A strong sense of public service is behind the professional and voluntary roles of Ray Crick, from researching the record shop stock he managed as a teenager to best advise customers, to putting together well-informed programmes and newsletters for his local jazz club. We learn the years between, working for major record companies in London’s West End from the '60s, gave Ray the best tools and methods for creating programmes as he sidestepped from classical music into building up nostalgia, vintage and jazz labels.
|31st August 2016
|National Jazz Archive
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Interviewer: OK, so, if we could just start some basic background information, start with you stating your name and spelling your name please.
Ray: Well I’m Raymond Crick, known as Ray Crick - that’s R.A.Y C.R.I.C.K
Interviewer: Thank you, and if you could tell me your date of birth and place of birth please.
Ray: twenty-sixth of November, nineteen-forty-three in Woodford Green.
Interviewer: Thank you, and could you just tell me a little bit about your background in music and your parents please.
Ray: Well music has really been my whole career, and the background to it I suppose is that I was born into a family that enjoyed listening to music, mostly classical music. My father constantly had ‘The Third programme’ as it was on then, and I think it wasn’t so much actually getting instruction but just the fact that the ambience of the house was full of music so that I found that an encouraging thing when I got to the right age of exploring it for myself. So then actually going out and going to promenade concerts, and getting the records and then at the end of the grammar school period all I really wanted to r do then was not to go to University; I just wanted to go out to the local record shop and manage that. It seems an extraordinary thing in retrospect, but in fact worked out reasonably well in that from being a local shop which wasn’t a specialist jazz shop at all, it covered everything, and I felt because in a way I was serving the public and giving them advice, that I owed it to them to know what I was talking about and that was an incentive to explore most areas of music including jazz and my interest in jazz certainly grew during my teenage years.
From managing the local record shop I then went in to the West End with Keith Prowse which was the nearest to a chain of record shops at that stage – we’re talking about the early sixties and from then I did what I was really aiming to do all the time which was to join one of the major record companies, and I joined the classical promotion department of Decca in nineteen-sixty-four this was, and as I say, this was classical promotion, and the majority of my working career has been with classical music. But that has not in any way restricted my musical interest just to classical, and to… well to put it in a smaller nutshell as I can, I was fourteen years at Decca, ended up as their classical promotion manager. At the same time, doing things back to front, I caught up with my lost education and did a degree in the evening and then spent five years doing a London University diploma in the History of music. So, I ended up very well qualified for the job I’ve been doing all the way along anyway with the best qualifications, the fact that by that time I’d got a good deal of experience for it, and squashing all these many years into just the briefest of steps. [I was] headhunted from Decca to be the classical Marketing manager at RCA for a couple of years - very exciting; it was just the time that James Galway was just becoming a superstar. Went from there to the mail order side of Polygram music, which was Britannia Music. From there, back into the mainstream of record companies with a smaller company: ASV [Academy Sound and Vision Records]. Interestingly, the managing director was the same person who’d given me my first job at Decca many, many years before that, and that’s where the additional close interest in jazz came; although I’d just been interested in it before, when it came to ASV, they had a very interesting label called ‘Living Era’ which was nostalgia and vintage jazz. It was only a small side line really but I was actually with ASV for twenty years but as time progressed, I started to take more and more of a close interest in this Living Era label, built it up, developed it, and eventually gave up becoming the marketing manager of the company, just to concentrate solely on Living Era because by that time it was eighty per-cent of the company’s turnover and was getting really big.
By the time I’d finished there, the Living Era label had six-hundred and sixty titles - that’s divided between pure vintage jazz and general nostalgia. So, along with all the big names in jazz, you heard Gracie Fields and George Formby, Nat King Cole and all the other people as well. But with a thing of that size it does mean that say you can go way beyond just covering the Louis Armstrongs and the Benny Goodmans, and the Glen Millers.
It’s not indulgence, you’re doing a service I think. I could produce the only CD that’s been dedicated just to Irving Fazola who I regard without peer as a clarinettist and could bring out a lot of programmes that were not available elsewhere. That lasted a long, long time until in the very nature of things, companies swallow up other companies, our company was swallowed up by Universal, which now calls itself Decca in this Country, so going back to the name of the company that I have worked for, for fourteen years but their first action was to make everyone in the company redundant and delete the entire catalogue. So, my precious Living Era label suddenly disappeared along with a lot of other wonderful classical recordings. I spent a year trying to find another company. There were lots of companies interested, were they able to take up the Living Era catalogue as it stood and have this… it’s the sort of thing you don’t get individual titles that have got big turnovers but cumulatively, it’s a nice flow of income. What I had to find was a company that was prepared to start from scratch, and that was in twenty-o-eight [two-thousand and eight], and Wyastone (their main label is Nimbus) thought that that type of repertoire was something they hadn’t covered, so established a new label called Retrospective. And that was rather in the image of Living Era, and that has now been going for quite a number of years and we’ve got some… getting on towards two-hundred titles I suppose.
So a similar balance that we’ve got a lot of straight nostalgia but I am able to do a lot of vintage jazz, and that essentially, is bringing me up to date. Because now I’m way beyond retirement age so that all of the going to the office and working in a record company is in the past but I’m happily sitting here in my office producing Retrospective programmes for as long as they still want them, and as long as there are still the occasional people that buy CDs still, and others that are downloading the individual tracks, and that brings us up to date. [08’53”]
Interviewer: That’s great thank you. Have you been involved in any other jazz activities in that time as well, or has that been your main focus over the years?
Ray: That I suppose has been the closest thing because if it’s what you’re actually working at, then yes, you have to thoroughly immerse yourself in it. Outside of that and before that, it was purely a matter of extending my knowledge and interests, and for enjoyment - going and listening to jazz. If at this stage it’s interesting to know what really got me into it, I would say going to hear Aker Bilk at the Walthamstow Assembly hall and hearing him play ‘In a Persian Market’ like I’d never heard before, and I just felt that this was such happy music and so exciting that - not that I was likely to be turn back - but I can say I was hooked on jazz, and if there’s one single moment then that would be it. But of course there is so much more to jazz than just Aker Bilk. Latterly, the interest meant that I’d go and hear as much jazz as I could, and my wife Julia enjoyed it as well. So, especially the local jazz club which has changed venues and changed names several times over with the years that we’ve been going to it which is now, about fifteen years now I suppose, and I can say I’ve got more personally involved in that over the last period for a couple of reasons really.
One, is that they wanted to have a newsletter; the couple that ran this jazz club – a wonderful pair that had dedicated themselves to do it - but they wanted to have a newsletter [and] they were totally undeterred by the fact that they perhaps had problems stringing sentences together, so I said ‘yes I’d do this for them’, and suggested that perhaps for part of the newsletter they would like to have a jazz profile written on a musician who had performed at the club, so that has become quite an involvement. One, from the club’s point of view because I assist as much as I can in the promotion and publicity, and I do posters, spread those around, I send a regular email ‘round to a long list of people each week urging them to come to the club and all that sort of thing. But the actual profile side has built up to the extent that it was taken up by the magazine ‘Just Jazz’, so it wasn’t just the jazz club newsletter, it was reprinted and made more of a spread with other pictures in ‘Just Jazz’ magazine and they’ve now been, well I’ve just done number forty-three so it’s sort of built-up quite an archive of interesting mini-biographies of interesting musicians, that are not just any old musicians, they are people that have played in the area and the majority are still playing in the area. Only one sadly has gone from all the people that I have interviewed and that’s the much-missed Jonny Rodgers. Such a lovely sax player. So, that is another factor that keeps my interest very much alive. [12’53”]
Interviewer: You mentioned that you started out in the record stores and then you have the jazz club nearby. Have they always been established in areas you’ve been living in then? Has that been an important part of getting you involved in music would you say?
Ray: Well the shops have been established shops. I haven’t created anything and that was very much at the very start of my career. Thereafter, it was with major record companies. Well major record companies, you can work internally to try and encourage certain areas of activity and work. As it was, until I changed to ASV, and there was this label Living Era, all of my time was spent on working with classical music but I think one factor that did lend itself in a way to stepping sideways to doing jazz programmes, was the fact that my speciality seemed to be putting programmes together for other releases, so that say Decca, for it’s marvellous classical catalogue, I would have free reign almost to be doing… there was a whole series called ‘World Of’ so I would do a ‘World Of’ all the different composers, all the different instruments, all the different areas of music, and my biggest claim to record fame I suppose is that I did the series of ‘Your Hundred Best Tunes’ on record which by the time I’d left Decca, they’d sold three million copies of it, which was a way of… like the radio programme that of course inspired it, is rather evangelical-like, spreading the gospel of classical music but putting the programmes together is what I found I was good at and enjoyed. So that when I was able to sidestep musically and do that for both vintage, nostalgia and jazz, I’d got my methods worked out.
I’d got my approaches so that I would try… obviously you can’t cut out your own tastes but to try and take a sidestep and think ‘right what do people need on this?’ ‘What do they need to make their listening pleasure as much as possible?’ I absolutely hate these issues that come out that just give you the titles and nothing else. I feel that it really does help somebody to know all of the personnel, all of the people that are playing, the details of when and where, all the background information with a good note that is telling you about the whole subject, and I’ve always adopted the same approach whether it’s been classical or jazz, and I know obviously from feedback over the years that there are lots and lots of collectors that do pretty much value that approach. [16’16”]
Interviewer Thank you. Obviously you’ve done a whole range of things over a number of years but if you were to try and think what’s motivated you to invest in these particular activities, is there anything in particular that’s motivated you?
Ray: Well I’m always dividing my thoughts between the jazz and the non-jazz because such a chunk of my career was not jazz but was very much music and so the inspiration for that, what motivated me I think was admiration for the people I was dealing with because if you’re dealing with the finest classical artists in the world, I consider it still a very great privilege that at Decca there were occasions when I had personally to work with Benjamin Britten. Now, one of the country’s greatest composers, and for me to be doing work… that is motivation, it really is and that I really cherish. Also, very fond memories of working with some of the top artists that were wonderful singers, wonderful musicians. Pavarotti, who whenever he was in town, then all of my time was spent looking after him, ferrying him for different interviews or television programmes or whatever.
At RCA, there was James Galway and Julian Bream who was such a consummate musician and such a thoroughgoing, warm-hearted, decent chap who actually appreciated if you went out of your way to do things on his behalf he would appreciate it and not just take it as ‘well, that’s what everyone should do’. So, there was certainly the motivation of admiration for these supreme artists. Now with jazz, there’s been the motivation of enjoyment of this extraordinary ability that is still magic to me, because although, ok, I used to play the piano up to sort of reasonable standard but never from an improvisatory point of view, and for these geniuses to create the music they do, then that is such motivation to actually go and listen to them. But then of course, a lot of them for the recordings that I make, which basically are at least half a century old, so you’re talking about people that are no longer with us or if they are with us, its long beyond their usual playing time. I did a couple of CDs of Vera Lynne and extraordinarily at the age of ninety-nine, she is still with us. But in the case in most of the jazzmen, that was not the case. So, you could say that motivation there was that having listened to a lot of the music which comes to life over the years, it could be recorded in the thirties, you listen to it and it still is thrilling. So, this sort of evangelical streak that I have of wanting other people, wanting to tell them about it – ‘look listen to what Irving Fazola does with this ‘My inspiration’, you know the phrasing…’ So yes, it’s not difficult to find motivation. [20’06”]
Interviewer: Thank you. If we then look at how you actually organise your activities, obviously you’ve done a few different things over the years so feel free to expand if you want on different areas but if you could just tell me a bit about the organisation and co-ordination of your activities.
Ray: Well for the biggest chunk my activities were that I was employed by a record company so that I went and worked basically in an office from nine to five, except that if you work in a record company then it’s not confined to nine to five and it overflows enormously into evenings and whatever. And there was also an aspect of going ‘round the country giving record recitals which is another activity that I would always latterly bring in certain elements of jazz to it as well. So, it’s been a business of being an employee, working for a company. That has not been the case really since what most people’s retirement age would be, because since the company that I worked for packed-up or was taken over and went down the plughole, and starting up with Wyastone, then I’m not an employee of Wyastone. I provide them with these programmes, they issue them, and I happily sit here at home doing them. They can be sent off and the audio restoration work can be done by an engineer who’s perhaps up in Scotland, the company is in Wales and I don’t have to sit in an office anywhere. I can sit and look out at my garden which is a very present way of letting the creative juices flow. [22’05”]
Interviewer: Thank you, if you could tell me then, were there any structures in place to support any of your activities, and these could be formal or informal?
Ray: There are certain aspects… a lot of functions need some support for what I’m doing at the moment, then the support is that I need access to a vast number of tracks, and I’ve got that through an enormous catalogue from Living Era and in working with the various people that had huge 78’ collections that I worked with and there’s and a whole huge database of material that I have access to, both in this country and in Canada, [and] elsewhere. Well yes, that’s the sort of support one needs, then I mentioned the support that has to be in place that what I do here in order to do with jazz programmes is that I decide on the programme, the content and do everything as far as all the information goes, but then I would work up a rough master that’s sent to an audio engineer, who since I started with Retrospective has been Alan Bunting up in Stirling, who similarly, it was sort of a retirement job he did for the sheer love of it. But very sadly he died at the beginning of this year. So, someone else, I’ve now got another audio engineer who is the very person that worked on Living Era for near enough twenty years when I was at ASV. So Martin Haskell is now the person who makes the programmes that I put together, sound as beautiful as they possibly can and that is no mean achievement because the sources are varied; so many of the recordings differ in the quality of the original circumstances in which they were recorded and trying to make a nice programme that flows through on the ear is an art, a great skill, so that is an essential support for it. And of course, you need the marketing support of the company that actually does the business of pressing the discs and getting them out to people who want to buy them. So, I just enjoy doing my creative bit here. In essence then, [it’s] keeping an eye and seeing it’s all correct for the end product and then the end product, I’m quite pleased that I don’t have to go ‘round selling them.
Interviewer: …How are you communicating information regarding various activities you’ve been involved in?
Ray: Yes communication is the great thing isn’t it and I’ve said that a lot of the communication is left to others as far as the actual selling records is concerned, and the communication on such other things as the jazz club is down to building up long lists of emails and sending them round, posters at the jazz archive and places like that, and getting certain people involved. In fact, a couple of people I ought specifically to mention which is slightly at a tangent maybe, but thanks to the Jazz Archive probably more than any other reason, got in contact with Digby Fairweather and he has been such a help to me, and I now, with all of the jazz issues, he’s the first port of call that I go to, to say ‘can you do me a booklet note for this?’ because he’s got such wonderful enthusiasm that he’s got the ability to convey not only in his playing but in the way he writes as well. So, only if he can’t do it, then I do it myself. Otherwise, I do all the other notes… [but] the jazz ones now, I let him. So that is certainly [a] very valuable means of publicity and promotion and other jazz musicians similarly like Dave Hewitt the trombonist; he like Digby has a huge collection, and he like Digby is very generous in allowing me access to it, and he like Digby is very ready to promote the end products as much as he can. So from my own point of view, the promotion is just through as many people as I know, word of mouth, and the sort of conventional promotion and publicity is what the company undertakes – Wyastone – and that is through some basic advertising but it’s mostly through online internet advertising now.
Interviewer: Has it changed much over the years how you have to try to communicate this to people?
Ray: It has changed a great deal, mostly of course on how much is totally dependent on the internet of course, and especially with vintage jazz, nostalgia, you’re mostly dealing with an older market profile. And you find whenever there’s any technical development, the older generation is always the slowest to adapt to the new, so for a long time, the previous technology is still happening like we were still doing cassettes for a long time after all the other cassettes were finished because there was still a market amongst those collectors. And similarly, what was very important at that stage was having a really comprehensive catalogue that you could hold in your hands, and ‘Retrospective’ still does have a catalogue, and it’s still important that they send them out but the ratio is changing the whole time. With ‘Living Era’, we had this wonderful big catalogue with everything illustrated and every track mentioned, all organised so you could find anything you wanted. And of course that is a wonderful resource because if you’re selling, one of the best ways of selling is to encourage as many people as possible to have access to the catalogue, to send out catalogues, and you would know for every single catalogue request, you would get an average of half a dozen sales from it, and that was so vital.
Well bit by bit, the emphasis changes away from the so called hard copy, floppy in your hands, and just getting it online and eventually a reasonable proportion of the older generation get used to finding out the information online and then can look at the catalogue and they can get it much more comprehensively of course, online, so bit by bit it shifts over, and the shift now is that, as my daughter constantly tells me: ‘nobody under thirty knows what a CD is’, so that it’s all downloaded or streaming. And it’s only a gradual shift over to the downloading of either albums or individual tracks, but nevertheless, it has become quite a significant part of it so that when I put out a ‘Retrospective’ album, then the fact that the whole lot is available to be downloaded in different ways is an important part of it, or helps the not very substantial cash flow…[inaudible]
Interviewer: Thank you. Finally, then on this topic, have there been any particular obstacles to your activities over the years that you can think of?
Ray: Well anybody trying to do anything has to overcome difficulties; they have to work with people that aren’t always thinking the same way, and you do find on occasions that there are other people in organisations that you feel are absolutely trying to block what you’re doing. I can’t say there’s been something that’s really prevented me from doing something that I felt had to happen, because of that. What I think are more realistic obstacles are in the larger sphere of companies [such as] company takeovers, mergers that you feel sometimes that there can be strength in having bigger catalogues and whatever but all too often, a huge amount of artistic endeavour is just swept away because a label is snapped up and taken over and when for example ASV (the company I worked for for twenty years) was taken up by ‘Sanctuary’, so it became part of ‘Sanctuary’, and it was then Sanctuary that was then taken up by ‘Universal’, and it was ‘Universal’ that then provided the biggest obstacle, in fact it was one hundred percent effective obstacle because it was just a great big axe that came down, and from having my release programme going on, it just chopped it off in cold blood just like that. So that is the biggest obstacle I think you can come across, and its one that requires an awful lot of ingenuity and determination to get round, and if as in my case it meant you’re starting from scratch again, it can be a big incentive. And then of course, you can get the sort of obstacle like the sad case when, without my expecting it at all, suddenly my wonderful engineer departs and that’s a different sort of obstacle that has again to be overcome, you’ve got to find replacements or whatever. But overall, I’d say yes, the biggest thing is the bigger machinations of companies with big feet that stomp all over little labels.
Interviewer: And you would say jazz has faced any particular obstacles in the time you’ve been working in it as well?
Ray: Yes because jazz in so many people’s eyes is a specialist area, and because of that, I think they feel that most attention and money and marketing budget and whatever should be spent on those that have the potential of a major crossover act. So, the sort of jazz area that really gets the promotion is say the Jamie Cullum’s of this world. It’s not saying anything about Jamie Calum as a jazz musician but just that he’s got the ability to be a crossover artist, so therefore he’ll get a lot of marketing backing and things that are just much more straightforward jazz, don’t, and amongst those who are very lesser known names, then it is very much an uphill struggle. With the development of technology nowadays you’ve got an advance and a retreat; you’ve got an advance in that artists actually can find it easier to make a CD more or less in their own home, and they can then as a cottage industry produce things that they can sell at their own gigs and that’s terrific - that’s very good. The obverse of that, is that hardly any of them would have what you would call a record company contract, which was the case before so that if you were fortunate enough to be taken up by a company, then you knew pretty well that you were likely to have good promotion for a long time, so the big jazz artists of the past I think have benefited more from that whereas now, it’s a bit more hand to mouth for the majority of jazz musicians. Of course, you can cream off the top few that have really well known and that if you were to ask people who the jazz artists that they might be able to name them. But there are so many people that you ask them and they can’t get beyond Louis Armstrong. [36’30”]
Interviewer: Just moving on then to different sorts of jazz itself… So, if we just start with British jazz and American jazz - if you could describe any association you’ve had with those.
Ray: Well, the association for listening in the flesh has obviously been British jazz because I haven’t been to New Orleans, although I have been to jazz concerts on occasions in Canada, that hardly stacks up against the endless number of jazz concerts that I’ve been to in this country. So it would be a very unusual event for me to hear the American jazz artist, though of course, I’ve more than made up of that by studying them on record, and in the programmes that I’ve made up then they would strongly favour the American. Yes, I’ve done quite a number of British ones but in a sense British jazz, although there were wonderful artists before the Trad boom, nevertheless in terms of what you heard, the Trad boom was such a watershed in interest in jazz in this country, that I think even now when you go to jazz club[s], the majority view of what they want to listen to would not be out of place in the sixties from Ball, Barber and Bilk, rather than the sort of jazz that you would describe as the cream of vintage jazz from America, that you often find if people veer - if musicians veer too far over into what you could call mainstream that our jazz club audience - they tolerate it, rather than enjoy it.
Whereas I’ve always tried to - something I’ve apply across music generally and not just jazz – I’ve tried to appreciate what is good and I find out what is good by listening to a lot, and reading what other people think but then listening and giving my own opinions as well, so that there are certain areas of jazz that still would leave me cold. There’s Freeform, there’s a couple of fairly recent concerts that I’ve been to but I won't mention the musicians involved but it just seems that the idea was that each musician played totally his own thing without any reference to the other people involved at all, and it didn’t make any sense to me, whatsoever, because I always thought the wonderful thing with improvisation as a group, was that you connected with each other and produced something cumulatively out of it so that as I say, a lot of Freeform jazz leaves me cold.
I’ve been to modern jazz concerts that also… there’s the danger of self-indulgence that I think often people, musicians tip over into that and when going to a Wayne Shorter concert and forty-five minutes in, he was still the playing the same piece of… the one title and I just thought, I suppose eventually I shan’t be here… I think sometimes… my music, I’ve enjoyed all areas of jazz. Once it got even to Bebop, which let’s face it, [you] can’t call that modern jazz; it’s from the nineteen forties for goodness sake, but there’s a lot of Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, that sounds modern still, and I can really relish it’s virtuosity but I don’t feel the soul in the same way that I do with other areas of music and that’s just a personal inclination. I’ve produced CDs of Parker and Gillespie, Miles Davis and other people but I would prefer to go for Stan Getz say, who was physically incapable of producing an ugly note – ever. [41’20”]
Interviewer: …Did you have any other association with Traditional or Modern jazz at any point or association in your career?
Ray: I don’t think I’ve had any associations that I haven’t already spoken about because it’s all been either through working for [the] record company or producing my own label or just my own interests of going to concerts and listening to records, so I don’t think there’s anything else…
Interviewer: …Could you go into any depth about any association with White Dixieland jazz and African American jazz in particular?
Ray: Well this comes down not so much to association but personal preferences that African American jazz is the biggest percentage of jazz isn’t it, so the appreciation of everything that Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong and… I nearly said Benny Goodman. I think the white American jazz shouldn’t be underestimated either. But yes, ostensibly I suppose the white geniuses wouldn’t have done what they did without the black geniuses that just preceded them but it’s just been a matter of my own enjoyment and my own wanting to cover what’s important and significant to put on the records. The other side of it was white Dixieland… well yes, I’d already sort of partly said that but with the white geniuses, and there was no shortage of those either. And I think sometimes, because it’s such a matter of the monstrously, downtrodden black artists that still suffer from racial discrimination, way into my lifetime, we’re just talking about into the sixties/seventies, there’s still so much discrimination. The fact that they had to struggle against that, and you could see people like Sidney Bechet and other Americans going to France and suddenly they would be treated as Gods instead of people that have got to use a separate entrance to the house.
It’s almost… you could say positive things come out of adversity and in some ways, you can say specifically a lot of the genius of jazz, some of the contributing factors to that were the adversities under which black people suffered, and it led in terms of expression, and eventually leading on people working on what had gone before to this wonderful level of jazz genius. And with the white Dixieland jazz, I think it’s a matter totally different; yes, you could get a lot of poor whites but probably the bulk of the top musicians would not be amongst the poor whites, they would be amongst the more intelligent ones who would be able to appreciate the genius of the musicianship of the black jazz people. I mean, Benny Goodman was the case in point of course of taking Fletcher Henderson, and then taking Teddy Wilson and Lionel Hampton and working in a two white, two black quartet, that sort of thing. And then I would say that their genius was no less a genius than the top black musicians because jazz is essentially a black invention, I think the white musicians are sometimes not given their due, even. And you can say the Bix Beiderbeckes, the Benny Goodmans of this world are every bit as elevated geniuses as whatever – the Jelly Roll Mortens and the others. And there’s so much that they’ve put on record that still lasts all these years later. Say, somebody who couldn’t even play an instrument - Bob Crosby, just was a catalyst for getting all these terrific artists together. I’ve mentioned Irving Fazola already, Eddie Miller, and all the others, and the music - the white Dixieland music that they produced is as enjoyable… equally, also very enjoyable all the Ball, Barber and Bilk of the British jazz movement; you go back and you listen to the Bob Crosbys and you listen to Red Nichols and the five pennies and those sort of things [inaudible], and you can’t get better. [47’10”]
Interviewer: Would you say then in your opinion that jazz activities had any particular effect on attitudes [of people] regarding immigration and race, either for yourself or for others?
Ray: I would say that it would affect your attitudes because if there’s something that you can realise the importance of it - the artistic integrity of it - and the pure life that comes from it, then what comes with that is deep respect, and once you’ve got respect, I suppose you can say from the time you could say there was the big immigration into this country from in the forties that all of the discrimination that so many of the blacks coming in did suffer from. But if people started to appreciate jazz, then they no longer were looking down; if somebody’s black, they look down on them, that black person may well be a wonderful musician, and if there are quite a lot of wonder musicians they can be wonderful other people that happen to be that colour. So… I think overall it’s not something that will be a revolutionary change or whatever but I’m sure as jazz appreciation increased amongst all of the white jazz enthusiasts, they would have as their Gods so many of the top black artists and how can you then really be racially biased if your Gods happen to be that colour?
Interviewer: And just finally on this area really, would you say in your opinion that Rock ‘n Roll and The Beatles have had any effect on your jazz activities or jazz generally?
Ray: Ah yes. Now that is interesting because of my Catholic tastes I suppose, because of my age I think it’s a generalization really that your late teenage years, whatever is going on then, what you are interested and enjoy then is etched in to you in a way that no other music ever is, so that my time was the late fifties and that was when Rock ‘n Roll happened. So, Rock ‘n Roll was fantastic. I loved it. I love it now. I still do and the dance, it’s the last couple dance; after that, people got twisting and lost hold of their partners. So, it’s much better actually dancing as a couple. I met my wife when we were seventeen and I asked her to do a Rock ‘n Roll, and I’ve never lost my enjoyment of it. Actually, the Rock ‘n Roll, although it’s never gone, pure Rock ‘n Roll died pretty quickly because most of the Rock ‘n Roll artists stopped doing Rock ‘n Roll. [I mean?] Cliff Richard certainly stopped doing Rock ‘n Roll fairly quickly. I mean, he carried on doing it as well as other things but essentially he became much more [of a] ballad singer like pop and all that.
Elvis Presley for goodness sake, he went that way as most of them did and then The Beatles, although of course they did some terrific Rock ‘n Roll early on but The Beatles music is nothing about Rock ‘n Roll at all. It’s simply about the development of this extraordinary genius that they had. So, you can say a lot of people - a lot of jazz enthusiasts like me - would’ve been swept along with that and thoroughly enjoyed it as well. But what you can’t get away from is the fact that Rock ‘n Roll, and then The Beatles, barged it’s way in and shouldered aside just about all other music and it’s not just straight jazz; when you think of the fifties, the big artists were the ballads singers, the Perry Comos and all that and then you suddenly find that they all sounded very old fashioned when Rock ‘n Roll came in and then with how The Beatles developed it, jazz hadn’t got anything to do with that. And you would find that from… the fact that the big trad boom immediately preceded The Beatles, the big Kenny Ball hits were just sort of nineteen-sixty-one, sixty-two, then The Beatles came in - there were an awful lot of jazz musicians that you’ll find that from having a very high level of public interest when even the second and the third stream jazz bands - providing they got an eye-catching outfit - were getting not just local coverage but national coverage, they would find that suddenly there was not anything like the same level of interest, and you’re still finding at the jazz clubs the same musicians that were playing then and they’re still saying the same thing. I just have also found that if you look - and you don’t have to look too far – that there are in fact an amazing number of brilliant young musicians that are playing within the traditional jazz format that I don’t think it’s a matter that the Rock ‘n Roll and The Beatles killed jazz by any means. It was a rather rude pushing to one side but I don’t think it’s sort of overall suffered in a life-threating way. [53’44”]
Interviewer: ‘…’ Your activities at any point had any association with any political views that you might have held?
Ray: No, I can’t think of any political aspect of it. I know sometimes when there are protest marches they might have a jazz band to go along with it but that somehow didn’t involve me.
Interviewer: So you weren’t involved with CND or trade unions or anything like that linked to jazz?
Ray: No. I used to wear a CND badge but I didn't go on the marches.
Interviewer: What made you interested in the CND side of things? Was there a reason?
Ray: I think my age. I think at that time, so many of one’s peers that would have been a common purpose that one felt that the horror of the hydrogen bombs was such that it was an abomination that should be banned. It was all rather simplistic I think and you thought ‘right what do you do? You say ‘ban the bomb’. Somehow, as you grow up things get more complicated.
Interviewer: Thank you. So if we could just look at the social side of things now. If you could just describe if there was any particular reaction from the older generation to your activities at any time… I mean you’ve already talked about your parents a bit but have they had any particular reaction to your activities as well?
Ray: Going back as far… as the previous generation, a previous generation to me - well, I don’t know how much a generation ever takes note of what the effect they are having on the previous generation. I’ve said that my own parents they enjoyed music very much. They were not jazz fans apart from the odd one or two. I can remember my father having an old seventy-eight of ‘Tiger Rag’ but an amazing string version by Andre Costadonettes and his orchestra which was quite something. So they wouldn’t have totally closed ears but my interest in jazz would not have found a particular resonance there. I wouldn’t have been playing my jazz records for them to enjoy but at the same time we did have the common area of classical music so there wasn’t really the need. Similarly I suppose with Pop, you can’t expect the previous generation to think that the next generation’s pop music is nearly as good as their own, and I can well imagine how when you think of the extraordinary lovely creations of the great song writers of the great American songbook - the Gerome Cairns, the Cole Porters, people that went ball room dancing to romantic tunes, how would they respond to ‘Rock around the clock’ and Rock ‘n Roll? It’s so utterly different.
Well its difficult… you find each generation says the same thing, and that the music… when it came to rapping for example, and I said I have Catholic tastes in music but there are some things I don’t consider as music and that’s one, you know. So, I think that’s about as far as I can say on generations. Other than that, you can sometimes find that the quality will ‘out’ eventually and we do have fond memories of certain occasions when our two daughters would suddenly start playing us music of The Beatles and say ‘listen to this’ or suddenly discovering Simon and Garfunkel and playing all of that to us. So… something that is really good will endure and perhaps leapfrog the generations or go from one to the next but as a generalisation, each generation has to move on.
Interviewer: When you first started out in the record store were they all quite supportive then as well, the older generation, would you say? Like in your family for instance?
Ray: Supporting of what I was doing? Oh yes I think so, yes, the idea is you go out and you have a career and you earn money, and their ideals of saving hard until you can have a place to live - going according to their criteria… when we were at teenage stage and early twenties that’s what we did. So yes they wouldn't have been… the alternative which is to rebel isn’t it? Either you find intrinsically you’ve got the some of the same attributes as your parents… was it Maggie O’Farrell that said ‘when you are born, you’re an anagram of your antecedents’ which is a lovely phrase meaning you’ve got everything that your parents got but in a different way and all mixed up. So, it comes out in different ways. So, you can find you’ve got things in common and you either go along with that or you can rebel against it and obviously there are plenty of young people that do rebel and go in a diametrically opposed direction. I didn’t really rebel, I just got into music and I was happy.
Interviewer: Would you say that you can remember any particular reaction of your own peer group to your activities maybe starting when you first started out and throughout the years?
Ray: With my own musical activities - I found one thing [that] was quite good in that girls liked me to dance with them because I could do Rock ‘n Roll, and that was socially quite an advantage. And because the music that I was dealing with, although there could be a lot of areas that were specialist, there would always be enough that I could do my preaching bit of trying to get people interested in whatever music it was I was dealing with, so that amongst friends and acquaintances, I don’t think I would have opposition; it was always a question of my sort of probing and trying to find the areas and then swooping in with something – ‘just listen to this’. I suppose that could be rather annoying at times… I can remember one particular case of someone [who] said ‘I can’t stand Shostakovich’ so I would make a point of bringing out something and playing something that was so utterly beautiful, that they couldn’t possibly say – like the slow movement of the piano concerto – and they couldn’t help but say ‘well that’s lovely’. It could be annoying but it’s all part of this spreading the interest in music which is what I’ve been spending all my life doing.
Interviewer: And just finally on this topic, I guess it’s probably changed over the years but how would you describe the status of your activities - have they always been professional, amateur, semi-professional?
Ray: Well that obviously would cover if you were a practising musician as well, so that in terms of what I actually played, that was never, ever remotely professional. I did play the piano and carried it on for quite a while and got to the stage where I was able to play things like Grieg’s ‘Wedding Day at Troldhaugen’ and get through that pretty well, but I think that rather than finding it an inspiration, I found dealing with the finest pianists in the world – [Vladimir] Ashkenazy, Kurz[?] and Julius Katchen[?] and all those people, I found that my pathetic efforts didn’t satisfy me in any way so I sort of gave up. So as a performing musician I can say I’m a dead loss…
So on the other side of things, in recordings, then it’s been professional more or less from the start. I suppose in a way if you’re selling records in a record shop you’re professional. Not that that lasted that long but ever since then, I’ve been professionally involved in the production of classical and then jazz records and everything else in a way has been an adjunct to that. So, the one area of actual activity that takes up – [as] my wife would say - much of my time, is the jazz club, that obviously is not professional but I do try to apply some professional standards if I’m producing posters or doing the newsletter then I try to do it in a way that – because of what I’ve done [and] my background, I am able to do… but it’s… [you] certainly don’t get any money for it so it’s very amateur. [104’14]
Interviewer: What inspires you to keep doing that if it’s something that’s voluntary - is there anything in particular… is there a reason for that?
Ray: Oh yes… that’s really not difficult. I’m inspired by the love of music that so many of these jazz musicians show, and the abilities that they have, and this thing - they are more than the sum of the parts - that they’ve all come, often great distances; they really don’t get a lot of money; they are not paid the amount they deserve. When they’ve bought a drink and perhaps had a meal, and paid for petrol, they will perhaps barley come out with profit. Why do they do it? Because they love it, and what they generate between half a dozen of them is something special that they obviously so thoroughly enjoy it, and that communicates itself so well to the members of the jazz club; they will go there week after week, and thoroughly enjoy the fact, and that’s what I enjoy.
So, my voluntary activities are to try and promote that and help it carry on. I know that the couple that actually run the club, neither of them are in good health, they’ve moved away so that they now have a ninety-mile journey down and a ninety-mile journey back up but it’s never crossed their mind to do anything other than carry on, keep doing it, and it’s that sort of dedication. Well, why do they do it? Because you derive pleasure out of other people enjoying something that you’re enjoying, and I’ve really applied that to all aspects of what I’ve done professionally or amateur, so that really, I’m very pleased to be spending my time doing this, I’m finding I’m just trying [to] fit it all in to what’s supposed to be a time of retirement.
Interviewer: Just then to finally talk a bit about contribution. So, are there any particular achievements of any of your activities over the years that you that you could name that you’re particularly proud of?
Ray: Yes, I can say that I’m proud of the fact that… well one of the nice things of working in the record business and on my side of it which is putting things together, creating series and whatever is that you’ve got an end product. So I’m immensely proud of the fact that when I was involved in Living Era, by the time that I’d finished with it - or by the time Universal had finished with it - it was the best vintage jazz and nostalgia label, most substantial one in the UK, it was enormous and it was something really to be proud of, so that is probably the biggest single thing I can individually be very proud of similar sorts of compilations that I mentioned that I’ve worked with Benjamin Britten; I was commissioned to do – this is back in the days of vinyl – to do a boxed double-vinyl album celebrating the first twenty-five years of the Aldeburgh festival, which involved going through twenty-five years of programmes and putting it all on to a record that made musical sense and then, spending a day with Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears sorting it out. Well, that is just wonderful to be in that situation but also to be able to have done it, so that what we ended up with I was very pleased with.
I can say the about ‘A Hundred Best Tunes’ in that that was the biggest commercial success - musically probably not, because it was just a matter of stringing together the most popular pieces of classical music. But you can get a great deal of satisfaction out of something you feel is making a positive statement on behalf of that artist. I mentioned before Irving Fazola, well I think still, the CD that I did on Living Era is the only one that’s available. When I’ve done others recently on Retrospective, I’ve done double albums of several trombonists as it happens – Wilbur de Paris, George Chisholm and just this coming month, Vic Dickinson – which has presented the material in a way that is different from other CD programmes that have been out - not that the tracks haven't been available some way or another previously but I could be proud of the fact there is that means by which somebody can enjoy that artist’s artistry thanks to what I put in to it, and that’s very pleasing.
Interviewer: Would you say that there’s been any particular effect on British culture as a result of jazz activities?
Ray: Culture generally, well I think that there’s a distinctly growing movement now in terms of the number of people that go to jazz festivals shall we say, that there’s been the whole huge large-scale pop festival from Glastonbury onwards but on a more modest level than that - but nevertheless, if you see the jazz guide now, one could easily spend every single weekend of a whole year going to different jazz weekend festival somewhere or other, and for that to happen, it does mean that there has got to be a pretty broad bed of support to… for those all to make money and function, and I get the impression that that’s significantly more now than it was twenty years ago.
The fact that when traditional jazz was at its peak in the early sixties, then everybody just wanted to hear jazz bands but there’s been a long, long time since then that that hasn’t been the case, so I feel this overall movement when you’ve seen festivals that have started and have grown and grown – one that we support was the Bude jazz festival as that’s one of our favourite places on earth – Bude in Cornwall and to see how that started off in a modest way and the support that it got so quickly, meant that the biggest danger for it was just getting too big for itself so that too many people would come so that you couldn’t enjoy it because there were too many people. That is perhaps a better problem to have than having no support. So I would say jazz has had a social difference, that it’s brought about in the country simply that more people are enjoying it. As to whether it’s changed their way of life fundamentally, that’s I suppose doubtful but one thing you can say that if someone’s been persuaded to start listening to jazz, I think they are more likely to be happy.
Interviewer: Well just finally, how would you describe the future of your activities in jazz or even in music as well?
Ray: Ah well you’re saying that to me at the age seventy-two. My future is to carry on doing these things for as long as people would like me to and get some pleasure out of what I produce. So, I say long may that be. I can’t really at this stage say well my future is that I’m going to branch out and do something totally different, because I don’t especially want to at this stage. If you want to do anything else then you want perhaps to go to some places that you’ve never been to before while there’s still time… trying to fit all those sorts of things in that you want to do. So as far as the jazz activities are concerned – yes, there are still people I’d like the opportunity of hearing that I haven’t heard, and there are still lots of people that I rate so highly that I still want to take every opportunity to hear them when I can.
Interviewer: Thank you very much then.