JJ 10/60: In My Opinion – Benedict Edwards

Sixty years ago, the Elizalde-tutored Cambridge University pianist and drummer Ben Edwards loved Benny Carter, Earl Hines, Mutt Carey, Ray Charles and Ellington but found scarcely any merit in Chris Barber or Ken Colyer. First published in Jazz Journal, October 1960


This is one of a series of taped interviews with musicians, 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. Ben Edwards was one of Britain’s first jazz drummers. Born in Cambridge, one of his first musical jobs was as pianist with the Cambridge University Quinquaginta Ramb­lers, the band that had been trained by Fred Elizalde. Ben left Cambridge University in 1928 and came to London where he worked for some time as pianist in various night clubs. In 1934 he switched to drums and played under various leaders until 1945, when he led his own band at the Lansdowne Restaurant. Since 1946 he has freelanced, including numerous stints with Victor Silvester. – Sinclair Traill

“Rose Room”. Billy Strayhorn Septet. Felsted SJA 2008
There was, of course, an undeniable Ellington flavour about that – the clarinettist (Russell Procope) plays much in the Barney Bigard tradition and Shorty Baker’s trumpet is, to say the least, extremely original. The fruity alto could only be Johnny Hodges and the very tidy and unselfish drumming by Oliver Jackson – a new name to me – very relaxed, beaty and excellent. I hope we will be hearing much more of him. Altogether a very exciting record, with just enough arrange­ment and thought to details.

“Sweethearts on Parade”. Joe Thomas. London SAH-K 6066
I particularly liked Dicky Well’s robust trombone solo and Tate’s fruity tenor. Of the two trumpets I preferred Joe Thomas. Here again, the drumming was superb and for that matter so was the whole rhythm section. The ensemble was wonderfully “together”—a most satisfying, full sound, full of bounce and life. I would say that is rather more in a Dixieland vein than what you people call Mainstream these days, despite the title of the album. It has all the funda­mentals of the Dixieland sound: the collective improvisation during the last chorus, for instance. To me Mainstream is something much lighter, more flexible. This is to me very stylised, but none the worse for that.

“A Monday Date”. Benny Carter-Earl Hines. Vogue LAC 12225
That I liked enormously – it got off the ground at once. The alto was quite fabulous and Hines’ playing was fiery, exciting and almost modernish. Very unlike his usual style, ’though still as percussive as ever. I thought Shelly Manne moved it along beautifully and the bass could not be better. I like the way the whole thing goes – isn’t that more in the mainstream idiom than the last record? Look at the musi­cians you have there, two elderly men and the young Manne. Carter’s playing is now much more edgy than when he was here. He used to make a rather wistful noise, but now he sounds harder and, if I may say so, even hotter than he used to. It may be the recording or he may be using a harder reed, but whatever the reason he sounds quite different these days- more of a metallic sound than it used to be, not so silky. He was always exciting to play with – he used to go down to the old Florence Mills Club and I often used to drop in for a bash. That was mid-30s and there was always a jazz session going on every night. Carter was the most charming person; I often sat there till four or five in the morning just listening to his astounding rhythmic ideas. To return to the record, I find Hines’ approach there very original – he adjusts himself perfectly to the slightly more modern approach without losing his own personal style and sound.

That heavy clanging banjo makes me want to reach for the nearest heavy object – why can’t these traditionalist banjoists learn to play the instrument properly, in heaven’s name? If they only took trouble to listen to some of the old records they would hear how it should be played – but it seems they have to go on clanging

“Climax Rag”. Chris Barber. Columbia SCX 3282
Well, the success of this band has always to me been as great a mystery as the building of the pyramids, or how they get ships into bottles. I don’t know! I can’t understand it and think this record is quite unbelievably bad, only redeemed to some extent by Pat Halcox’s trumpet, which is pleasing and vigorous. Of course, it is no fault of the band’s that the recording is so bad – the drums are violently over-recorded – but the whole general effect to me is pedestrian and busy without achieving anything whatever. That heavy clanging banjo makes me want to reach for the nearest heavy object – why can’t these traditionalist banjoists learn to play the instrument properly, in heaven’s name? If they only took trouble to listen to some of the old records they would hear how it should be played – but it seems they have to go on clanging.

“Riverside Blues”. Ken Colyer. Columbia 33SX 1220
Well, to sum that up briefly, I would say they took an awful long time to say not very much. The trombone was fearfully flat most of the time and really none of the solos were terribly impressive. It really does very little for me at all – it’s all so laborious, uninteresting and long-winded. Artistry and perfection are, we know, often accompanied by success but I’ve got to an age now when I like things to be good, basically good, that is. It will probably make you laugh, but I really think those Happy Wanderers who play in the streets of the West End get a damn sight nearer to it than any of this lot! In some ways they are good, they make a happy uninhibited noise and they play tidily, but not this lot. Where I quarrel with this music is that the basic style they are trying to copy was happy and spontaneous and certainly lively whilst this is dull striving (and how they strive!) after effect.

“Fidgety Feet”. Mutt Carey’s New Yorkers, Esquire EP 220
Now that was a happy sound! Jimmy Archey’s trombone was in perfect context, and so was Albert Nicholas’s clarinet. Although the recording was of poor quality, one can hear that the rhythm section gets on with it very satisfactorily. Baby Dodds was an exceedingly fine drummer, perhaps best of all in that particular style, very unshowy but giving a most insistent lift to the front line soloists. His style is no longer current, perhaps no longer appreciated – pity, for to me he was a king amongst the originators, if I may so allude to them. What a relief to get away from the perpetual hi-hat cymbal; and he fills in there very nicely – as a matter of fact he was a master at that – filling in behind a group. Incident­ally, I believe Dodds was one of the first to record a bass drum. Zutty Singleton recorded with a bass drum from a kid’s set, given him by his aunt, and Baby had a small one made especially for recording.

“Willow Weep For Me”. Ray Charles. London LTZ-K 15178
The rhythm there was excellent and Charles’ own piano outstanding. A lot more solid than so many modern pianists – much more body to his playing, very tidy, very rhythmic. The ensembles were amazingly together and the arrangement very neat. A delightful band altogether, relaxed and easy to listen to, and a perfect blend of the old and the more advanced type of jazz – a most happy mixture. The baritone got around with some agility, but the trumpet was not too sure of himself – here and there he groped a bit. But Newman was a feast – heaps of Hawkins influence, but what a player!

“I Cried For You”. Jimmy Rushing. Philips BBL 7360
I have always been a great admirer of Jimmy’s and that was great – as good as I’ve ever heard him. Sir Charles Thompson on organ was so good he almost conquered my hatred of the instrument except in a church. I didn’t care too much for the guitar, but found the piano very interesting. Ray Bryant has a strong Hines flavour, with a dash of Teddy Wilson here and there in those cadenza runs. The whole thing is very exciting and as usual with Rushing sessions moves very well indeed – he has so much lift in his whole approach – anything he is in is bound to come to life. He gives this a firm start and it never looks back.

“Flying Saucers”. Duke Ellington (Drum is a Woman). Philips BBL 7179
One must lose something there from not having seen the original TV show, but that band … Some superb drumming from Woodyard at his very best; one of Duke’s happiest, sexy vocal introductions and the brass so exciting as to be almost untrue. The interpolations here and there are neat and very appropriate. I need hardly say the alto is superb – it is, in fact, the outstanding piece from the whole record – balanced, delicate, so wonderfully controlled as to be almost beyond perfection. The drum solo is artistic and beautifully executed. I don’t go for drum solos as a rule but this was a work of art. You picked my favourite track from that great record.