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A Great Day in London: The 1962 Terence Donovan Jazz Musicians Photograph

Journalist Peter Vacher discusses the history and context of Terence Donovan’s famous 1962 photograph of London’s jazz scene.

Published: 13 August 2020 | 12:00 AM Updated: 28 April 2021 | 4:31 PM
The 1962 Terence Donovan Jazz Musicians Photograph
The 1962 Terence Donovan Jazz Musicians Photograph by Terence Donovan

When photographer Art Kane decided to assemble an array of US jazz musicians, 59 in all, on the steps of a brownstone in New York’s Harlem early on an August morning in 1958, it was to create a memorable centre-spread for Esquire Magazine’s special jazz issue.

Already well known as a magazine art director, this was Kane’s first significant photographic assignment. Using borrowed cameras, the police having closed the street, he created what he called “a sort of graduation photo or a class picture.”

The result made him a star, enabling him to concentrate upon full-time photography. More to the point, the immediacy of the image prompted copy-cat jazz versions in Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit, Atlanta, even Haarlem in Holland, and begat others celebrating Hip Hop, Klezmer and Doo Wop.

Gathering jazz musicians for the photo

Little wonder then that something stirred in the editorial offices at Queen Magazine in London, albeit some four years later. A top fashion fortnightly, Queen had established a reputation for cutting-edge art layouts and had already enlisted the likes of novelist Kingsley Amis to write about jazz.

Aiming to emulate the Harlem image, a call went out and 39 hardy souls assembled on a windswept, rainy afternoon in Trafalgar Square under the direction of 25-year old celebrity photographer Terence Donovan. Pianist Brian Dee, one of just four survivors from that 1962 line-up, recalled that the lure was ‘a free drink after at Ronnie’s’.

He said that the photograph emerged in two versions, the best known the one reproduced here, with its attendant pigeons, the other with the rain-covered paving largely laid bare. Bandleader/drummer Tony Kinsey remembered a couple of phone calls rounding everybody up and later saw the resulting photograph on the wall at the National Portrait Gallery.

A tongue-in-cheek caption

Not surprisingly musicians who worked together tended to stick together once in place, many wearing raincoats or overcoats, others neatly suited. Everyone seemed to know the occasion was something special, most looking cheerful, a few with cigarettes, the base of Nelson’s column the ideal posing platform.

The accompanying caption, tongue-in-cheek perhaps, made its position clear on the then slightly fractious Trad v Modern jazz debate:

“New Orleans, Chicago, New York – all of them, swinging cities. But London? On the whole, not. Yet Trafalgar Square was perhaps a little less square than usual one Thursday afternoon last month. At the request of Queen magazine, 39 jazzmen, blinking in the unaccustomed daylight, turned out to pose for this epic panorama of the London jazz scene. Twenty-two different jazz groups are represented in the photograph, which includes 14 leaders, one jazz vocalist (George Melly) and several yards of stone slab. One critic- Benny Green - came along for kicks: he’s the one hiding his face with his hand. None of the two-chord hicks who happen to own instruments and call them themselves Trad musicians was invited. Most of the men here play modern jazz, but Mainstream is represented by Al Fairweather, Sandy Brown, Wally Fawkes, Bruce Turner, Tony Miller and Brian Prudence. Joe Harriot turned up 10 minutes after the session was over, and they all went to Ronnie Scott’s club for drinks.”

Examining the line-up

At first sight, it’s the omissions as much as the participants that intrigue. Only drummer Laurie Morgan from the original Club Eleven crew is here, so no Ronnie Scott or Pete King, for that matter, no John Dankworth or Hank Shaw, no Tony Crombie or Lennie Bush. Bandleader/drummer Tony Kinsey is there, still a lively presence today after a lifetime of music-making and composition, but without his usual side-kick Bill LeSage or his most illustrious sideman, the altoist Joe Harriott, who we now know turned up late.

Dudley Moore, then a fixture at the Peter Cook’s Establishment Club, not as a comic turn but as one of our finest trio pianists, is in his usual good spirits, front and centre, flanked by his ill-fated bassist Peter McGurk. Next to Dud there’s Mike Garrick, already a composer and leader with his own signature style, and another who worked with Harriott.

The master clarinetist Vic Ash, later a top session saxophonist who toured with Frank Sinatra is next-but-one from his pianist Brian Dee. Along from them are three-fifths of the brilliant Tubby Hayes quintet, that’s drummer Allan Ganley, trumpeter Jimmy Deuchar and Hayes himself, all in on the joke, whatever it is, and their pianist Gordon Beck is not far away.

The mainstreamers, highlighting acoustic architect and clarinet innovator Sandy Brown and his life-long school chum, trumpeter Al Fairweather, also include retired clarinetist Wally Fawkes, now approaching his 96th birthday, who achieved wider fame as Trog, the political cartoonist and illustrator, known for his Flook cartoon strips, for which, incidentally, the polymathic George Melly provided the story lines.

Good to see bassist Coleridge Goode, another who played with Harriott in a ground-breaking modernist quintet but who also had a fabulous run with the entertainer/drummer Ray Ellington. Altoist Peter King, then a Kinsey sideman but destined for major international recognition as a modern soloist, is there, too.

Up top it’s Don Rendell, the great tenor-saxophonist and committed Jehovah’s Witness, with his co-workers Johnny Birch and Tony Archer alongside, then it’s the Dankworth trombonist Tony Russell, flanked by Kinsey trumpeter Les Condon and another trumpeter, Gus Galbraith, also a Dankworth man, who later emigrated to South Africa where he composed for TV.

So far, so familiar, you might say, always assuming you can hark back to the London scene in the 1960s. Less familiar perhaps is the widely-traveled Herman Wilson (1929-2020), the distinguished Jamaican-born trombonist, composer and arranger, who first came to London in 1951 and then spent a decade in Europe touring with many US expatriate jazzmen. Later known as a composer for films, he also wrote for woodwind groups.

Largely forgotten now, Wally Wrightman worked with Laurie Morgan at the Mandrake Club in Soho, playing bass and singing but ‘a close encounter with the Kray twins convinced him it was time to leave London,’ his nephew said. Wally took to playing on cruise ships, eventually settling in Australia where he moved successfully into show-business management and broadcasting. He died in 2012.

Stood between Ash and Garrick, drummer Maurice Gawronsky took some tracking down. Long-since back in his native Cape Town, he’s now seen as the grand old man of South African jazz, still playing festivals with his bebop quartet. “I called London my second home, I went for three months and stayed eight years,” he said, a seven-month diversion to Copenhagen included, where he played with Stan Getz , Don Byas and bassist Oscar Pettiford.

Another bassist Dave Green, then just starting out, remembered working with Maurice when vibes-player Pete Shade hired them both for a quartet engagement in the South of France in August 1963, along with pianist Keith Ingham. “My first professional gig” Dave said, recalling that the group moved on to Munich where they played with tenor ace Hans Koller.

It was Maurice who made sure Green got to know all the right players, pointing him to the Downbeat Club, this leading directly to Green depping for McGurk at the Establishment Club with Dudley Moore. Heady days! And finally, there’s Dave Davies, a familiar face behind the counter at Dobells jazz record shop in Charing Cross Road, who doubtless couldn’t resist the thought of that free drink at Ronnie’s!

The 1962 Terence Donovan Jazz Musicians Photograph

Top: Bruce Turner [as]; Tony Milliner (tb); Al Fairweather (t); Johnny Birch (p); Don Rendell (ts); Tony Archer (b); Tony Russell (tb); Les Condon (t), Gus Galbraith (t).

Middle: Brian Lemon [p]; Brian Prudence [b]; Sandy Brown [cl]; Dick Heckstall-Smith (ts]; Coleridge Goode [b]; Wally Fawkes [cl]; Wally Wrightman [b]; Peter King [as].

Front: Laurie Morgan [d]; Dave Davies [Dobells staff]; Herman Wilson [tb]; George Melly [voc]; Chris Staunton [b]; Alan Buzz Green [d]; Tony Kinsey [d]; Peter McGurk [b]; Dudley Moore [p]; Mike Garrick [p]; Maurice Gawronsky [d]; Vic Ash [cl, ts]; Gordon Beck [p]; Brian Dee [p]; Graham Bond [as]; Jimmy Deuchar [t]; Allan Ganley [d]; Tubby Hayes [ts]; Benny Green (writer); Stan Robinson [ts]; Bill Eyden [d]; Colin Purbrook [p].

Image courtesy of the Terence Donovan Archive where this photograph is available for purchase

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