WEST BRIDGFORD PLAYED HOST TO TOP MUSICIANS
Memories from Don Read
Pavarotti may have passed us by but West Bridgford played host to a steady stream of the world’s leading jazz musicians from the early 50s. They came from the Hollywood studio orchestras, from the recording studios and clubs of Los Angeles, Chicago and New York, where they had backed such world famous singers as Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday.
They worked in the bands of Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong and Benny Goodman. Some had paid their dues in New Orleans. They came to Gordon Road, Central Avenue and Albert Road. They may not have been household names but to jazz enthusiasts they were idols respected and revered for their role in the very fabric of America’s cultural heritage.
It was one of the more fortunate aspects of the jazz world that highly rated musicians embarked on extensive European tours, playing festivals, concert halls, TV and recording dates. They padded out their exhaustive itineraries with performances in relatively small jazz venues. One such venue was the Trent Bridge Hotel, where from 1955 to 1965, the Nottingham Rhythm Club held its weekly sessions.
Originally formed in 1945 by Ken Allsop, the NRC was at one time Britain’s longest established jazz organisation having presented some 2,400 performances by 250 different bands and artists from nine countries including Australia.
Jazz luminaries such as Big Bill Broonzy, Jimmy Rushing, Wild Bill Davison, Bud Freeman etc, played to rhythm club audiences. From the British jazz scene the bands of
Chris Barber, Humphrey Lyttelton, Kenny Ball, Monty Sunshine and the great George Melly were regular visitors. The NRC moved to the Test Match on Gordon Road in 1965 and to the Manor House (now Marks and Spencer) on Albert Road in 1981.
Just round the corner in Central Avenue the Dancing Slipper, nicknamed The Golden Gumboot, by Humphrey Lyttelton, was the home of the Nottingham Jazz Club from the mid-50s until 1965. The late Bill Kinnell, well known to most Nottingham jazz fans, promoted sessions by Ben Webster, master of the tenor saxophone whose highly individual style influenced legions of young players for decades. Earl Hines, the pianist who inspired Oscar Peterson and Stephan Grappelli, one of the few virtuoso jazz violists.
So West Bridgford was well and truly on the jazz map. Alas many of the stars who entertained us have now gone but the memories live on.