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Jazz Remembered


Denis Rose


Denis Rose

Denis Rose photograph courtesy of


Gerry Lupton wrote to us in December with regard to the documentary on Ronnie Scott's Club and referred to .... 'the home movies shot by trumpeter Denis Rose of the characters of Soho, that also featured in the Scott documentary where Ronnie is seen gurning and generally acting up. Rose himself would be an interesting subject for an article, as all the nascent British modern jazzers say they used to defer to him, as he had grasped the basics of bebop harmonies, without having visited the States with Geraldo's Navy. I believe he may have had a bit of trouble with the law, having gone AWOL from his National Service, and thereafter kept a very low profile, but I don't know much about him and would be pleased to find out more.'


Listen to Denis playing the Charlie Parker tune Buzzy as part of the Jazz At The Town Hall Ensemble in 1948 [Ronnie Scott (tenor sax), Johnny Dankworth (alto sax), Reg Arnold (trumpet), Denis Rose (piano, trumpet), Jimmy Skidmore (tenor sax), Bernie Fenton (piano), Joe Muddel (bass), Jack Fallon (bass), Carlo Krahmer (drums), Cab Kaye (vocals).]





John Chilton's Who's Who Of British Jazz gives us a good start. Apparently Denis was born in Clerkenwell, London on the 31st May, 1922. Self-taught, he played piano as well as the trumpet and tenor horn and started out playing in pubs and clubs before briefly playing with Happy Blake's Band. He had his own band at the Jamboree and Panama Clubs and then, as Gerry suspected, he deserted from the Royal Army Medical Corps after being called up in 1943.

The following seven years saw Denis move from band to band including those of Johnny Claes, Johnny Brown (at the London Astoria Ballroom), Johnny Swinfen at Hammersmith Palais, Jack Amlot, Tito Burns' Big Band and Sextet, Sidney Gross's Swing Shop Package, Cab Kaye's Ministers Of Swing and Leon Roy's Orchestra. At times he also led his own band in Boston, Lincolnshire and his own sextet in London.

We should be grateful that Denis regularly had a movie camera handy and captured valuable archive film. He was responsible for much of the footage in this documentary about Archer Street in London, a gathering place for musicians picking up work outside the Union's offices.

The documentary The Street.






Club Eleven Dancers




Denis was also a founder-member of London's Club Eleven from 1948 to 1950. Club Eleven has a significant place in the story of Jazz in the UK. The club was named because it had eleven founders – business manager Harry Morris and ten British bebop musicians. It first opened at 41 Great Windmill Street in Soho in 1948, and had two house bands, one led by Ronnie Scott and the other by Johnny Dankworth. Denis Rose organised many of the activities at the club.


Bebop dancing at Club Eleven, 1949. (Topical Press)









Listen to Denis playing How High The Moon as part of the Jazz At The Town Hall Ensemble in 1948 [Ronnie Scott (tenor sax), Johnny Dankworth (alto sax), Reg Arnold (trumpet), Denis Rose (piano, trumpet), Jimmy Skidmore (tenor sax), Bernie Fenton (piano), Joe Muddel (bass), Jack Fallon (bass), Carlo Krahmer (drums), Cab Kaye (vocals).]




His desertion finally caught up with Denis in April 1950 when he was arrested at Club Eleven and charged. It is amazing that he had been Absent Without Leave for so long, and discovery does not seem to have affected him as he was soon back playing with Sid Millward's Big Band in Glasgow before returning to London to freelance and then play on and off back with Cab Kaye. Ironically, he toured Germany with USO (United Service Organisations) with Bernie Stanton's Band in 1953. Other gigs followed with Norman Burns and Sid Wright before he was mainly playing piano in North London clubs.

In the 1970s Denis accompanied vocalist Maggie Nichols and had a residency at the Maestro Club in London. Maggie Nichols was at one time a dancer at the Moulin Rouge but from her singing gigs with Denis, she moved on to become a significant 'free jazz' vocalist. In this video, she talks about her approach to free improvisation:




There is much more about Denis on the website where David Taylor gives a very readable and informative account of Denis' story and quotes Johnny Dankworth as saying: ' If it hadn't been for Denis, I'm convinced that the modern movement here would have taken much longer to develop, and that Club Eleven would never have happened...' and Ronnie Scott as saying: 'I learned most of the theory from Denis...Everyone did...'

With regard to Denis' desertion, David Taylor writes: 'This was an unhappy time and he deserted and spent several years on the run from the Military Police hiding out at a friend's house during the day.' Later, in 1961, David quotes Vic Schonfield in Jazz Journal ... 'In 1951, with the closing of Club Eleven, Rose severed his connections with the active jazz world, leaving behind him a Thelonius Monk-like reputation compounded of an erratic personality and technique, and influential and far-sighted musicianship. Since then he has worked as a commercial pianist, and although many well known names have played with him he has not appeared before a jazz audience during the past decade ....... On piano, which is now his main instrument, he alternates between swinging and inventive playing in the idiom of Al Haig and Bud Powell, and a uniquely angular linear style of harmonic exploration, but despite the admiration of his colleagues, he will only extend himself musically if he feels inclined. Both technically and physically he is in far better shape than during his years of prominence, and it has been his reluctance to face the stress and uncertainty of the jazz world that have kept him obstinately away from the public eye.....'

In his later years, Denis was quite happy to play in a trio or solo in London pubs and clubs and he died in London in November 1984.

I have been unable to discover what happened when Denis was finally arrested and charged with desertion - presumably he was not imprisoned - does anyone know? Also, in the two tracks played in this article does anyone have any details about which solos were played by Denis as the personnel on the recordings shows two trumpet players and pianists?


Denis Rose

Denis Rose photograph courtesy of


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