Derek Coller's investments in jazz began with getting ‘hooked’ on big bands as a young teenager. Collecting discographical information and biographies of musicians led to him becoming an author and jazz magazine editor. He describes his special interest for the ‘less well-known’, and liked being part of what felt like a ‘secret society’ belonging to something with a limited following, and generating networks through circulating letters.
|15th August 2016
|National Jazz Archive
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Interviewer [Nicolle]: So if you could just start by giving me a little bit of background information – so if we start with your name and if you could spell your name for me please?
Derek: My name is Lionel Derek Coller – always called Derek and then my surname is spelt C – O – double L – E – R.
Interviewer [Nicolle]: And can you just tell me your date of birth and where you were born?
Derek: 22nd of September 1926 in Torquay - Devon.
Interviewer [Nicolle]: And can you just tell me a little bit about your background in music and your parents also?
Derek: My parents had no particular interest in music and I just got hooked on the – the big bands when I was 13 or 14 and it all – all went from there.
Interviewer [Nicolle]: And what has been the nature of your jazz activities themselves?
Derek: I always – mainly – well I started on the discographical side collecting information about records and then following on from that I also got interested in biographies of less well-known musicians.
Interviewer [Nicolle]: And what motivated you to invest in these particular activities?
Derek: That’s a difficult question – I was just interested I was keen I suppose in – in once sense in those days it was like being part of a secret society because the jazz that I was interested in was really only known to a limited number of people I suppose that was part, part of it.
Interviewer [Nicolle]: So just moving on a little bit then could you just tell me a little bit about the way your activities were organised – coordinated?
Derek: [Pause] I gathered information from magazines – listened to records when I could because I was in the army during 1944 to 47 – so that restricted my – my listening – but I did start a magazine in when I was in Ceylon as it was then – so that was 4 issues called Sea Ac [S.E.A.C.] Jazz News – distributed to people who wrote in who were in the army and the navy and the air force of course – very limited circulation but again – that was fun.
Interviewer [Nicolle]: And did you have any particular structures in place to support those activities?
Derek: Friend-people that I was in correspondence with [pause].
Interviewer [Nicolle]: And how did you communicate the information regarding these – is there a way you built up those networks particularly?
Derek: Yes – well of course there were personal letters there were one or two circulating circulating letters if you like where a group of people – 5 – 6 – 7 somebody would institute a query – post it to number 1 on the list and so and so eventually you were circulating a little binder of information that people were commenting on saying ‘oh well I’ve got this record and you know – it hasn’t got a trombonist on it that - that sort of thing’.
Interviewer [Nicolle]: Were there any obstacles to those activities that you can think of?
Derek: [Pause] Not really – no – no.
Interviewer [Nicolle]: So in that case then can you just tell me a little bit in terms of if you had any association with British or American jazz?
Derek: I listened to British jazz but I was mainly interested in American jazz - would you like any names?
Interviewer [Nicolle]: Yeah – sure.
Derek: [Pause] As far as American jazz was concerned I was a keen follower of the Bob Crosby Orchestra – that was the 1935 1942 band Eddie Condon his band members I was particularly interested in – Louis Armstrong of course was always at the top – I liked the New Orleans jazz, Jelly Roll Morton – Johnny Dodds – Omer Simeon – Sidney Bechet – all those – all those types of musicians – but discographically and biographically my interest sort of veered towards the Bob Crosby and the Eddie Condon musicians.
Interviewer [Nicolle]: Did you have any association with white ‘Dixieland’ jazz or African American jazz?
Derek: Well – those are – they are what I just mentioned really because the Afro American jazz of course would be Louis Armstrong and Sidney Bechet etc. – the Dixieland jazz would be Eddie Condon – Bob Crosby – not – not the Dukes of Dixieland or those, that type of group.
Interviewer [Nicolle]: Was it mainly just listening then or did you go to concerts or-?
Derek: Oh yes – yes – I went to the 1944 – I went to the - I can’t think what it was called now – the Musicians Union organised an annual concert for musicians and in 1944 they had the Glenn Miller A A F Orchestra and there were lots of other groups I can remember the Phil Green Dixieland band – and then my mind goes blank but that was the sort of thing one would do went to the Feldman Club and one Sunday – well I think the Glenn Miller musicians often used to appear there just to jam and that particular night I went I seem to remember my old pal and Carmen Mastren - Johnny Desmond was a vocalist was there – all sorts of things were – were going on it was just a question of finding the time and the money to travel in to London to – see them.
Interviewer [Nicolle]: Did you – do you have any association or did you with traditional jazz or modern jazz at all?
Derek: No – no particular interest in modern jazz.
Interviewer [Nicolle]: What about the effect of rock’n’roll and The Beatles etc. on the activities that you engaged in?
Derek: Well it didn’t – it didn’t affect me except of course it made things difficult for the jazz musicians – it helped in some sense – can’t think when it was now I did see – um - Muddy Waters and Otis Span when they appeared at the Camden Town Hall – it was their first – Muddy Waters’ first appearance in – in the UK – which was very exciting – and of course the interest in rock’n’roll and – and all that helped the fact that they could bring the blues singers across – so thanks to that I saw John Lee Hooker and Howlin’ Wolf and so on.
Interviewer [Nicolle]: Would you say that the activities that you engaged in had any particular effect on attitudes regarding race or immigration or of those around you?
Derek: [Pause] I suppose it helped a little bit – with race in that so – so many of the jazz musicians were black – I suppose so – it probably helped my parents and – one aunt that I can remember appreciate jazz just a little tiny bit more [laugh].
Interviewer [Nicolle]: Did you engage in any activities which were linked with political views – was jazz linked –
Interviewer [Nicolle]: -in a political way?
Interviewer [Nicolle]: Not trade union – CND? No? Okay. So what was – you kind of said that your parents weren’t really involved in it so much but was there a particular reaction that the older generation or your parents’ generation had to jazz or your own jazz activities?
Derek: My – my - my own parents weren’t interested in jazz – my father thought it was – you know – just a noise – so I mean he was interested in listening to Vera Lynn and so on – but – I think my interest – some of my interest rubbed off on them – I was supposed to meet a friend in the Humphry Lyttelton Club – and he sent a telegram to say he couldn’t – he’d been delayed so he would come straight to our house [pause] so – no mobile phones or anything in those days – so my father and his sister got on the tube to – to London – found their way to The 100 Club – persuaded the doorman to let them in - into this sweltering – jam-packed cellar – to look for me to tell me – you know - that my friend wasn’t coming – so – so that shows a certain commitment doesn’t it [laugh].
Interviewer [Nicolle]: [laugh] Did they like it?
Derek: Oh no I don’t think so [laugh].
Interviewer [Nicolle]: So did you generally then – was it your younger peers that you would share your jazz interest with?
Derek: Oh yes – yes – yes.
Interviewer [Nicolle]: Okay.
Derek: There were – there were a few older collectors that I – that I did get to know but – mainly they were roughly of my generation.
Interviewer [Nicolle]: So your network of people that you kind of shared stuff with – they were like a friendship group as well or did you-?
Derek: Oh yes.
Interviewer [Nicolle]: Would you say that your activities then were amateur, semi-professional or professional?
Derek: Amateur – I mean I got paid – for 1 or 2 bits or pieces that were published but – you know - nothing of any – any consequence.
Interviewer [Nicolle]: So in terms of if we’re looking at long term contributions and achievements here – would you say that there were any particular achievements of your jazz activities that you can think of?
Derek: Well I – I published a discographical magazine for 10 years – bi-monthly until right towards the end when it became quarterly and the family was growing up and so on – but – so I think that helped – spread information discographically – I’ve had 3 books published – 2 of which I’m particularly pleased about because they recognised – 2 musicians who merited – such [pause].
Interviewer [Nicolle]: Which musicians were they?
Derek: Jess Stacy who was the pianist with the original Benny Goodman Orchestra and Dick Cary who was a multi-instrumentalist.
Interviewer [Nicolle]: Would you say that jazz activities had a particular effect on British culture to your mind?
Derek: [pause] Just music - music to enjoy. It had its brief moments of – of fame – the - the dance bands – come swing bands of course in the 30s and the 40s – trad in the 50s – had its couple of years of whatever – all part of the – of the music industry.
Interviewer [Nicolle]: And just finally then – how do you see the future of your jazz activities – do you have anything in mind?
Derek: Well I’m working on – on a book at the instigation of an – of an American friend at the moment – so something might come of that – that’s about a pianist called Johnny Guarnieri – um – who played with Artie Shaw and Benny Goodman and Jimmy Dorsey and so on and so on.
Interviewer [Nicolle]: And so just finally then is there anything that you would like to add in terms of what jazz has meant to you in your life?
Derek: [Pause] Well it’s been a very large - large part – much to my wife’s annoyance [laugh] don’t – censor that [laugh] – no – it has been – it has been a large part of my life listening to it and – and writing about it – and when I say writing I’m including – you know- writing down numbers and so forth – what can I say – it – it – it really has, has I’ve thoroughly – I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it.
Interviewer [Nicolle]: Thank you very much.