Johnny van Derrick

Johnny van Derrick ~

Violinist 1926~1995


The jazz violinist Johnny van Derrick enjoyed a long and colourful career as a performer and recording artist. He is best known to the public as the violinist behind recent advertisements for the Renault Clio, and as a soloist on Mancini’s film soundtrack to The Pink Panther.  But van Derrick‘s fellow musicians will remember a maestro of daunting integrity, who stuck vehemently to jazz’s routes in dance music and song. He maintained a dizzying round of engagements, whether teaching at the Royal Academy of Music, recording a television theme, or astonishing live audiences with his extraordinary technique and wicked charm.

In performance van Derrick was an incomparable showman, whether pretending to make pizzicato notes come from the top of his bald head, or swapping quotes from the classics with the guitarist Denny Wright. Van Derrick was compared to Stephane Grappelli, whom he knew and admired, but his style was cleverer, his swing more strident, and his playing perhaps more influenced by Joe Venuti. It remains a great sadness that his unique combination of a virtuoso technique and a devilish swing did not quite reach the large public it deserved.

Van Derrick was born in 1926 and was introduced to music by his father, who was a fine cornet player. As a young boy he was sent to the Brussels Conservatoire, where he was awarded a Silver medal, but his classical studies ended with the outbreak of the 2nd WW. He found work back in London touring the Stoll Moss theatres with Louis Mexano’s Accordion Band (“8 tiny Italians with enormous instruments”) before joining the Merchant Navy and spending the rest of the war on the dangerous British convoys to Nurmansk, Russia.

DizDisJvDIn the early post-war years van Derrick played trumpet for dance bands like Maurice Winnick’s (“the sweetest music this side of heaven”) and Lou Preager’s. He couldn’t keep away from the fiddle for long, however, and undertook 6 years of study with his mentor Sascha Lasserson. He joined the Halle Orchestra, but he found the working conditions dispiriting and returned to freelancing.

Johnny Van Derek on fiddle (born 11th August,.1926 died 15th May,1995

Sweet Georgia Brown – Soho String Quartet  _ Name the Guitar Soloist

GershwinninmgCDIn his subsequent career, which spanned almost 50 years of British jazz and commercial music, van Derrick played for everyone from the Beatles to Rod Stewart.  He proved himself a master of all styles, from his be-bop days with Roy Fox and Tubby Hayes to his jazz broadcasts with the Jack Toogood Swingtet on BBC’s Late Night Live. He was an excellent country fiddler and gave a televised performance from the Albert Hall of Mancini’s country concerto Oklahoma Crude, a performance which won him a 5-star invitation to Nashville. His own CDs, Always on the Fiddle and the 1993 Mike Batt Produced Gershwinning CD with Guitarist Phil Bond demonstrates his phenomenal range, with his wistful, French-sounding compositions placed next to his electrifying swing duets with Phil Bond

Hi – The Gershwinning CD was done around 1993….The duo was doin pretty good, then Johnny unfortunately left us.  A sad loss to us all.  Thanks and Kind Regards and we must keep in touch – Phil Bond

But it was as a live performer and a teacher that he was in his element. He brought the same infectious joy to musicians as he did to audiences and he was unusually generous in passing on his knowledge. He imparted his love for all aspects of the violin literature to his pupils, and refused to take a proper fee.

When I approached him as a young hopeful trying to ‘susc’ out the master’s secrets, I was warmly invited to his house. The frail-looking man, who had had heart disease for 20 years, took me through a 3-hour assault course of violin exercises and drills, virtuoso repertoire and concertos, followed by lectures on violin-making and trumpet playing. Johnny van Derrick always maintained that jazz violin was a delicate art, and I understood then that his own playing, which looked so effortless, had evolved out of a lifetime of loving dedication. – David Lasserson – Jazz Viola

Johnny van Derrick, violinist: born 1926; married (2 sons); died Denham, Buckinghamshire 15 May 1995.

I was at the Wrexham Jazz Guitar Festival and had the good fortune to get a new, limited edition CD featuring 19 tracks by Jack Toogood and his Swingtette. This acoustic music from the late ’50s/early ’60s is totally stunning and surpasses 99% of the ‘hot club‘ derived music I get sent for review. Jack was a major sessioneer (and Djangophile) living in Bristol and put together this band for radio and TV shows of the period. Featuring Johnny Van Derrick on violin, Alan Metcalfe on rhythm guitar and un-named bassist and drummer Jack’s old Selmer sounds beautiful. The arrangements of well known standards are tight and inventive and whilst Django was his hero the music is not a slavish copy. Think more Henri Crolla or Sarene Ferret. The music has been compiled by an ex-student of Jack‘s who has done this as a labour of love, his only motive being that we should all hear this masterful playing. I am assured Jack is still alive and teaching as a sprightly 80 year old. – I for one am booking a lesson.

Roses of Picardy – Name the Lead Soloist

JohnnyVanDerrickCDCD With Eric Kershaw, Bobby Orr, Jack Emblow and Judd Procter, Johnny sadly died in 1994 aged 69 but has been a great influence on many rising jazz violin stars. He was not widely known to the British public, though his CV reads like a list in the Who’s Who of show business. A close colleague of Michel LeGrand and Eartha Kitt, a long association with Peter Sellers and a life-long friend of the great guitarist Denny Wright. Johnny was prolific on the session scene of the 50s and 60s, playing the lead violin on the Pink Panther films amongst others and on numerous jingles, most notably for the Renault Clio (oooh Papa!). Johnny’s style was always swinging and always lyrical.

Wonderful Johnny Van Derrick at his best. He used to do a solo spot sitting on a bar stool at Hoults Wine Bar on Wandsworth Common in the late 80’s. Kept everything true. No frills. Played alongside Grappelli but ended up finer I thought. – I ventured to tell him that once. He blushed.  RIP Johnny.