The importance of Alexis Korner

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Some people really do have a way with words, and there were fine examples in the Jazz Journal 1119. Charlie Wood’s lovely, off-beat descriptions of playing the mighty Hammond organ make you want to get his new album straightaway, and Steve Voce’s piece on Red Nichols similarly makes you want to renew acquaintance with his work.

Mentioning Steve, here’s a very belated thanks to him for expanding my jazz awareness in my own formative years. It was 1965, I’d just left school and walked into a job (you could do that in those days) and I signed up for the jazz appreciation course run by Steve for the WEA (Workers’ Educational Association) once a week at Liverpool University. On the first night he found that I lived in Seaforth, “next door” to Crosby where he lived. From then on he generously picked me up in his car for each session, saving me quite a few bob in bus fares. All I had to do in return was help carry the loads of LPs into the class.

The courses were fabulous and exposed us all to a wide variety of jazz music, from Armstrong to Ayler and all points in between. Thank you Steve.

I didn’t know the significance at the time, but in 1964 when I was still at school I used to see Alexis Korner’s Blues Inc a couple of times a month at a tiny basement club in Liverpool, Hope Hall. I used to love getting to the gig early and watch the band set up, because one member would first make a beeline for the piano and, by the time the others were ready the whole band were in full flight, led by this guy on piano. It was Mick Pyne. Ironically, Alexis didn’t want piano in the set so Mick used to play tenor sax! Good, booting stuff, too. He was alongside Ray Warleigh on wailing alto, not a bad frontline, eh? The following year, Mick and Ray were replaced by Mick’s brother, Chris, on trombone, and Alan Skidmore on tenor sax. Another formidable horn section.

I was listening again to the instrumental LP that Blues Inc recorded for Ace of Clubs in 1963, with Johnny Parker on piano – what a player, and long overdue for a reappraisal. The work of Blues Inc and Alexis is often belittled in jazz circles but, with the benefit of hindsight, you can see that the band employed some of the cream of jazz players from the current scene. Add Art Themen, Phil Seamen, Dave Castle, Danny Thompson and others, all given free reign by Alexis to express themselves, and you can see how important Blues Inc was. Again, a reappraisal needed.

Raphael Callaghan (ex-Liverpool, now North Wales)