Three of the greatest and most popular British trad jazz bands were led by trombonist Chris Barber, trumpeter Kenny Ball, and clarinetist Acker Bilk. Each came to fame in the late 1950s (although Barber was doing quite well a few years earlier), just in time to be part of the British trad jazz boom that was at its peak during 1960-64. Each had hits on the pop charts (Barber’s version of Sidney Bechet’s “Petite Fleur,” Ball’s “Midnight In Moscow,” and Bilk’s “Stranger On The Shore”) and all three musicians continued leading bands for decades after the trad boom busted with the arrival of the Beatles.
While Barber, Ball and Bilk did tour together on a few occasions in later years, the Upbeat CD At The Jazz Band Ball which is under all three of their names features them separately, leading their bands on radio broadcasts carried by the BBC in 1962.
Chris Barber had the most significant and influential band of the three. His sextet with the great if underrated trumpeter Pat Halcox, clarinetist Ian Wheeler (who had succeeded Monty Sunshine) and the singer Ottilie Patterson (always a major talent) is heard on six numbers including “Panama Rag,” “Mood Indigo,” and “Stevedore Stomp” with Patterson featured on “Tain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do” and “Pretty Baby.” Barber does a fine job on “Ory’s Creole Trombone.”
Kenny Ball was always a spectacular trumpeter, and one who delighted audiences with his high energy and good humor. His band with trombonist John Bennett and clarinetist Dave Jones is heard in top form on such numbers as “Dippermouth Blues,” “I’m Moving On,” “China Boy,” and the always-memorable “Midnight In Moscow.”
Acker Bilk (or Mr. Acker Bilk as his PR billed him) hit the greatest commercial heights of the three for a time in the early 1960s with his easy-listening strings recording of “Stranger On The Shore.” But actually much of his repertoire was hard-driving Dixieland. His Paramount Jazz Band with trumpeter Colin Smith and trombonist John Mortimer plays particularly hot on “Original Dixieland One Step,” “Boola Boola,” and “Stomp Off, Let’s Go.”
At The Jazz Band Ball serves as an excellent introduction to the music of the Three B’s of British trad jazz.
At The Jazz Band Ball (Upbeat URCD 230, 22 selections, TT = 66:10) www.upbeatrecordings.co.uk