Adrian Kendon recently celebrated his 70th birthday with a party at The Verdict jazz club in Brighton. Performing on stage were Bobby Wellins, Geoff Simkins, Julian Nicholas, Terry Seabrook, Paul Whitten and Spike Wells together with a host of other players, including his trumpeter son, Jack Kendon.
Here Adrian shares his memories of a life spent performing and teaching jazz.
How did you first become interested in jazz?
I first became interested in jazz as a child. We had a collection of 1920s and 1930s records and a wind up gramophone that I used to play. One of these records was a piece called Honey I’m In Love With You which had a tenor sax solo, which I absolutely loved and played over and over.
Then my elder brother returned from boarding school with a 78 by Humphrey Lyttelton one side of which was Bad Penny Blues and the other was Out Of The Galleon which I played over and over. I played a tea chest bass with my brother (who played the guitar and banjo) and we sang skiffle songs together. I also played the trumpet and joined a trad band. I eventually bought a three string bass which I played with a Blue Grass band.
One day I got a gig in Rutland and had a quintet but the only bass player I could find didn’t have a bass so I bought one for £25 at a local music shop. During the gig the bass player got huge blisters on his hand so I took over the bass for the rest of the evening and my fellow musicians said, afterwards, that they preferred my bass playing. At the same time I started a jazz club and helped start a folk club and began playing more bass than trumpet.
At 18 I went to the Cambridge Tech where I met Ed Lee who subsequently formed a band called CMU which I joined as a bass player and we played in Cambridge and did gigs all over the country including London. Then I joined a folk rock band called Baby Whale and played the Edinburgh Festival and got a contract with a record company.
Nothing came of this and I left to play on a cruise ship in the Caribbean sailing out of New York. I went to various jazz spots in New York and heard Art Blakey, Gil Evans, Sonny Rollins and many others and knew that I wanted to concentrate on modern jazz. I moved to Brighton and started the Brighton Jazz Club and there I met and played with Bobby Wellins. Bobby decided to form a quartet and I was hired as the bass player and there followed three years of touring all over Britain and the continent and we recorded two albums. Family commitments meant I had to live more locally and I joined the Geoff Simkins Quartet and we made one album. I also became a member of Joe Lee Wilson’s Joy Of Jazz.
All this time I was running the Brighton Jazz Club and, as a member of the resident house band played with many big names including Art Farmer, Eddie Lockjaw Davies, Sony Stitt, Joe Newman, Mark Murphy and many more American stars. Then I applied for and was given the job of setting up and running Jazz South (funded by the Arts Council) and for nine years I virtually gave up playing.
And after that?
When that job ended I was offered the post of Director of Jazz Studies at Chichester College where I stayed for 13 years helping to launch the jazz careers of over 600 aspiring musicians. As a music teacher I became convinced that music was an essential subject in education. Learning music one gains a greater number of skills than in any other subject for example: cooperation, negotiation, team work, logic (through music theory), physical coordination, emotional awareness and expression, stage craft, management skills including financial skills, technical and mechanical skills, aural skills, self discipline, self awareness and the awareness of others’ limitations and needs, the ability to listen to others and to work with them, and self expression. In no other educational subject are all these skills nurtured and necessary.
What are your happiest memories from your playing career?
My happiest memories of my playing career are when I was a member of the Bobby Wellins Quartet, I learnt more at that time and had the wonderful experience of playing with Spike Wells, the best drummer in the UK.
My worst memory is of playing with a dance band on a commercial gig where the pianist, realizing that I was a jazz musician, decided to play a Thelonious Monk transcription which he made a complete hash of. He should have stuck to Jimmy Lalleys!
Playing with a trad band on a function in the middle of a rugby pitch on the back of a huge lorry trailer. It was pouring with rain but the trailer was covered so all we could see was a curtain of rain. We had returned from our break and were setting up for our second set. The drummer, a fine New Orleans stylist called Colin Bowden, stood up and raised his pint to the invisible and distant audience saying “Ladies and gentlemen, will you take your partners for the next dance” and then sat down.
Unfortunately, the back legs of his chair had been pushed off the stage and he fell backwards, pouring his beer over his face as he disappeared, falling eight feet to the ground into a muddy puddle underneath the trailer.
At that moment the trombonist, Barry Palser, stomped in the number and we all started playing sans drums. Then we all stopped and Barry turned round asking where Colin had gone. A couple of minutes later Colin emerged from under the trailer covered in mud and soaking from rain and beer. I was the only one who saw the whole thing and I have not stopped laughing since.
Q&A Interview conducted by Charlie Anderson.
Photo of Adrian Kendon by Barry Pitman.