to visit this place where he worked.
I do remember another thing: Sandy was just about to go on stage in the early Seventies to play with the Charlie McNair Band at the Pitlochry Festival Theatre in Scotland. He knew, of course, that I was a journalist with the main 'quality' broadsheet in Scotland at the time, The Scotsman. We were chatting backstage over a drink, and he suddenly advised me to get out of The Scotsman. I said: 'Why?' and he replied that the future of journalism was in tabloids. They were calling the shots with the public. They were the important thing in journalism. They were what the politicians were interested in. I was still arguing with him as he went out to join Charlie's band and deliver a typically passionate, electrifying performance. But Sandy was right. Today, the tabloids rule. And guess what? Even The Scotsman is now ... tabloid!
Information compiled by Bob Weir for 'Jazz Journal International' included an item in August 2007 where someone vaguely recalled hearing about a privately made LP of Sandy's band at Wood Green Jazz Club in 1955. In JJI for December 2007, Bob summarised further debate about what this LP might have been. John Latham and the Sandy Brown Newsletter suggested it might have been a Ristic label recording with Johnny Picard's Angels from the Fishmonger's Arms; a privately made LP by John R.T. Davies subsequently issued by Lake records as' Cy Laurie Blows Hot', or a Deroy Private 10" LP by the Cambridge University Jazz Band with Sandy and Al Fairweather as guests (not reissued). In the February 2008 edition of JJI, Bob says that he has heard from Tony Gent in Devon that the Deroy LP was produced from his own recording at his 21st birthday party in Cambridge's University Cellars. Tony is suggesting that an enterprising record company could produce an interesting CD of the Cambridge jazz scene.
From Norman Simpson (April 2007)
Norman Simpson writes: I keep up a record on most Bristish mainstream/traditional bands, but I have always had difficulty with the line up of Sandy's band between November 1954 and April 1955. Gordon Blundy, Charles Sonnentein, Don Smith and Arthur Fyatt were with him for a short time but I don't know the sequence. Does anyone have any information?
[In the autumn of 1953, Al Fairweather stayed on in London and worked with Cy Laurie whilst the rest of Sandy's band returned to Scotland. Sandy finished his college course and qualification in the autumn of 1954 and then returned to London where he and Al got back together. According to Sandy's discography, he was recording again in late 1954 (unissued tracks) with Al Fairweather, Alan Thomas, Mo Umansky, Don Smith and Arthur Fryatt and then again in April 1955 for which Norman has the information. If anyone can help further, please let us know. IM]
Norrie Thomson and Dizzy Jackson replied: On his return to Edinburgh to continue his studies, Sandy formed a band using basically the same personnel that he had used prior to going to London. He also founded 'The Stud Club' which was located in the Crown Bar, Lothian Street, Edinburgh (subsequently there was a well known folk music club at the same location). Sandy's band played regularly at the venue as well as getting outside gigs from time to time. According to Dizzy, the band personnel were Alex Welsh (trumpet) -[this was apparently Alex's big break], Bob Craig (trombone), Sandy Brown (clarinet), Al Imrie (banjo), Dizzy Jackson (string bass) and Farrie Forsyth (drums).
Apparently there was no regular pianist with the band but at different times Drew Landels and Pat Paterson played. The band also went through to Glasgow and made about an hour's worth of music. Tapes of these recordings surfaced a couple of years ago and Dizzy thinks that Paul Adams of Lake Records has them and intends to release them along with the S&Ms.
Johnny Johnstone wrote in response to a query about the line up of Sandy Brown's band when they played at the Festival Hall, Kirkby In Ashfield in March 1957. The booklet Band Call had recorded that it would have either been Timmy Mahn or Jack Fallon on bass. Johnny says: 'I would say it was almost certainly Tim Mahn on double bass, at that time. After Sandy died, they held a celebration concert at The 100 Club, and Stan Greig invited me to play in the band that he assembled, Al Fairweather assembling the other! What an honour that was. My instrument's are clarinet - Sandy being a major reason for taking up the instrument (Archie Semple being the other), and the Tenor Saxophone.'
Former producer Donald MacLean sends us this extract from his blog The Life Of Me:
In the 1950s, three colleagues and I sit at a table in my office at Aeolian Hall in Bond Street. Together we're responsible for the BBC's burgeoning output of popular music. Jimmy, Geoff and Ted are "Chief Producers" - respectively covering 'Pop', 'Middle-of-the-road' and 'Light Music'. Each of them leads a team of Producers responsible for a total of around 30 music sessions a week - some pre-recorded, many 'live' - equal to several hundred '78s' - a much greater output than the whole record industry of the time. Together with our meagre ration of records ('needletime'), this represents about 45 hours of the BBC's domestic and overseas networks (and a high proportion of the audience ratings).
The Beatles' manager, Brian Epstein, had a secret office above an Asian
airline in a side-street behind Aeolian Hall. He called me one morning late
in 1964 saying he had to make a very important but difficult decision - I
could help him, if I'd be so kind, by just listening as he talked it
through. An hour later I collected him and we walked the two blocks to my
club (the Arts) in Dover Street. He ate very little of his lunch. The
Beatles were, by this stage, so popular that public appearances had to be
treated like royal occasions - with some police forces demanding that they
stay away.Their status in the US was now breaking all records ... he was
besieged with requests that they tour the States. The money offered was
becoming astronomical, but he was concerned for safety - of members of the
public as well as the boys. I wrote in my diary "B.E., usually quiet, talked
non-stop. They'll probably do a couple of weeks Stateside next year."
During the last two weeks of August '65 The Beatles played 10 concerts in America and one in Canada. Every one was headline news worldwide. The Shea Stadium in New York held 55,000 people and there seemed to be at least as many more outside trying to see their idols - the group were flown in by helicopter and then into the centre of the arena in a Wells Fargo armoured truck. Promoter Syd Bernstein hired 2,000 security guards - and banked $304,000 - "the greatest gross from a single event ever". In the 1960s the BBC decided to complement the Proms with a series of pop concerts at the Royal Albert Hall - in those days a notion bordering on sacrilege!
I persuaded Brian Epstein to include the Beatles, and got a tentative OK from the Rolling Stones, but then the management of the hall flatly rejected the booking, fearing that over 10,000 feet stomping in sync would set-up dangerous vibrations in the old structure.
My architect friend Sandy Brown had broadcast for me in Scotland and had recently followed me to London. One day after a Jazz Club broadcast (and a dram or two) he agreed to come with me to confront Christopher Hopper the R.A.H. Manager. It was touch and go but at the last moment Mr Hopper agreed. The ground-breaking events were all sell-outs ... and a world-famous Acoustics Consultancy was born.
It is not difficult to justify the claim that Sandy Brown was ' the most original voice to emerge from the post-war British jazz movement' (John Latham in Sandy Brown Discography, Eurojazz Discos No5, April 1997, p.3) for the crucial limitation of British jazz in this period is that it was imitative.
Musicians and bands strove to copy the American artists and were judged by their audiences by how close they came to achieving this. This was true of all the big names of the British post-war jazz movement. Just try thinking of any of them, and you will find it to be true. Except Sandy.
It is true he began by copying Johnny Dodds, but by 1955 he had found his own individual voice. Listen to African Queen (LACD 133). No American clarinetist ever sounded like this, nor did any American band. To prove the point, then listen to Go Ghana, Scales, The Card, Monochrome, Those Blues, Wild Life, Blues From Black Rock, Doctor Blues, I Presume, Ognoliya and Saved By The Blues from McJazz & Friends (LACD 58). His solo on Wild Life is sublime. From his later career, listen to Splanky (Spotlite SPJ901-CD), In The Evening recorded with American Blues pianist Sammy Price in 1969 (Blues For The Bluesicians on the Jazz Colours label) and all the tracks from 1971 on Sandy Brown with the Brian Lemon Trio (HEP CD 2017), especially Eight.
Others imitated, but only Sandy was a true original.
In 2017, David Binns, Sandy Brown's former partner at the acoustic engineers Sandy Brown Associates, has floated the idea of trying to commission a TV documentary on Sandy. David says: 'I am making enquiries to see if we can find someone to commission the film. It would be perfect if we could find one who is also a jazz fan'. If anyone has contacts or is interested, please contact us and I'll pass the information on to David.
Sandy Brown and David Binns
David says: 'I think it is unlikely that we will find enough film of Sandy to fill an half hour jazz documentary. Trailing YouTube however I have another idea: There is a lot of contemporary film material on Sandy’s recording studios and that, together with my book “Homes of the Hits” can provide the background material. The featured music would be some of the classic pop albums recorded in the studios We can also get jazz in here as Sandy recorded albums in some of the studios. This could take up half the film. The other half could concentrate on his jazz career using the film footage we have found together with still images, sleeves and interviews. It could also possibly include extracts from The McJazz Manuscripts and Follies of the Wise, the screenplay that Sandy wrote for the BBC, presented and acted by Spike Milligan'.
This is just an initial 'sounding', but please contact us if you think you might be able to help.
Send us your memories or thoughts.
Further details of Sandy's life and career can be found in his discography, and his autobiography The McJazz Manuscripts.
A Newsletter about Sandy Brown is produced and mailed out monthly by Dr. John Latham.
© Sandy Brown Jazz 2015 - 2017
Other pages that might be of interest: