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Legendary clarinettist and bandleader. Played for Russell-Wickham Hot Six, Freddy Randall and Joe Daniels among many, many others.
Interview by Mark ‘Snowboy’ Cotgrove.
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Here in 2013, how old are you?
84. February the 7th, 1929, same date as Charles Dickens.
You're not actually from Essex are you?
No I was actually born in East London but I've always had a strong association with Essex.
Did you learn the Clarinet first or the Saxophone?
What's the background on that?
Well, it all started my Father played the piano so then there was always music around the house so I was aware of it. I was only into Jazz until after I left school I went back to an old boys reunion somewhere, Saville Street in Leyton, that's the school. There was a guy there called Stan Shirley who actually bought a record player and some 78's and he played some of these 78's, one of which was, I'll never forget was the First British Public Jam Session. It's a 12in LP, I've actually got a copy of it at home now.
Was that reissued then?
No, it's one of the old original 78's, on it was a guy called Harry Parry, I heard this and thought this sounded really good and this fellow Stan said what he wants to do, is on Saturday nights, there's a Saturday night dance at the South West Essex Tech which is in Walthamstow, and there is a very good band there called Freddy Mirfield and his Garbage Men, so I went along on a Saturday night with some friends of mine and low and behold there was this super little band that had Freddy Randall on the trumpet and a young fellow called Johnny Dankworth on clarinet and that really switched me onto it. I got to know Freddy as a result of that and he had a lovely clarinet player playing for him called Bernie Izem, brilliant clarinettist, and I decided I wanted to have a go, so my Mother bought me a clarinet and Bernie started to give me lessons. Ultimately he became the clarinettist with the Mozart's Players and his brother Ralf Izem was one of the lead trumpets with the London Symphony Orchestra. Unfortunately they are both gone now but I had my initial lessons from Bernie.
How old were you then?
I was 16. Two years later I started messing around at Leyton Youth Club and then I was called up for the Army. I was very fortunate, typical, being young and everything. I was lucky in that ultimately I was trained as a short hand typist posted to the War Office in Kensington, which was lovely, but then I was posted to the British Forces Network in Hamburg and my boss there was Cliff Michelmore. (laughing)Anyway, it was in fact the radio station it was in fact the Hamburg City Opera house which had been taken over by the Army after the war, this is in 1947. We used to use all the rehearsal rooms and studio but the main concert hall was still used by the Germans, and after the next 18 months I had lessons from the principal clarinettists for the Hamburg State Orchestra. It used to cost me 10 cigarettes a week and all I did was broadcast on Wednesday evening and broadcast on Saturday morning and the rest of the time was practice, and that's what set me up. Funnily enough I actually remember a guy who used to do Two Way Family Faviourites, probably a bit before your time, his name was Bill Crozier. He was the piano player in the Quintet and Alexis Korner, he was a Corporal in charge of the Record Library, he was on guitar.
What a legend.
It was fantastic, I was very lucky from that point of view. Then when I came out of the Army I started looking around and bumped into a guy called Geoff Sargeant, trombone player, I bumped into him on Charing Cross Road one day and he said “Hello Dave, what're you doing?”, so I said “Not a lot”, so he said “How do you fancy a job with Joe Daniels and his Hot Shots?”, I said “Yeah, absolutely” and that's how it all started really.
What year was that when you left the Army?
1949. So this would be about 1950 probably when I started getting into it. Now I was full time right through the 50's and into the 60's.
So where did you go from then in 1950?
I was with Joe Daniels and His Hotshots, I was with him for a couple of years, then I was called up for my 'Z' training so I had to do that, unfortunately that clashed him started the summer season off in one of the holiday camps, so I had to leave the band, Tony Coe, who'd just been demobbed he joined the band and he went on. Anyway when I came back from my 'Z' training etc I joined Freddy Randall's Band and I was with him until '55, then I decided I wanted to have crack at America, so I immigrated to the States with a friend of mine called Ken Harris, a drummer who'd been on the boats and knew all about it. So we went over together and I stayed over there for a couple of years and did quite a bit of playing and things and then I came back and formed my own quintet and various other things.
So the penny is beginning to drop here with me, so Alan Wickham of course was......
He was with Joe Daniels. Well I managed to play with Alan Wickham at Leyton Youth Club when I was still learning and Alan was there and the other guy who has unfortunately passed away was a very good trombone player called Rags Russell.
He was in Alan's first Band.
That's right, it was the Russell Wickham Hot Six, and I was part of it.
That was incredible, that was his first band wasn't it?
Yes, before that there was Ken Wallbank and of course Kenny Wallbank, he had a band. We were all in that and then Ken went off. I don't know what happened to him, I know he went to the States after me. But that was Russell Wickham Hot Six.
Which was where Kenny Ball first sat in with that band.
Yes that's right, I can remember, I've actually got it at home still, we did a concert, I think my first concert with the band in a place called Rudwick Hall near Ludbrook Circus, and I remember the guest artist was Dill Jones who was in the Navy at that time, he played piano. There's a write up about the band and it was talking about everybody and it said the clarinet was weak and unsteady (laughing) and that was my first write up. So I never forgot it. I've actually got at home still.
What venue's do you remember playing particularly in the Essex in the early days of the Wickham Russell?
Well there's of course Cooks Ferry Inn of course.
Freddy was more or less resident there almost.
He started the whole thing there. While I was in the Army when I was in Kensington, before I got posted I used to live at home and go to work every day in Kensington and every weekend I used to play with Freddy, because he was waiting for Bruce Turner to come out of the Army or the Air Force to join the band. While he was waiting for him I used to play with Freddy, that was the beginning of it. So of course there was various little places around in both Leyton and Walthamstow and Wanstead I sort of remember.
There was quite a Jazz scene in Ilfordwasn't there, Hornchurch, in around in those days?
Yes, that's right, I can remember something about that. I was sitting in at the Ilford Jazz Club I think it was and Eddie Thompson was on piano. I can remember he shouting out that theclarinet players flat. That was me. (laughing) It's funny how you remember all the downside of it.
Do you remember where the Ilford Jazz Club was?
I've got a feeling it was in a pub.
Was it in the basement? I think that is where George Tidiman had a residency.
Of course another one, a place I used to play was Forest Gate that was in a pub there and the drummer was Johnny Speight, the comedy writer. He was the drummer there.
So what's your Essex connection then Dave?
Ultimately I moved to Theydon Bois and I lived in Theydon Bois for 30 years. We used to run our own Jazz Club at the Blacksmith Arms on Thornwood Common. We ran that for over two years, every Monday night and when they closed it down we then moved to a hotel in Harlow, it's been renamed actually. Then we did it there, then we went to Wanstead Tennis Club and had a Jazz Club there so it was all around the area.
What kind of groups were playing?
Mostly some of the Dixieland types. Like Chicago style, as we used to call it, really based on the Freddy Randall style of playing and we had Johnny Richardson on drums, he becamevery good. Then of course I linked up again in the late 60's early 70's with Freddy Randall, Freddy had retired and I kind of talked him out of retirement and we started up again. There are some records of the Freddy Randall Band with me, and then we reformed a band together called the Randall Shepherd All Stars and that's when we had people like Danny Moss, Brian Lemon on piano, Len Skeat on bass, all sorts of people.
Yet Brian Lemon was very versatile Jazz player, because he was just as known in the Modern Jazz world really.
He could do anything, for instances he went down to Aldborough Festival once and spent the weekend playing Benny Goodman, doing the right stuff and that's why he's great. He was my pianist with my quintet for years, because he could play whatever style was required for the band he was in, he did it the right way. He'd do work with me one week and Milt Jackson the following week, he was quite versatile, something like that, absolutely fantastic.
There's an incredible pianist in Southend called Bunny Courtenay, the same very versatile and all styles. That's amazing, I didn't realised you had done Jazz promoting as well.
We just used to run our own club.
Shame you can't remember the name of the hotel in Harlow.
Yes, it's first one you get too as you go up the A11, it's the first one you get too as your turn left, it's right there on the corner. We had a lot of people come to sit in with us, people like Jim and Alan Skidmore, George Chisholm, Kenny Baker, they all came and had a play with us. I've actually got a tape at home of a broadcast we did - BBC Jazz Club which was MC'd by Humphrey Lyttelton at that time. It's quite funny because he's talking about a coach load from of people from Thornwood (Essex, near Theydon Bois) who all came up there to BBC studio and said yes we've got this little village in Essex called Theydon Bois and tonight we have a band playing from the club called Theydon Bois Jazz Appreciation Society, a great roar from.... (laughing).I've actually got the whole programme on tape and it's quite interesting.
So what year would that of been?
That would of been in the mid to early 60's, because we moved in '66 but we had already been in the area from about '64, around '64, '65.
Why did you base yourself down in Theydon Bois?
Basically because..... what happened, I was full time professional in '63 but I couldn't get a mortgage because I couldn't predict what my earnings were going to be, so I had to get a day job. I actually got a day job at the London Rubber Company, you know making Durex (laughing). A guy there called Alan Wickham was a big Jazz fan and we became very friendly. He was the one who set up the Theydon Bois Appreciation Society, even though we never had it in Theydon Bois we had it at Thornwood, but he lived and his wife still lives, because he's passed away now, his wife still lives in Theydon Bois. We said how much we like the area and he was the one who found us our first house there and because I'd now got the job I could get a mortgage and we bought the bungalow in Theydon Bois, and we lived there until '95.
The one thing that has been very apparent to me doing this project is the.... you've got people that are just into New Orleans and they won't accept any other form of Jazz and you're talking about Chicago, Dixieland, did you encounter much of that so far in your career?
Well, it's a funny thing actually as it seems to be a London split, this side of London which was predominately Dankworth and Freddy Randall, Freddy Randall was much the Chicago style player and so that was all the music I used to know was basically, was Chicago style.
Kenny Ball of course.
Kenny Ball and Terry Lightfoot and all that sort of style. On the other side of town where George Webb was, was the real Traddy stuff and Ken Colyer and all that lot, that was the Traddy style.
It's also North Essex, North Essex it's very, very New Orleans also.
Yes, that's right.
Colchester Jazz Club.
I've played at the Arts Centre in Colchester. I was also at the theatre in Chelmsford..... Cramphorn.
Have you had much to do with Pete Corrigan in Hornchurch?
Yes, I guest there a couple of time a year I'd come up and do a guest spot there, because Jackie Freeplays there every Sunday. He's in the band there.
Very much an institution that session.
That's amazing, how that's gone down, it's really terrific. Yes so I come up and do that a couple months and tie it in with a meal at a Chinese restaurant, in Epping, I went in there on Saturday with Jack actually.
Before we started this interview you told me an incredible story about the Americans coming over and having a British element in the show. Can you tell me about that and put a date on it?
That was 1957 and it when there was a Musician Union ban on American musicians and vice versa and it was lifted when the union I believe, said “Yes Erica you can bring the show over but you must have a British element” and they agreed to it and they actually bought the Dill Jones Jazz Trio and that time I was doing quite a few gigs with them at the time so they booked me in as well. I've actually got the programme at home as well. The show was absolutely unbelievable, the line up, the front line was Stan Getz tenor sax, Coleman Hawkins, tenor sax, Dizzy Gillespie, trumpet, Roy Eldridge, trumpet, Sonny Stitt baritone and that was my bad start. The rhythm section was Oscar Peterson, piano, Ray Brown, bass, Herb Ellis guitar and also Ella Fitzgerald of course and her backing group was Lou Levy on piano, Max Bennett on bass, Gus Johnson on drums. So it wasn't a bad little show.
Can you imagine if somebody had got the autographs for that night of everyone that played, that is....
The annoying thing for me is that when..... we did 16 days, 2 shows a day, all over the country, Scotland, all sorts of places, and when the show had finished I had the programme where every page was a new star I think and everyone of them wrote a lovely message on the page to me, which was great. When I moved house some years later, I lost it. I've now got another programme that somebody found but it's one with nothing in it whereas the other one had all, you know, “To Dave...”. It's the same thing when I toured with Teddy Wilson, I've got a picture at home of Teddy with this lovely message he wrote on the top of it, once again very flattering, it's fading, nearly gone, I can't see it. It's so sad. For me, one of the high spots was I did several tours with Teddy Wilson over here and also two tours of South Africa with him, which is quite funny because it was when the Apartheid was going on and he was granted honouring white status while he was over there. You'd seen us walking into to a hotel and them all going, “What the hell's that....”. I had some great times with Teddy, lovely, lovely man.
How did you get selected to play for him?
Well there was a guy at the time called Jack Higgins. He used to work for an outfit called MAM, who are very big agents. Apparently Teddy was coming over to do a tour and Jack had the idea, because by that time I had my quintet going, you know doing all the Goodman things and he thought well “Goodman/Teddy”, so he organised it and I can remember, quite amazing, I was terribly in awe of the guy. First rehearsal was at Ronnie Scott's and I turned up there and I was absolutely full of trepidation, walked in there and Teddy came out and then Jack said “Oh Teddy here's Dave Shepherd”, he said “Hello Dave”. I said, “ What do want to play Teddy?”, he said “Anything you know”. Big sigh of relief and it just went on from there As I say I toured with him several times and then I did the tours of South Africa, that was in 75 and in 1980 he was booked to do the Edinburgh Jazz Festival and he asked me. So I went up there and we had our concert coming up on the Sunday lunchtime and on the Saturday night I just got there, so I found out his hotel and phoned him and said, “Hey Teddy we've got a concert tomorrow lunchtime, wherever it was, do you think we ought to get together and work out a few things?”, he said “Nah, I guess we'll just carry on from where we left off.” (laughing)He was just a laid back sort of guy and lovely, lovely man, and so we had lots of fun with him.
So tell me about your small band, when did that start?
That started in mid 50's, in actual fact, although it got off the ground mostly late 50's, through the 60's.
What was that called?
That was called the Dave Shepherd Quintet, and we use to, I earned my living doing broadcasts actually. We used to do the Jimmy Young show, Teddy Johnson show, Around the Breakfast Special, Music While You Work, in fact one week, the way it used to work, they had this thing with the Union which you'd do a session, record 10 numbers and then the BBC could play those 10 numbers on different programmes twice and you get paid, 'money and a half' because the deal was set up with the Union. I can remember one week, we were on 3 times a day for 5 days a week, it's just the way it was, we were on Breakfast Special........
It was a lot of money in those days.
It was indeed, yes, Breakfast Special, Jimmy Young Show, Teddy Johnson Show and every day for 5 days, I couldn't believe it, it was amazing.
Who was in the original line up?
It was Brian Lemon on piano, Len Skeat on bass, Stan Burke on drums and then later Allan Ganley and originally a fellow called Ronnie Gleaves on vibes, but then he left and Roger Nobes came in on vibes. Rogers been with me now since 1969, 1970 and we still work together now. In fact I was going through sound cassettes the other day and I've got a drawer full of them, I've counted them and sorted them out and I've got 200 cassettes and I think 190 of them are broadcasts. Including a couple I'd found which I'd forgotten about, which is the Quartetplaying with the strings of the BBC Symphony Orchestra. It's a lovely silky sound just playing on trumpet, really nice.
I think the National Jazz Archives might need copies of those!
I'm having them put onto CD now. Funny thing I did make one contribution to the National Jazz Archives, I actually had the programme, the official programme of 1938 Carnegie Hall concert, with Benny Goodman. I actually had it and let them have it.
That's amazing, it's where it belongs.
It's not good sitting in the drawer at my place.
Am I right in thinking Ronnie Gleaves, I thought he was from Essex, that vibes player.
No, Ronnie's Gleaves is from Bermondsey, a real east-ender.
His name keeps on cropping up in the Southend area funnily enough so he must of been playing down there with Kenny Baxter or someone. Did you ever get down to Southend area, playing any of the clubs at all?
A bit, not too much actually. Most of my stuff was around the east side, but then latterly it's all over London, all over England, all over the place. That's the way it works, I can remember on one occasion getting in the car driving to Newcastle, doing a gig and driving home. I must have been bonkers. That was when I was living in Theydon.
I've actually done that as well.
Well you know what it's like don't you. I would never think of doing that now but when you are younger you just doing.....
Also you know the roads are going to be clear at that time of the night.
Yes that's right, it's easier to get home at that time of night, keep the cigarettes going while you're driving. (laughing)
So in the 70's you were doing the Randall All Stars and then Randall Shepherd?
Also around that time there was an outfit called Jazz Today Unit and we did several tours, we did one tour with Billy Holiday and we did another tour with the Gerry Mulligan Quartet and various other bits and pieces with that.
Whose the line up in Jazz Today?
Jimmy Skidmore, Ken Miles on piano, Russell Watts on bass, Kenny Baker on trumpet, George Chisholm on trombone, Jimmy Walker on baritone sax, yeah that was basically it. It was a heavy line up. There's actually a record on Decca, an LP, recorded at the Royal Festival Hall and all that team were on it.
What was it like touring with Billy Holiday?
Funny lady actually.
She liked to drink?
Yeah, bottle of Scotch before she went on. I remember we played a place in Manchester and had a bit of microphone trouble and she walked off and wouldn't come back. We had terrible trouble getting her back on the stage again and that sort of thing. Whereas Ella Fitzgerald was an absolute diamond, a wonderful, wonderful, person.
Have you worked with her many times, Ella Fitzgerald?
No it was just on that one tour, 32 times. I became quite a friend with her actually because there was alwayscrowds of people at the stage door and as we did two shows each time, a lot of the guys would slope off and have a drink and whatever but she couldn't go outside the door otherwise people jump on her, so I used to go out and buy coffee and cake and bring it back for her. So I got to know her quite well.
Did you see her many more times after your toured?
No I didn't. It was one of those things, she went back to the States and I was doing my own thing elsewhere. Then of course in 1980 they started the Pizza Express All Star band and I was bought into that band as leader, it was only because I had the organising power to fix deputies and that sort of stuff. That was a great line up because, initially it was Digby on trumpet, he left after about 18 months, it was Digby, Roy Williamson trombone, Danny Moss on tenor, Brian Lemon on piano, Len Skeat on bass, wonderful Kenny Clare on drums and myself. We used to play every Tuesday at the Pizza and sometimes 5 nights a week if we had an American star over with us and I lead the band there from 1980-2001. I played there for 21 years. Some of the stories that went on there were hilarious, I remember we had Ruby Braff playing there who was a funny guy. He could be really very fussy and it was went, I can't remember the guys name, he was having a Trio or Quartet with a guitar player, a really lovely guitar player, unfortunately this guy he died and I was there with him and this women came up and said “Oh Ruby, I'm sorry to hear so and so has just died” and Ruby said, “Best thing he ever did” and you know, very, very strange guy. We were lucky, we had lots of Americans come and play, Wild Bill Davidson I remember playing with him, the 2 trumpet players from the World's Greatest Jazz Band, you had Lawson and Billy Butterfield. Wonderful, some great experiences there.
I don't suppose you had much time to do anything else if you were doing Pizza Express.
That's right. I still did my broadcast with the Quintet, because I could nip out in the afternoon and do those, but most of it was tied up that. Of course I had this job in the film industry at that time as this musical adviser type thing, so it was very good from an income point of view, I had 5 jobs going on, I didn't go in, in my spare time I think, I think I used to have a wife, I can't remember. (laughing)
What was involved with the job in the film industry?
I'll give you an example. We were commissioned by the Army in the War Office to make a recruitment film but they wanted it to appeal to the younger guys who would then join. We thought about it and I said what footage have they got of various things, that the Army does... and they had a whole mass of stuff. Then I think about the records Status Quo made of Whatever You Want, and what we did was we listened to the words of that we found film footage to tie in with each line, so it would be Whatever You Want, and then it would be people in tanks, trains, whatever. We made a whole series of films like that, so that was just one thing, I also did some stuff for Ford Motor Company, I advised on what sort of background music would be right.So it was that kind of thing.
So that was outside the Jazz world?
Yes, totally outside, but it gave me income and a company car, so what the hell! (laughing)
Fantastic, security, what all musicians struggle with. So after you finished at the Pizza Express All Stars, in 2001, where do you go from there?
Basically, I just did gigs with people, and I had the Quintet still going until.... well it was in the late 90's I moved down to the south coast and initially I used to keep up to the south to do things but obviously as you get older the journey get's more, more work and then the cost of petrol. Now I tend to work along the south coast and come up occasionally to do the Ongar Jazz Club. In fact I started the Ongar Jazz Club, it's funny thing actually, I used to go there when I lived at Theydon because it was a younger music club and it was all Classical stuff, I used to go there and listening to various things. The guy who was running it I used to go to school with when I was young in Leyton and one day I had a phone call from them saying “We are thinking of trying some Jazz here but I thought hearing your stuff on the radio what you play would be a good crossover from Classical to Jazz, not too far you know, would you come and do something with your Quintet?” I agreed, so when I got there he said “The audience are not familiar with Jazz could you possibly explain to them what you do?” So I had to give a little lecture before ever number. “Each tune has 32 bars and this is called, etc, etc”, so I gave a little bit of chat before each number and that's what started it.
When was that and where was it?
That would be...... probably 1980 something and then Digby started to get involved as well.
What venue was it?
It was in Ongar, Budworth Hall, yes it's on the corner there. I played there in November sometime with the Quintet once again.
So it's still going then?
Oh yes it's still going. Whenever we do it, it's a full house. Plus the funny thing was that my wife for 14 years, no in fact 18 years, was a Phlebotomist with the surgery in Ongar, so all her patients used to turn up as well, including some of the Doctors.
I didn't even know about the club in Ongar.
Yes, Budworth Hall, Ongar. The Ongar Jazz Club.
And it's still there?
Yes it's still there. They had all sorts, Humphrey Lyttelton and all sorts of people have played there. Digby, I think was president at one time or another. He might still be there.
I understand that you've had some accolades bestowed upon you?
That's right, in the British Jazz Awards I've won the clarinet award, certainly 4 times, I think 5 but certainly 4 times. The most recent one was 2000, so it was a little while ago now.
When was the first one?
Back in the 80's I think. Actually somebody sent me an email recently, it was the 1957 Melody Maker Poll and I was 3rd in that one. I was beaten by Monty Sunshine and Acker Bilk.
Oh that's fair enough. (laughing)