Obituary: Brian Peerless

497
Bob Glass, Ray Smith, Brian Peerless in Collet's, May 1983

Born and educated in North London, Brian Peerless trained in engineering and became a highly respected and inspirational teacher at Middlesex University. He developed an early interest in jazz, playing drums at college and local functions with the Engineers Jazz Band and in 1962 he started at Dobell’s Jazz Shop in the Charing Cross Road, where he worked Saturdays and holidays for the next 30 years. It was there that he formed close friendships with many musicians, both British and overseas, and could be seen with them in pubs such as The Avenue and The Two Brewers, accompanied by staff from Dobell’s and nearby James Asman’s and Collet’s jazz shops. Doug Dobell and his staff – Brian, John Kendall and Ray Bolden, regularly took visiting Americans for a drink. Among them were Ralph Sutton, Jonah Jones, Billy Butterfield, Pepper Adams, Buck Clayton, Bill Coleman, Ben Webster, Teresa Brewer and Elvin Jones, “who lifted me bodily into the air, ” recalled Brian. “I’ve no idea why!”

Brian branched out by organising tours for visiting US musicians, taking care of visas, accommodation and paperwork, purely as a labour of love, and he helped jazz clubs and festivals with their programmes. These included the Brecon and Norwich festivals as well as recruiting musicians for Peter Boizot’s Pizza Express Jazz Club. He represented Scott Hamilton, Kenny Davern, Marty Grosz, Ken Peplowski , Jake Hanna, Houston Person and Warren Vaché, amongst many others.

Brian was a great raconteur with a deep knowledge of all areas of the music, but notably mainstream jazz, a result of his long interest in the Chicago and Condon schools. After the closure of Dobell’s, he retained his connections through promotion and giving highly entertaining talks, often accompanied by films. This included an exhibition at Chelsea Art Space in 2013, in which he gave his personal history of Dobell’s through music and amusing anecdotes. Brian was a likeable man, friendly and generous, modest and easy going, who made a great contribution to the jazz scene in this country.

His funeral was at Rainsbrook Crematorium near Daventry, where he and his wife, Val, moved only days before his death. It was attended by many from his past educational work and from the jazz community, and the high esteem in which he was held was reflected in a heartfelt tribute from bassist Dave Green. He’ll be sorely missed.

Brian Peerless, 12 January 1939 – 16 November 2018