George Webb: Pianist whose work inspired the trad-jazz boom of the 1950s

The music that the pianist George Webb played in London in 1941 with his first band, Spider Webb and His Cobs, was the first "English" New Orleans-style jazz ever played in this country.

Although an amiable man, Webb was as much a crusader as a pioneer and his struggles in the early days gave birth eventually to the trad-jazz boom of the Fifties typified by the bands of Acker Bilk and Chris Barber. In Webb's heyday, musicians and their audiences were partisan and there was much hatred in jazz between the followers of bebop, and the adherents of what came to be known as "revivalism". With the name changed to George Webb's Dixielanders, the Webb band became the citadel of jazz retrogression. Webb's piano playing, based broadly on that of Jelly Roll Morton, tended to trundle rather than to swing.

Born in the East End of London, Webb's father and his uncle had a singing harmony act in variety. At the beginning of the Second World War, Webb (and three other members of his band-to-be) worked in the machine-gun department at the local Vickers-Armstrong factory. Webb had already taught himself the piano and he organised a band from among the staff to entertain their fellow workers. His first New Orleans-style band began to play in public in 1942.

Webb's trombonist in those early days was a mild-mannered and gifted man called Eddie Harvey, who plays delicate modern jazz piano to this day. Harvey was caught fraternising with dance band and "modern" musicians and was called to a kangaroo court by the rest of the band. He was ordered to explain his aberration and instructed to desist from it and return to the true purity of the real music. Jim Godbolt, the band's manager when it became semi-professional, recalled "I was present at this meeting. George Webb led for the prosecution. I shudder in recollection of its absurdity."

Although Webb's band by now had the title George Webb's Dixielanders it followed the New Orleans party line relentlessly and benefited from another dogma when it was booked for a series of concerts in central London by the Young Communist league. "Liberals" of the day revered the music as an expression of working-class culture.

The band's regular weekly home was out of town at the less-than-glamorous but now legendary Red Barn pub at Barnehurst in Kent. By now Webb had collected two cornet players, a clarinet, a trombone, a tuba, a banjo player and a drummer.

In an attempt to get in without paying, the band entered the Melody Maker dance band competition. It didn't do well in the waltz category, but its music stood out so starkly that it was given a huge amount of publicity. "To our great surprise we were adjudged third," said Webb. "This happening was to become the curtain-raiser to the start of the jazz revival and writers have credited us with starting it from that day to the present."

The band was paid £40 for recording four titles for Decca, and several BBC broadcasts followed. In those early days the only good musicians in the Webb band were Harvey, Wally Fawkes (later the cartoonist Trog and a world-class jazz clarinettist) and, from 1947, trumpeter Humphrey Lyttelton. The Dixielanders disbanded in 1948 when Lyttelton decided to form his own band. Webb and Wally Fawkes joined; it was then that the great Lyttelton-Fawkes partnership matured.

Webb, a small man best described as a Cockney sparrow, was an amiable fellow gifted with a sharp sense of humour. When the Lyttelton band arrived for a gig at a faceless town hall near George's home, Lyttelton couldn't find the way into the building.

"Where's the front?" he asked.

"Round the back," piped George.

Although he had trouble climbing on to piano stools, Webb's size proved an advantage when the Lyttelton band was in the Parlophone recording studio. Someone threw a cigarette end into a barrel of plastic swarf, refuse from a disc-cutting machine. The studio filled with flames and dense smoke. The band realised that the smoke hung about two feet off the floor, and the tiny Webb was sent in to scurry around underneath the thick black cloud and rescue the instruments.

Webb stayed with the band until 1951 when Lyttelton's music began to move forward from the New Orleans ideal. Webb gave up full-time playing and ran jazz clubs and worked as a booking agent. He appeared at festivals and jazz anniversaries, although he didn't often play.

He returned to jazz in 1972, leading another band for two years, and then continued to play intermittently at his own pubs and at Lyttelton reunions.

George Horace Webb, pianist, bandleader: born London 8 October 1917; married Minah (deceased; one son deceased, one daughter); died London 10 March 2010.

Life and Style
Small winemakers say the restriction makes it hard to sell overseas
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
News
Clare Balding
peopleClare Balding on how women's football is shaking up sport
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Sport
premier leagueMatch report: Arsenal 1 Man United 2
Arts and Entertainment
Kirk Cameron is begging his Facebook fans to give him positive reviews
film
News
i100
Sport
Jonny May scores for England
rugby unionEngland 28 Samoa 9: Wing scores twice to help England record their first win in six
Life and Style
fashionThe Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Jerry Hall (Hand out press photograph provided by jackstanley@theambassadors.com)
theatre
Sport
Tony Bellew (left) and Nathan Cleverly clash at the Echo Arena in Liverpool
boxingLate surge sees Liverpudlian move into world title contention
Voices
Neil Findlay
voicesThe vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
food + drinkMeat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Reach Volunteering: Financial Trustee and Company Secretary

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: A trustee (company d...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Shopfitter

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a successful an...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Sales Account Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Digital Sales Account Manager...

Day In a Page

Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

Look what's mushrooming now!

Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

Oeuf quake

Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

Terry Venables column

Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin