Crissy grew up in a family of musicians, and was inspired from early on by jazz big bands. We hear her great enthusiasm for the many genres and fusions she loves to perform and coordinate through a busy and vibrant career. We learn how she's worked with determination and strong individual drive to succeed in a male dominated profession as a self-taught drummer. This is a profile which Crissy hopes to raise further to actively inspire a younger female generation.
|Interview date||6th September 2016|
|Interview source||National Jazz Archive|
|Image source credit|
|Image source URL|
Interviewer: So, if we could just start with you telling me your name and spelling your name please.
Crissy: OK, so my name is Crissy Lee and it’s spelt C.R.I.S.S.Y L.E.E
Interviewer: Thank you and could you just tell me your date of birth and where you were born please.
Crissy: 17th June 1943; a war baby, in Colchester.
Interviewer: OK. And if you just tell me a little bit about your parents and your background in music next.
Crissy: Well I started in a Salvation Army band in the Colchester core actually. My Dad’s side of the family were all brass players, my Mum’s side of the family were piano, violin, accordion – string instruments, basically.
Interviewer: So your family then, were they quite into Jazz as well?
Crissy: No, well I had one uncle who was and still is into Jazz, and it was him that said to me ‘you can’t listen to all this other stuff, you really need to listen to some big band Swing n’ Jazz’, which I did, and loved.
Interviewer: Was that your first introduction to it then would you say?
Crissy: I suppose it was really, it was the Glen Miller orchestra, and my cousin; she had a Dansette - record player? A very old player and we actually couldn’t afford one but I used to go over on my bicycle to my Auntie’s and play all the Glen Miller and big bands - American big bands. [01’37”]
Interviewer So, if you could just give me a bit of an overview then and outline the nature of your jazz activities over the years, if you’ve done different things, if you could just outline some of the different jazz activities you’ve been involved in.
Crissy: It’s not all Jazz, I very much like Jazz-Rock, so I’m not a purist, because I love the mixture of music, I liked you know putting all sorts of genres together and still do but I did start in a band, local bands but that wasn’t anything really, it was popular music, and then I joined a band that was very much Swing when I was 16, so that’s where I learnt all the standards, the 40’s; 50’s; 60’s and you know Jazz. And then I joined the Ivy Benson Orchestra and that was big band swing, I joined that band when I was 17. It came to a point where Jazz wasn’t making any money and the big bands were not making any money. So we started to have to play other stuff, like orchestrations of the Beatles or the Stones or the Animals, which I didn’t take to very well. Mixing a big band, the conventional line up of a big band, playing rock and pop music didn’t work for me.
Interviewer: And have you done anything else since then? Involved in Jazz or other musical activities as well?
Crissy: Well yes, because when I decided to form my own all female big band, cause Ivy Benson was like a pioneer for women in music, we went more towards the Jazz, and we did lots of Jazz festivals. Pretty much, I went out to Australia, and went to Florida and did some jazz there, very much more Europe and UK. [03’43”]
Interviewer: And, so has it mainly always been performing has been your main investment in this area of music then?
Crissy: Absolutely. Yeah I love performing, but I also love performing Rock music and mixing it as I said, you know like Jazz Rock, I would say is my favourite. And Big Band Swing, I do love Big Band Swing.
Interviewer: Is there a particular reason that those areas have caught your imagination in particular; is there something about them?
Crissy: When I started to play is was very much the Skiffle, Bill Hayley and the Comets, stuff like that. I wasn’t really in to 60’s music so by the time I was 17; it was 60’s music. I don’t know why I found it all a bit boring you know same, very much the same sort of chord structure, which I didn’t like and the same rhythm from the drummer. I wanted to experiment with greater things, and I found that it was Jazz that did that and not Rock, not Pop anyway.
Interviewer: So in that case then what has motivated you throughout the years then have you had to pinpoint a few things that motivated you to keep on with this, keep your interest alive, what you say that’s been?
Crissy: Well other musicians can motivate you and listen to other great, great bands, the motivation very much is from me, cause I love what I do. I love learning, I teach at home and I teach in the school, it’s great. Very rare do I get any student that’s interested in jazz, very, very rare but I do try and introduce them because the technique of a jazz musician and a jazz drummer especially, is something pretty incredible, it’s not easy, it’s much more difficult and I’m always pushing myself and striving to get out there.
Interviewer: So, in that case then, how would you say you’ve organised and structured your activities over the years, has there been a particular way you’ve formed bands and gone about your different activities, organised how you do these things?
Crissy: yeah one could say I’m changeable, I’m not really but I do like to go with the times, so you tend to form a band, obviously I can’t go out as a solo musician, I mean as a session player – yes, but I can’t go out there and do a gig on my own. I do drum solos a lot but I don’t think people would enjoy a two hour drum solo, so I very much like the musicians, we listen to each other and you sympathise with each other and dynamics are very important, so you’ve got to have the same sort of people as you that think the same as you. I mean compliments I get very much from a vocalist is ‘oh it’s so lovely for a drummer to be sensitive’, and depending on the lyric or depending on the mood, it might not have to be sensitive, it could be much louder so I do like light and shade. [07’10”]
Interviewer: So what made you in particular go towards the drums then, is there something that motivated towards the drums and to keep up the drums?
Crissy: Well for some reason I was a 4 year old and my Dad worked for a company in Colchester and he came back home with a pair of drumsticks, goodness knows why it was nothing to do with music, and he played something on the arm of my mum’s chair, which I don’t know if she was happy about and I said ‘oh I’d love to do that’ but I actually did a lot better than he did so I do believe; and there are still lots of young people out there today – that I do believe I was gifted with being a drummer because it went on from there and I just suddenly found I could play.
Interviewer: Did you take classes how did you go about getting to that?
Crissy: I didn’t. I just listened. I did have a few lessons when I joined the Ivy Benson Orchestra, with a very well-known teacher - that wasn’t very easy, he taught Phil Collins also, he didn’t find him easy either but I just wanted to find my own way, I’m quite independent, and I wanted to go with the style I wanted to go with, which was at the time -do you know where you’re going with this? But that’s why apparently people recognise my style, because I wanted to be an individual. [08’40”]
Interviewer: So did you have did you have any other structures in place to support you in your activities over the years in learning and performing?
Crissy: Well, my Dad very much looked after me not that he knew much about the business but he was always there, so I was out with the Salvation Army Band playing and a lot of local bands. I listened, I did spend days with very, very famous drummers who did it just because they wanted to encourage me because they were very few and far between, these guys that wanted to encourage me, most of them discouraged me and said ‘it’s not a woman’s world, women don’t really play drums, it’s a man’s job.’ Don’t ever say anything like that to me because I’m too determined. So I had lots and lots of help with some really great named drummers throughout the world but I just love it, I just love what I do. And a lot of people say to me now ‘when are you going to retire?’ What a stupid thing to say, I’ll never retire. I’ll never ever retire, I love it, apparently I glow when I'm on stage. [09’58”]
Interviewer: So, would you say then that when you’re performing then is your main support network the band, have you got other things that support you in terms of your performance now, as well?
Crissy: Not really, not really I’m supporting, I mean I have worked for lots of people but I make things happen. I choose the musicians, I run the Jazz club now in Mersea Island, they didn’t have jazz there, it’s our third year and it’s really successful. I will make things happen but there’s not a support. We had a support when I had the Crissy Lee Big Band, we had a support actually from the Lottery people they gave us a lovely grant, which Cleo Lane was quite instrumental in helping, because once again it was maybe frowned upon that all women were out there - big swing jazz band and there’s some great female musicians out there, so we had no funds and they helped us out by giving us money to buy some vehicles, because some of the girls are from the North, a lot of the brass players are from the North. So we had a vehicle based in Blackpool and one based down here, and that helped us a lot and we bought some nice…a library of music, apart from that I’ve supported myself. [11’40”]
Interviewer: You mentioned that you opened up or you’re running a club, was there a history to the club before that; was it already in existence?
Crissy: No it’s the Mica Centre at Mersea which is a community run club, when I moved to Peldon because I’ve only been here six and a half years and obviously I had a lot of publicity because you know I am very well known in the business, and it’s like ‘oh Crissy lives in Peldon now, how would fancy starting the club?’ It is, I mean there’s all sorts goes on there, but I run a club once a month on a Friday, and it’s at the Mica centre in Mersea.
Interviewer: Ah OK, and do you have a team of people that run that or is it mainly you at the forefront?
Crissy: Well I run it, it’s my band it’s the Crissy Lee quartet and we have a well-known guest once a month. I know hundreds of names. It’s called Mica Jazz but I book the musicians. It’s a regular quartet; we’ve got our CD out now. Obviously if any of the musicians can’t do it for whatever reason because they’re doing other things, including myself then we put a decent dep (deputy) in but that’s run by me, but I obviously have some help because they do all the posters and they do all the tickets, but I run the Jazz. [13’00”]
Interviewer: So, in terms of getting the word out about your performances as well as your club work as well, how do you communicate to people is it mainly still posters and stuff or is it other ways?
Crissy: yeah to be honest with you Nicolle, I’ve spent so many years sending out photographs and like we don’t have to do anymore, it’s all done on the net isn’t it? That I’ve done so much that I suppose being honest, I don’t do as much by choice anymore because the thought of driving around at 2,3,4 in the morning doesn’t appeal to me anymore and I wanna stay young and still have the stamina and the strength that I have, but that saps your energy but… I lost my drift now, what was the question again?
Interviewer: I was asking about how you communicate about your different activities.
Crissy: Ah yes, so well Jude that you met on the phone, she is very good on the computer, she’s good at doing all that, I hate it. I hate it, most musicians do, how could I phone up and talk about myself? But I’ve done a lot and she makes sure that everybody sees that, so we do quite a bit, but as far as the Jazz Club is concerned, with our quartet, we’ve got a CD out now and we going to send that everywhere.
Interviewer: Is that you say the way you would communicate information about things that you’re doing to get people to gigs, has that changed? Has it all changed over the years?
Crissy: Yeah it has. Oh yes yeah, I mean the times when you would go to the post office with an A4 envelope with all your photos in and what you’d done, it’s all click, click and the photos gone, you know isn’t it? It’s fantastic. I absolutely love it. I’m not fond of sitting on the computer… I’d rather be, I’ve got a studio in there, I‘d rather be on the drums. [15’03”]
Interviewer: Would you say, I mean you’ve kind of mentioned already some early barriers to learning the drums in terms of attitudes towards you as a female drummer? If you could expand upon how you overcame that and also where there any other barriers or obstacles along the way with either your drumming or your opening of the club taking that over, were there any other obstacles?
Crissy: When I was younger there were millions of obstacles, even my own family would say to my Dad, ‘what are you doing? She’s a woman that will get married and have children, and be in the kitchen’ and etc. etc. Especially drums; if I had been a violinist maybe a concert pianist that was a different thing wasn’t it? But drums? So and if I went to a gig and I’m going in with my stick bag or something it’s ‘Are you carrying them for your brother or your Dad?’ and I’ve worked with some big names, that I’d be deping [deputising] maybe for a drummer and the guys would say ‘oh hi where’s the drummer?’ And it’s like ‘Oh’ and you could feel that they were thinking ‘Oh God what are we in for tonight?’ And I’d play the first number and then they were kind to me. Oh my God, you know, and I didn’t make an issue of it. I thought you’ve got the problem, I haven’t.
I even joined a band many years ago, back in the 70’s and it was a friend of mine, whose husband ran the band in London, big time band in London, a big ballroom in London and he said would you come along just to play one of the sets with us? And he forewarned the band and apparently four of them gave in their notice. They said ‘we are not having a woman playing in this band’. So I did the first set with them and after that we used to go to the local pub, like musicians do and then they said ‘Oh my God, Mike we’re really sorry can we have our job back?’ and he says ‘No. You didn’t trust my knowledge of knowing that Crissy could do this gig’.
So I had a lot of that but I then was on a show, ATV Music with Jack Parnell, have you heard of Jack Parnell, famous drummer? And Ronnie Burrell? Ronnie Burrell was a very famous drummer too, and I was on their show because I’d been on New Faces, and he wanted me on the show and we did a three drum solo, so there was Ronnie, Jack Parnell and me in the centre and we auditioned. Ronnie Burrell by the way was Animal in the Muppets, he’d done the drumming for that so we had a rehearsal because there is different styles of drumming, there’s a different way you can do a stick shape and because he wanted to see it before.
It was TV and he wanted it right. It was fantastic and Madeline Bell was on the show. Big, mega names was on the show. And then we did our bit. Jack said to Ronnie we’ve got a lady drummer here on the show and Ronnie went ‘Oh my God Jack what do you think?’ and Jack said ‘You know what you think about washing - female drummers, they should be at home.’ So we do our solo and then they leave me to it and I do about a three minute solo myself. And at the end of this bit Ronnie comes with a cloth and Jack comes with a tea towel and they go ‘I think we better go and do the washing up’ and that was lovely and from that moment suddenly people began to respect what I was doing. It took a long time. [19’04”]
Interviewer: Would you say that has been the major hurdle or have there been other obstacles as well along the way?
Crissy: I don’t think there were any other really, because, it was quite nice, once people recognised what I could do, because I was actually quite spoilt because I was always the lone female in the band, apart from maybe a singer, so it was quite nice as I had the boys to myself and they did spoil me. That was lovely, but it was that initial getting over that - you know, ‘Women can’t do this’. But of course there’s so many, and I have led the way for a lot of female musicians and they’re all out there now. Not many in Jazz though.
Interviewer: Why do think that is, why do you think they don’t go in to Jazz so much?
Crissy: It’s something I’m asked often, I don’t really know. Maybe they don’t like listening to it, but I don’t know why, because there’s so many areas of jazz, there’s Jazz Funk, there’s Blues, there’s Latin. It’s fantastic. You’ve got everything in the pot, just put the whole lot it’s like a stew - put everything in the pot, it’s fantastic. Whereas with pop, it’s pretty much the same. I’ve had female students, they get to a certain point and they just love the pop. There may be idols of theirs in Pop world. I mean how many idols do you know in the Jazz world? How many go on my god he’s groovy and with the way they look. The trend of it, Jazz is maybe not trendy enough, for them? That’s what I think about Jazz, Jazz is what it is Jazz is what you see is what you get. And these people can get on that stage and do it. There’s no having to go over stuff in the studio cause it all went wrong - you go with it, you listen to each other and you just do it. [21’12”]
Interviewer: If we look at different areas of Jazz now and whether or not you haven involved with them or not; have you been associated in particular with British Jazz or American Jazz?
Crissy: More British Jazz. I know some of my CDs are in America and people say ‘well they should be out there’ but no it’s British Jazz
Interviewer: What about have you engaged with or been associated with White Dixie Land Jazz or African American Jazz in any way?
Crissy: I like Bebop, I don’t favour Traditional Jazz very much, it’s back to the drumming again, it’s the same, a much of a muchness, that’s not my bag really. I like the varieties of Jazz, like if we’re at a gig we might do a bit of Latin as I have just said, Funk Jazz and Shuffle Funk and Bebop. I think Bebop is really my favourite and like the Negro Jazz – great because that’s where it all comes from.
Interviewer: Would you say you’ve got any particular people that when you were starting out in Jazz you sort of looked up to?
Crissy: Buddy Rich and Jean Cooper.
Interviewer: And as you went through it did you get to work with any other people you idolised in Jazz?
Crissy: You are not likely to work with the drummers really. I have, I’ve worked with Frank Sinatra’s son and Nat King Cole’s brother, and we are talking more Swing now. This where you are going to get me because I have got to remember all these names. I have worked with Chris Barber and that is a bit more Dixie Land. I like that because I can go in straight away and play that sort of music because it’s just in my soul. I’ve worked with a lot of British big bands: the Squadronaires, a famous big band, there was the Nat Temple Orchestra, the Sid Phillips Orchestra; Sid Phillips was a fabulous clarinettist. And I was very young, very nervous.
Interviewer: Considering all the obstacles, right at the start you said, with breaking though and changing perceptions how did you get those gigs? How did you get in there?
Crissy: Well it’s like networking then, my Dad was quite instrumental in pushing me in to these situations, like he’d say ‘My daughter’s a drummer can she come and see you?’ But he was right to do that. Harold Davidson was one of the biggest agencies in London. He hitchhiked to London to get me involved with his agency, which passed me on to other musicians. [24’40”]
Interviewer: And have you had any particular engagement with traditional modern Jazz? Do you have a preference at all?
Crissy: I don’t really, I love it all. I like bands like Tower of Power and Blood, Sweat and Tears, there’s the cross over again. I love, like Uptown Funk is on my phone because I love that music. Probably years ago would’ve loved to be in a band like that but unlike today they did not let girls in. That was a closed shop. I mean the BBC Radio Orchestra Big Band – closed shop. I could tell you so many stories but that’s not what we are talking about today but it was absolutely that females were not allowed to enter.
Interviewer: Did you know a lot of other women trying to break through at the same time and were they successful as well or?
Crissy: Yeah but not a successful we should have been. Because of that. Today it’s easier. When I went on this show The New faces - Jack Parnell … I can’t remember his name, big record producer, he said, you know when they make the comments, it’s a bit like The X Factor today, he said ‘Crissy shouldn’t be here, she should be in America, she’ll never make it in Britain, they’ll never give her the chance, first she’s female, secondly there’s not enough Jazz in Britain and they’re not open minded.’ That’s the trouble with the British, and I knew that cause I worked with the Americans in Europe …and the difference, the reaction to what we were doing, and he said ‘Crissy, just go to America’
There’s a guy called Joe Morrello who was the famous drummer with Take Five, Dave Brubeck Quartet. ‘Have you heard of them? Have you heard of the number Take Five? That’s very famous, they use it on adverts. I met up with him many years ago he was doing a drum clinic. Drum clinics are like workshops, they call them clinics - it’s like drummers go to them to be repaired for anything they’re not doing right. That’s why they call them Drum Clinics and I have done them all over the world myself. I went to see him because he was one of my favourite drummers. A friend pushed me up there because he said ‘does anyone want to get up and play’? And I am hiding, because by this time I had overcome that problem but then the fear set in again. He spent about 5 minutes with me and he was going back to Manchester with his wife and I drove them back, I didn’t want to clean my car for a year and he said ‘Come to the Midland Hotel where we are staying, let me get you some lunch’, and I picked up a knife and fork but not the Americans no, I was spooning with the fork and he had me drumming with my left hand and he said ‘Hey, why don’t you come back to Berklee with me. School of music in Boston, My God, I was too frightened, I was too nervous, but I do know to this day that I would have made it probably in the American Jazz. Because they will let you, if you are good enough, it doesn’t matter whether you are young, old, disabled, whatever. If you can do something the Americans will encourage it but the British never did [28’27”]
Interviewer: Why do you think that is? Why is there that difference do you think?
Crissy: Bit straight laced I think towards Jazz at some point. I mean we are only opening up to country now. Look at how big Country is, at last Britain has opened up. There’s no big bands, there’s no Jazz, how many Jazz clubs do you honestly know of? It’s all us local people doing it in our local villages and our local towns and we go out there and do it for a pittance.
Interviewer: Do you connect with those other clubs? Do you know each other?
Crissy: Some of us do but I think they can be a closed shop. If they’ve got their usual people they don’t let anyone else in. That’s what I find about Britain, they won’t open up.…I’ve worked in Spain, I’ve worked in Germany, I’ve worked all over Europe - you walk in, there’s a guy called Booker Ervin, a very, very famous jazz organist, and someone said to me, [sic] ‘will you let people sit in’ he said ‘Great, we’ve got a drummer - Crissy come up and have a play. They wouldn’t do that here then.
Interviewer: So how do you overcome that, because now you are running that club that you were saying has been quite successful. How do overcome that initial… people in Britain not necessarily being so engaged in Jazz?
Crissy: Well they are, but the club I run, we don’t give them music that’s avant-garde in any way, and they like to be entertained, and I think the jazz… they’re very self-indulgent. I think if you want that then go to a club where you can bang your head on the tables and maybe Ronnie Scott’s has that occasionally. But they like people to talk to them and tunes that they know. That is not to say we are not still playing Jazz, when each people do solos, in different time signatures, anything from 4/4, 7/8 or whatever or crossing over all the time, they love that. And they will say ‘what is that you did then’. They are a very happy bunch with what we give them there. The Arts Centre, a friend of mine, Steve Wright that runs the arts centre, I’ve known Steve for years and years, he’s running that again, and he’s having themes. I think he had a month or two months of female musicians. The difficulty of me going there, it’s only up the road. So people are not going to go to one or the other. And he is always inviting me as a guest but you just have to be polite and do the right thing really. [31’22”]
Interviewer: Would you say Rock and roll, the Beatles impacted or had an effect on Jazz in any way, the industry or your activities?
Crissy: Yeah they did. When they came in, Ivy Benson my bandleader at the time, we stopped playing all the basic big band standards, which people still love today but there was still no money in Jazz, there’s no money in big bands. So she started having the orchestrations done of Beatles tunes and The Stones [The Rolling Stones] and whatever. Having said that I’m a mega Beatles fan, and I’ve toured with them. I was their support band. I thought if this is the way it’s going, I go with it, so I formed a Rock Pop band, and we were taken on, we were in Spain for a long, long time, and our management promoter, he got us on supporting the Beatles on their tour. That was a big thing.
Interviewer: Where did you tour?
Crissy: We toured Spain, this was 1964, the only venues they had big enough for the capacity of people were the ball rooms, so we did Valencia, we did Barcelona, you’re talking about 15,20,25,000 people but we have some amazing pictures with the boys.
Interviewer: Would you say that influenced your own style your own interest in music, as well, that experience?
Crissy: No it didn’t influence my style really cause, another great friend of mine called Kenny Clare, an amazing drummer who worked all over the world - I used to spend time with him but he did a lot of the sessions for the Beatles that Ringo couldn't do. There are drummers and drummers so I’ll leave it at that. [33’42”]
Interviewer: And finally then would you say that Jazz had an impact on attitudes toward race and immigration over the years as well as people got involved in Jazz? As people you know yourself got involved in Jazz?
Crissy: Oh, I don't think so, no, no, not at all. I think if anyone’s great out there, wherever they’re from, whatever race, come and join us. I’ve gone right back to the Salvation Army now! [34’19”]
Interviewer: And just keeping on the political side of things as well, this may not apply to you but would you say any of your Jazz activities or music activities were associated with any political views at any time?
Crissy: Mine haven’t been, no I mean I did go to South Africa with my band, we did play crossover stuff there. We did have a problem with the Musicians Union because of Apartheid, and I then had a row with them. I said I’m a musician not a politician. Apart from being in the Carlton Hotel with my band I used to go down to a jazz club cause I wanted to play there on my nights off and play with some great musicians from all over the world: American, and we just embraced each other and they’re Black musicians, it doesn’t really matter to me so don’t involve me with Apartheid. I’ve got a strong character when it comes to that, I like who I like. It’s dreadful, I mean some of our greatest Jazz, most of them were black you know some great, great, great musicians. Some of my idols.
Interviewer: Would you say that you were quite involved in the Musicians Union or was that your main dealing with them?
Crissy: No I just paid my subscription, and I’ve been with them a long, long time. They look after me I have to say. When I had knee surgery and whatever, they are very, very good. I’m a member of the Musicians’ Union Society, and they really take care of old musicians, maybe they’ll take care of me one day! [laughs]
Interviewer: Were you always engaged with the Union then, was it something that was right from the start?
Crissy: You have to really because there’s certain gigs you couldn't get or couldn’t do; but at the same time they’re there to look after you, because I would say lots of other musician like myself or even younger are owed fortunes by agents that used you and never paid you but that’s nothing to do with Jazz really. We accept in the Jazz World that you’re never going to earn a living as a Jazz musician and that’s why we all have to do other things.
Interviewer: So in that sense then would you say that your Jazz activities were your profession throughout the years or do you have other things as well going on?
Crissy: What as a musician? Yeah across the board really. You get to a point where there is nothing to prove. I don’t have to rush off to Glasgow to do a gig because you have got to pay the rent or something. If I want to go and do a Jazz gig and I think oh my God those musicians are great, I’ll go and do it for nothing if need be cause Jazz is the best for me, it’s real music and it’s not something that’s recorded and overdubbed and layered and layered. You get out there and you play and people really do respect it. [37’50”]
Interviewer: You spoke a lot about your dad but was there ever a reaction that you had to your Jazz activities from the older generation more generally, how did people react to your activities throughout the years?
Crissy: Oh, I would say very good, we worked out of the Country, because in this country there wasn’t any work, and so we were working for the Americans, for the GI’s throughout Europe. And you give them Jazz and Swing, they’re gonna love it, because you know they’re born with it aren’t they? Of course you get a lot of them that are out and out country and western but they probably loved it to. I don’t know I didn’t really ask them. But it’s where it all happens isn’t it.
Interviewer: And did you ever have any recollections of how your own peer group reacted to your activities, were many of your friends involved with Jazz?
Crissy: No not really, they weren’t involved with Jazz. The only one in my family that was a Jazz person was my uncle, and he founded the Colchester Jazz club, he was one of the founders of that, that used to be at what was called the Albert, along the bypass near North Station. He was one of the founder members of that. He was the only one into jazz. All the rest of them - ‘don’t like that sort of music’
Interviewer: If you ever went to gigs yourself growing up, would you go alone?
Crissy: I didn’t have time. I was pretty much out there right away. I was working, I would go with Sid. It would be like the Kenny Ball band, Chris Barber, the Dutch Swing College Band, which was fantastic. Monty Sunshine band, they were all Dixie Land.
Interviewer: Did you build a strong network of people as you were touring, those connections have they lasted have they helped you later?
Crissy: I am a good friend, I do keep in touch with people. You do get situations where they won’t keep in touch with you because on occasions I would be asked to dep [deputise] for somebody if he was ill or he had a problem, he couldn’t do it. Obviously they chose me, or he did, it was always a he, because I could always do the job. Sometimes they’d say ‘Thanks Crissy, that was great, I’ve not lost a job cause you did such a good job’. Others wouldn’t book me again, maybe because the bandleader said we’d like her to do it all the time, then you have to back off and say no that’s not my gig. There are some rogues out there; it’s a cutthroat business.
Interviewer: And how do you manoeuvre that? Is that something you learn over the years?
Crissy: Yeah you just learn it over the years, maybe you think ‘they don’t want them anymore they want me’. Somebody might say ‘Hang on a minute Crissy that’s not what you do’, so when I was very young but I haven’t done anything like that for a long time. Then often on the other side women are not always for women, because there used to be a show called Pebble Mill at One, in Birmingham, a big studio in Birmingham and they had a big band on every week or every two weeks, and Jude, she was running the big band then, she put the big band forward, and everybody was like – ‘you’ve got to use the band, all female band they’re fantastic’. We found out later why she wouldn’t use us, it was because she was a lone woman as a producer that loved to soak up all the guys to herself. If there were like the producer and directors and the crew and the cameramen – the thought of other women being in her way. I thought ‘that is ridiculous’ but she didn’t encourage us at all.
Interviewer: And was that quite a common experience those sorts of things as well, like did you notice that from a young age or is that something that you sort of figured out?
Crissy: That’s something I figured out as well, I was quite innocent for a long time, I suppose it took me a while cause I trusted everybody, probably still like that really but I could not believe people could do that to people - you’re a musician, come on lets help each other. [43’00”]
Interviewer: And over the years are there any particular venues you’ve played or anything like that have particularly resonated with you for some reason or they’ve got a particular meaning or a particular gig that you’ve played?
Crissy: The Albert Hall. That was pretty fantastic, with my big band, we got to do that. That was amazing, there's so many - doing the festivals, doing the Jazz festivals is fantastic. Cork Jazz Festival was absolutely amazing one of the best in the world, so that was the big band. We worked hard to get that; we waited three years to get on to that.
Interviewer: So when you organise things like that now, again is it mainly the Internet or do you put flyers out still and do you invite people in that you know?
Crissy: It will be on Facebook, there will be posters, it'll be out there and obviously all the local press. They are very good to me because they have known me since I was about 4. They have known me a long time. We may get a theatre that night because it is seating whereas with the Jazz it’s not, its tables and little candles and intimate lighting. But this is like a theatre but we can only get 220 in anyway. So we will fill it.
Interviewer: Do you use radio as well?
Crissy: Yeah there’s lots of radio there’s BBC Essex, there’s radio Essex. I think there is something in Colchester. Is there Heart? Heart is pop though isn’t it? [44’55”]
Interviewer: I was wondering or not whether radio is still useful even today?
Crissy: Well it is, there’s Clare Teal who has the Jazz programme every Sunday night. She is like a friend of mine, she’s an amazing singer, so we’ll probably be on that again or we’ll certainly be mentioned and there’s the Jamie Cullum programme he’ll hopefully mention it as well. He is fantastic. I am trying to get him to the club.
Interviewer: If there is someone you want for the club are there people you know or would you just have the connections?
Crissy: Yeah if it’s not people we know we’d just have connections with people that know them, and they’ll know me, it depends whether we can get the money to pay them. If it was someone like him, I’m sure we would. I love what he’s done with Jazz, he’s taken tunes, and he’s just adapted them to suit him. It’s like a singer, if you heard the first bar of someone like Adele, I bet you’d know that was Adele, wouldn’t you? You need to able to do that with Jazz to a point. To recognise someone’s drumming. Somebody said to me in the car once. ‘Oh that’s the Buddy Rich Band’. I said that is not the Buddy Rich big band, it was the BBC Radio Big Band that was doing an orchestration that was note for note. It’s just a different feel to American musicians. They’re not such good readers but their Jazz playing is amazing, they’ve grown up with it, they have it in all the schools in America – Jazz, you know we do it a little bit now, in fact it’s thanks to me that Felsted school now, (where) I still teach, do Jazz they never did when I first went there. [46’49”]
Interviewer: Did you approach them about that or did they approach you?
Crissy: It comes to a point in one’s life when you have to have an insurance gig, so teaching is a good way to do that, and I’ve got no teaching qualifications but I tell you what the kids in the music department there, they’ve got these amazing musicians that are teaching them. We’ve got the t-shirt, we’ve been there and done it. And then when I was introducing Jazz, I ran the Jazz there for a while, so now they’ve got Jazz there all the time. There’s not enough Jazz in schools and colleges and universities today it’s all Rock.
Interviewer: How would you say is the best way to do it, do things like you are, where you are teaching them from a young age?
Crissy: Yeah teach them, introduce them. Robbie Williams, he brought out that Swing CD and suddenly people go ‘Have you heard? Have you heard this song called ‘so and so?’ oh it’s really good it’s called Jazz’, and we go yeah I did that 40, 50 years ago. But good on him. [48’11”]
Interviewer: In terms of your own activities is there any particular achievements from over the years or things that you are proud of that you can think of?
Crissy: I think a lot. I think I’m proud that I’m still doing it for a start. I’m proud that I’m pretty well known. I’ve got some great students out there around the world doing it. I’ve worked with so many big names and if you asked me to name them, I can’t remember them all. But it’s not always to do with Jazz you know, I’ve worked with Tom Jones, toured with the Beatles as I said. I can find you some lists if you want to take them away with you. [49’17”]
Interviewer: Is there particular value for things you are doing now that you can think of because you’re saying Jazz isn’t that well known anymore, do you think that your current activities are adding to Jazz in British culture and the area?
Crissy: I certainly hope they are for women in Jazz, when I had the big band you’d often get girls, there’s more of them now and they’d often come out of Uni [University] and they’re afraid to do solos, you know when Jazz musicians will take a solo, you get the ensemble, then you get the solo, and they go ‘I can’t do that, I can’t’ do that’, well we now say ‘You can’. No one's gonna look at you we’re not gonna give you marks for what you did or didn’t do, your value is what you do. And you need to go for it. Because you will never do it unless you try give it a chance. Where years ago that wouldn’t have happened, maybe in a male band they would have said ‘no, no, no you just play in the section, we’ll do the solos’. [50’28”]
Interviewer: Just finally then where do you see the future of your activities as being, whether that be in Jazz or music generally?
Crissy: Do you know I still wanna make it bigger? As a household name? Because very few in (sic) household names with Jazz, I mean my band was the best-kept secret in the country. You know it’d be really good to be recognised as an all-female Jazz band, it’d be so good because some of these girls, when they come along to rehearsal, and a lot of them are so young, and we give them the music and they play a storm and I just look at them with respect. I just wanna hug them all, they are incredible musicians and they listen to all the greats, though most of the greats they listen to are male. Because there’s not so many great females that have been recognised. That was the culture you know they were pushed back – stay at home, stay at home. But that doesn’t happen anymore. If I book a female musician she will say ‘well I am out tonight, you can look after the home, the kids. I am going out and playing.’ I used to work with a lady called Kathy Stobart, have you heard of her? She was a fabulous very well-known tenor player, British. Stand at Ronnie Scott’s, pint in her hand, amazing musician. She died a couple of years ago.
Interviewer: So do you intend then to keep going with the music and the club, and the lessons all together?
Crissy: I’ll keep pushing and more.
Interviewer: And do you have any new plans on the horizon?
Crissy: We’ve got this CD out but I’d like to do another one, it’s all down to money though. The girls in my band they’re working everywhere, they’re all over the world, I’m lucky to get them. I have to give them a year’s notice because they’re working with everybody - one of them was on that wonderful proms concert about Bowie [David Bowie] and she was playing the trombone. She’s amazing. I’ve got so much respect for them. I’m so proud to be to be a female musician and so proud of them. [53’09”]
Interviewer: And do you think more could be done to recognise female musicians. How do you think that will break though?
Crissy: Well I think they are recognised now, but I think more jazz, you know it is gonna come from the schools and colleges to get Jazz out there. You know if you have end of term party, the bands that are there, they’re all Rock bands, they’re great but they don’t know what it is, which is sad. I do quite a lot of local Jazz for end of term private schools. But we are just there in the background. And you can see them thinking ‘Oh I like this but how do I learn about it?’ Or they’ll come up and say ‘we don’t have any of that in our school.’
Interviewer: I guess then in that sense your club has got a role to play in having something local that people can go to.
Crissy: That’s right, bring the children as well.
Interviewer: So it’s quite a mix of age ranges that go to your club?
Crissy: Absolutely yeah they’ll bring the children, say from 14 and my old aunt comes she’s 91 cause it appeals to everybody. Its foot tapping, Jazz is happy music. As I say you don’t go off in to this self-indulgent stuff where there’s so many notes flung in to the pot that nobody can understand it - that’s what puts people off Jazz, they say ‘but I don’t like Jazz’, because they think that that’s what they're gonna hear. Lots and lots of trumpet and saxophone players playing load and loads of notes that don’t mean a thing, that are not easy on the ear.
Interviewer: So to you then as an individual what has Jazz meant in your life if you could sum it up.
Crissy: It’s been my life, I mean big band swing as well, I depped for someone in May, I went in there and it was like being in my home, comfy chair, cause it just happens.
Interviewer: Thank you very much then.