Sandy Brown Jazz

 

How I Found Jazz and Changed My Life

by Kathy (Kate) Sanders

Kathy Sanders was once married to drummer and London jazz club owner Sandy Sanders. Now retired, living in Devon and better known as Kate, she is a member of the Exeter Jazz and Blues Society. Here she looks back at those early days when she discovered jazz:

I was working at the Foreign Office in 1952 / 1953 when George Shearing's Lullaby Of Birdland was in the pop charts. Hearing me whistling this classic, a colleague, Tony McMahon, said: 'What's this, a girl who likes jazz. Would you like to come to Humph's with me tonight?' Not admitting that I had never heard of jazz or Humph, I said 'Yes please' - as is my wont.

Subsequent visits to Cy's, Ken's, Cook's Ferry Inn, the Fishmonger's Arms at Wood Green and Soho clubs; evenings spent absorbing the music of Alex Welsh, Freddy Randall, Sandy Brown, Mick Mulligan, Monty Sunshine, Bill Brunskill et al, led to a lifelong commitment to live jazz, and to being part of a great friendship network of musicians, wives and fans, comparable to being Jewish or a Mason.

I was taken to Sandy's Barn at 44 Gerrard Street, Soho, first by good friends of mine, Bernie Newlands and Reg Woolley. Sandy Sanders, who ran the club, approached me in the Blue Posts at the rear of Humph's Club at 100 Oxford Street. Skilfully detaching me from the trombone player I was with, he invited me to an all-night party. 'I've got a car,' he said. We became engaged that night but waited all of two months to be officially married, to give my family time to get used to the shock of a long-haired, bearded, duffle-coated, under-nourished, penniless alien-in-law, of a type never seen in the little South Devon village of Harberton before (and rarely since). I think they had a hard time holding theirKate and Sandy Sanders heads up after that.

We'd been flat-hunting with the Bruce Turners, but deciding not to share, we took one-room accommodation in a converted warehouse in Robert Street, Euston. Though there was no bathroom and only one toilet, there were enough musicians living there to field a couple of bands. They included Stan Greig, Derek Warne, Dave Tomlin, and most of the Bonzo Dog Doodah Band, who were sleeping on old settees in the entrance shed, where one side was open to the yard and the sky. My first child was called Margie after the Bix Beiderbecke number. I refused to call my lovely baby girl 'Bix'. Whilst pregnant I sometimes took my afternoon sleep with a full-band rehearsal going on around me in that tiny room.

I bought Sandy his first drum kit. He said he thought I was rich because of my monthly pay, my posh accent and the large amount of coat hangers I had.

In the 1960s we lived in a council house, midway between Plaistow and West Ham tube stations. There was a lot of pub jazz in the East End then and many musicians looking for somewhere to sleep. Many kipped on our floor, most staying only one night, but some dug themselves in. The longest stayer was Mac White, later of the Temperence Seven and the Pasadena Roof Orchestra, who came for a couple of days and stayed nearly three years. He was no trouble and kept my baby amused by playing the clarinet for him for hours on end. It's funny, the child became a drummer!

One pest was a clarinet player who always peed in the garden, saying he didn't want to wake me by using the loo. After several weeks of this, with my Michaelmas daisies being permanently spotted yellow, I locked him out. He kicked up a racket outside, throwing lumps of earth at the window, until I got up and told him he was barred. He wailed: 'But I've got Johnny Duncan of the Blue Grass Boys here.' I replied that I didn't care if it was J.C. himself, I wanted blue grass even less than spotted daisies!

I could usually guess how many musicians were sleeping in the living room by the level at which the smell of bad socks gripped my throat as I came downstairs on Sunday morning. I often used to wash (by hand then) shirts for an entire band, or even two bands. My elder girl was very useful, she would tell me who was the owner of each shirt after they had been ironed, by sniffing the under-arms.

Jazz Eccentrics and Memorable Vehicles

In the economic climate in the fifties, most jazzers who could afford cars had old bangers. There were some exceptions. I remember when Kenny Ball got lucky and got a Jag. He gave us a lift to Cook's Ferry Inn and I was frightened witless by the speed. A notable car-owner was Jim Bray, who appropriately conveyed his double bass in a Rolls Royce.

A vintage car may have been responsible for altering the course of my life. When Sandy Sanders approached me in the Blue Posts behind the 100 Club and Sandy, Kathy and the Hillman invited me to a party, he said: 'I've got a car'. That was it. I was in love! Bessie (Smith) was a 1927 Hillman, registration number GU 113, with the handbrake on the driver's right, a running board and with the magical capability of stretching to accommodate a whole band, their instruments and me. I, (then only two thirds my present size and weight) was usually body surfing across several pairs of knees in the back seat.

Bessie was capacious enough for a Honeymoon. Memories include that of Sandy backing her, fully laden with hooting musicians ACROSS a zebra crossing and of his being poured into her one New Years Eve after a party way out in the country, still protesting that he had seen dragons crawling up the fireplace! He drove all the way home on the wrong side of the road with me hanging out of the passenger window as look-out, as he was scared of going into the ditch on the left. Fifty years on, I can still remember how my stomach muscles un-knotted with relief as we crossed Hammersmith Bridge, nearly home.

Bessie was older than we were and when her starting-dog gave up she had to be parked on a hill, or I had to push. When she passed away Sandy went stupid and replaced her with an Austin Ruby, acquired in a straight swop with the brand new electric razor I had just bought him to celebrate the removal of his beard. I was furious! I never liked that car and when she was towed up on to Hampstead Heath and set on fire, GOOD RIDDANCE!.

Is my memory correct? Was it Bob Wallis who made a big play of struggling to remove his glass eye, then dropping it in your beer? It was all pretence. He actually carried a marble up his sleeve, but even when people eventually twigged it was a marble in the bottom of the glass, many a pint was left standing.

Bruce TurnerBruce Turner was known for his absent-mindedness, his eating habits, and for wearing coms (combinations). That was thermal underwear, but all-in-one, like an outsized babygrow. The story goes that members of the band were worried when they were due on and Bruce hadn't returned from the toilet, the search party found him struggling. He couldn't quickly do what he had to do as the coms were on back-to-front!

Bruce Turner

Both of these stories are hearsay and they did not originate with me.

Then there was Johnnie Jacks, very involved in recorded jazz, though I don't remember that he played at all. At a party in the house where the owners were away, we had considerately rolled up the carpet. After a sleep, Johnnie appeared, wrapped in the fuzzy brown, real felt underfelt! He knew the filthiest of songs, which he used to sing in the back of our car, as sweetly as though they were nursery rhymes.

We displayed some odd behaviour ourselves. After a few months of marriage, Sandy Sanders decided he needed a night out with me. He arrived home legless and stinking. Next morning I couldn't waken him to go to his day job as a motor mechanic. His hair was very long, thick, curly and greasy from being under cars (no showers then and the landlady allowed us only one bath a week). As he lay in the well-known drunken stupor, I cut his hair - all I could reach, right down to the scalp. He was lying on his left side, so I couldn't get to that bit. I went off to work, unrepentant though a little apprehensive. When I sneaked home, the beast was laughing. He went to work and on gigs for several days, bald on one side and long-haired on the other and seemed very pleased to boast that his wife had done it.

 

Sandy, Me and Barrett Deems

We first met Barrett (pictured below in the dinner suit) in 1956 when Louis Armstrong’s All Stars were performing at the Empress Hall in Earls Court. Sandy and I (on Barrett’s right and left, respectively) were at every show, though I can’t recall ever buying a ticket, and we spent a lot of time in Louis’ dressing room listening to him expounding on the remarkable qualities of Swiss Kriss for the bowels!

Barrett DeemsBarrett was in his early forties then, with a reputation as an unpredictable eccentric. He had a very keen wit and a naughty sense of humour. Conversely he could be morose and misanthropic.

He had no patience with hangers on and wouldn’t talk to the media. He had latched on to Sandy and me, and we were in the strange position of having Melody Maker and other reporters buying us drinks, and begging us to fix interviews with Barrett. His misanthropy was rudely expressed. His comment about most people was ‘F*** ‘em’. ‘F’ words were not used publicly then, and we tried to impress on Barrett that, as Princess Margaret was in the audience, he should restrain himself, and not use his favourite and oft repeated phrase. One night, every time the revolving stage brought him anywhere near us, he grinned wickedly and silently mouthed ‘F*** ‘em’.

He smoked incessantly, though he seemed to dislike it so much, he’d often take a couple of puffs, then throw the whole packet, or even a carton of 200 at whoever was nearest. We were all hard up then, and were amazed by his outrageous generosity. He was crudely outspoken and I lost a lot of me innocence and naivety hearing him discuss the specialities of the ladies of Soho and their unprofessional but enthusiastic counterparts the ‘band scrubbers’. Even the latter didn’t hang around Barrett. They all fancied Trummy Young, especially when he lay flat on the floor and played his trombone vertically.

Barrett regularly kept in touch with Sandy till they both died, near the Millenium. Billed as ‘The Fastest Drummer in the World’, he was still leading his own band, right up until his last few months.

Click here for a 2 minute early video of Barrett demonstrating his amazing speed of drumming. Click here for a video of Barrett in Australia when he was 76 years old both in interview and playing.

Click here for a video of Barrett and Trummy Young playing with Louis Armstrong’s band in 1955.

 

To be continued .......

 

Trombonist John Jack writes:

I have just been alerted to your fascinating letter by a very long-standing mate from the golden Fifties of Soho  and its Jazz  tentacles in the outer world. He had read the piece about a sadly missed (one of all-too many) colleague/ fellow raver Sandy Sanders by his widow  Kathy (click here). I will pass over her addition of an irritating ‘s’ suffix to my name; and I must cast some doubts on the veracity of her recollections as to my vocal indulgences - what she may not have experienced  were my supporting bassist “uncle John Renshaw”  at a street corner adjacent to the Fighting Cocks.

Some Sunday evenings, when he would enter into his “revivalist Preacher mode" to bring salvation to the passing sinners and bring them back to the path of righteousness via the saving blessings of the ‘holy sounds of New Orleans music, which at that very moment was theirs to embrace just a few short steps away in the side room of Messrs Courage’s ale house performed with uttermost Dedication by the “reverent Bill Bruskill and his minstrels”.

For the sake of historical accuracy, during most of the Fifties I was a trombonist, jamming at many parties and all-night sessions and occasionally getting gigs at various colleges and such like venues. Whilst in the early months of national service up at Catterick  I depped for  Ed O’Donald  with Bob Barclay's Yorkshire Jazz Band on a Sunday afternoon Gig at the NAAFI club. A treasured memory is sharing the programme with a long-standing hero, Ken Colyer, at Wimbledon Art School; the climax of my Playing career was a short spell with my friend  Ron Weatherburn  in the Group he co-led with clarinettist Mac White  in  the Dusseldorf Bier bar.

Anyway, what I had initially started to contact you about was in regards  to an other long-time favourite trombonist, Ricco Rodreques. I last saw Ricco as part of an all-star, largely black  musician band that was amongst the multitude of groups that gave their services in a memorial concert a group of us presented to our much loved friend, Lol Coxhill, at the Cecil Sharp House in Camden. The band with Ricco plays regularly at Effra Hotel in Brixton and Included trumpeter Eddie ‘Tan Tan’ Thornton, at one time a regular in Georgie Fame’s Blue Flames, saxophonist  Mike ‘Bammi’ Rose et al. 
2014.8   

© Kate Sanders and Sandy Brown Jazz 2014 - 2015

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