Wally Fawkes and Ian Christie Sextet • A Private Session

Wally Fawkes and Ian Christie Sextet • A Private SessionWhile the names “Wally Fawkes” and “Ian Christie” are well-known in UK trad jazz circles, they are probably not so well-known in those here in the US.

Wally Fawkes (d. 2023) was a “man of parts,” being a fine caricaturist under the pen name “Trog” (an abbreviation of ‘troglodyte,” in turn an allusion to his time spent in underground air-raid shelters during World War II), and known for his cartoon character “Flook” as well as his political satires. His cartoons appeared in The Daily Mail and The Daily Mirror, and he drew for The Observer, The Sunday Telegraph, Punch, The Spectator, and The New Statesman, among others.

Red Wood Coast

He was also a fine clarinetist and soprano saxophonist, self-taught, playing in his time with many bands, including one of the original UK trad bands, George Webb’s Dixielanders, of which he was a founding member. He was also a founding member of Humphrey Lyttelton’s band, and he formed his own band, The Troglodytes, after leaving Lyttelton. Later he joined John Chilton’s Feetwarmers and on many occasions rejoined Lyttelton. He also was a member of Graham Tayar’s Crouch End All Stars. On this CD he plays soprano sax most of the time.

Accompanying Fawkes in heading up the sextet on this CD is Ian Christie (d. 2010). Like Fawkes, Christie was a member of the Humphrey Lyttelton band, in which his brother, Keith, was playing trombone. Lyttelton liked to feature clarinet duets, and together the Fawkes-Christie pair, though quite young, produced a certain éclat performing the duets. The two Christie Brothers went on to form their own band, the Christie Brothers Stompers, in 1951. On cornet with this band was Ken Colyer, the result being a rather formidable front line. Ian Christie then went on later to play with the bands of Alex Welsh and Mick Mulligan.

When the fortunes of traditional jazz waned a bit in the 1960s, Christie turned to writing reviews of concerts and recordings, and later television and films, for The Sunday Telegraph, as well as some articles for The Daily Express. Following this diversion, in 1990 he once again focused on jazz, one band being Graham Tayar’s Crouch End All Stars when he succeeded Wally Fawkes on clarinet.

Hot Jazz Jubile

The other members of this sextet also have impressive musical curriculum vitae. Stan Greig (d. 2012), a Scotsman, played with his fellow Scots, Sandy Brown and Al Fairweather. Moving south, he joined the bands, at varying times, of Ken Colyer, Humphrey Lyttelton, and Acker Bilk, among others. Grieg was a talented musician, playing not only piano but also drums and recording on both instruments with different bands.

Another multi-instrumentalist, Don Smith (d. 2022), played banjo, string bass, and sousaphone. For most of his career he was a member of the Mike Daniels Jazzmen.

Behind the drums was Ken Pring (d. 2017), who during the day was to be found engaged in his other profession, architecture, in which he achieved considerable acclaim He, too, was a multi-instrumentalist, playing flute, drums, violin, guitar, and several brass instruments, and having some acquaintance with banjo, clarinet, and saxophone. Among the bands he played with were Wally Fawkes’ Troglodytes and The Crouch End All Stars. He was the prime mover of rounding up those on this Fawkes/Christie Sextet CD. As well as recording with the Lyttelton band, in 1982 the pair had previously recorded an LP: Wally Fawkes and the Rhythm Kings with Ian Christie (on some tracks a quartet, on others a quintet) titled That’s the Blues, Old Man (Stomp Off LP S.O.S. 1060).

The final member of the sextet was John Keen. Like that of the others, his jazz pedigree is substantial. At various times he has played trumpet with the West London Rhythm Kings, The Crouch End All Stars, the River City Stompers, One More Time Jazz Band, The Covent Garden Jazz Marching Band, and Max Collie’s Rhythm Aces, among others.

From the above, it is clear that all the musicians had known and played together before Ken Pring got them to regroup for this recording session. Fawkes and Christie, as noted, had recorded back in the late forties when they were both with Lyttelton, and again in 1982 when they were members of The Rhythm Kings when that quartet made the That’s the Blues, Old Man LP for Stomp Off. Several had also been members of The Crouch End All Stars.

Evergreen

As to the musical selections, there will be no surprises. The tunes are all quite well-known, and there is a pair of takes of each tune except for “Atlanta Blues:” and “When You and I Were Young Maggie.” In his liner notes, John Keen says: “The music on this CD includes all takes. [One might wonder, however, what happened to take 1 of “Cakewalkin’ Babies from Home” and of “The Girls Go Crazy about the Way I Walk” as only takes 2 and 3 of each are included.] “This is because recordings of Wally and Ian together are rare and quite special, and these have not been available before. It is important that one can hear everything that was recorded on those Saturdays in May 1985.”

As we might expect, the spotlight falls on the two reed players for the most part, their being ably supported by the rest of the cast. It is very entertaining to witness Fawkes, who plays mainly soprano sax but also clarinet on a few tracks, and Christie deftly weaving around, above, and below each other, sometimes reminiscent of two birds expressing the joys of spring against an azure sky.

While Fawkes admitted having taken Bechet as a mentor for soprano, fortunately he did not try to emulate Bechet entirely in developing his (Fawkes’) own style; thus there is some vibrato, but not the torrent one finds in Bechet. Also, unlike Bechet, Fawkes does not try to outblow everyone else on the stand—he cooperates with, rather dominates, them. In his playing he evidences both gentility and gentleness.

Nauck

In turn, these qualities are pervasive on the stand on these two performance dates. They are established in the first track, “I’ve Got a Feeling I’m Falling,” in the interesting interplay between the two reeds, especially as they move towards the coda, both soaring up into the higher register as they build toward the bridge, which is taken by the bass, before closing out the track.

The other musicians provide ample support under the reeds. Keen pays close attention to dynamics and volume, whether playing open or muted trumpet, and carries the melody much of the time. Greig shows his keyboard mastery with solid chording and blues-drenched playing. His ingenuity is apparent when, for example, on “Atlanta Blues” (aka “Make Me a Pallet on the Floor”) he lays down a boogie sequence and beat at a smart clip. I haven’t heard it done quite that way before.

The string bass of Smith also contributes to the floor under the others throughout. While Smith doesn’t solo often, when he does it commands respect from the others who lay out for it, as we hear after the stop-time chorus of “The Girls Go Crazy ‘bout the Way I Walk.” The other member of the rhythm section, drummer Ken Pring, takes no solos and does not try to thrust his presence to the fore. He is content to maintain a steady tempo on the take of each tune and contribute the odd accent.

Nauck

If I can add one very small quibble, it would be that when both reeds are clarinets, those who are not too familiar with Fawkes’ and Christie’s respective playing styles might have found it helpful to have had some guidance as to who was playing, especially when it was a solo by one of them. But such deficit is a minor one.

This is a disc that will merit many subsequent replays. It is one that reed players will definitely want to have. By contacting John Keen at [email protected] one can get ordering information.


Elvis

I’ve Got a Feeling I’m Falling (1); I’ve Got a Feeling I’m Falling (2); Kansas City Man Blues (1); Kansas City Man Blues (2); Atlanta Blues (1); If I Had You (1); If I Had You (2); Cake Walkin’ Babies from Home (1); Cake Walkin’ Babies from Home (2); I Wish I Could Shimmy like My Sister Kate (1); I Wish I Could Shimmy like My Sister Kate (2); Weary Blues (1); Weary Blues (2); The Girls Go Crazy ‘bout the Way I Walk (2); The Girls Go Crazy ‘bout the Way I Walk (3); When You and I Were Young Maggie (1).

Personnel: John Keen, tpt, voc; Wally Fawkes, clt, sop sax; Ian Christie, clt; Stan Grieg, pno; Don Smith, dbs; Ken Pring, dms.

Recorded at the Pizza Express, Dean Street, Soho, London on May 11 and May 18, 1985.

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Born in Dundee, Scotland, Bert Thompson came to the U.S. in 1956. After a two-year stint playing drums with the 101 st Airborne Division Band and making a number of parachute drops, he returned to civilian life in San Francisco, matriculating at San Francisco State University where he earned a B.A. and an M.A. He went on to matriculate at University of Oregon, where he earned a D.A. and a Ph.D., all of his degrees in English. Now retired, he is a professor emeritus of English at City College of San Francisco. He is also a retired traditional jazz drummer, having played with a number of San Francisco Bay Area bands, including And That’s Jazz, Professor Plum’s Jazz, the Jelly Roll Jazz Band, Mission Gold Jazz Band, and the Zenith New Orleans Parade band; he also played with some further afield, including Gremoli (Long Beach, CA) and the Phoenix Jazzers (Vancouver, B.C.) Today he reviews traditional jazz CDs and writes occasional articles for several publications.

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