One-sided conversations


Alan Quaife - Approaching my 90th birthday, I am a survivor of the immediate post-war era when jazz emanated from the wireless (as we called it) almost continuously throughout the day.

The jazz style was mainly New Orleans/Traditional and this has, subsequently, dominated my musical life. Many visits were made to London's 100 Club in the late 1950s and, somehow, I found myself in the local pub drinking with the bands during their breaks!

In the mid-1960s, the iconic British clarinettist, Dave Shepherd, formed the Theydon Bois Jazz Appreciation Society and that started a close friendship with Dave and his wife, Mary, that lasted until his death in 2016. I was a practising dentist and Dave regularly recommended musicians to me - This enabled me to have a number of one-sided conversations with another of my idols, Freddy Randall.

At one of my visits to the Ongar Jazz Club I was informed that the National Jazz Archive was seeking volunteers. The following day I visited research archivist David Nathan, and started 'work' in May 2005 - I have just completed 15 years of Monday or Tuesday mornings.

Originally I helped to catalogue the enormous number of magazines, such as Melody Maker, held by the Archive, before migrating to listing hundreds of photographs. I then embarked on a really interesting period reading through, and taking salient notes, from the enormous collection of letters written by Colin Campbell.

Colin Campbell was a music correspondent, who was associated closely with the American jazz scene right across the USA between 1936 and 1946. He was in daily contact with musicians such as Eddie Condon, Fats Waller and Bud Freeman and was impressed with a young, emerging singer named Ella Fitzgerald.

In reading about the daily, personal lives of these musicians I somehow felt myself in their presence. Perhaps my most interesting period was précising a series of letters written by Pee Wee Russell and his wife Mary to James Hall Thomson, the celebrated Scottish cartoonist.

I became so immersed that I almost felt a personal loss when Pee Wee and Mary died within a short time span.

Subsequently I have listed over 2,000 concert programmes, which include one for the first ever British concert of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band at the London Palladium in 1919 and another for a concert by Glenn Miller in December 1944, only days before his fateful flight to Paris.

I have printed tickets for all of the fundraising concerts organised by the Archive for many years and have seriously missed the contact with my jovial fellow volunteers during the Covid-19 period.

If you enjoy jazz and live within easy reach of Loughton, I am sure that the Archive would welcome your help.


Sadly, since writing his tribute to the joys of volunteering for the National Jazz Archive, Alan died on 23 September 2021 at the age of 91. A volunteer for more than 16 years, he was a great lover of jazz and a fantastic supporter of the Archive.


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