Digby Fairweather: Notes From A Jazz Life

Second volume of a retrospective on the British trumpet and cornet player features him in a variety of 'midstream' settings, 1979-2003


For close on 50 years, Digby has been enthusiastically active in British jazz as an award-winning cornetist/bandleader, writer and broadcaster. His wide-ranging musical involvement has been matched by laudable supportive input for jazz culture over the years as a touring educationist, patron of jazz festivals, founding member of the National Jazz Archive, Loughton and the prime mover and director of the UK Jazz Centre in Southend.

He has played and recorded with most of the top names in midstream British jazz, so very much deserves, at Acrobat’s invitation, this second volume showcasing his favourite recordings. In the full and enjoyable insert notes he salutes with generous appreciation the talents of his musical associates.

Whilst the sophisticated lyricism of Braff, Butterfield and Hackett has inspired Digby’s basic style, he has always welcomed a challenging variety of settings as is evident throughout the 35 tracks of this two-CD set (1979-2003). Things kick off brightly and stylishly with a fine mainstream arrangement from First Class Sounds (a group promoted appropriately enough by the Post Office itself in 1998!).

In 1979 Digby’s Velvet quartet, inspired no doubt by the celebrated Braff/Barnes recordings, gave him the opportunity to interact in close rapport with guitar masters Ike Isaacs and the feisty Denny Wright (with whom sizzling high-speed exchanges take place in Avalon). With his Friends, Digby produces some sensitive, expressive blues trumpet, and Chris Ellis sings here (and later) in relaxed, husky vintage style, very like George Melly.

In duet, with pianist Stan Barker providing excellent accompaniment, Digby sounds on top form, his phrasing bursting into spectacular lyrical flights, delivered with exceptional technical skill and tonal nuances governed by exquisite embouchure control. Two well-arranged and entertaining tracks follow from the Sweet Substitute vocal group, in the tradition of the Boswell and Andrew sisters.

Six tracks present Digby in the unusual instrumental company (obviously enjoyed) of an accordionist, Tony Compton, who succeeds in swinging with capricious wit and spirit. His instrument updated with electronic modifications, he produces a full-bodied sound effectively like a light-toned electric organ. In an eclectic programme, Wave, Dark Eyes and an upbeat Sonny Boy are particularly enjoyable.

On CD2, Digby’s Half Dozen perform an appealing arrangement of I’ll See You In My Dreams, featuring top bassist Len Skeat, and a cheerfully gruff and gravelly George Melly struggles gamely with breath and pitch, but not with expressive spirit. After enjoyable revisits to Ellis, Compton and Barker, further stand-out passages are heard in the brisk and lively Nagasaki, in the interesting My Sweet with a Digby vocal, and in the closing jam on Honeysuckle Rose, Digby enjoying an unaccompanied duet chorus with Humphrey Lyttelton.

Besides his outstanding, spectacular trumpet-cornet, there’s much to enjoy in this highly recommended compilation from his talented fellow musicians, likewise well deserving of this tribute. Digby can look back on this recorded legacy with justifiable pride and satisfaction. “First Class Sounds” makes an apt summary.

CD1: (1) First Class Sounds; (2 ) I’ve Got The World On A String; Sing; Avalon; (3) If I Had Rhythm In My Nursery Rhymes; (4) Moanin’ In The Morning; As Long As I Live; Blues For The Depression; (5) I Want A Little Girl; I Can Dream Can’t I? It’s The Talk Of The Town; (6) Comin’ Back; (7) Tiger Blues; Dear Mr Berkeley; (8) Sonny Boy; Blues For November; When You’re Smiling; Jada (74.03)
CD2: (9) Speedboat To China; Swing That Music; Up A Lazy River; (10) I’ll See You In My Dreams; (11) Frankie And Johnny; September Song; (12) I’ll Never Say Never Again Again; Waiting For The Evening Mail; You Can’t Stop Me From Dreaming; (8) Wave; Dark Eyes; (13) The Nearness Of You; (14) My Sweet; (5) Cheek To Cheek; (15) Nagasaki; Sugar; (16) Honeysuckle Rose (72.23)
(1) DF and the First Class Sounds. 14 September 1998.
(2) DF with Velvet. 19 July 1979.
(3) DF and Friends, with Chris Ellis (v). Nov/Dec 1979.
(4) as (3). Omit Ellis. DF (t-c, v).
(5) DF and Stan Barker (p). Spring 1984.
(6) DF with Fairweather Friends. 23 March 1980.
(7) Sweet Substitute with DF’s Augmented Friends. 1981.
(8) DF and Tony Compton (acc). 30 September 1985.
(9) DF’s Half-Dozen. 25/26/28 May 1998.
(10) DF and his Half-Dozen. 24 April 2003.
(11) George Melly (v) with DF’s Half-Dozen. 15-17 April 2003.
(12) Chris Ellis (v) with DF and Friends. 19/20 August 1986.
(13) DF with Fairweather’s Friends (quartet, plus string quartet). 16 July 1999.
(14) DF, John Barnes and Martin Litton with Fairweather’s Friends. DF (t-c, v). 15 July 1999.
(15) DF and Eastern Jazz All Stars. 2 January 1986.
(16) DF (included in a British All Stars jam session from Jazz City UK recording, Birmingham). 12 August 1984.

Digby Fairweather (trumpet-cornet) on all tracks, various locations. Full discographical details given in the booklet. Collective personnel includes Roy Williams, Pete Strange, Malcolm Earle Smith, Chris Gower, Alistair Allen (tb); Dave Shepherd, Randy Colville, Julian Marc Stringle (reeds); Brian Lemon, Stan Barker, Craig Milverton, Martin Litton (p); Jim Douglas; Denny Wright, Ike Isaacs, Dominic Ashworth, Paul Sealey (g); Len Skeat, Tiny Winters, Harvey Weston (b); Stan Bourke, Bobby Worth (d); Chris Ellis, George Melly, Sweet Substitute (v).
Acrobat ADDCD 3397