JJ 11/70: The Harry James Band at RFH

Fifty years ago, Tony Middleton was delighted when trumpeter Harry James at last arrived in England with his swinging young band and hot horn. First published in Jazz Journal November 1970


At last Harry James has appeared in England, bringing with him a fine swinging young band, and still blowing that hot potent horn of his. This was the line-up at the Festival Hall on September 26th: Harry James (ldr/tpt); Thomas Holden, Jack Poster, Walter Pfyl, Clarence Stine (tpt); Gail Martin, William Paynter, Dave Robbins (tbn); Bill Byrne, Donald Mohr (alt); Corky Corcoran, Gary Herbig (ten); Jack Watson (bar); Jack Perciful (pno); John Smith (Fender-bs); Sonny Payne (dm); Cathy Chemi, Glenn Raye (vcl).

Starting the concert with a salute to Harry’s former boss Benny Goodman, Don’t Be That Way introduced us to Dave Robbins, a jolly-looking plump little man, who has been with the band on and off since 1949 and has apparently rejoined just for this tour. He played gutsy, roaring trombone, yet showed he could handle a ballad capably in a duet with James in the second half. There was some good alto in Tuxedo Junction and Take The A Train, which also had a solo from Jack Watson and some fine lead trumpet from Jack Poster who doubled on tambourine and enthusiasm.

I didn’t go much for male vocalist Glenn Raye; in fact for me, the only high spot in this set was the flute solo by Gary Herbig in Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head. Cathy Chemi was much better, reminding me a little of Kitty Kallen and tackling old goodies and contemporary ballads with equal success.

The singers were followed by Sonny Payne’s drumnastics – in Payne, James has found the perfect successor to Buddy Rich. Last number before the interval was Trumpet Blues (hurray!)

In the second half it was the band all the way, in a tight Basie groove, with some magnificent solos from James and Robbins, and excellent ensemble work, particularly in Rockin’ In Rhythm. A blues followed, and Jack Perciful’s piano solo had the whole band yelling encouragement. Jack has been with the band since 1958 and also contributes arrangements. Corky Corcoran, another veteran (joined 1942), was featured in a lovely ballad arrangement of Gigi, and his thirty-year-old tone sounded as good as ever. Harry James himself is still a great trumpeter who can play it sweet and play it hot, and never forgets that ingredient essential in jazz – humour. The ease with which he soared above the sections proved that his his old strength and power is triumphantly intact.

Two O’clock Jump was the scheduled closer, but the audience yelled for more, and got a couple of encores, Blues For Sale and Cottontail.

As a final point, it’s a shame that such deservedly popular music isn’t well represented on LP; there are worthwhile albums on Regal SOS 5049, Decca TFS 4142 and Hallmark HM 523, but that’s all. How about someone issuing Back-Beat Boogie, Boo Woo, Jump Town etc? They couldn’t miss judging by the way this tour’s been received.