JACK (John) LLEWELLYN
1914~1988by David and Nigel Llewellyn
Jack Llewellyn was an eminent British guitarist from the mid-1930s to the late 1960s. He was a child prodigy as a musician and by the age of 20 had established himself as a band musician in the North of England. Moving to London in 1935, he pursued a career with an emphasis on jazz and contributed to the genre on a wide front, performing, recording and broadcasting with many of the bands of the day as well as making solo radio broadcasts. A disciple of Django Reinhardt, he played with Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli in the celebrated Quintette du Hot Club de Paris when it reformed in England in 1946.
His career also extended to the world of light entertainment, where he supported stars such as Frank Sinatra. Other work included composing and performing soundtracks for numerous films and playing jingles for radio and television adverts. Jack was a prolific session musician. A “brilliant” soloist and sight-reader, he played with some of the greatest bandleaders, singers and other musicians of the time. Although recognised in the music business as a leading guitarist, he never abandoned his first instrument, the banjo.
Born John Llewellyn in Liverpool on 23rd August in 1914, he was the 2nd of the 6 sons of the distinguished banjoist and teacher David John (“Jack”) Llewellyn. Taught the banjo by his father, he was a musical child prodigy and recalled being woken up by his father, who had returned home from the pub with his friends, to play for them in his pyjamas. Music seems to have been in the blood. Jack’s elder brother, Oliver, is believed to have become a classical musician. One of his younger brothers, Charles, became a semi-professional guitarist, sometimes sharing performances with Jack. Jack had a half-brother, Bernard, and another half-brother who is the only one of the 6 children still alive. Bernard was taught the Hawaiian guitar. The surviving son was taught the mandolin and is still a keen musician, playing keyboards, saxophone and clarinet. (Inset Jack and Charles)
The First Step on the Ladder in 1933
By the age of 18 Jack had achieved a high degree of proficiency at the tenor banjo, and it was at that time that he obtained his first significant engagement, which was a broadcast of tenor banjo solos from the North Regional radio station. According to the daily radio broadcast schedule published in The Times, this appears to have been a performance by the Northern Studio Orchestra, featuring Jack (billed under his real name, John Llewellyn) on banjo. This performance resulted in numerous offers of engagements, and eventually Jack accepted one of them to play for 6 months at “a well known holiday resort”. This was followed by a broadcast on 21st October 1933, in which Jack (again billed as John Llewellyn) played syncopation for 45 minutes with a xylophonist, a saxophonist and a syncopated pianist.
With the Blackpool Tower Dance Band in 1934 The holiday resort was Blackpool. The engagement was with Bertini’s Orchestra in 1934. In that year the orchestra was playing the Tower Ballroom and was known as Bertini and the Blackpool Tower Dance Band. The band has been described as one of the most popular bands of the time, through recordings, in Great Britain. At the age of 19 or 20 Jack was clearly already operating at the higher levels of the British music scene. Looking back on the experience a few years later in an article in BMG, Jack says that he was faced for the first time with demands such as reading off second violin parts and improvising without music. These were challenging tasks for a musician at an early stage of his career, but Jack confirms that it proved valuable experience for the future.
Bertini – Bertram Harry Gutsell, Bertini’s real name, was born within the sound of Bow Bells in the Old Kent Road, on 8th November 1887. His father, Charles, is recorded in the 1901 census as a hatter and his older brother, also Charles, an engineer’s draughtsman. Bert then 14 years of age was a ‘boy messenger’. Apart from his father being a hatter, Charles Gutsell was also choirmaster at the local Baptist church and led a small band to accompany the choir which included Bert’s violinist brother. Bert borrowed his brother’s violin and joined a ‘shilling a week’ music class, paid for by undertaking chores, becoming good enough to also join the Baptist church band – but not for long.
With the Orlando Orchestra 1934 – 1935
Jack’s next engagement was a series of hotel residencies with the Orlando Orchestra. (In 1932, Joe Orlando had taken over from Henry Hall as musical director of the 32 bands in the LMS Railway Hotel chain.) The first residency was at the prestigious Gleneagles Hotel in Perthshire, which had opened 10 years earlier. This gave Jack his first opportunity to play with some of London’s leading musicians, specially engaged for the season. It also marked his switch from the banjo to the guitar, as he was required to feature the latter instrument almost exclusively.
The Move to London in 1935
Aged 21 Jack moved to London. Between 1937 and May 1939 he was almost certainly living at 21 Mowbray Road in the London borough of Brent. Later in 1939 he moved to 44 Waverley Avenue in nearby Wembley, where he remained (apart from the war years) until 1971. Gordon Wells of Knights Guitars still has a leather address-fob of Jack’s bearing that address. The young Gordon Wells worked for Dick Knight, the founder of Knight Guitars, and married Dick’s daughter, Beryl. Gordon and Beryl came to know Jack as a result of Jack bringing his instruments to Knight Guitars for repair, and the fob had fallen off the case of one of Jack’s guitars while it was with Knight’s.
With Sydney Lipton 1935 – 1937
“I think the ultimate ambition of nearly every young dance band musician is to be able to play in one of the leading London bands.” So wrote Jack in the October 1937 edition of BMG. In his own case the ambition was achieved in the summer of 1935, when he joined Sydney Lipton and the Grosvenor House Band. This orchestra was resident at the Grosvenor House in Park Lane from 1932 to 1940 and has been described as one of the most polished of the British dance bands and responsible for the most elegant of dance music. Around 1935 it was cutting few records but making regular broadcasts, and many maintain that the band was at its best in the 1935 – 38 period. Jack left the band towards the end of 1937 on being replaced by a trumpet player.
With Val Rosing 1935-7
Jack was a peripatetic musician, and his career will at most times have been a mixture of ad hoc session work, regular work with certain bands as a sideman and periods of permanent band membership. So it was that, in parallel with his association with Lipton, Jack made radio broadcasts and recordings with the singer Val Rosing in the period 1935-1936. In August 1936 Melody Maker reported “the formation of a swing band by Rosing containing such notables as Don Barigo (tenor sax), Frank Weir (clarinet), Chick Smith (trumpet) and Jack Llewellyn (guitar)”. This band opened at the Pavilion Theatre in Liverpool in September 1936. Jack’s return to home territory proved short-lived. Les Cripwell, a band member, recalls “We had several rehearsals and the band was really top class. Then I was given a rail ticket to Liverpool. We attracted full houses and the band was a great success, but imagine our surprise when on the Friday of the first week we were given our tickets back to London. In fifty years as a pro, this was the only time I did a week’s work without being told the job would only last a week!” In the 1935 – 1937 period, Rosing made recordings for Columbia and Regal Zonophone with two bands of his, the Swing Stars and the Radio Rhythm Rascals. Both bands were in essence the same group of musicians, including Jack on guitar. Reviews of the bands’ records in the musical press were generally most flattering. Two of the Radio Rhythm Rascals’ titles were Sweet Sue and Dinah recorded in July 1935 for Columbia. The personnel were Bruce Merrill (piano), Len Fillis and Jack (guitar) and Dick Escott (string bass).
Len Fillis with Maccaferri
Among the Top Guitarists 1936-7
A page in the December 1936 edition of BMG includes a photograph of Jack and his brother Charles. The page contains photographs of 11 guitarists under the caption “They’re the Tops” and indicates that Jack, at the age of 22, had already gained recognition as a leading guitarist. A more scientific assessment was made the following year by Melody Maker, when it conducted a readers’ poll of musicians. Jack was ranked 11th in the British guitarists’ section, with 2 of the guitarists photographed above, Albert Harris and Ivor Mairants, polling most of the votes. This was a notable achievement for a musician of Jack’s age, especially since there was little, in relative terms, to separate the guitarists in 3rd to 11th position. It was all the more notable for the fact that Jack did not do solo work (apart from his radio broadcasts) or front a band. BMG described Jack in 1937 as “one of the cleverest guitarists playing in London”.
With Harry Saville and George Elrick in 1938.
Jack played with Harry Saville and George Elrick Orchestras in 1938, and also worked in Eric Winstone’s Quintet. Jack’s work with Bandleader and Drummer Elrick is mentioned in a feature on Jack in the December 1938 edition of BMG. The feature is built around a photograph of Jack in a broadcasting studio, and the accompanying text gives some idea of the intensity of Jack’s broadcasting work in that period: “Jack Llewellyn can be heard from Radio Normandy on Fridays at 3.15 p.m. and Sundays at 11.00 a.m.; from Radio Luxembourg on Sundays at 3.15 p.m. and 7.30 p.m.; and is also featured in all the George Elrick broadcasts from London and foreign stations. One of Jack’s other radio broadcasts around that time took place on 11th May 1938 on the National Programme, where he played his arrangement of Liebestraum as a solo, accompanied by guitarist Dick Sadleir.
Around this time Jack was also a regular contributor to BMG. Articles discovered to date suggest that he was writing every, or almost every, month from autumn 1937 to early 1939. It is possible that he contributed at other times too. Jack also wrote for Frets. The earlier articles deal primarily with musical theory. The later ones focus on technique; Jack explained in the June 1938 edition of BMG that this was in response to the large number of letters he had received from guitarists on that subject. In 1938 Modern Plectrum Guitar Playing by Dick Sadleir was published at a price of five shillings. The book is described on the front cover as “A unique rapid system embodying the essentials of harmony, development of the left hand, dance band chord styles, extemporisation of ‘hot’ solos and modern vocal accompaniments together with original solos by famous radio guitarists”. One of those solos was Random Thoughts, a slow fox-trot composed by Jack.
In 18th-century London, Hatchett’s was a well established hotel and coffee house, and continued to serve as both long after coaching days were over. It was one of several inns and shops on the unfashionable south side of Piccadilly, which was given over to trade and commerce unlike the north side, which had become the most desirable location for many of London’s finest noblemen’s palaces. Hatchett’s later occupied the site of a famous inn called The White Horse Cellars, which in its heyday was the starting point for all London’s mail coaches bound for the distant West Country. In 1925 Hatchett’s itself privately published ‘Old Coaching Days and the White Horse Cellar’, being an illustrated souvenir in the form of a short history of this historic London establishment, which first opened in 1720 and was now owned by Hatchett’s Restaurant, the Twentieth-century survivor of the popular Georgian coffee house. In the late Twenties and Thirties it was 2nd only to the Cafe de Paris as the top venue for dining and dancing, and had its own resident band, the Swingtette, with whom the young Stephane Grappelli made several recordings.
With Hatchett’s Swingtette 1939 – 1941
In the autumn of 1939, pianist Arthur Young formed a band to play at Hatchett’s Restaurant at 67a Picadilly, London’s West End. Its members were Jack and Noel “Chappie” d’Amato (guitars), Bill Shakespeare (trumpet), Dennis Moonan (clarinet, tenor saxophone and viola), Frank Baron (second pianist), George Senior (string bass), Tony Spurgin (drums), Beryl Davis (vocals) and a violinist. The Quintette du Hot Club de France, which had brought together the geniuses of Reinhardt and Grappelli, had been on tour in England at the time. With war imminent, Reinhardt had fled to France and was followed by all other members of the band except Grappelli. As the unoccupied Grappelli was strolling down Bond Street, Arhur Young approached him and invited him to join his band. Hatchett’s Swingtette had now acquired a brilliant jazz violinist. The group’s musical style was what Max Jones has described as “polite swing for dancing”. Notwithstanding the presence of Grappelli, Hatchett’s Swingtette had to take account of their audience and avoided “hot” jazz, which would have been unwelcome at the time in the West End. The Swingtette soon secured a recording contract with Decca and cut 4 numbers, including Scatter Brain, Ting-a-Ling and Alexander’s Ragtime Band, in December 1939. In September 1940 Young was injured in an air raid and did not return to Hatchett’s. There is disagreement as to whether Grappelli or Moonan took over leadership of the Swingtette. In any case, a new pianist was needed to replace Young. Grappelli had heard the young George Shearing play and considered him a genius. Shearing was invited to join the Swingtette and brought a new dimension to the group’s music. Jack Llewellyn played with Hatchett’s Swingtette until being called up in 1941.
Twenty-two of the Swingtette’s recordings (including the tracks named above) were re-issued in 1992 by Pavilion Records Limited on the CD Hatchett’s Swingtette, and all but 5 of these were cut during Jack’s period with the group.
Hatchett’s was a fashionable venue in the pre-war period, attracting a well-heeled clientèle. Jack himself seems to have been well rewarded financially as a result of his professional success. There is reason to believe that he had bought his own house by 1939, when he was only 25.
With George Shearing
Jack also collaborated with Shearing on recordings made by Shearing in his own name.
War Service 1941 – 1945
Jack left Hatchett’s Swingtette in January 1941 to join the Royal Marines. Announcing the enlistment of “ace guitarist” Jack, BMG printed “Readers of BMG will miss this outstanding player of the plectrum guitar, for he was always broadcasting. It was Jack’s playing one heard with Dreamy Hawaii, Accent on Rhythm and Eric Winstone’s Quintet – regular BBC programmes – and he was often the featured guitarist with dozens of other broadcasting combinations.” Details of Jack’s war service have not yet been ascertained, but in view of his status as a musician it seems likely that he would have joined a Royal Marines Band.
Jack in Egypt in the early 1940’s after Call-up – with Selmer Maccaferri – anyone recognise the fellow Guitarist on the Left of Jack with the Scratch plate Sunburst. Jack McKechnie? He was also tall and of that age and worked with the Headley Ward Trio?
Musical output in the war years
Military service did not deprive the public of the sound of Jack’s guitar. In 1941 he played as a guest with The Blue Mariners, a Services band, on Stardust, recorded from a BBC Services Broadcast. As a member of Stéphane Grappelli and his Quartet, he recorded Dinah and Body and Soul in 1941. The other members of the Quartet were George Gibbs (bass), Dave Fullerton (drums) and George Shearing (piano). In 1944 Jack played on the recordings of The George Evans Orchestra made by Decca. Four sides, Great Day, The Toy Trumpet, Sweet and Lovely and The Lone Prairie, were released at the time. Some of the remaining six, Rockabye Basie, Temptation, Out of Space, Grasshoppers’ Dance, Early one Morning and The Song is You, have been featured more recently in compilations. All the musicians used were session players. Both Grappelli’s and Evans’s ensembles were, of course, civilian outfits, but it was not unusual at the time for Services musicians to carry on playing with civilian bands.
The Classic Session Man
The post-war period confirmed Jack’s career-path as a session musician. He had the ideal attributes for session work. Firstly, he was an outstanding technician. Judd Procter told Gordon Wells of an occasion when Jack stood behind him during a session telling him how to pick a notoriously difficult guitar part in order to phrase it correctly and make it flow properly. Gordon himself described Jack as “like God” and “an absolutely amazing player”. Secondly he was a 1st-rate sight-reader, able to read any music that was put in front of him and, as a result, picking up “the best guitar gigs in the country”. He had been taught the banjo by his father as a small child and was probably reading music from an early age. Thirdly he was reliable. Fourthly he was suited by disposition to session work. He had a shyness bordering on introversion and probably would not have enjoyed the exposure associated with forming his own band or being a long-term member of a high-profile band. Jack was highly sought-after as a session man, moving from one session to the next. If he was typical of the busy session musician he would sometimes have done more than one session on the same day, perhaps attending at least one studio session during the day and at least one live performance or broadcast in the evening: Big Jim Sullivan, another prolific session guitarist, averaged 3 sessions per day. When Ike Isaacs first came to the UK in November 1946 Jack had so much work that, after hearing Isaacs play, he gave Isaacs his regular spot at Hatchett’s Restaurant to get him started. Sullivan recalls the older group of guitarists on the session scene from 1958 onwards as Eric Ford, Brian Dayley, Ernie Sheer, Judd Proctor, Jack Llewellyn (sic), Ike Isaacs (sic), Roland Shaw and Dave Goldberg, amongst others. He mentions that they all had “exotic guitars” such as Gibson L5s and Epiphone Emperors.
The guitar held by Jack in the 1936 photograph with his brother Charles is believed to be an Epiphone Triumph, but Jack’s instrument of choice was indeed the Epiphone Emperor. Jack is playing his Emperor in the 1938 photograph taken in the broadcasting studio. His preference for the Emperor was certainly not shared by his friend Reinhardt. Jack told of showing the Emperor to Reinhardt in his hotel room. Reinhardt tried a chord or two and then threw it back across the room to Jack. The guitar which Reinhardt favoured, and
which remains closely associated with his name, is the Selmer acoustic guitar commonly referred to as the Maccaferri. This is the guitar played by Reinhardt and other members of the Quintette du Hot Club de France. Jack indeed also owned a Maccaferri, and it seems probable that he acquired it at the time of his collaboration with Reinhardt. It was Jack’s love of the Epiphone instrument that gave rise to his nickname, in musical circles, of The Emperor. Jack’s Emperor was sold in the mid 70’s by Knight Guitars on Jack’s behalf to Clive Hicks, who is believed to have kept it until just a couple of years ago, when it was sold on EBay to a purchaser in the United States. It is the address-fob from the case of Jack’s Emperor that is still in the possession of Gordon Wells.
The Return to Hatchett’s 1945-6
After the war, Jack returned to Hatchett’s and took up a regular spot there, though, as mentioned above, he soon gave it to Isaacs.
With Reinhardt and Grappelli in 1946
Jack was also able to renew his collaboration with Grappelli. When Reinhardt was reunited with Grappelli in London after the war, promoter Charles Delauney saw an opportunity to revive the music of le Quintette and arranged for Reinhardt and Grappelli to attend EMI’s Abbey Road studios to make further recordings for le Quintette. The session took place on 31st January and 1st February 1946. The other members of the original Quintette were unable to obtain visas, and the recordings were made with Jack and Allan Hodgkiss (rhythm guitars) and West Indian Coleridge Goode on bass. Le Quintette had been a long-established ensemble with a distinctive style, and yet these recordings were made with only 2 of its original members. Hugh Palmer observes, “It says much for the London-based musicians present on this session … that they were able to blend in so well.” At least 2 photographs of these sessions were taken, and they appear in The Guitar Style of Django Reinhardt & the Gypsies by Ian Cruickshank. In both of them Jack is obscured by Grappelli. The publicity-shy Jack no doubt felt that Grappelli was doing him a favour. Eight tracks, including a new recording of Reinhardt’s composition Nuages were recorded. These are celebrated recordings that feature time and again in jazz compilations. They are significant in the sense that they represent almost the last recordings made by le Quintette in “the great tradition”: the following year saw Reinhardt favouring the use of the electric guitar. The reformed Quintette continued intermittently to play and record together until 1948. It has been said that their performances were often quite brilliant but their popularity was gone. Jack and Goode may have left before 1948, as further guitarists and a further bassist have been named as members of the Quintette in the 1946 – 48 period. When Reinhardt died prematurely in 1953, BMG carried an obituary that included tributes from “well known guitarists” including Jack. In his tribute Jack describes himself as a great admirer and friend of Reinhardt and comments “He will always be remembered for his contribution to single-string playing as we know it today”.
With Hoagy Carmichael in 1947-48
Jack played Riverboat Shuffle, recorded at a BBC Jazz Club session in London in 1947 or 1948, with Hoagy Carmichael (vocals) as guest star. Other personnel were Jack Jackson (trumpet), Nobby Clark (trombone), Sid Phillips (clarinet), Mickey Lewis (alto sax), Freddie Gardner (tenor sax), Will Hemmings (string bass) and Max Abrams (drums).
Radio broadcasts with the BBC
Jack made regular radio broadcasts. The BBC played its part, through radio, in promoting public interest in jazz, starting with its wartime Radio Rhythm Club, which was superseded in 1949 by Mark White’s Jazz Club. The BBC selected some of the Mark White’s Jazz Club tracks for a BBC album published a few years later. The musicians on one of those tracks include Jack as well as trumpeter Jack Jackson. The two frequently performed together on radio. Harry Francis remarks that the recorded performances of Mark White’s Jazz Club, the Radio Rhythm Club and another BBC group, the Jazz Club All Stars, “represented the best in jazz and will stand the test of time for man, decades ahead”.
Launching New guitars – the Symphony and the Committee
In 1946 saxophonist Joe Van Straten set up a guitar factory in London with the objective of manufacturing British plectrum guitars matching the quality of American models, which dominated the market. A photograph published in Melody Maker was taken at the launch of the Straten Symphony guitar and shows Jack and Ivor Mairants testing the new product. Behind them, from left to right, are Jo Van Straten, Joe Deniz, Dick Knight, Dick Sadleir and Lauderic Caton. Dick Knight was the key craftsman in the development of the new guitar. All present were apparently “tremendously impressed” with the instrument and were unable to distinguish it, in a blind tonal test, from a top American model.
A few years later, Jack was to be involved with the introduction of a German guitar into the British market. The Hofner Committee, which was the top-of-the-range guitar supplied by Höfner for distribution in the UK, was designed in consultation with a committee of the top six British guitarists of the time, one of whom was Jack. These guitarists also helped with the introduction of The Committee into the 1950s music scene. The Committee was in continuous production from 1954 to about 1969. Ivor Mairants offers a rather curious alternative version of events. Approached to lend his name to the new Hofner guitar, he declined because it sounded very thin and stringy compared with his Epiphone Emperor. “I could not very well sell my big sound for a mess of potage by advertising Höfner” he writes, “so it was called The Committee.”
With Eddie Carroll in 1949
Jack worked with Eddie Carroll in 1949. Between 1946 and 1950 Carroll’s orchestra had the residency at Quaglino’s, a restaurant operating to this day in Bury Street, St. James’s.
With Norrie Paramor in the 1950s
Norrie Paramor had two bands in the fifties, The Big Ben Banjo Band and The Big Ben Hawaiian Band. Both Jack and Bert Weedon uncharacteristically played banjo in the Big Ben Banjo Band. The band recorded a variety of music that included Minstrel Shows, The Beatles, ragtime, Dixieland jazz, “oldies” and dance music. Jack is noted as having played in “Norrie Paramor’s band” in the 1950s. Trumpeter Ron Simmonds recalls that he played “on practically every session we did”. As the relevant article is exclusively about guitarists, this must be a reference to The Big Ben Hawaiian Band. Both bands were essentially studio orchestras, which explains Simmonds’s reference to “sessions”. They did, however, appear on the BBC, and there is at least one instance of a live performance: see the paragraph on Jazz Jamboree 1958 below.
With Ivor Mairants in the early 1950s
Jack was a member of the Ivor Mairants Guitar Group for a while. The group was formed in 1950, began a BBC series in autumn 1952 and continued broadcasting until about the end of 1954. Jack is one of a number of guitarists credited on the LP Focus on Ivor Mairants 1935 – 1954, which includes recordings of the Guitar Group.
With George Chisholm in 1956
Jack played with trombonist George Chisholm on Makin’ Whoopee, I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues and Georgetta, recorded in March 1956. These tracks are now on the CD The Art of George Chisholm, Vocalion, 2005.
With Malcolm Lockyer and Dennis Wilson in 1956 and 1957
Polygon/Nixa issued a series of Piano Moods EPs from 1955 to 1957. Jack plays on the Malcolm Lockyer Quartet EP, recorded in January 1956, with Lockyer (piano), Joe Muddell (bass) and Derek Price (drums). He can also be heard on the Dennis Wilson Trio EP, recorded in August 1957, with Wilson (piano) and Frank Clarke (drums).
Jazz Jamboree 1958
The Jazz Jamboree held on 23rd November 1958 at the Gaumont State, Kilburn saw Jack playing banjo with The Big Ben Banjo Band referred to above. Roderick was on trumpet and Chisholm on trombone. One of the other banjoists was Weedon.
With Bert Weedon in 1959
Jack and Isaacs performed on Weedon’s Teenage Guitar/Blue Guitar. A photograph of Jack on Weedon’s official website shows Jack, Isaacs and Weedon in discussion during a break from the recording of that record.
With Tony Crombie in 1960-61
In 1960 Tony Crombie released the jazz LP Sweet Wild & Blue. Made in stereo, it has been described as a “pioneering stereophonic album”. The following year Crombie recorded a further LP entitled 12 Favourite Film Themes. Jack played on at least one of these records. (The LPs were re-issued by Vocalion in 2005 on a combined CD, on which Jack and one other guitarist, Goldberg, are credited, but the credits do not distinguish between the two original LPs.)
With Frank Sinatra
Jack greatly liked Frank Sinatra and worked for him at the London Palladium.
Recordings with the Singers of the Sixties
Jack played on many of Petula Clark’s records and also worked on recordings for Cilla Black.
With Marion Montgomery in the Late Sixties
Jack worked with Marion Montgomery on several recordings. This must have been in the latter half of the Sixties and/or the very early Seventies, as Montgomery moved to England in 1965.
Jack composed and played a great deal of film music. He frequently attended Ealing Studios where he would play background music for particular scenes as required, all composed and performed extempore. Content to pick up session fees for the work, he rarely claimed composer’s royalties.
Jack’s was the guitar on numerous radio and television jingles.
Jack’s Musical Style
Ivor Mairants describes him as a “brilliant soloist”. Gordon Wells remembers Jack as a chord melody player who sometimes used unusual harmonies. Every note of every chord was played with crystal clarity and, as Gordon puts it, he could “sometimes put a chord in that would make the hairs stand on the back of your neck”. His harmonic sense was unique in Gordon’s view. Jack had a picking style with which he could execute string-skipping figures to produce a chordal effect that fascinated Gordon, who says that Jack played in such a strong and positive manner that the sound of his fingers on the guitar neck was similar to the sound produced by a saxophone as the pads go down.
When Jack switched professionally to the guitar in 1934 he devoted most of his spare time to the studies of solos by Andrés Segovia, which he considered indispensable to the improvement of technique. For the development of style and phrasing he focused on the records of famous stylists, of whom he considered Eddie Lang to be perhaps the greatest of all time. Of the guitarists of the day (excluding Lang, who had died in 1933) Jack’s favourites were Dick McDonough and George van Eps.
Jack Llewellyn – the Man
Jack, for all his accomplishment as a musician, was a shy and unassuming man. He is believed to have performed as a session man on many recordings on which he is not credited, but he was unconcerned. Unlike many other modern musicians reaching the top of the ladder, he did not go on to lead his own band or do solo work, and there are no known recordings on which Jack is the lead name. As noted earlier, he avoided the limelight and was no doubt comfortable in the relatively anonymous ambiance of session work. Simmonds provides an insight into Jack’s low profile when he confesses that, despite playing repeatedly with Jack as mentioned above, he could never remember Jack’s name: “Always had to ask. It got so that I only needed to look at him, and make a half turn towards the trumpeter Stan Reynolds sitting beside me for Stan to say, ‘Jack Llewellyn’.” Jack was un=ambitious and did not take full commercial advantage of his position at the top of his profession, as illustrated by his willingness to forgo composer’s royalties. He was a genial man. There is a sign of his kindness in the help that he gave, as mentioned above, his Hatchett’s Swingtette seat to Isaacs when Isaacs arrived in Britain. Gordon Wells’ wife Beryl describes Jack as being a lovely man, “a real genuine person”. Jack was a particularly snappy dresser, a trait he may have inherited from his father. He was also one of the smartest dressed people that Gordon has seen in his life and “wore really expensive suits”. As a successful performer without a family to support, he probably had a considerable disposable income.
Jack and his brother Charles were close friends, and Gordon remembers them as being “a riot” when together. Perhaps the local constabulary perceived them in the same light and felt drawn to reading the Riot Act to them instead of taking more formal action when they stopped Jack’s and Charles’s car in the early hours of one morning in the early 1970’s. The pair had arrived at Dick Knight’s around noon the previous day and had left after midnight, having spent all day chatting, playing and drinking beer and finishing a whole bottle of whisky as chasers. They were stopped by police whilst driving home but somehow managed to talk their way out of trouble. Charles lived close to Jack in Dagmar Street, Wembley. Like Jack he was an excellent guitarist and 1st-class sight-reader (though even he was outshone by the exceptional talent of Jack). Charles worked semi-professionally as a musician, by day loading paper in a printing mill. Charles and Jack sometimes recorded together. In about 1972 Jack moved with his wife Molly and their family to the Newton Abbott area finally settling in Cullompton, Devon.
The Curse of the MacCrimmons
In his 50’s Jack suffered a problem with his left hand that involved a tendon and impaired the movement of his little finger. Although there was talk of the hand having been injured in an accident, Beryl Wells is sure that the problem developed gradually. In view of the gradual onset, Jack’s age, his sex and his mother’s presumed Scottish roots, it was almost certainly Dupuytren’s Contracture, one of the commonest afflictions and non-traumatic surgical conditions to be treated in musicians. Jack underwent an operation on his hand, but it made playing very awkward, and it took him 18 months to regain full use. The point at which the contracture started to interfere with Jack’s playing has not been established, nor has the point at which he was affected by the 18-month recovery period. It is difficult, therefore, to know the extent to which Dupuytren’s Contracture contributed to Jack’s financial decline.
Jack died on 9th October 1988. His death certificate records him as a retired musician of 13 Crowbridge Park, Cullompton, Devon. He died as a result of a tragic car accident.
Jack was a “prolific sessioneer”. As noted earlier, there are believed to be many recordings on which he is not credited. That fact, combined with the fact that few of his radio broadcasts will have been recorded, means that the above account probably falls a long way short of reflecting the true extent of Jack’s contribution to the body of guitar music. He made his mark as one of the pioneers of British jazz guitar. He is listed among the 15 or so artists featured in UK’s Jazz Guitar Pioneers, and Martin Taylor names Jack and 8 other guitarists as the “founding fathers” of British guitar jazz. Jack played with technical brilliance and an extraordinary style. In the words of Gordon Wells, “His playing was unlike anybody else’s and there has never been any one else like him”. The Quintette du Hot Club de Paris, which Jack joined just after the war, has been described as the most successful European jazz group ever, and Jack’s work with Reinhardt and Grappelli probably stands at the head of his achievements as a musician. Jack Llewellyn never sought the limelight, and his outstanding musicianship did not bring him fame. He was, and is, nevertheless admired for his skill by fellow musicians, and that was probably all that this remarkable but modest man would have wished for.
OUTLINE BIOGRAPHIES OF MUSICIANS REFERRED TO –
D’Amato, Noel “Chappie” (1897 – 1976)
Multi-instrumentalist, especially guitar and alto saxophone. Jack Hylton’s Band, Jack Jackson’s Band and much other work.
Bertini (1896 – 1957)
Born Bert Gutsell. British musician.
Carmichael, Hoagy (1899 – 1981)
Hoagland Carmichael, American composer, pianist, singer, actor and bandleader, best known for writing Stardust and Heart and Soul, two of the most-recorded American songs of all time.
Carroll, Eddie (1907 – 1969)
Jazz pianist, working with many bands including Henry Hall’s Orchestra. Musical director on the Queen Mary for its maiden voyage in 1936. Led own bands 1937 – 40 and after the war. Bands were among the most popular of the early swing ensembles. Residency at Quaglinos 1946 – 1950.
English big band singer. Toured with her father Harry Davis’s orchestra and subsequently with Grappelli, Shearing and Ted Heath. Recruited to Glenn Miller’s Army Air Force Orchestra. Hollywood debut on Bob Hope’s show. Sang with Frank Sinatra, Benny Goodman, Vaughn Monroe and David Rose. Formed a popular gospel quartet in 1954 which scored a series of hits.
Elrick, George (1903 – 1999)
Drummer, vocalist, radio disc jockey, band leader, composer and manager, best known for presenting the BBC’s Housewives’ Choice.
Evans, George (1915 – 1993)
Jazz bandleader, arranger and tenor saxophonist.
Fillis, Len (b. 1903)
South African-born banjoist and player of many other stringed instruments. Leading guitarist of the later 1920s. Recorded several solos but primarily a supporting musician, playing with bands such as Jack Hylton’s Hyltonians. Credited with over 700 recordings. Also a composer of nearly 100 pieces.
Goldberg, Dave (1922 – 1969)
English guitarist, trombonist and composer. Jazz guitar pioneer. Band work includes Ted Heath Band, Dizzy Reece’s Sextet, Phil Seaman’s Quintet and Jack Parnell’s ATV Orchestra. Extensive freelance work in UK and US. Film work included playing and writing.
Hall, Henry (1898 – 1989)
Studied piano, trumpet and harmony. Worked for Salvation Army. Musical director of the LMS group of hotels in the 20s. Became a national figure in 1932 when he became leader of the BBC Dance Orchestra: numerous broadcasts and recordings. Later featured regularly in television series Face The Music. CBE in 1970 for his services to music.
British session guitarist who worked most notably with Elton John.
Isaacs, Ike (1919 – 1996)
Born in Burma. Renowned jazz guitarist. Played with numerous bands including the Ted Heath Band, and the BBC Show Band. Made several albums. Toured with Disley’s Hot Club, which worked extensively with Grappelli in the 1960s and 1970s. Moved to Australia in the 1980s and taught at the Sydney Guitar School.
Jackson, Jack (1906 – 1978)
Dance band leader, outstanding trumpeter, disc jockey and broadcaster.
Talented composer, arranger, conductor and pianist. Formed own orchestra for broadcasting and recording in 1951. Conductor of BBC Revue Orchestra and subsequently BBC Radio Orchestra from 1960 to 1972. Composed and directed the music for more than 30 feature films. Most popular composition was Friends and Neighbours.
Lipton, Sydney (1904 – 1995)
Classically trained violinist and prominent dance band leader. Billy Cotton’s Band 1925 – 31. Own band was one of the leading British dance bands, resident at the Grosvenor House Hotel for 4 decades, and making many recordings and broadcasts.
Llewellyn, David John (“Jack”) (1888 – 1961)
Banjoist and guitarist. Reputed to have been second only, as a banjoist, to Olly Oakley. Played with Bobby Hind’s London Sonora Band – the 1st British band to tour Germany after the 2nd World War – in the 1920s. Coventry-based banjo and guitar teacher in later life.
Played viola, saxophone and clarinet and recorded at least one track with Grappelli, but otherwise little information has been found about him.
Paramor, Norrie (1914 – 1979)
Pianist, producer, composer and orchestra conductor, best known as a producer for EMI Columbia Records, where he signed Cliff Richard and The Drifters (who became The Shadows). Paramor is only one hit short of George Martin’s record for producing the greatest number of no.1 hits.
Procter, Judd (b. 1933)
Guitarist (and originally banjoist). Member of Ray Ellington’s Quartet and various other bands. Mainly session work from the 1960s to the 1990s.
Roderick, Stan (1919 – 1994)
Eminent English trumpeter, playing with many of the best known bands and singing stars of his day.
Rosing, Val (1910 – 1969)
English dance hall singer best known as the vocalist with the BBC Henry Hall Orchestra and for singing on the original BBC recording of Teddy Bear’s Picnic.
Bandleader, Harry Saville and his Band.
Jazz trumpeter and flügelhorn player. Worked with Carroll Gibbons, Sydney Lipton, Maurice Winnick and many other top musicians.
Shearing, George (1919 – )
Blind English jazz pianist, originally an accordionist, and composer who moved to America and was knighted in 2007 for his services to music.
Simmonds, Ron (1928 – 2005)
English (albeit Canada-born) trumpeter, pianist and composer, playing trumpet with many top bands, including those of Ronnie Scott, Jack Parnell and Ted Heath.
Sullivan, “Big Jim” (1941 – )
Born James George Thompkins, Big Jim Sullivan was a prolific session musician whose work started in the 1950s. He performed on over 1,000 charting singles, more than 50 of which reached No.1 in the UK.
Winstone, Eric (1915 – 1974)
Composer and bandleader, who made many popular recordings from the 1930s to the 1970s.
Young, Arthur (1904 – 1965)
Scottish jazz pianist and band leader, who made some recordings, including piano duets with Reginald Forsythe.