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A Tribute to Frank White, 29 January 1938 – 2 April 2022

James Thompson pays tribute to Frank White, one of the finest baritone saxophone players in the UK and member of the MU for over sixty years.

By James Thompson Published: 10 June 2022 | 11:21 AM
Close up of baritone saxophone, back ground is out of focus.
Frank toured with the Rat Pack Show throughout the UK and Europe consolidating his reputation as one of the finest baritone saxophone players in the UK. Image credit: Shutterstock.

Piano lessons

Born to a musical family in North London, Frank’s early childhood memories are marked by the terror and trauma of nightly bombing raids during the London Blitz.

Frank received piano lessons from his mother and was inspired to take up clarinet at age 11 by his uncle Bob, who played clarinet and saxophone in various London nightclubs including The Stage Door Canteen Club. At age 12, Frank took up the saxophone too and studied with Harry Hayes and Nick Tschaikov.

Frank secured a place at the London School of Music in and supported his studies with a part time job at Len Wood’s Musicals, in Shaftsbury Avenue where he frequently met many of the most prominent reed players of the time. It is during this time that he also started to study flute to develop his encyclopedic knowledge and understanding of woodwind instruments.

Seeing the world and falling in love

Having left college, Frank’s first professional engagement was a six-month stint aboard a Union Castle Liner that took him around the coast of Africa. Returning to the UK, he worked in both Edinburgh and Liverpool before taking work at a succession of holiday camps including Butlins in Ayr, Scotland where he meets and falls in love with fellow musician, trumpet player and vocalist Barbara Ferris.

Frank and Barbara, who in time would become a highly respected member of the MU’s Executive Committee, marry in January 1962 and remain together for sixty years, celebrating their diamond anniversary in January this year.

Just a few days after their wedding, Frank takes a job in the band of the Queen Mary sailing across the Atlantic to New York where he sees John Coltrane and other jazz legends perform at Birdland.

A rich career

Returning to the UK, Frank goes on to spend the next decade working in a variety of settings including touring with the Batchelors and appearing on TV with the Black and White Minstrel Show. This is followed by work in the orchestras of both the Victoria Palace and the London Palladium during which time, he has the opportunity to work with a variety of prominent performers including Max Bygraves, Des O’Connor, Bruce Forsyth, Engelbert Humperdinck and Bert Kaempfert.

In 1975 Frank joins the Pasadena Roof Orchestra (PRO) just as the band achieves stunning success in Europe. Frank spends the next ten years undergoing a relentless schedule of international touring, recording and TV appearances as the PRO travel the world.

1985. Having left the PRO, Frank takes the role of band leader as he forms The European Glenn Miller Memorial Orchestra (GMMO). Based in France, the Orchestra is made of up of musicians from several European countries and Frank becomes a well-known name in his own right amongst European concert goers as he leads the GMMO for the next 35 years.

Back in the UK, Frank continued his career as an instrumentalist and is called upon to work regularly with some of the country’s most prominent big bands including those of Nat Allen, John Miller and Glenn Miller UK. Having established a formidable reputation as a muti-instrumentalist, Frank also worked regularly as a woodwind ‘trebler’ in pit orchestras around the UK, playing clarinet, saxophone and flute.

Alongside his activities as a performer, Frank also enjoyed a long career as a successful teacher, inspiring students privately from home as well as at several schools in and around London, including Brentwood School in Essex.

One of the finest baritone saxophone players in the UK

From the mid 2000s, Frank toured with the Rat Pack Show throughout the UK and Europe consolidating his reputation as one of the finest baritone saxophone players in the UK.

In 2015, Frank undertakes the duties of Mayor’s consort, when Barbara is elected the Mayor of Redbridge. In January this year, Barbara and Frank celebrated 60 years of marriage together, receiving a message from the Queen on the occasion of their anniversary.

Frank was a member of the MU for over sixty years and was also a member of the Royal Society (RSM).

Frank continued to play and perform regularly up until his final months and could frequently be found playing with several London based amateur symphony orchestras and classical ensembles.

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