Colin Smith

Trumpeter with Acker Bilk

The Acker Bilk Band leapt to fame in the early Sixties through an early and outstandingly successful example of spin-doctoring. Their popularity had everything to do with bowler hats and waistcoats and little to do with the talent of the musicians; the image-makers obscured the fact that Bilk and his trumpeter, Colin Smith, were very gifted jazz players.



Colin Ranger Smith, trumpeter: born London 20 November 1934; married 1959 Sally Thornton (one son, one daughter); died London 29 March 2004.



The Acker Bilk Band leapt to fame in the early Sixties through an early and outstandingly successful example of spin-doctoring. Their popularity had everything to do with bowler hats and waistcoats and little to do with the talent of the musicians; the image-makers obscured the fact that Bilk and his trumpeter, Colin Smith, were very gifted jazz players.

Smith was to become a powerful and imaginative soloist and lead player, much envied by his trumpeting colleagues. He and Bilk remained close friends for life, despite the fact that Bilk hewed to "Stranger on the Shore" territory whilst Smith, a man of many original ideas, attempted to become the first avant-garde player in mainstream jazz.

Colin Smith had begun playing the clarinet and the banjo as a teenager, switching to trumpet when he was 19. He joined the band led by Terry Lightfoot in 1957 and moved to that of another clarinet player, Cy Laurie, in 1958. His long tenure in the Bilk band began in 1959.

He had many interests away from the band and had trained as an electrical engineer in his father's business. He was an expert picture framer and at one time collected together the parts and assembled from scratch a 1938 MG Midget, which he drove. Always interested in yachting, he left Bilk in 1966 to sail across the Atlantic in a 45-foot ketch.

Although he rejoined Bilk in 1968, he worked at the same time in the band led by the saxophonist Tony Coe and the trombonist John Picard. In such emancipated musical company, he was able to give vent to his more progressive ideas and soon developed into a versatile sideman, working as a regular member of Stan Greig's London Jazz Big Band. He was also a member of the big band led by the American clarinettist Bob Wilber, and later the one led by the Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts and the revisionist Midnite Follies Orchestra.

He played with many worthwhile bands like Ian Stewart's Rocket 88, Stan Greig's Boogie Band and Brian Leake's Sweet and Sour. From 1983 he played with the Pizza Express All Stars.

After a serious illness caused by congenital liver problems he returned to Acker Bilk in 1992, recorded and toured Germany with the band in 1996. Then he was struck by further severe illness; Bilk kept Smith's job open as long as he could by using deputising trumpeters but eventually it became apparent that Smith was not going to recover his health. During the last years of his illness he spent more than 20 periods in hospital.

Steve Voce

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