Johnny Parker 1975 (Photograph courtesy of John Bennett)
John Robert Parker was born in Beckenham in Kent on the 6th November 1929.
He started learning to play the piano when he was a child, and then in 1940 his piano lessons came to an abrupt end when the family moved to a small village in Wiltshire, but Johnny continued to teach himself piano and listening on his crystal set radio to the AFN (American Forces Network) he became influenced by broadcasts from a nearby American camp. Half the children in his form at school would listen to the same broadcasts and the following day they would get together and discuss the music that they had heard.
When he returned to Beckenham in 1945 this interest in American popular music led to his discovery of jazz and he joined the Catford Rhythm Club. Arriving early one night he sat at the piano in the upstairs room and played. Pete Payne, the Club Secretary, heard Johnny and surprised him by asking him if he would play that night as the regular piano player couldn't make it. Johnny struggled through the evening and was amazed when he was asked if he could come back the following week. So he taught himself the rudiments of harmony and became the regular piano player until 1948 when he was called up to do his National Service in the Royal Army Ordnance Corps. During his time in the RAOC he was able to fit in playing with Harry Brown’s Inebriated Seven, Beryl Bryden’s Backroom Boys and with Mike Daniels.
After demobilisation, Johnny joined the Mick Mulligan band for a year in 1950 before signing up with Humphrey Lyttelton in 1951. He remained as Humph’s pianist for six years, including playing at gigs supporting such great musicians as the Louis Armstrong All Stars, Sidney Bechet and Eddie Condon. Johnny can also be heard playing piano on Humph’s famous ‘Bad Penny Blues’.
Johnny Parker with the Humphrey Lyttelton Band at Studio 20 in Leeds in 1956.
© Photograph courtesy of Humphrey Lyttelton, and Terry Cryer who took the photograph.
Johnny recalls one occasion when the Lyttelton band had an engagement to play at St. Andrew’s Hall in Glasgow. Sandy Brown had travelled from Edinburgh to hear them and was waiting outside as they arrived. Introducing himself, he invited the band for a drink across the road, and although Humph declined, Johnny and clarinettist Wally Fawkes took up the offer and accompanied Sandy who, without asking what they wanted, called for ‘three drams and three wee heavies’ – three shots of whisky with strong beer chasers.
The gig went well, and afterwards Dr. Norman ‘Norrie’ McSwan, a Scottish chest surgeon, invited them all back to his house for drinks. Sandy went too. During the conversations that took place there, Humph was making a point to a group of people when Sandy’s Scottish voice echoed across the room, ‘You are wrong, Lyttelton!’ Humph was quite startled as were most of the others - Humph was already revered in the world of jazz and the challenge was quite unexpected! And so Humph met Sandy.
Nevertheless, or perhaps because of the unusual introduction, Humph invited Sandy and Al Fairweather to join his band in 1953 to record two numbers for the Parlophone label – ‘Four’s Company’ and ‘Forty and Tight’. Johnny played the piano on that occasion, although sadly only ‘Four’s Company’ was released. Sandy and Al also joined Humph’s band for concerts at the Conway Hall in Red Lion Square and at the Royal Festival Hall.
In 1957, Johnny left Humph to set up his own band. This did not work out too well and so a year later he joined Graham Stewart. The income from playing was not sufficient and so when the opportunity came along for work as an Inspector at a local factory in Cricklewood that made heat exchangers for Aircraft industry, Johnny’s training as an ammunition examiner in the R.A.O.C. came in useful.
After a year, the opportunity came to play with Monty Sunshine’s band and Johnny left the factory job. He was with Monty for over a year before he left to join Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated for a further year.
Johnny Parker with the Monty Sunshine Band.
Rod Mason (trumpet), Dickie Bishop (guitar), Monty Sunshine (clarinet), Nick Nicholls (drums), Geoff Sowden (trombone), Gerry Salisbury (bass), Johnny Parker (piano).
© Photo courtesy of Gerry Salisbury
At the end of 1963, Johnny toured the Far East entertaining the armed forces with Diz Disley and Beryl Bryden before joining the Cyril Davies All Stars.
A year later in 1964, Cyril died and Long John Baldry took over the band which would become Long John Baldry’s Hoochie Coochie Men, but the change did not suit Johnny. Co-incidentally, the Chief Inspector at the factory approached him and asked if he would go back to his Inspector’s job, and so for a while, Johnny agreed. He continued playing piano and there were times when playing late nights and getting to work in the morning did not mix well, and so it was not long before Johnny left to put his own band together again, this time with Wally Fawkes on clarinet. On those occasions when Wally couldn’t make a gig, Johnny would ring Sandy Brown who was invariably happy to deputise.
1964 also saw a gig on the 1st May at London’s Westminster Central Hall where Johnny joined Sandy, Diz, Mac Duncan (trombone), Jim Bray (bass), and Terry Cox (drums) with trumpeter Henry ‘Red’ Allen.
In 1967, Johnny deputised in Kenny Ball’s band for a three-month world tour of America, Fiji and New Zealand. On his return, he played many varied gigs until in 1969, he joined Kenny’s band again, this time staying for the next nine years.
Johnny Parker 1976 (photograph courtesy of John Bennett)
During the 1970s and 1980s, Johnny led his own trio, quartet and band whilst regularly playing solo piano at a number of venues in London, Switzerland and Germany. He covered for Ray Smith as a dep with Ken Colyer’s band and went with them to Canada for the Toronto Jazz Festival. Johnny also played with the Pat Halcox Summer All Stars, Keith Smith’s Hefti Jazz, and for about a year as Sammy Rimington’s key pianist. He also went to work in Denmark and Germany with the Harlem Blues and Jazz Band.
Johnny has accompanied various visiting American musicians including Eddie Miller, Wild Bill Davison and Doc Cheatham.
Johnny told the story of one regular residency at The Castle, a pub in Dalston, London where he usually began playing at nine o’clock. Arriving early at half-past eight one evening, he was surprised to find the pub already full, so he started playing straight away. After about three-quarters of an hour he found he was being completely ignored by the audience, so he went to speak to the manager saying that he thought he was wasting his time playing this evening. At this point the manager told him that the audience was in fact a group of deaf people who came into the pub once a year after their annual convention!
Johnny continued to live in London but gave up playing in 2005 due to poor health. He sadly passed away on the 11th June 2010.
Amongst other recordings, Lake Records have issued a CD ‘Sporting House Piano’ (LACD247) with five pianists, Johnny Parker, Ray Foxley, Bob Kelly, Pat Hawes and Ron Wetherburn. You can find a sample of Johnny playing ‘Canine Stomp’ by clicking here: Canine Stomp .
Bad Penny Blues can be heard on the Humphrey Lyttelton ‘Bad Penny Blues’ Lake CD LACD238.
The Pat Halcox All Stars with Johnny Parker on piano is on Lake CD LACD84.
Johnny also plays with Alexis Korner on the album 'Alexis Korner's Blues Incorporated' an expanded edition of which was reissued in 2007 on CD on the Castle label.
Many thanks to Gerard Bielderman who was able to help Rob van den Handel with his search - see below - Gerard has produced a number of discographies of jazz musicians including one for Sandy Brown. Click here for more information.
Rob van den Handel in the Netherlands wrote to us asking whether we could help him find a copy of a Johnny Parker recording. Rob came so near - and yet so far!
'On French eBay I came across the album and more information about it: DC in DCS 33.003 means Dawn Club and the correct title for the album is 'Johnny Parker's Boogie Woogie'. The personnel were Johnny Parker (piano), Jim Bray (bass) and Stan Greig (drums). Dawn Club Records DCS 33.003 was recorded on 11th January 1979 at Porcupine Studios, Eltham, South London and the sleeve notes were by Doug Murray. The tracks on the album were:
Side 1: Johnny Parker's Boogie Woogie, Suitcase Blues, Honky Tonk Train Blues, Slow And Easy Blues, Original Jelly Roll Blues and Cripplegate.
Side 2: Pinetops Boogie Woogie, State Street Special, Tell Me One More Time, Mr Freddie's Blues, So Different Blues and Canine Stomp.
This picture is from trumpeter and pianist Dave Burman who has played regularly in Poland as well as here in the UK. Dave says: 'This picture is from a session in Warsaw with Johnny Parker and Jim Bray from the Bruce Turner outfit. The Polish trumpet player looking suitably impressed. The crowds were terrifying. Tiger Rag was our first number at the Festival. What happened was that none of the band wanted, or were unable, to travel behind the Iron Curtain, so I had to put together a pickup band at short notice.'
Pianist Jamie Evans was in Dusseldorf, Germany, doing a European tour with clarinettist, Alan Cooper, when they bumped into keyboards man, Johnny Parker (both pictured).
Jamie says: ' Even then (1985) Johnny was finding it difficult to get around without his sticks although the three of us spent a hilarious afternoon enjoying the taste of excellent German beer and scoffing sausage of all shapes and hues. Johnny was doing a solo spot at a Dusseldorf club and we stayed as long as we could for the session so Coops could catch up on gossip with his old crony, Parks. A very agreeable day was enjoyed by us all although how Coops and I got back to our base in Eindhoven, Holland, just over the border is a little vague!'
Please contact us if you have any memories of Johnny.
© Johnny Parker and Sandy Brown Jazz 2008 - 2014.
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