Dave Bailey
Kenny Baxter
Dave Bennett

Kenny Baxter

Audio Details

Interview date 1st January 0001
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Forename Kenny
Surname Baxter

Interview Transcription

Interviewer: So if we just make a start then with… if you could just state your name and spell your name for me, please?

Baxter: Kenneth Baxter. K-E-double-N-E-T-H B-A-X-T-E-R.

Interviewer [00:18]: Thank you. And could you tell me your date of birth and where you were born?

Baxter: I was born in Southend on the 8th of 2, 34.

Interviewer [00:28]: Thank you. And could you just explain to me a little bit about your background in music, how you got into music, and your parents?

Baxter: Well, of course I was brought up during the war. Didn’t see much of my father and I was evacuated. But I was always interested in music. The lady who looked after me during my evacuation used to take me to church on a Sunday. So I used to enjoy that because it was music, you know, live organists and so forth. And I went through time in my life, I got interested in traditional jazz. I bought a clarinet when I was about 15. It was a bad one. Half of it didn’t bloody work, you know, so it put me off, really. So I went in the air force at 18. I learned to play the bugle, which is a strange instrument for me. I learned to play the bugle so I could play reveille in the morning, flag up or the flag down. Went to a couple of funerals, played the last post. While I was there, there was a saxophone on the camp and I borrowed it. I was about coming up to 20 then, before coming out of the air force, so I had two lessons with a guy in Oxford where I was stationed. And I thought to myself, when I get out of the air force, I’ll buy myself a saxophone. Well I had a year’s apprenticeship to finish because I’d come out of the air force at 20, and that was taken in, like, years ago. Did national service, had an apprenticeship there. They sort of waved the two years (inaudible). So I did my final year, I left the job when I was 21 to go into the commercial side of printing. Engraver. And I got enough money, my holiday money, to buy a saxophone. I bought my first saxophone from Hamilton’s music store in Southend years ago. Forget what it cost me now. Cost me about 100 pounds then. Wasn’t the greatest saxophone, but it got me started and I got lessons with the famous saxophone player Kathleen Stobart, who was one of Humphrey Lyttelton’s stars, you know, frontline. And from there I’ve just carried on playing, learning… still learning. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. I’ve never been really a full-time musician. More or less part-time, you know, but I’ve had some very, very good bands. I mean I’ve had a band called the SMJQ here, which I shared leadership with a great pianist called Roy Weatherley. All the best guys, really, at that time in Southend. I was a learner sort of thing, but they brought me along. Especially the trumpet player, the great Vic Wood who’s not with us any more I’m afraid. Vic and I were together for 25 years in the same band. That’s how we met – we would open little jazz clubs. I opened my first jazz club when I was 20 and had come out of the air force, and I had… I mean, these were names. I don’t know if you remember these guys, but Tubby Hayes, sax, Jimmy Deuchar, Scottish trumpet player, Johnny Weed, who went to America, the pianist, and …Phil Seaman, probably Britain’s greatest jazz drummer, and I met a big coloured guy who plays in America, great bass player, Major Holley. That was the first big names I ever had, and then I went on from there. People like Joe Harriott, Tubby Hayes, I’ve had them all, Ronnie Scott… they always enjoyed coming down here and playing, because they always got their money. In those days… [laughs] they always got their money, and they always had a good audience. The audience in Southend have been very very good for the jazz side.

Interviewer [05:21]: Yeah, I’ve noticed that actually, that Southend seems to be quite popular with jazz musicians. Do you think there’s something special about Southend?

Baxter: No, I just think it’s people probably like myself who started it. Not many people put jazz on, and the traditional side of jazz was much bigger at that time than the modern side. We used to have the Arlington Rooms on a Sunday afternoon. Cups of tea, cup of coffee, no alcoholic drinks then, but they used to get all the top names on a Sunday afternoon so I used to go there and listen, started learning. My first jazz gig was there. From there, though, I mean, I’ve never reached the top heights of some of these guys I play with but I’ve always enjoyed playing with them, you know, because you learn so much. I don’t know, I think sometimes when you start really playing at 20, it’s a bit late. You’ve got a lot more to learn.

Interviewer [06:33]: Was your family ever really into music or jazz?

Baxter: No. My mum loved music. She played the piano. She couldn’t read music, but she could get a tune and she’d play it. But the rest of my family, no. I just loved jazz music. I mean, years ago during the war, when they went up to the pub up the road, which was the Nelson in those days in North Road, I used to creep in there, get a record out and play it. Bob Crosby and the Bobcats and people like that. Oh dear. That’s how I got interested in it.

Interviewer [07:20]: That’s great, thank you. Could you just describe then, as you’ve kind of went into it a little bit but you’ve had obviously different bands and different interests over the years, how has that developed and what has your role been within jazz as you see it?

Baxter: Well, the thing is, I’ve never been the best musician in my band, but I’ve got great guys around me. The original band I had, my own, they’re all seasoned players, although on the young side, but they’ve been playing a long while. Been playing as kids, you know. I had a great drummer Pat Green, Pete Holder bass, they’re still playing down the Isle of Wight, Roy Weatherley, a fantastic pianist, Vic Wood , myself – we had a band called the Southend Modern Jazz Quintet, the SMJQ. A very very good Essex artist, Norman Coker – you heard of him? Well, he was piano, he came in on piano with me. And then we entered the jazz… what’s it called now… I forget the name… not international, British jazz competition. We tied for first place in that. That’s years and years ago. And then we did the one… I should have put all these names down, actually… it was the Hintlesham, which is in Suffolk. We won that festival, and then we went to the Isle of Mann and we won the festival over there, jazz festival. We won a prize. We just love our music. And then someone once said to me, “Can you do a wedding?” I said, “what jazz at a wedding?” So I did a wedding, and for the wedding, I said, better learn a couple waltzes, a couple of Latin things. From there, I got off on the commercial band and I’ve been very successful. I’ve done London, done the Albert Hall twice. Most of the top hotels in London, all the top places round this area, Southend, Chelmsford, Colchester. Yeah, I’ve had a good time from it.

Interviewer [10:07]: Do you focus… when you’re performing, what is your particular role usually within the band?

Baxter: Not really. Say there’s five of you. You get to call the tune, play this tune. We all get involved together. It’s a mix. No good letting anybody go out on their own. Everybody’s got to think with the other person. That’s the great thing about jazz. You might never have played with a few guys, you get up, say right, we’ll play a tune, what key? I know that, or I don’t really know that one, can we do something else? You pick it, you just get on with it.

Interviewer [10:59]: What motivated you, then, to keep going with jazz throughout the years?

Baxter: The love of it, really. I just loved the music. Really did. I still do. I mean, I still play a lot of jazz. I had a band, I changed over completely my style, I used to do the Top Palettes for 25 years on a Sunday lunchtime. One day, I said to my trumpet player, I said, I’ve been listening to Robbie Vincent on London on a Saturday morning, and there’s this guy called Chuck Mangione and there’s a few other names. I said, I wouldn’t mind getting into this music. So I used to record it off the radio and we started doing it, and then I finished up with a band called Turntable. It’s very popular in Southend. It was a great band, wonderful band. I mean, I had people up… Peter Jacobsen, who’s a great name in British jazz, Vic Wood of course, and Dave Bronze, who was… you ever heard of Dave Bronze? Quite a few of the others. Alan Clarke. Who else was there? I forget the bloody guitarist’s name now… Ian Pearce. We had some good players in that band, and we were very popular. We did The Alex for quite a long while, a continuation from the swing. Went into the side of it and we had a good time from it.

Interviewer [12:53]: That’s great, thank you. So in terms then… obviously you’ve done a few different bands, different things, over the years. How have you organised your jazz activities with band members to fit it in with your lives, really? To keep going?

Baxter: Well, the thing is, you get a gig. People come and listen to you. Say you get somewhere, like I’ll play at the Hamlet once a month, and someone might come in there and say, oh, I’ve got a little do on in the afternoon, got a little marquee. Any chance – what would you charge to do this? And then somebody from Colchester – oh, we got a little jazz club up there, would you like to do a night up there? That’s how it is. That’s how it goes, really. I don’t have the time. Never had the time in my life.

Interviewer [13:41]: Oh, okay. So do you find then that in terms of, like… you have a fan base that follows you, then. How do you communicate with people?

Baxter: Well, the thing is, in Southend the jazz people all know what’s going on. This is it, you know? They go and they pay for the Kenny Baxter Quintet is the first Thursday of every month at the Hamlet. You only have to go in once or twice and then you’ve got your following. And then they tell other people “oh I went up to see so-and-so the other night – oh is he there?” that’s how it goes

Interviewer [14:19]: It’s a word-of-mouth type thing.

Baxter: Yeah. Not everybody likes jazz. I mean, it’s funny, especially with Turntable, people who have come who didn’t know anything about jazz really liked it. We got a new audience, really, through the change in the music. As I say, we were doing swing straight down the… just straight swing stuff and then went down to the jazz funk, Latin funk… and the change, it’s amazing. But I’ve enjoyed it all. I just play a nice little quintet now. I enjoy that, just a little swing band.

Interviewer [15:07]: And would you say that over the years there’s been any structures in place that have supported your jazz activities? It could be monetary, it could be personal networks – is there anything that helped you?

Baxter: Not really. No. We did do years ago for the Essex Radio. We did a night up at the Palace Hotel. That was recorded live. It was interesting, actually. But you don’t get things like that, I’m afraid. Not now. The thing is, jazz is the arts. People must sometimes come listen… especially I am afraid women sometimes come with their husbands, husband’s enjoying it, oh, come on, oh, I cannot listen to this bloody row. And you do get that, I’m afraid.

Interviewer [16:02]: And do you see that there’s a mix of people coming into the clubs now in terms of age groups as well?

Baxter: Yes, definitely. With jazz, you’ve always had… young, middle-aged and old, they’re all mixed. You go up to a bar. “Were you at that band last week?” And then you get talking, which is good.

Interviewer [16:26]: And would you say there’s been any particular barriers to your jazz over the years?

Baxter: No. No. Years ago, jazz had a very bad name at times. Some places, you know. “Oh, we can’t have jazz here. All smoking pot and getting drunk, ravishing the women.” If only! No, one or two people is all. “Jazz isn’t the right music for this establishment.” Jazz used to get put in the cellar. I mean, there’s a place in Westland called the Studios, and it was a dungeon, it was. You’d go there, there’s one stair up and a side door, that’s all. I mean if anything happened there at night, I don’t know how you got out. Used to be packed. You used to buy a Coke upstairs because they couldn’t sell alcohol, of course you would take a little bottle, bottle of whiskey and the Coke or whatever. They were great days, they were.

Interviewer [17:40]: Have you found that the venues have changed much over the years, then?

Baxter: There’s not he venues now. There’s not the venues. That’s why I like The Hamlet. The old pub ways of playing in the bar, people coming in, they know what they’re going to get. A few pints, sit there and enjoy, and they generally stay to the end. I know the Hamlet, lovely little pub in Hamlet Court Road, and we get a good crowd in there. Years ago, when I was at the Top Palettes in London, we’d have 200 people in there for Sunday lunchtimes maybe. Brilliant.

Interviewer [18:24]: And would you say that your particular interests in different types of jazz has changed over the years, or what you play – has that changed?

Baxter: I started with swing. I play swing now, but the period I had with Turntable, we were doing the jazz funk, I don’t do that now. No, I don’t do that now. Leave that for the youngsters. But I’ve enjoyed every moment of it.

Interviewer [18:57]: And would you… and this may or may not apply to you, but for some people jazz at times was involved with things like trade union activities. Was that ever political with you?

Baxter: No. I mean, don’t get me wrong. I was in the Musician’s Union and I believe in the Musician’s Union because they always try to help each other you know. There are no problems there, really. I mean, years ago we used to have a union meeting every month on a Sunday morning in a pub on London Road, but that all finished. The musician’s union… I don’t… I mean, don’t quote me on this, but between you and me I don’t think they’re as strong as they used to be. As I say, years ago… and also… who’s the music people now? You’d have to write down every tune you played if you went to a function so that the writers got their money. I mean, I wrote a song, I’ve got a song with… have you heard of Blossom Dearie. Top American singer, she is. On the jazz side and the nightclubs. She did a song for me in America and it’s amazing how much you can earn from a song. Not that I’ve earned a lot on this particular one, but I do know that you can earn a lot of money. I mean, I get a bit a little payout now and again from America.

Interviewer [20:55]: And do you find that things have changed on that end as well, where obviously now with the internet, everyone can do the internet listening as well?

Baxter: Yeah. Only yesterday I got a new device there that I can… you see that?

Interviewer [21:10]: Are they… is that… I’ve seen them. I can’t think of the name…

Baxter: No, I don’t know either. It’s Apple. Here, this is it. It all works via this.

Interviewer [21:38]: [reading] Apple TV with Siri. Oh, okay.

Baxter: I put my tapes on one of the… I’ve got quite a bit of me playing music and my wife singing. Cause my wife was one of these 60s singers. She made a few records, you know. We’ve completely enjoyed our music. Toni, my wife, she never knew anything about jazz when she first met me. Eighteen years old, I think she was. I got her to listen to some records and so forth. Lovely, beautiful singer. Miss her in the band, you know?

Interviewer [22:37]: Did you tour together as well, then?

Baxter: Never toured, no. I mean, the tax people better not here this, I did 14 nights on the trot in December and most of them were in London. Plus the Sunday lunchtimes, so we had 15 or 16 shows to do. And my boys said to me, “Don’t you bloody take any more bookings like that, Ken.” I said, you can have a nice Christmas, all that money you made. I tell you, I’ve had some great times. You heard of Dave Bronze did you? He was with…

Interviewer [23:26]: Yeah, he’s come up a bit as well, I think, in other things.

Baxter: Who’s the famous guitarist? No, go on.

Interviewer [23:42]: How do you make these connections, because you obviously know a lot of people and you’ve been in bands with different people. Is it you meet them along the way, or?

Baxter: Exactly it. You meet them along the way. They come and listen to you, and they say, oh, I enjoyed that, or don’t say anything at all so you know they didn’t enjoy it at all. They come up and speak to you and say, “Where are you next? We can do this week.” Or, “I know a guy who can play. Is it alright if he comes and sits in with you?” Or, “I play something. Is it alright if I come to do some numbers with you?” And that’s how you all get together. I always feel that Southend, the musicians where I’ve been involved with are quite a big family. Really do and I think the world of them. I’ve been blessed with playing with the top local boys, you know. I have been very, very lucky to have them in my band.

Interviewer [24:42]: And did you find then that when you were younger and then coming through, that a lot of your friends outside of the musicians were into jazz as well at any time as well?

Baxter: They become interested. [laughs] A lot of them were not. They always knew that I loved my music, jazz music. Used to come round mine as well and, “Oh, that bloody jazz record again.” But then after a while they got used to it. The thing is, they were nice evenings. People can talk to each other and have a dance. Years ago, every job I did, they’d jive. They don’t now. They don’t jive now. I mean, if I went to listen… I used to go, as I say, up to London practically every Saturday night. They’re jiving all night. People like Ronnie Scott, Tubby Hayes, all the top names. Great days.

Interviewer [25:41]: And when do you think that changed, the actual dancing kind of petering out?

Baxter: Oh, god. I can’t really say… I mean, I haven’t been to a club in London now, don’t know if they do any dancing in them. I haven’t been for so many years. I mean, you couldn’t dance at Ronnie Scott’s, not in the actual Ronnie Scott’s venue. But in the old days in London, a lot of the jazz clubs, you jived all night. Brilliant.

Interviewer [26:18]: And did you have, like, any particular… do you remember any attitudes that people had when you decided to do jazz professionally from your family, older…

Baxter: I’ve never been professional. I’ve always been semi-professional. There’s a difference because I had a day job as well.

Interviewer [26:38]: Oh, okay. What was your day job?

Baxter: I worked for The Southend Standard and John Burroughs, the company, which became the Echo, didn’t it? You don’t work for The Echo, do you?

Interviewer [26:51]: Yeah, no, I don’t but I know it.

Baxter: I did my apprenticeship there. I was a photographic engraver. Did my national service from there as I said earlier. Started learning saxophone when I come out of the air force.

Interviewer [27:09]: So how have you… in that case when you were obviously juggling multiple things, how did you fit it in, I guess, really – all these different things?

Baxter: So I used to practice two hours practically every night when I was learning. Come home from work, had my tea, that was it. I always practiced from seven o’clock till nine o’clock. My old gran used to live upstairs, and when it was nine o’clock she’d knock-knock. That’s it, Ken. Because she was going to bed or she was worried about the neighbours. Because when you’re practising, when you first start the saxophone, you can make some weird noises, believe me. [laughs] Now and again, I still can.

Interviewer [27:58]: Would you say then that over your career you’ve got anything that you’re particularly proud of as an achievement?

Baxter: Yes, I am pleased of having one… two… some of the top groups on the jazz side in Southend. I was very proud of the SMJQ, I was very proud of Turntable, and I’m very proud of my group at the moment. They’re all good musicians. I feel lucky to play with Southend’s best, really.

Interviewer [28:44]: And would you say that your bands have had a particular value to Southend or to jazz?

Baxter: No, not really. I don’t know. I think it’s for other people to judge that, not me.

Interviewer [28:59]: And would you say that jazz has had a particular impact on British culture?

Baxter: Not really. I mean, you’ve always got in art, in anything in the arts, you’ve always got certain followers. That stream of people just love their jazz. You’ve got Country and Western people. They like that music and they support it. With a piece of art, you see a nice old cottage in the old days with all the flowers around the entrance and you think “isn’t that lovely”. That’s the same thing, no difference.

Interviewer [29:54]: And would you say that rock and roll and the Beatles and stuff like that had any impact on jazz?

Baxter: No, I don’t think so because the real jazz people hated it. They hated rock and roll. A lot of people like the Beatles, believe it or not, but there again I think people realise that some of the music the Beatles had, brought into this world… there’s some good music there. I mean, I would never knock the Beatles, it wasn’t my sort of music, but I played it when I went into commercial work. And most of the numbers, when you did a Beatles number years ago, everyone got up and danced, which was great because as a bandleader doing a commercial gig to get people on the floor, those sort of numbers… it’s like what’s-his-name who did I’m Still Standing.

Interviewer [31:00]: Oh… I know who you mean. The name’s escaping me as well.

Baxter: Can’t be old age with you! Oh dear, the name… soon as we’d play I’m Still Standing, people would just jump up and go silly straight away. The idea of a dance band is to get people on the floor to enjoy themselves. They could’ve had a bad meal, right? They could’ve had a boring time during speeches. Keep going to the toilet. Waiting there, crossing their legs, and then all of a sudden it’s over and the dancing starts and people just relax. I’ve seen it. Believe me at Ladies nights, at all the functions ever. People go, “Oh, for Christ’s sake, shut up.”

Interviewer [31:55]: And that one song comes on.

Baxter: Then you come on and start playing. Wow! A gasp of relief comes round the hallway.

Interviewer [32:08]: And would you say as well that… obviously jazz has always been very diverse because of its roots. Would you say that jazz has had any impact on… particularly in previous years and coming into now, on attitudes about things like race for instance?

Baxter: Um… the thing is, I’ve never found race coming into jazz music. I mean, you stand up… a white guy can walk into a black… mostly black people. I mean, I’ve been to clubs, where I think there’s about four - packed,- and there is about white people and I’ve been one of them. It’s never worried me. I had no problems. No, I think in the jazz side, I’ve never seen it. If a guy is black and you go and hear him and he’s absolutely brilliant, you think, “Oh, I wish I could play like that.” You admire them. I’ve never been a racist. Not in my life.

Interviewer [33:22]: And who would you say your biggest influences have been?

Baxter: Any saxophone player who’s better than me.

Interviewer [33:29]: That’s a good way to put it. And finally, then, what would you say the future of your activities are going forward?

Baxter: Well, at my age just to carry on as long as I can. You know, I mean, I’m 83 and there’s not many more years left. The gigs I do, I really enjoy. I do that once a month at Hamlet, which I love, and I do a couple little guest spots. Yeah, I enjoy it. I’ll carry on enjoying it, I hope.

Interviewer [34:11]: Thank you very much, then.

Baxter: Yeah, okay.