Sandy Brown Jazz



Jimmy Thomson

Truths in Disguise - Jazz Caricatures


A caricature is putting the face of a joke on the body of a truth.
Joseph Conrad


Bill Evans

Bill Evans © J.H. Thomson


Jimmy Hall Thomson is one of the UK’s most able caricaturists. His work over the years has captured the essence of many musicians and others. As Barry Fantoni  has said: ‘The illustration Jimmy did of me remains a treasured possession. He spared no effort in making my prominent nose Jimmy Thomsoneven bigger and my long hair even longer. Like all first-class caricatures, the portrait ended up looking more like me than I actually looked.’

Jimmy Thomson was born in Dundee, Scotland in 1937. After his time at Rockwell Junior and Secondary Schools where his drawing was not encouraged, he started work in 1954 working as a cartoonist with local Meadowside publishers D C Thomson (no relation). Their art department at the time had some top comic and boys-paper artists, creating British comic magazines. The newspaper, magazine and comics company now also has offices in Aberdeen, Glasgow and London’s Fleet Street. Jimmy was also studying life drawing, fashion drawing and sculpture under Alberto Morrocco at Dundee College of Art. Jimmy says: 'What made me go towards being an artist? I liked drawing random funny faces. Before starting with D C Thomson I worked as a lab assistant in zoology and pathology labs in the local University. The wonderful thing about Thomson's was that some of the older artists were still there - those who practically invented the look of the boys' papers through their illustrations for story headings. I learned much just from being amongst them. I first started drawing caricatures  at DCs for TV and radio columns in Dundee Evening Telegraph and Post - some time around 1956/57 - also for back page illustration on Romeo in the later 50s before I left.'

In 1960, Jimmy moved to Edinburgh to work with the Scottish Daily Mail until the newspaper closed. 'The Scottish Dave Brubeck caricatureDaily Mail taught me more,' Jimmy remembers. ' My caricature work began to mature. I remember sitting in a small room drawing Hastings Banda (the leader of Malawi from 1961 to 1994) - I was terrified.'

Jimmy returned to Dundee to work at Valentine's studio, where he stayed for the next twenty-four years designing and scripting humorous greetings cards - 'Valentines greetings cards was a different story altogether. Opportunities for caricatures were limited to special cards for visitors or special occasions.' He also contributed work to the Glasgow Herald, Daily Record and Sunday Mail.


Dave Brubeck


Jimmy also secured work with the Melody Maker, the first ever newspaper devoted to popular music and jazz. In the early 1970s Melody Maker was selling a quarter of a million copies a week. It had a reputation for its excellent photographs, well-written articles and its humour – including Jimmy Thomson’s unique caricatures – he drew musicians from every genre, jazz, pop, folk, everyone who was famous in the world of popular music. Over thirteen years Jimmy did around 700 drawings for Melody Maker. Jimmy says: 'My working for Melody Maker was thanks initially down to Jack Hutton, editor and trumpet player. I sat in with him and Eggy Ley many times at The Tattie Bogle Club (close by Carnaby Street ) in the 60s. I did do some drawings for Jazz Review when Peter Clayton was editor around 1960 (?) - oh, and for Record Mirror when Isidore Green was editor. ' Jimmy's work has also been published in New Society, Jazz Journal and, more recently, The Oldie. In 1984, Jimmy became a freelance artist.

Jimmy says: ‘I had to work fast when I freelanced with the Melody Maker. I could never recapture the mood of my drawings from back then as they were very much in the moment and quick. They would often request work on the Tuesday and I would have to have it posted by the Thursday. It was the same when I worked for the Scottish Daily Mail in Edinburgh. I learnt a lot of techniques from sitting next to other artists, like Doug Phillips, when I worked in DC Thomson in Dundee back when I was starting out. It was a great experience. I use a Gillot 290 nib as it is flexible and you can vary the line thickness as you create them. The only drawback with that is when the nibs break and splash the ink but it’s worth it for the results you get.’

And then there was the occasion when Jimmy I took samples of his work to show Carlo Krahmer of Esquire Records, not realising that he was blind. 'Was I embarassed?!' he says.

Jimmy has a particular interest in jazz – he plays clarinet, and recalls that he bought one of his clarinets from Billy Amstell - and through his work over the years he has made strong contacts with many jazz musicians and people in the jazz world. Jimmy says: 'My first sitting in was with Dave Carey in London, while with Ken Gallacher, who then told this to Acker in Dundee, 1959, leading to me duetting with him on Trouble In Mind. Acker never forgot me.'

A long-time friend has been American clarinettist Pee Wee Russell. Jimmy says: ‘I knew Doug Dobell (of Dobell’s Record Shop) quite well, I drew his Pee Wee Russell Manchester Sports GuildChristmas cards for a number of years. I met Jeff Atterton at 77 Charing Cross Road. (Jeff Atterton was a lanky Englishman who was the jazz aficionado at the Sam Goody Store on West 459th Street in Manhattan).  It was he who introduced me to Pee Wee through one of my caricatures. It led me to a ten year exchange of letters with Pee Wee. And Jeff got my drawing of Condon into The Eddie Condon Scrapbook of Jazz.’

Photograph © J H Thomson


'This photograph was taken in Manchester in October 1964 when Pee Wee played at the Sports Guild. Pee Wee (second left) is pictured with Doug Dobell, George Ellis and G E Lambert (both jazz writers at that time). Doug Dobell was, of course, the owner of Dobell's, the famous London record shop. George Ellis wrote for Jazz Beat (Jazz News) amongst other publications. G E Lambert was an author as well as a jazz critic and his Kings of Jazz books are available as free downloads Kings of Jazz : Johnny Dodds (click here); Kings of Jazz : Duke Ellington (click here). '

Pee Wee was also a painter and Jimmy has some of Pee Wee’s work. Jimmy says: ‘What can I say about Pee Wee's painting except that I always thought there was a hint of a ‘red indian’ blanket about it - but, of course, it is totally him. No botched landscapes, still lives, flower studies - but straight into the paint for its own sake. He swapped it for some caricatures which I believe his nephew possesses. Pee Wee Russell paintingActually, Mary, his wife purchased the paints for him after visiting an exhibition of paintings by my late friend Neil Dallas Brown. Mary was impressed at the time.'

'I met Pee Wee in the flesh at Manchester Sports Guild. He was suffering from a hiatus hernia but sent me out quietly for a bottle of whisky. I was amazed at his range of volume playing with the Alex Welsh band.'

'Pee Wee once mentioned that Bud Freeman would come round to cadge lunch from him and Mary. Of course, Bud was very charming. I sat in with him twice when he came to Dundee. This one of my paintings of Pee Wee was exhibited at the IBM gallery in Madison Avenue.’


Pee Wee Russell © J H Thomson


 'Pee Wee was not forward but conversational when asked questions. Mary described him as 'irascible'. While at Manchester Sports Guild, sitting in the lounge, Ken Gallacher (then sports writer on Daily Record) asked about the Summa Cum Laude orchestra -"could have been good - conflict of personalities". Athough I didn't have much chat with him, I got the impression that he could be quite reserved. In one letter he said -"Had to stop painting to go and play at the Metropole, a real sewer!" All my letters from him and Mary, and pics, and a reed - are in the National Jazz Archive.  Someone said to me then - "Is he resting on his laurels?" I replied, "wonderful laurels!"

Jimmy also worked for Alex Marshall who ‘ ... left Scotland for California many years ago, before which I did some work for him - caricatures of Wet Wet Wet, and, before he left for USA commissioned me to draw Les Paul and Wild Bill Davison. He took these drawings with him and delivered them framed to the very subjects. In Santa Barbara, he built up his own graphic design business, and, as a guitarist/banjoist formed the band Ulysses S. Jasz which has been 16 years resident at The James Joyce there. ‘Good-time jazz’, I think you'd call it, but it can be seen on You Tube. Bob Efford who used to play tenor with Ted Heath sits in occasionally. ’

Alex Marshall initially graduated with a degree but later studied printing and graphic design in London and established his own firm, Marshall Arts. From the late 1960s to 1980 he was a graphic designer for the music industry. Many of the top record labels and Wild Bill Davison caricaturerecording artists of that time were his clients, including: A&M Records, Capitol Records, Virgin Records, Decca Records, UA Records, MCA Records, McCartney Productions, Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull, Chieftains, Aerosmith, Lou Reed, Doobie Bros, and many others. In 1980, he moved his business to Santa Barbara, where he has been ever since. Alex has also played guitar and banjo with numerous classic jazz bands throughout Europe and California.


Wild Bill Davison © J H Thomson


Click here for a short video on You Tube about the Ulysses S. Jasz band. Alex Marshall started the band in 1998. He said in one interview: ‘I knew the owner of the pub, an Irishman from County Kildare by the name of Tommy Byrne. I bumped into him at another pub. He was visiting here from New York before he opened the James Joyce. When it came time to start jazz there, he said that's what he wanted to have on a Saturday night. ... It was a dream come true for me -- a banjo player from Scotland having his own band in Santa Barbara.’

In 2014, there was an exhibition of Jimmy’s work at Freedom Hair Exhibitions in Dundee who have been promoting the work of local artists since 2012. Click here for their website page on the exhibition. In interview for the exhibition, Jimmy was asked whether any of the people he drew owned any of his caricatures? Jimmy said ‘Yes, quite a few. They include George Melly (jazz and blues singer), Stephane Grappelli (French jazz violinist), Neil Sedaka (American singer, pianist and composer), Les Paul (American Jazz, country, Eubie Blakeblues guitarist and songwriter. Also creator of the famous guitars), Bill Wyman (former bass player of The Rolling Stones), Barry Fantoni (author, cartoonist and musician. Most famous for his work with ‘Private Eye’) and Cheech and Chong (comedy duo who appear in films and did stand-up).'

Of his favourite caricatures he includes: ‘Eubie Blake (American ragtime pianist) is one of my favourites. I enjoyed doing all the crosshatching and really like the final drawing. His quote “If I’d known I was going to live this long I would have taken better care of myself” is great. He lived until he was 96. Samuel Beckett (Irish novelist, poet and playwright) is also a favourite as I have reworked him several times, each time the number of lines gets less and less. I also like Alice Cooper (Rock Musician).’ Click here for the interview.


Eubie Blake © J H Thomson


Of his favourite musicians, Pee Wee Russell obviously holds a key place in Jimmy's life, but which others? 'Musicians I admire? Well, Sandy Brown, of course. I sat in with him at Fishmongers Arms, Wood Green - standing shoulder to shoulder with Nat Gonella! Sandy lived upstairs from Jack Hutton. I loved Jimmy Giuffre, Ben Webster, and too many others to list. I played alongside Jimmy Deuchar on two occasions. Scared me to death. He doubled up the tempo of Sweet Georgia Brown Wow! He could transpose at will. Just a remarkable musician/arranger. Under-rated. And a nice guy.'

'I liked Bud Freeman's rumbling-tumbling style - oh, and Wild Bill Davison - and so on. Some moderns too: Mulligan, Desmond, Basie band, Ellington - I met him face to face in Glasgow with my friend Ken Gallacher, a huge jazz fan. Should say magnificent-face! I gave him a drawing but was a bit overcome by his presence. Ken was doing a concert report - must been  1958/59?'

Jimmy’s artwork has been auctioned at Sotheby’s and bought by collectors, and the University of Kent have an archive of some (but not all) of his drawings. He retired from working commercially in 1995 and now spends his time painting, writing poetry, and playing jazz on his clarinet.


Jimmy Thomson at 2014 show


Jimmy and Irving Miskell-Reid of Freedom Hair with one of Jimmy’s Melody Maker covers at the 2014 exhibition

George Melly caricature

George Melly © J H Thomson



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