The beginning

Over the years, there's been a lot of jazz here in Chelmsford. Big and small dance bands played at the Odeon, local parish halls and other places when everyone went out for quicksteps, fox-trots and waltzes. Then pop and discos arrived and local jazz had to take a back seat.

In 1985 Eastern Arts contacted local bandleader Eggy Ley and a couple of concerts were put on at the Cramphorn Theatre. A few enthusiasts formed a committee and the club was under way

Eggy-Ley's-Jazzmen in 1955

Hard Times

It wasn't easy. Funds ran very low. For the first few years we had a mix of local bands and others, mainly traditional, from the wider jazz scene. They included names revered in the jazz world but we couldn't find a big enough audience in Chelmsford for them.

The club struggled on from hand to mouth, helped by many jazzmen who gave their services for little reward. Our very first American Buddy Tate came to the club, and that led to our current chair Susan May becoming his agent.

Back in 1988 it was crunch time and the club was close to closing when we decided the only way out was to to aim high with a nationally known name from the UK jazz scene and hope for the best. Who better than Humph? So we scraped the cash together and, on 10th April 1988, the Humphrey Lyttelton Band appeared at the Chelmsford Jazz Club.

Humph being the man he was, there was some humour involved....

Buddy Tate

Humphrey Lyttelton

From Last Chorus: an Autobiographical Medley (JR Books Limited), 2008 p420.
The book includes Humphrey's diaries 1974 to 1980.

Saturday 24 May (1980)

Picked up at home by Chris Durdin of the R.S.P.B. who looks fifteen but must be older. He drove me to Chelmsford, getting lost no more than three times. The fete was in a vast field, but a healthy number of people turned up. I opened it by playing a handful of "bird" songs on the trumpet, was followed by the town band, Scottish dancers, a kite-flying demonstration and P.T. by girls from a police-training school whose formidable thighs turned pork-pink in the prevailing cold. I bought a couple of prints by Tunnicliffe for £2.50 each (framed), some porcelain pots by local craftswomen (or craftspersons) and some teacloths. Duty done, left for home."

Humphrey Lyttleton

Chris writes: "I don't recall the navigational challenges from Humphrey's home in Barnet to the field in Chelmsford, but don't deny them, though I am sure we arrived in time. As for the youthful look, then aged 24, that's true enough. I don't remember much of the conversation, just that Humphrey was an amiable travelling companion, and we certainly chatted about his interest in birds. I suspect my lack of knowledge of jazz was a disappointment to him.

He was a popular celebrity at the Fair. Several of those who came told Humphrey how much they enjoyed his regular jazz radio programme, and he was quite touched by that.

Curiously, the same event is mentioned in Rob Hume's book Life with Birds though with more reference to the P.T. girls and their thighs, as I recall, which I evidently mentioned back in the RSPB office that I then shared with Rob."

Out of Town

The success of the Lyttleton performance was a turning point.

The Club started to feature musicians from out of town, including touring Americans and national British bands that wouldn't come to Chelmsford any other way.

Later that year we booked Kenny Davern, Art Hodes, Beryl Bryden, then Adelaide Hall. The downside was that local bands and musicians were no longer heard at the club but of course they were still around and still appreciated by club members. Happily there are still well-supported local jazz musicians and the music is making a welcome return.

Kenny Davern
Art Hodes
Jack Parnell
Pete Allen

British Artists

Many British bandleaders have been regulars with their bands: Alan Elsdon, Pete Allen, Keith Nichols, Digby Fairweather, Harry Gold, Campbell Burnap, Roy Williams, Jack Parnell and Dave Shepherd have been just some of the names. Singers too - Elaine Delmar, Maxine Daniels, Claire Martin, Clare Teal, Lee Gibson, Stacey Kent - many of them picked up by recording companies who have recognised their talents.

Although mainly featuring small groups, occasionally bigger bands have come along, such as Echoes of Ellington, Harry Gold and his Pieces of Eight, Ray Gelato and His Giants, Sax Appeal, and Paul Jones with Digby Fairweather'sHalf Dozen. (Digby himself is an honorary member and one of the supporters in the early days).

Steve Brown
Dave Green

M & G and more

The club has been generously supported by M&G Investments, a London-based firm with its orgins in Chelmsford which also sponsors a number of classical concerts at the Civic Theatre. M&G's sponsorship has made it possible for us to put on more expensive or larger bands such as Ray Gelato's Giants and Paul Jones with Digby's Half Dozen.

Overall, the club has remained financially solvent and, as a charity, aims to break even while holding a reserve for unforeseen items.

Harry Gold

The club has several honorary members. One of them, Harry Gold, who died in 2005 at the age of 98, did us the honour of becoming our first ever President. He took a great interest in the club, making the long journey from his North London home to attend the AGMs.

Only if the AGM happened to be near St. Patrick's Day did he excuse himself to meet relatives in Ireland and enjoy of a drop of Irish Whiskey in the land of its origin. Even then he sent a cassette recording of greetings and words of wisdom to the club and latterly, when too unwell to come, still sent word to us.

He decided to resign the presidency when unable to get about, ending a period we all regard with great affection. His autobiography ˜Gold, Dubloons and Pieces of Eight is a good read and a great history of British dance and jazz from before the last war to the beginning of this century. His 90th was celebrated at the club and then a few days later at the 100 Club in London. He approved our choice of Don Lusher as his successor. Our President is now the eminent British musician, Alan Barnes, who often appears at the club.

The photo shows a young Harry Gold with his Pieces of Eight in 1951

Harry Gold-1
Spike Robinson
Spike Robinson

Spike & Susan

Club history would not be complete without a word about the late Spike Robinson.

Spike entered club life when he met Susan May, and they later married in 1992. They lived at Writtle, so this American became a local and continued to tour the UK and abroad until he died. Permanent weekly host of Spike's Place in Brentwood, he also played at the club occasionally (not often enough, perhaps) and on his 70th birthday had a celebration with those members of Club Eleven still around and with Harry Gold on bass sax, followed by his band at the time, Young Lions - Old Tigers.

The memory of this fine man and musician is perpetuated by the Spike Robinson Scholarship, a charity to help up-and-coming young jazz musicians.