Deniz Bros Dynasty

The Deniz Dynasty –

The Deniz boys were born 7 Christina Street, Cardiff, the youngest of 3 surviving sons of Antoni (or Antionio) Francisco Deniz, formerly Diniz (1878-c.1931), merchant seaman, and his wife, Gertrude Blanch (or Blanche), née Boston (1886-1974) of Anglo Afro American descent.


Raised in Tiger Bay (Butetown Harbour), Cardiff, where tons of coal were exported weekly, the sea employed their father as a Donkeyman (keeping the ships engines in good condition) usually for the Radcliffe Company, and had employed their Welsh mother’s father as a cook. The old merchant houses in Bute Town, which had a reputation for prostitution, dubious cafes, and clubs, were occupied by blacks and whites (one old white man tried to stop the children crossing into the tennis court in Loudon Square) and Joe Deniz recalled Arabs, Somalis, Jamaicans, Africans, Malays, Chinese, Maltese, Spanish, some Egyptians and both Welsh and English – one of his friends had a Norwegian father, another an Italian father. During the race riots of 1919 young Joe was locked in his home until they were over (some 3 days). He also remembered the ‘ladies of the night’ and their Norwegian customers, sailors who brought the pit props for the mines – ‘six feet tall blond Vikings, always fighting’.

Frank Deniz 1912-2005

FrankDeniz(Francisco Antonio) One wouldn’t expect a tiny group of volcanic islands off the coast of Africa, subject to severe droughts and with a population numbered in thousands, to produce an outstanding musical dynasty. Born in the Cape Verde Islands, Frank Deniz’s father played the violin and the mandolin. He came to Cardiff at the beginning of the last century and married a local girl. They had 3 sons: Frank (the eldest), Joe and Laurie all went on to become distinguished professional guitarists. Frank was the last survivor.

Frank Deniz was first taught violin by his father, switching to the banjo and later, when the instrument became popular, to guitar. Like his father, he joined the Merchant Navy, but after 10 years he returned to Cardiff, where he, his pianist wife Clare and his brother Joe played in the Blue Hawaiians.

The 3 moved in 1937 to London, where they freelanced. In the same year first Joe and then Frank joined the band led by the singer-dancer Ken “Snakehips” Johnson, to play rhythm guitar. The following year Frank left to work with the pianist Fela Sowande at Adelaide Hall’s Old Florida Club in Mayfair.  There was a fashion for public “jam sessions” in London at the beginning of the Forties, and here Deniz gained some prominence as a reliable rhythm-section player.

At the Florida you could dine well, drink Egyptian coffee, have your palm read by one of the waiters or have a portrait drawn by an artist who moved from table to table. You could also hear and dance to some of the best bands and acts of the day

He worked for a number of bandleaders including Harry Roy and Edmundo Ros and began a long association with the accordionist Eric Winstone. Winstone’s quartet also included Frank’s wife Clare. He worked occasionally with Stéphane Grappelli and deputised for his brother Joe in Harry Parry’s Sextet.

FrankDenizRecalled into the Merchant Navy, he was torpedoed in 1944 as his ship approached the Anzio beach-head.

He returned to England through Algiers. In May that year he was at home to form his Spirits of Rhythm, a group including the saxophonist Jimmy Skidmore, Joe and Clare Deniz.

Frank Deniz Band  – Spirits of Rhythm
Jimmy Skidmore (ts), Claire Deniz (p), Frank Deniz, Joe Deniz (g), Tommy Bromley (b), Tony Lytton (d). 

The band recorded for Decca with Frank featured on a notable version of “Soft Winds” and played at the “Jazz Jamboree of 1944” alongside Glenn Miller and the Band of the AEF. Another Hawaiian group formed to play at the Coconut Grove was soon broken up and the 3 Deniz brothers came together to form the Hermanos Deniz Cuban Rhythm band. While the group stayed together for many years, Frank continued to freelance and had lots of radio work with the Skyrockets, Nat Temple and other leaders.


Frank toured England with Hoagy Carmichael.


Deniz led his own bands and broadcast regularly throughout the 60s and 70s. He had a long residency at the Talk of the Town and he and his brother Joe played entr’acte (interlude) music for the musical Ipi Tombi for 5 years during the 70s.

Frank Deniz died at home, at 12 Amwell Lane, Stanstead Abbots, Hertfordshire, on 17 July 2005; like Clare his wife he was cremated at Harlow crematorium. He was survived by his two daughters, Lorraine and Claire, the latter a successful cellist, known as Clare Deniz.

Jose William ‘Joey’ Deniz 1913-94

JoeDenizJoe Deniz was the guitar player with the Ken Johnson band and later with Leslie ‘Jiver’ Hutchinson. Joe was born in Cardiff in 1913, his brothers also played guitar, with brother Frank he recorded with tenor sax player Jimmy Skidmore. Joe moved to London in 1934, his first regular job being in the Nest Club in Kingly Street where he got the opportunity to sometimes play with visiting American acts such as the Mills Brothers, Fats Waller and the Ink Spots. He then worked at the Cuba Club in Gerrard Street, (later Ronnie Scott’s first club), and then the Shim-Sham Club before joining Johnson. He suffered a compound fracture of the foot when the Cafe de Paris was destroyed in an air raid before working with Johnny Claes and Harry Parry in 1941/42.

Harry Parry and his Radio Rhythm Club Sextet – January 28th, 1941 (Parlophone)
Harry Parry (cl), Roy Marsh (vib), George Shearing (p), Joe Deniz (g), Tommy Bromley (b), Ben Edwards (d).

Joe – Hammersmith c1935

The Deniz’s 6 room home had a piano which his half-sister played but Joe started on the ukelele and joined the street ’rounds’ performing from 10pm. He recalled the Jamaican Sly Mongoose. He purchased cheap 78 records from Woolworths and liked Hawaiian music, then the jazz of U.S. guitarists George van Eps, Carl Kress, and Dick McDonough. He started playing for local illegal parties, sometimes with Grangetown-born Don Johnson. One time the pair worked as a pantomime cow.

Joe Deniz sold newspapers after he left school – a set of guitar strings at 2s 6d cost almost half his weekly income. Coloured sailors worked below decks; Cardiff had an informal colour line so he and others did not apply at certain firms. Two other local musicians, Victor Parker and George Glossop worked in a trio, and called Deniz to London around 1934. His skills as a guitarist led to employment in the all-black jazz band of Jamaican Leslie Thompson, fronted by the Guiana-born Ken Johnson. Deniz recalled that trumpeter Arthur Dibbin was Welsh-born. In fact five of Johnson’s ‘West Indians’ were born in Britain.

The story of ‘Snakehips’ Johnson, killed when a bomb landed on the Cafe de Paris, London in 1941 is well known. Joe Deniz was injured in the blast. John Chilton, Who’s Who of British Jazz 2nd ed (2004) details Happy Blake, Al Craig, Yorke de Souza, Coleridge Goode, Jiver Hutchinson, Johnson, Louis Stephenson, Leslie Thompson and Dave Wilkins: they all played with Joe Deniz (who is detailed, too). Black British Swing Topic Records CD TSCD 781 has 24 recordings. The often-reprinted A History of Jazz in Britain, 1919-50 by Jim Godbolt (first published 1984) is seen by some as failing to detail the black British musicians of the 1930s. They toured theatres around the nation and broadcast on the radio. Johnson’s band was a pioneer group on British television too. Joe Deniz said that the Portuguese name was pronounced ‘Dinish’ and that has often been mispronounced ‘Denise’.

StratenLaunchJack Llewellyn and Ivor Mairants testing a new Van Straten Guitar.
Behind them, from left to right, are Van Straten, Joe Deniz (gr) headstock in hand, Dick Knight, Dick Sadleir and Lauderic Caton.

As a result of the exclusion policy, demand for ‘authentic’ black jazz far exceeded supply. In 1936 Leslie Thompson and the Guyanese dancer Ken ‘Snakehips’ Johnson formed the Emperors of Jazz, featuring also the trumpeter Leslie ‘Jiver’ Hutchinson, saxophonists Louis Stephenson and Bertie King, and pianist Yorke De Sousa, all of Jamaican ancestry, along with Cyril Blake, Harry Tyree, and the guitarist Joe Deniz, Welsh‐born of Cape Verdean ancestry. After becoming sole leader, Johnson imported players from the Caribbean, notably the trumpeters Wally Bowen (from Trinidad) and Dave Wilkins (from Barbados), and reedmen Carl Barriteau and Dave Williams (both Trinidadian).  Johnson’s orchestra remained a major force on the London jazz scene and broadcast extensively until Johnson and Dave Williams were killed when the Café de Paris was bombed on 8 March 1941. Most black musicians worked in London clubs; the period’s ambience was captured by live recordings of Cyril Blake’s band at Jig’s Club in December 1941, featuring the Trinidadian guitarist Lauderic Caton.

…………..whilst on guitar at different times were Archie Slavin, Al Ferdman, Freddy Legon and Joe Deniz.


CubanRhythmGuitarist Frank Deniz teamed up with brothers Joe (guitar) and Laurie (rhythm guitar/percussion) to found Hermanos Deniz Cuban Rhythm Band (‘Cuban’ was a misnomer as their orientation was more Brazilian); had residencies at London’s Grosvenor House Hotel, Dominion Cinema and Talk of the Town night club; recorded on Melodisc and Columbia.  The Bands music was featured in the Alec Guinness film ‘Our Man in Havana’  In 1951, Edmundo Ros bought the Coconut Grove on Regent Street and later, in 1964, renamed it Edmundo Ros’ Dinner and Supper Club. The club became popular for its atmosphere and music; but it closed in 1965, when legalised casino gambling had milked many of the best customers.

The Band – Jules Ruben on Piano was the only white guy.  Stephane Grappelli once said, “you have a place in the sun”


Jules Ruben with Laurie Steele Guitarist (Epiphone)

Below- Publicity for the Ken Johnson band – Joe Deniz top left


The rhythm section of Tom Wilson (drums), Abe Clare (bass) and Joey Deniz (guitar) stayed with Johnson from the Emperors Of Jazz, as did trombonist Freddie Greenslade. Also amongst the musicians was Leslie ‘Jiver’ Hutchinson, who was a close friend of Johnson. Hutchinson asked Johnson to be godfather to his daughter, current jazz singer Elaine Delmar, when she was born in 1939. However, Johnson had to replace some pieces, and turned to the West Indies for new sidemen. Four new players duly arrived in 1937, including saxophonist and clarinettist Carl Barriteau. Together they responded to Ken Johnson’s desire to recreate an American swing sound.

DenizKJ-1936On Saturday 8 March 1941, Ken Johnson and The West Indian Orchestra were entertaining London’s swing set at the Cafe De Paris as usual. That night, the area between Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square was being strafed with bombs. One of them found its way down an airshaft into the club where it exploded. Guitarist Joey Deniz recalls that the band would usually start around 9.30pm, and that night they had just started playing Oh Johnny, probably 10 minutes later, when the glass ceiling of the club was shattered. The numbers of dead and injured vary, but most reports agree that over 30 people died and a further 60 or more were injured by the blast.  Survivors were taken to the Charing Cross Hospital, where Frank Deniz, who had been playing with his band in a club nearby, found his brother Joey, injured but alive. Tragically,

“To Joey – a swell guitar player & a fellow Emperor” always continued success – Ken.  Belfast November 1936

Ken Johnson was not one of the survivors. An eyewitness recalls how he was found lying dead, but unmarked by any outward signs of injury, a flower still in his lapel. He was 26 years old.

Harry Parry formed a trio, including George Shearing, to play on the BBC’s Radio Rhythm Club and it became the show’s house band. He later became producer of the show and increased the trio to a sextet
Harry Parry and his Radio Rhythm Club Sextet – January 28th, 1941 (Parlophone)
Harry Parry (cl), Roy Marsh (vib), George Shearing (p), Joe Deniz (g), Tommy Bromley (b), Ben Edwards (d).

Laurence ‘Laurie’ Deniz 1924-96


Oral History
Born August 17th 1924 into a working family. ‘Tiger Bay’ (i.e. Cardiff), not nationality problems at school (that came later), many Portuguese speaking children of Cape Verde parents. Father bought him a ukelele and started him on piano. Guitar, came from Clare Deniz’s father.
First musical influences, Django Reinhardt, Segovia, Ida Presti. Victor Parker, Arthur Young (self-taught trumpet, died World War ll), Sammy John. Maria Deniz played piano and had record player. Guitar records, Eddie Lang. Cost of records (1930s). Mother, born S. Wales, lived 9 Christina St.
After school working in tiling company. Harlem Pages (12 coloured boys) toured, supported by Arthur Short.
All-year success, school as and when Tony Chadidakis (accordion) worked in London, taught Laurie London club repertoire. Crichton St pubs. Currans foundry. Friends went to Trinidad Asphalt Co., shortage of manpower after call-up. Charlie Christian, but 1st electric guitar heard was Lauderic Caton on tour with Harry Parry in Cardiff.  Joe Deniz got an electric guitar at that time. Babalola Wilkie (club owner, Greek St). Regulars: Clary Wares, Tony Chadgidakis, Albert Smith (drummer and con-man).

EpiZenith48Laurie Deniz comments on the existence of many clubs owned by Archer Street “spivs”, but good work. Whiskey cut with meths, Rolex watches, segregated dancing. Race relations went sour when Americans arrived: black musicians ok, black dancing not ok. Coconut Grove, Jack Spot and protection rackets. Latin and jazz distinctions. Sacked from Coconut Grove. To Marino Barretto, Embassy Club in Bond Street. Ciro’s, Orange Street. Barretto (Cuban) popular with women, white suit, lace cuffs. But authentic Latin, whereas Edmundo Ros was “dead square”. Epiphone Zenith guitar. Called up for Army, lorry driving, no music.  Inset Epiphone Zenith 1948

Laurie Deniz comments on how he married Lydia after war. Clary Wares, Caribbean Club, Neville Booker, Happy Blake. De-mobbed. Stephan Grappelli. Replaced Lauderic Caton at Carribbean Club. Don Fereday, guitar maker, electric guitar. Milroy Club, Santiago Lopez. Offered guitar chair with Ted Heath but Dave Goldberg got it. Buddy Featherstonaugh. Caribbean Club run by Rudy Evans (West Indian). Ray Ellington. Billy Stevens (trumpet), Duke of Edinburgh and Pat Kirkwood (film star). Carmen Miranda. Ray Ellington Quartet, Dick Katz.

Deniz continues commenting on Ray Ellington Quartet, Dick Katz. Dress. Summer residences. Recordings – Laurie Deniz also reckons he is on recordings earlier than stated in discographies such as Bruyninckx, e.g. The Be-Bop and Little Miss Muffit (1949). Favourite numbers included “She wears red feathers”, “Time will take care of everything”, “Keep of the grass”. Goon Show broadcasts, weekly. Fame, 1949-1952. Vic Ash recording 1957. After Ray Ellington job finished Laurie stopped playing and went into garage business with the Feredays and lost all his money. Modern guitarists, Irving Ashby. Americans. Black associates, Ken Johnson. Black ability. Children. Pub sessions.

The Ray Ellington Quartet evolved when Ray joined the Caribbean Trio, a touring group comprising Dick Katz on piano, Lauderic Caton on guitar and Coleridge Goode on bass. Their concert debut took place on Sunday 7 December 1947 when they appeared on one of Ted Heath’s London Palladium Swing Sessions. In addition to radio and television broadcasts (TV having resumed, having been so rudely interrupted by the war), a recording contract with Parlophone was secured. It is thanks to many of Ray’s Parlophone, Decca and Columbia records made between 1948 and 1955 that we are able to enjoy some 40 varied and entertaining sides.* There were a few personnel changes within the quartet over the years from May 1949; Lauderic Caton was the first to go (he was replaced by Laurie Deniz)

Ray Ellington Quartet –
Coleridge Goode – Bass, Dick Katz – Piano,

Lauderic Caton or Laurie Deniz on Guitar, Ray Ellington Vocals and Drums

The basic group comprised Ray, pianist Dick Katz (not to be confused with an American pianist of the same name), Coleridge Goode on bass and either Lauderic Caton or Laurie Deniz on guitar. In 1951, the quartet’s profile was raised considerably when it was booked to appear each week on The Goon Show, adding a jazz element which was further increased by the harmonica solos of Max Geldray. No doubt all this came about because of the jazz interest of Spike Milligan.

1957 Cab Kaye performed in “Cab’s Quintet” in the British television program “Six Five Special” (Season 1, episode 29) with Laurie Deniz (1st guitar) and his brother Joe (2nd guitar), Pete Blanin (bass) and Harry South (piano).
Before leaving for Ghana Cab Kaye recorded the song he wrote together with William ‘Bill’ DavisEverything Is Go” with his “Kwamlah Quaye Sextetto Africana“. With this band he made his 1st recordings in which he played guitar. This group consisted of guitarist Laurie Deniz, bass: Chris O’Brian, bongos: Frank Holder, both of whom came from British Guiana (now Guyana) to serve in the (RAF) and Chris Ajilo on claves.


Eddie Thompson Pianist