Obituary: Bob Efford

Baritone virtuoso who went from being a popular London session-man and jazz soloist to first-call LA player with Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, Johnny Mathis, Bette Midler, Mel Tormé and Bob Florence

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Bob Efford. Photo by Gordon Sapsed

Before leaving the UK for the USA in 1976, Bob Efford had become one of the most sought after session players in town. He performed on countless recording dates for films and television as well as numerous concerts with Geraldo, John Dankworth, Ted Heath, Benny Goodman (two European tours) and the London Symphony orchestra, doubling on all the saxes, woodwinds and double reeds.

He had made his recording debut with the Vic Lewis orchestra on tenor in January 1950 and he later appeared with Lewis on a BBC radio broadcast. In 1957 Tony Kinsey invited him to join Joe Harriott in his new quintet which was introduced on the Jazz At The Flamingo album. That was the year they were voted No. 1 in both the Melody Maker and New Musical Express polls in the small-group category. Later that year with Les Condon replacing Harriott the quintet recorded selections from My Fair Lady. Kinsey said at the time, “As Bob has never played with a regular jazz group this will give him a chance to develop into one of the country’s leading stylists”.

In 1958 he was selected to perform in an all-star group on Ken Moule’s celebrated Jazz At Toad Hall album where he soloed on Messin’ About In Boats. That was the year he replaced Red Price with Ted Heath for a USA tour that included a well-received Carnegie Hall concert where he stopped the show with his Exactly Like You solo. He remained with the band until 1966 and after the leader died he played with subsequent editions of the Heath band which were fronted by Ralph Dollimore and then Johnny Keating until 1974.

His first USA recording was in 1979 with Dave Pell’s Prez Conference. Efford was on baritone performing transcribed Lester Young solos with Bob Cooper, Bob Hardaway and the leader. He remained with Pell when the group appeared at Newport that year.

A consummate multi-instrumentalist, he quickly became a first-call player in Los Angeles for recordings with Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, Johnny Mathis, Bette Midler, Mel Tormé and many others. He was a regular in big bands led by Les Brown, Tom Talbert, Ray Anthony, Johnny Mandel, Bob Florence and Bill Holman. Over the years he appeared on no less than 11 Florence albums and on the 1983 Magic Time CD Florence wrote Bleuphoria as a feature for Bob’s full, rich sound on baritone. It has an Ellington feel, prompting Florence to say “Johnny Hodges would have loved Efford’s performance”. In a 1992 LA Times interview Florence saluted three of his regular sidemen – Lanny Morgan, Steve Huffsteter and Bob Efford – “These guys are a real joy to play with”. Holman too doffed his cap when he dedicated Bary Me Not to Efford on his 2004 Live album.

Robert T. Efford was born in London, 6 April 1928. He died on 29 April 2019 at his home in Paradise Cove, Malibu.