The flutes and woodwind instruments used by the late Ray Swinfield are to be sold at auction this week. Swinfield, who died in 2019, played with the likes of Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Tom Jones, Dusty Springfield and Liza Minelli. He also provided the flute on The Beatles’ 1967 hit single, Penny Lane.
Swinfield was born in Australia and moved to the UK in 1964, aged 25, performing and recording there for 44 years. During his 50-year career, Swinfield played with jazz orchestras including Count Basie’s, worked as a studio musician and appeared on stage with his own band Argenta Ora and accompanying other performers, including Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan and Tony Bennett.
He also played on dozens of TV shows including Strictly Come Dancing and in the Top Of The Pops orchestra. He twice won the Downbeat poll. Many Britons will know him from the 21 years of repeats of the BBC children’s television programme Mr Benn, where he played in each of the 13 episodes as well as the famous theme tune.
Swinfield’s Gemeinhardt piccolo flute and his solid silver Haynes flute, which can both be heard on Penny Lane, are two of 48 Swinfield items that will go under the hammer at auctioneers Gardiner Houlgate in Wiltshire on 17 June. The sale, on behalf of Swinfield’s wife, includes a range of flutes, saxophones, clarinets, instrument mouthpieces and musical scores. Foremost among the items for sale are the Gemeinhardt piccolo flute, expected to fetch £300–£400, and the solid silver Haynes flute, worth £1,800–£2,500. A rare silver Brannen-Cooper flute is expected to reach £4,000–£6,000. The entire collection is valued at £31,000.
Swinfield auctioneer Jamie South said that while the flautist was never a household name, “most people will almost certainly have heard Ray’s music on television, film scores, pop singles and with the jazz greats”.
“He was a musician’s musician. However, in the jazz world and among professional musicians, he was legendary. One jazz critic wrote that Ray wore his brilliance lightly.”
Swinfield was forced to give up playing in 2008, six years after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. His final television performance was on the BBC1 chat show, Parkinson. He died in 2019 aged 79.
The auction will take place at Gardiner Houlgate, 9 Leafield Way, Corsham, Wiltshire, SN13 9SW on Friday 17 June. Ray Swinfield’s collection will be available for public viewing Monday 13–Thursday 16 June from 9am–5pm and on the day of the sale itself. For more information go to the auction webpage or contact Jamie South on 01225 812912.