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Jazz Remembered


George Chisholm

by Jeff Duck


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George Chisholm




George Chisholm



Trombonist George Chisholm OBE was born in Glasgow, Scotland on March 25th, 1915, to a musical family. His father was a drummer, his mother a pianist and his two brothers Ron (a pianist) and Bert (a trumpeter) were also skilled musicians.  George’s daughter Carol Moore is a singer and recorded with her father many times in the seventies. His musical career started as a pianist at a local Glasgow cinema and he made his first live broadcast in 1932. George started to play trombone in 1934 and doubled on both piano and trombone for the next few years. In the spring of 1934, he was hired to play trombone by Louis Freeman, who directed a dance band at the Glasgow Playhouse, where later that year, the trombonist also worked with violinist Jack Ansell's Band.

In 1935, George moved to London and started playing in big name dance bands such as those of Bert Ambrose and Teddy Joyce. It was also at this time that George worked with vocalist George Elrick and bandleader and dancer extraordinaire Ken ‘Snakehips’ Johnson. He made regular visits to the all night jam sessions in clubs like Bag o’ Nails and The Nest, not just as a visitor but as a player as well. He played with the Americans Coleman Hawkins and Benny Carter and impressed with George’s playing ability, Benny Carter invited him for a three month stay in Holland playing with the Carter band.





In this 44 minute programme The Golden Age Of British Dance Bands about bandleader Ambrose, compiled and introduced by Alan Dell in 1972, at about 29.18 minutes in, George Chisholm reminisces about that time when he joined Ambrose's trombone section.




During the 1939 visit to London of Fats Waller the decision was made that Fat’s would make some recordings during his stay. George was in Jersey on his honeymoon but quickly returned to London to take part in the recordings. Other players on this session were fellow Scots David Wilkins (trumpet), Ian Sheppard (tenor sax and violin) and Alan Ferguson (guitar). Alfie Kahn (tenor sax and clarinet) and Edmondo Ross on drums were also there. Titles recorded were Flat Foot Floogie, Pent Up In A Penthouse, Music Maestro Please, and A Tiskit, A Taskit, Don’t Try Your Jive On Me and Ain’t Misbehavin’. That same year Leonard Feather, who was a leading jazz critic in America, organised a recording session for George’s Chis-holm’s Jive Five. It was soon after this recording session that Leonard Feather described George as “one of the half-dozen most inventive and emotionally mature trombonists in jazz - regardless of country: a superlative musician with an ageless style." 1939 was a very busy year for George as he was also a founding member of a band called The Heralds of Swing; the other founding members were Tommy McQuater (trumpet) and Archie Craig (trumpet). The Heralds of Swing were formed with the intention of following a more purist jazz line rather than the more commercial orientated jazz-influenced dance bands of the era.

In 1940 George joined the RAF and joined The Squadronaires (the RAF dance band) as a player and arranger. The Heralds of George ChisholmSwing were disbanded, and George stayed with the Squadronaires after he was demobbed until 1950, as well as working on other projects including five year stint of freelance work along with working with the BBC Showband, the forerunner of the BBC Radio Orchestra.

George was also one of the core members of Kenny Baker’s Dozen (one of the best British jazz bands), and Wally Stott’s orchestra on BBC Radio’s The Goon Show, where as well as providing backing music and playing many jazz solos, George also had a number of acting roles notably as ‘Chisholm MacChisholm the Steaming Celt'. George stepped out of the band to take speaking roles, joining the team of Harry Secombe, Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan and Ray Ellington.

In December 1956 George, along with Sid Phillips, Dill Jones, Jack Parnell and a symphony orchestra were chosen as accompanists to Louis Armstrong at the Hungarian Relief concert at The Royal Festival Hall in London. This was Louis’ first return to London since the 1930s and was such a rare occasion that Humphrey Lyttelton took the job of holding up a heavy recorder to a backstage speaker so as to capture the event. Although to me George’s solos were confident and perfect in every way, the recording seems to show that Louis was often out of sync with the orchestra. Humphrey Lyttelton once said “I started buying his records and listening to him when I was still at school ... He told me once that his playing was based on eight bars of trombone that Jack Teagarden had played on his recording of Junk Man.” Even though Teagarden remained an inspiration and favourite of George’s he never did copy the America musician.


George Chisholm and his Jazz Gang playing In A Persian Market Place on the Morcombe and Wise Show in 1962.




In the 1960s and George was as busy as ever, his involvement with The Black and White Minstrel Show involved not only straight playing but also a lot of comedy, George stayed with the show and then toured the country with it as it played to packed theatres, but received bad reviews from the music press especially jazz critics who saw him being involved in a show of bad taste. George was also a player in the house bands for the children’s TV shows Play Away and Play School and had roles in the films The Mouse on the Moon (1963), The Knack...and how to get it (1965) and Superman III (1983). In the late sixties and early seventies George toured the UK with Alex Welsh’s band, and also formed his own band The Gentlemen of Jazz (the first reason for the capitol G).

In this video George and The Gentlemen Of Jazz are joined by Carol Kidd, and by special guests Jack Emblow, John McLevy and the Jimmy Feighan Quartet.





Listen to Roy Williams and George Chisholm playing a trombone duet on It's Alright with Me with the Alex Welsh band recorded at the Queen Elizabeth Hall Louis Armstrong Memorial concert 1971. Humphrey Lyttelton joined George and Welsh’s band in the show “Salute to Satchmo” in 1978.




Although very busy and  due to his being an expert brass player, George also received requests to play with leading brass bands such as The Yorkshire Imperial, The Grimethorpe and The Royal Doulton bands. As the 1980s approached George continued playing and arranging despite ongoing heart problems. He underwent heart surgery and after recovering he continued working with The Gentleman of Jazz as well as others, including Keith Smith’s Hefty Jazz. George received the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1984.


George playing Sweet Georgia Brown with Lena Zavaroni, Elaine Stritch and Wayne Sleep as part of a performance of the song All That Jazz.




The mid 1990s were not good for George as he started to suffer from Alzheimer’s disease. He retired from public life to Milton Keynes and unfortunately passed away on December 6th, 1997 at the age of 82. George Chisholm, a pure Gentleman whose career lasted more than sixty years, was often classed as the finest jazz trombonist in Europe, as well as being the first British jazz musician to rank alongside the American giants. Although people would burst out laughing at his antics, his extrovert humour, comedic spontaneity and expert musicianship covered a shy and modest personality.Trumpeter and bandleader Digby Fairweather justly described George's playing as 'majestic with a trademark manipulation of intervals in the lower register of the instrument'; this soon became known as 'Chisholm’s intervals'. Although some of his playing of the trombone might have been termed 'sweet', his elaborations of melody could never be described as 'sugary'. George was one of very few British jazz musicians described as 'one of the best in the world' and was able to leave behind him such an impact as to inspire many of today’s jazz trombonists.


George playing Stardust in the 1960s.




George Chisholm



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