JJ 03/60: In My Opinion – Nevil Skrimshire

Sixty years ago, the man who later declined to sign the Rolling Stones to EMI gave his opinion on a series of jazz records. First published in Jazz Journal March 1960


This is one of a series of taped interviews with musicians, and critics, who are asked to give a snap opinion on a set of records played to them. Although no previous information is given as to what they are going to hear, they are, during the actual playing, handed the appropriate record sleeve. Thus in no way is their judgment influenced by being un­aware of what they are hearing. As far as possible the records played to them are currently available items pro­curable from any record shop. Nevil Skrimshire is a record executive with E.M.I, for whom he keeps a fatherly eye on their jazz issues. In addition he plays rhythm guitar with the Diz Disley Quintet, and is an inveterate junkshopper and searcher after old and rare 78rpms – Sinclair Traill

“Come And Get It”. Dicky Wells. (Felsted FAJ 7007)
One of the things that upset me with that record was the recording – that separation, with everyone sounding as if they were blowing into separate mikes. I didn’t go for Dicky Wells himself: it was a bit gimmicky and he tried to do too much. But I did like Everett Barksdale – at least I liked what he played, but not his tone, which is not at all pleasing. How­ever, he played some good blues phrases and was well backed by Major Holley. I thought the introduction was very over-arranged, without much jazz feeling. Altogether not too impressive, and the whole recording much too toppy.

“Blues In B”. Charlie Christian. (Philips BBL 7172)
The great Charlie Christian! What a pity more recordings like that one have not been done. It was part of a rehearsal and never originally meant for issue – the boys were just having a blow before Benny Goodman arrived. What is interesting is what you brought to my attention – they play that in the key of B. Not many players can play in a difficult key like that, but this group just got into it without a thought, and with no trouble at all. When I toured round with the JATP I remember Oscar Peterson joined the show from the Continent. The first time he met Coleman Hawkins, Hawk suggested they play something in B. Away went Peterson, no trouble at all. He passed his test, and as far as Hawk was con­cerned he was accepted. But that is a great record; I always enjoy listening to Christian, one of the greatest guitarists to come up with jazz.

Of course, I never admire Grappelly’s playing very much. I can take him with Diango, but as a soloist he leaves me cold

“Blue Drag”. Django Reinhardt. (Oriole MG 10019)
The thing I like about these early recordings by the Quintet of the Hot Club of France is the acoustic playing of Django and his beautiful, singing tone. It’s the sort of tone that gets lost once you start amplifying the instrument. To me it’s a terrible sin to amplify a guitar, for it ruins the instrument’s own beautiful, natural sound. An electrical noise is not a guitar sound at all! The bass playing there was a bit pudding-y and the phrasing of the rhythm guitars was corny, but nevertheless I must admit I enjoy the sound of the Quintet. Of course, I never admire Grappelly’s playing very much. I can take him with Diango, but as a soloist he leaves me cold. He is too obvious and uses that Gallic style of phrasing that nearly all harmonica players use.

“Dark Was The Night”. Blind Willie Johnson. (Fontana TFE 17052)
That was a weird record. I think I might grow to like it if I heard it a time or two, but on first hearing it it didn’t do much for me. One has to accustom one’s ear to that kind of guitar playing – the instrument is purposely tuned flat and to get his notes he presses hard and slides his fingers along the strings at the same time. On first hearing I thought it was an Indian sitar or some such instrument. I would like to hear the other tracks, for it might give me more idea of what Johnson was actually trying to do. One has to get into a mood to listen to that kind of blues playing. As I said. I could probably get to like it a lot.

Just because Lang didn’t do those fantastic runs that Reinhardt was so fond of, you can’t dismiss him as a jazz player

“Beale Street Blues”. Venuti-Lang All Stars. (Brunswick OE 9468)
I am very glad you played that, for that’s the kind of iazz I was brought up on – it’s the sort of record I’d always have in my collection. The wonderful swing from that front line, where everybody knows to perfection just what to do and how to do it. That lovely singing tone from Lang’s guitar – and doesn’t he just show what an outstanding rhythm player he was? Did you catch that shuffle rhythm he played behind Teagarden’s vocal? And what a player Goodman was in those days – those fill-ins of his were very expert and just right. Of course when we come to Lang’s solo, we come to a point upon which Disley and I always disagree. Diz can’t see Lang at all – it’s strange but everything to Diz is Reinhardt and he can see no further than him. I have heaps of Lang in my collec­tion, and like it as much as anything Django ever did. Diz’s contention is that Lang is not a good jazz player, but I say that really doesn’t matter, for he had a tone and technique which fitted perfectly into the picture. Just because Lang didn’t do those fantastic runs that Reinhardt was so fond of, you can’t dismiss him as a jazz player. To return to the record, I should mention that Benny Goodman in those days was at his prime and was the hottest clarinettist of the Chicagoan school. And what of Charlie Teagarden? What a shame he didn’t record more, for he was such a great trum­peter that he deserved the fame accorded to Berigan, or even Bix. His tone in all registers was wonderful, and what control! Joe Venuti was alright – he was always original and is the one jazz violinist I can listen to.

“Up Blues”. Hampton Hawes-Barney Kessel. (Vogue LAC 12195)
I am surprised to see that was Hampton Hawes; if I hadn’t seen the sleeve I would have thought it was Oscar Peterson or Andre Previn. But really they all play alike – that hard hitting style they all have, and I must confess I don’t like it.