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Bill Greenow


Bill Greenow



Bill Greenow was a jazz musician born on July 21, 1940 and was hailed for his delicate Creole clarinet playing and breathy style on the saxophone.

Jamie Evans describes him to us as: 'A clarinettist and saxophonist who used to play with Barry Martyn, and with Cuff Billett in the band Strong Jazz. He joined Les Haricots Rouge, then the Temperance Seven. Bill moved to Sweden and then joined the Belgian Gypsy group Waso. He moved to France and played with Lars Edegran's band before returning to Britain in 1994.' Jamie recalls that Bill played in Bill Nile's Goodtime Band and remembers gigging a lot with Bill in the 1970s and 1980s. In 2011, Bill had been seriously ill in hospital in Gillingham, Kent with cardiovascular disease and a leg amputation and passed peacefully through the Departure Lounge in hospital on October 7th.

We believe that Alyn Shipton was probably the author of the following memories of Bill:

'With his beret at a jaunty angle, a scarf wrapped round his neck, a soprano saxophone tucked under his arm, a cigarette in one hand and a glass of red wine in the other, Bill Greenow epitomised the bohemian jazz musician. He was a figure as well known in Paris or Stockholm as he was in his native Britain, but he was also one of the few European jazz musicians to make a name for himself in New Orleans. There he played alongside swing veterans such as Doc Cheatham and Johnny Letman, and accompanied the singers known as the “Ladies of Jazz”.'

'His delicate Creole clarinet playing was as distinctive as his breathy, relaxed tenor saxophone, and he was most celebrated by fellow players for his virtuoso renditions of famous jazz solos on the penny whistle.'

'William Rawdon Greenow was born in Isleworth, West London, in 1940 and took up the clarinet in his teens. As a student at Ealing College of Art he played at the jazz club on Eel Pie Island on the Thames at Twickenham, before going on to join the revivalist jazz group of the drummer Barry Martyn. For six years from 1961 Greenow played with Martyn, accompanying a succession of visitors from America, including the clarinettist George Lewis and the trombonist Louis Nelson (with whom Greenow recorded).'


Here are two tracks of Bill playing with the Keith Smith band in the 1960s




'Partly prompted by Martyn’s frequent tours to Europe, Greenow succumbed to wanderlust and spent a few months playing with the Cotton City Jazzmen in Brussels. He returned to Britain and formed the band Strong Jazz with Martyn’s former trumpeter Cuff Billett, their one record together featuring the bassist Dave Holland just weeks before he left Britain to join Miles Davis. But when Strong Jazz travelled to France, Greenow stayed behind, joining the country’s most popular revivalist band Les Haricots Rouges, who combined comedy with traditional jazz. Greenow had always had comedic flair but his year in France developed his visual skills and timing.'

'When he returned, he caught meningitis, but recovered to join the Temperance Seven, who were in London. I took Trevor to see Stan where he was playing (They'd never met before). Trevor sat incomic and musical skills found an ideal home from 1972 to 1974. He mainly played baritone saxophone with the band, but he was most proud of the short television film they made with Petula Clark, singing Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band on which Greenow, clad in beret and false moustache, plays the alto saxophone.' Here's the video.




He is also on this video of the Temperence Seven playing You're Driving Me Crazy from 1973 - click here].

We break into Alyn's story just here to share some music of Bill's sent to us by Mike Whitaker. The track, Meet Mr Rabbit, comes from a tape of the Bill Greenow Trios 1980 featuring Stan Greig (piano) and Trevor Richards (drums). The notes with the tape are by Bill Greenow in 1986: 'Inspiration for making these recordings came to me during a residency with Trevor Richards in Switzerland during the summer of 1980. I hadn't heard Trevor for many years as he'd been in the States studying with Zutty Singleton and later leading his own trio in Germany. I'd been in Sweden for some time. Trevor had technique, imagination and swing not often found in European old-style drummers. It had long been an ambition of mine to record with Stan Greig: we used to play regularly together 10 years previously and I loved his very personal swinging style.'

'The opportunity to record arose in October 1980 when by chance Trevor and I were in London. I took Trevor to meet Stan where he was playing (they'd never met before). Trevor sat in and tore the place apart and Stan was most impressed. Stan was also a Zutty fan so there was plenty to talk about. A few days later we began a series of recording sessions. Peter Boizot generally allowed us to use the music rooms at Pizza On The Park and Pizza Express, and Dave Bennett recorded us. There were no rehearsals, no arrangements and no public except for a few astonished waitresses who looked in from upstairs now and again. We made one session with the late Fred Hunt replacing Stan - it was the only time Fred and Trevor ever met. In February '81 I took Stan and Trevor on a 2 week tour of Sweden, and that was the entire activity of the band.'

As Mike Whitaker says: The quality is not so brilliant but the more I listened to it, the more I liked it. The drive, especially with Stan Greig on piano, is great.'




We return to Alyn Shipton's story:

'Bill left the band to move to Sweden, where he married and fathered two sons, while freelancing widely on the Scandinavian jazz scene, and also touring with the Ellingtonian trumpeter Willie Cook. Although he stayed in Stockholm until 1988, Greenow was a frequent visitor back to Britain, accompanying many American jazzmen. He recorded with the drummer Freddie Kohlman from New Orleans, and toured with the trumpeter Kid Thomas, the clarinettist Herbie Hall and the guitarist Al Casey.'

'In 1984 he joined the Belgian Gypsy group Waso, playing in the style of the Hot Club of France. In time Greenow was to settle in Paris, where he led another revivalist band, beginning a love affair with the music of Sidney Bechet, coupled with the French chanson repertoire. But before that, in 1988, he started a long association with the pianist Lars Edegran and his New Orleans band. There were tours in Europe and America, and Greenow appeared on several records with its vibrant vocalists, Topsy Chapman, Thais Clark and Juanita Brooks.'


Here is a video of Bill playing clarinet on Mack The Knife with Johnny Letman's band in 1991.





'After returning to Britain in 1994, Greenow founded Rue Bechet, dedicated to the music of his idol, and particularly the unfamiliar repertoire that the American clarinettist had recorded in France. He also led the band Chansons, and the Gypsy group Les Bohemes, with the guitarist Koen De Kauter and the accordionist Maryse Edon, bringing a touch ofBill Greenow On Rue Bechet European café society to venues all across Britain.'

'Circulatory problems ended his playing career, but Bill continued to socialise with his old musician friends across Europe, and the London jazz musicians’ club known as “the Codgers”.'

In 2011, Bill became seriously ill with cardiovascular disease and a leg amputation and he died in hospital on October 7th.

There is an album by Bill Greenow 'On Rue Bechet' that is available on Hot Club Records (click here to sample). He is described as 'one of Britain’s best-travelled and most experienced jazz musicians, his career having taken him over most of the World. He first went to France as an art student in 1960, the year after the death of Sidney Bechet. At that time Bechet’s haunting, passionate melodies were emanating from juke boxes in bars and cafés all over France. ON RUE BECHET is Bill Greenow’s tribute to Bechet as an instrumentalist and composer. Recorded 1995-96 in the UK. Sound engineer: Dave Bennett. Featuring Martin Litton (piano), Peter Morgan (bass), John Rees-Jones (bass), Rod Brown (drums), Stan Greig (drums), Bob Hunt (trombone), Eric Webster (guitar) and Jez Cook (guitar). Released posthumously on Hot Club Records by testamentary wish of Bill Greenow, in memoriam.


Bill Greenow



Pianist Jamie Evans, unearthed (almost literally in a dusty recess!) this photo of some of his old chums. Jamie says:

'Prominent is alto-sax player  Bill Greenow, during a late-night impromptu session at the Red Lion, Barnes, south-west London. The hostelry was being run by singer and drummer Ted Wood while Alan Cooper holds forth on clarinet (both in the foreground). The picture was taken in the early '70s and if memory serves Jamie right (just about visible in the bottom right of the photo), Bill, Coops and Ted were all members of the New Temperance Seven at the time. Sadly all three are no longer with us, Bill being the most recent departure at the age of 71 in 2011.'

'Ted Wood (who was the elder brother of Ronnie who plays in some band called The Rolling Stones) deserves a special mention for the delightful comment - after the odd decision to record some tracks on a flight of Concorde at twice the speed of sound - or "twice the speed of drink," as Ted remarked.'



Jamie Evans writes 'I was really touched to read the memorial page you have put up for Bill Greenow, featured in January. You did a great job cobbling all the bits and pieces of stuff together making a really worthwhile epitaph for him. I felt at the time of his death that apart from Alyn's obit in The Times, Bill had not got the appreciation he deserved and it is very gratifying to see him featured on your website which I (and I am sure many others) consider to be the most interesting and dedicated jazz site in the UK.'

'I am particularly pleased that you featured Bill because in many ways he was his own worst enemy. He was absolutely dedicated (is that a euphemism for utterly self-centred?) to his music and towards the end it was heart-breaking to visit him and his mentally ill brother living in squalor in his late parents' house in Sittingbourne, Kent. The first time I visited him (most of his old friends and band mates seemed to have disappeared by then and his wife and sons all lived in Sweden) I had not long been discharged from hospital after major surgery and even so ended up pushing him in a wheelchair round the Medway Hospital in Gillingham while he did his best to be first in the queue for blood tests. '

'I remember all the good times over the decades and what a charming, good-humoured and greatly talented companion he had been when he put his mind to it. There was a gratifyingly good turn-out at his funeral. One of his sons had come over from Sweden and his other brother organised a really good memorial leaflet and a lot of Bechet tracks were played at the crematorium.'


Bill Greenow art group




Gloria Baldwyn adds:

I was at Ealing Art School with Bill. He was the year above me. A talented musician but also a really good painter. His hero was Cezanne. I went to a few of Bill’s gigs in London. Ealing was a pretty amazing experience for many of us.

Among the ex- students are Freddie Mercury, Pete Townsend, Michael English, Mike Molloy (editor of The Daily Mirror) and Roger Ruskin Spear (Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band). That’s Bill at the front. Clasped hands and looking very serious!








Banjoist Eddie Edwards was at Chiswick Grammar School with Bill Greenow. 'The year above had a jazz band,' recalls Eddie. 'I was in a skiffle group at the time. The jazz band was not allowed to play during school hours but Bill and I wanted to join so I took up trumpet for a while and Bill wanted to play the clarinet. He was a nice bloke and a great artist. He would practise his clarinet fingering on the handle of an artist's paintbrush. The jazz band had Jeff (Geoff) Anstead on trombone, Vic Harrison (piano), Brian 'Polly' Parrott (drums) and when we could get him Pete Blunden from the skiffle group on tea chest bass. I lost touch with Bill when we left school. I heard that he eventually moved to the West Country, had an operation on his leg and died'.


We would welcome more pictures of Bill to go with this article. Please contact us if you can help.


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