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 three 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 three 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 Florida Club.
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. 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 Deniz's wife Clare. He worked occasionally with Stéphane Grappelli and deputised for his brother Joe in Harry Parry's Sextet.
Recalled 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. 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 Cocoanut Grove was soon broken up and the three 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. He toured England with Hoagy Carmichael.
Deniz led his own bands and broadcast regularly throughout the Sixties and Seventies. He had a long residency at the Talk of the Town and he and his brother Joe played entr'acte music for the musical Ipi Tombi for five years during the Seventies.
Frank Deniz bought a second home in Spain in 1980 and spent half of each year there until returning to London in the late Nineties.
His daughter Clare continues the family tradition. A gifted cellist, she is a Chamber Music Associate at Dartington International Summer School and performs throughout the UK and Europe.
Steve VoceReuse content