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Lew Hooper


Jazz saxophonist Lewis ‘Lew’ Hooper was born in Plymouth, Devon on the 22nd April, 1925.

He took up the double bass when he was fifteen, played with local bands, and then a year later, took up the tenor saxophone. Lew also played clarinet and flute.

By the late 1940s he was playing sax regularly at the Plymouth Rhythm Club, co-led the Plymouth Swing Club Big Band and formed his own Boptet. In 1950, Lew toured with George Evans, and then with George, played a seven-year residency at the Oxford Galleries in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

As the 1950s ended, Lew played at American Forces bases in France and Spain, and then set sail with pianist Gerry Moore playing from 1961-1962 on the liner Caronia. The 1960s saw Lew playing at the Tally Ho in London with Denny Ogden’s Quintet and Octet, with Alan Littlejohns, and then with Alan and Tony Milliner in their sextet.

Lew Hooper with Tny Milliner and Ellington musicians


Photo © Tony Milliner
L-R: Tony Milliner, Mal Cutlan (hidden) Lew Hooper, Jimmy Hamilton,
Dave Holland, Matt Methewson, Alan Littlejohn, Cat Anderson.
(click on the picturefor a larger image)



Tony Milliner was best man at Lew's third wedding. He recalls how he first met Lew when Lew was playing with Denny Ogden: 'There was Willie Garnett, Lew and Alan Stewart on saxes, Mike Hoe on trombone, Alan West was the pianist, Martin Drew, drums, and Harvey Weston and others on bass. I depped for Mike Hoe on occasion. No-one made any money at the Tally-Ho so we played for next to nothing. If any of the band got another gig they would usually take it and call in a dep. It was a lovely band with some great arrangements, all written out by Denny. Lew went on to play with my Mingus band. Lovely old Lew - sounded a bit like Ornette Coleman on alto'. Lew played several gigs with the Tony Milliner's band many alongside sax player Phil Day. He also played with Tony on a number of BBC Jazz Club Broadcasts with George Chisholm (trombone and flugel horn), John Horler (piano), Peter Crane (bass) and Les Cirkel (drums), and a great concert 'Mingus Moods' at the ICA in the Mall with Tony, George Chisholm, Phil Day, John Horler, Spike Heatly (bass) and Les Cirkel.

Lew with the Stan Daly bandIn the 1970s Lew worked with Freddy Randall and Sonny Dee (Stan Daly) taking time out in 1977 to play with Bill Coleman in France. In the 1980s, took a three-year residency at Langan’s Brasserie in London, on alto, with tenor player Roland Lacey, pianist Dave Curtis, bassist Russ Allen and drummer Fat John Cox.

Lew Hooper with the Sonny Dee Band at the White Hart Inn, Tottenham:

L-R Back Row: Pat Ross, Dennis Smith, Stan Daly, John McCartney
L-R Front Row: Al Fairweather, Alan Littlejohn, Brian Kennedy, Martin Richards, Lew Hooper

But Lew was not just a musician - tenor sax player David Keen recalls that Lew did quite a lot of work as a film extra – "He was the CIA guy getting into an elevator with Sean Connery in one of the James Bond movies, a local vicar in a film with Nicol Williamson and a UK movie called ‘The Blob’ with Steve McQueen. These are movies that are still occasionally run on television late at night, so you might still have the chance to spot him!"

Lew wrote to Ron Rubin about some of his filming experiences, and we thank Ron for the extracts that appear below:

In July 1982 I stood in for Sir John Gielgud in the film 'The Wicked Lady', a remake of the Margaret Lockwood/James Mason classic. Michael Winner was the director and we worked on location at North Mimms Manor, just off the A1 in Hertfordshire. It was a stately home, up for sale, and so temprarily available for filming. A few days earlier I had suffered a nasty fall, somersaulting over the handlebars of my pushbike when a loose headlamp caught in the front wheel. I had a very painful left knee, a swollen right heel, a grazed and bruised back and a big bump on the back of my head.

When I met Sir John he noticed my condition and expressed his sincere sympathy. He, too, was similarly incapacitated, suffering from a severe attack of gout, but, as he said, a booking of three weeks is not to be sneezed at. I couldn't agree more. Mr. Winner arrived, extended his heartfelt sympathies to "Dear Sir John" and completely ignored me, which was no more than I had expected. I know my place ...

I took along a little low folding stool which my Dad had made for my Mum when we were regular supporters of Plymouth Speedway in the 1940s. This was a great help during the shooting, until I was called to duty and the time came for me to struggle to rise from it. Sir John would relax on a chair with his painful leg propped up on cushions, his cigarette sticking straight out from the centre of his lips and I would be next to him on my tiny stool. Whenever the call came to leap into action arrived we would struggle to our feet and both hobble over to the set ...

Ben Webster portraitBill Coleman portrait

Bill Coleman by Lew Hooper

"Dear old Bill, Lily still writes to us at Christmas".



Ben Webster by Lew Hooper

entitled: "Portrait of Stan Getz by Blind Lew Hooper"

Lew and Ron Rubin would sign off as 'Blind Lew Hooper' (as Lew was losing his sight), and 'Ramblin' Ron Rubin' (because of his wordy letters to Lew)


One day during filming someone had blundered and a bit part actor had been sent home early. As I was roughly the same build I was commissioned with the role, clad and bewigged as a servant. All I had to do was to walk into a room and stand on a set mark. Not difficult (even a saxophone player can do that), but I was holding two very large Irish Wolfhounds on two leashes. Moreover, my leg was really playing me up and the dogs were not as placid as they had appeared to be with their owner, outside in the garden. Michael (Winner) has a way with dogs; he shouts "Keep still, dogs" and, not surprisingly, that seemed to un-nerve them. He used the same technique on a flock of sheep in a field some days later ....

I did work (with Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman) as an extra on 'Eyes Wide Shut' for two weeks... I was paired with an elderly lady (how dare they?) and we were sat on the floor while not being used. Tom Cruise came over and spoke to the old dear and told her that she should sit on a chair. "I can't", she said and explained why. He told her that she could, and that if anyone tried to move her off she should refer them to him, which was very nice. My 'partner' (oh, dear), was delighted and I expect she will savour those few words to her dying day.....

One Sunday in the late '90s, I was browsing at a car boot sale when I saw, on a table of assorted bric-a-brac, a model of a Storm Trooper from the '70s film 'Star Wars' ...In an effort to be friendly I let slip the innocent remark "I was one of those in the film". Instead of the expression of mild interest which I had anticipated, a knowing, rather cynical smirk spread over the stallholder's face ... He called over a young lad, " 'ere, this geezer says he was a Storm Trooper in 'Star Wars' ". In a split second the boy's expression changed from one of curiosity to one of disdain. "Nah, you wasn't", he said. "Yes, I was, really". "Garn, you wasn't", he snorted. "Which one was yuh, then?" There's no answer to that, in the few scenes in which I took part there were several of us running around corridors, and in the whole film there were probably hundereds of Storm Troopers ...

Lew was also a talented artist and would paint all the major jazz figures. Our thanks, once again, to Ron Rubin who has sent us the pictures that appear on this page.

Pee Wee Russell portrait


Pee Wee Russell by Lew Hooper

"Could be he's listening to 'Giant Steps'. Pee Wee - even his feet look sad".




Lew was unwell during the 1990s but did resume playing until he suffered a stroke in February 2009, he was taken into hospital for some weeks and then returned home where he passed away peacefully 21st April, 2009

David Keen remembers Lew:

“When I meet and play with young musicians, they invariably ask me where I studied music. I always tell them ‘at the University of Lewis Hooper’. Lew was truly a giant of a musician; a musician’s musician, someone whose playing I really admired and whose playing truly inspired me to work on the horn and try to get better. Not that I consider myself in Lew’s league, he was such a naturally gifted/talented player”.

“You could say Lew sounded a lot like Lester Young or Stan Getz on tenor and like Paul Desmond on alto … but he had his own style.”

Journalist Peter Vacher says:

Lew seemed quite self-deprecating about his playing and obviously didn’t push himself at all.  I seem to recall hearing him play with the Sonny Dee band (Stan Daly) and I certainly remember him appearing with Bill Coleman.  He was an excellent tenor stylist in the mode of Lester Young, always creative and swinging.  I think he also worked with the genial trumpeter Alan Littlejohn.  Of course, he became more familiar as a ‘face’ on TV and in films in recent times as a result of his work as a film extra.  He had the right kind of look for ‘serious’ board meetings or for the crowd scenes at embassy presentations and the like.  As a jazzman, he was unsung and underrated although musicians knew his worth.


Dave Keen in Canada has sent us a collection of letters he received around ten years ago from Lew Hooper who died on 21st April 2009. We have taken some extracts from the letters from 2000/2001 that we thought you might find interesting. Lew was still playing but his life and the scene he had known were changing:

'I won't ask if you're 'still blowing' Dave! I get fed up with being asked that question, and reply with 'Why shouldn't I be?' As for 'still struggling' that is true, though, still struggling to learn to play the tenor - it must be getting fed up with my abusing it for fifty-four years. Still enjoying it and getting away with it, there are still a few who haven't sussed how little I know ....'

'Josette and I went to Ronnie’s the other day to see Elaine Delmar with a superb rhythm section – Brian Dee, Dave Green and Bobby Worth. The other group was the Peter King Quintet with young Gerard Presencer on trumpet. It was all very clever for me, modal things, strange time signatures, etc. but it was marvellous. I can’t imagine how anyone in the world can outshine Peter King on alto …. He did Lush Life unaccompanied, then Naima – magnificent. I wonder how he rates in the world? I know there are thousands of young geniuses about who fly around, but PK should be better known than he is.'

'A few Months ago we saw Lee Konitz, and I’m afraid that I found it b…. awful, just playing exercises with an average tone and no warmth. It brought back the Fifties to me when I seemed to be the only musician who didn’t dig West Coast. I was into the evil black cats in those days, although now all my favourites, dead and alive, are from the Cool School. Now after hearing Konitz I realise why I didn’t like it at the time. All my heroes come from Lester – Stanley, Zoot, Art, Paul, Lady Day, etc. – even Chet and Miles, in my ‘umble opinion.'

'This has been a year of losing gigs ... We lost the lovely Landmark to new owners and a no-music policy (or MUSAK, same thing), and the band at The Ritz changed as the pianist leader and his vocalist wife, Sheila Southern, decided to take it easy and travel the world .... Then the monthly gig at the Bull's Head went, we played to audiences of 3, 2 and 1! (yes, one!). This almost equalled my lifetime record of playing to a completely empty room in Chelsea with some brilliant Sandy Brown clone thirty years ago. I wonder what happened to him?'

'Recently I found myself playing with a banjo and accordion with a stupid blazer and straw hat in a boxing ring. I was longing to look at my watch but every time I tried, my (too big) hat fell off.... Would you believe 'American Patrol' was requested and we played it, toLew Hooper cartoon thunderous applause (I think it was applause). Forty years ago I swore I woulkd never play 'American Patrol' again, that's when I was principled, starry-eyed and looking forward to a creative future. I should grovel in sackcloth and ashes, but the bills have to be paid. And in the boxing ring I met Henry Cooper and Mick McManus, so there was no question of refusing...'

Hunter cartoon sent by Dave Keen 'I'm afraid all the seats at the back have been snapped up, sir.'

'...you don't seem to realise that I'm just an old geezer who does the occasional gig for old folks at Day Centres on walking frames and wheelchairs. Seriously, I've actually played with poor old dears manoeuvering their wheelchairs around in time to the music. And I've been glad of the gig. One of my later triumphs in Finsbury Park, two very fat black ladies were helped on to the floor where one held on to her frame and the other held on to her. They couldn't move, but they SWAYED .....'

'Over here, it seems that funerals are about the only times that musicians can get together. I often sympathise with those closest to the leading participant (‘im what’s dead) when there’s always a reunion of his mates accompanied by laughter, dirty jokes and ribaldry. I wonder if ‘ordinary’ people act like that? And I wonder what will happen when it’s my turn? As long as somebody plays Chet Baker’s You Can’t Go Home Again I won’t care. I recently asked Willie Garnett what I could play at his funeral. He said ‘Giant Steps’, so I said that I hope I die first, I never could handle that one.'


Captain Scott's Antarctic Expedition: After weeks cooped up in a tiny tent, Oates stands up and says: 'I'm going outside. I may be some time', and Captain Scott says: 'Better take that bloody banjo with you'.

As told by Lew Hooper to Dave Keen

© Sandy Brown Jazz 2009 - 2015


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