Jack Fallon

Inspirational jazz bass player

Patrick Fallon (Jack Fallon), bassist, violinist and agent: born London, Ontario 13 October 1915; married 1957 Jean Lovell (died 2004; one son, one daughter, and one daughter deceased); died London, England 22 May 2006.

A British jazz bass player before 1946 didn't have a chance. By definition he swung like a lead balloon. Jack Fallon came to England with the Canadian Air Force Band in that year and settled there when his service was done. He transformed bass playing in Britain for ever.

His playing swung and lifted and he had a big, fat tone that inspired everyone with whom he played. It was some years before his fellow bassists began to fulfil their aspirations.

Fallon had a remarkable career during which he played with every imaginable kind of artist from Spike Milligan and Django Reinhardt to the Beatles and Duke Ellington. A quiet and modest man, he reflected on his career when it was all over and said, "I just banged it out as best I could. I had a lot of luck."

"I was born in a log cabin on a 100-acre farm in Ontario," wrote Fallon. His sister Irene Fallon, who entered a convent as Sister Rosary, had another view. "A log cabin called St Joseph's Hospital," she said.

After playing violin in a family band Fallon took up the bass in 1935. He played trumpet in the air force's band as well as bass in its dance band the RCAF Streamliners. He sent his bass back to Canada when his duties were over, but then decided against joining it. "Somebody offered me money," he explained.

He joined the Ted Heath Band in April 1946 and stayed until September. He played in night-clubs and at the haunts of the early British bebop players like the Feldman Club in Oxford Street where the music was difficult for both musicians and audiences alike. "If I was having trouble I could always have a coughing spell," Fallon said modestly.

In 1947 he was one of the stars at the Melody Maker/Columbia Jazz Rally, in a group with the youngsters Ronnie Scott, George Shearing and Tommy Whittle. That year he joined the trumpeter Jack Jackson's group and the following year played and recorded with George Shearing. In the spring he appeared on television with Django Reinhardt and that summer Duke Ellington and his trumpeter Ray Nance came to Britain. The Ministry of Works had a ban on American jazz musicians playing in Britain but, because Ray Nance danced and sang, Ellington was able to tour as a "variety artist". He was backed by Jack Fallon, the guitarist Malcolm Mitchell and the drummer Tony Crombie.

Ellington was in his pyjamas on the Saturday night when Fallon arrived to audition for the job. "See you on the bus on Monday," was all he said after hearing Fallon play.

The trio also accompanied the American singers Maxine Sullivan and Hoagy Carmichael and made an eight-week tour of Sweden with Stéphane Grappelli and Django Reinhardt, ending the year with a season in Nice.

Fallon toured with both Mary Lou Williams and Sarah Vaughan in 1953 and was the first choice for any all-star jazz group. He accompanied Lena Horne in 1955 and the leaders he worked for during the Fifties included Ralph Sharon, Humphrey Lyttelton, Harry Parry, Kenny Baker, Tony Crombie, Tubby Hayes and Tony Kinsey. He worked often with the pianists Lennie Felix and Alan Clare and was the house bassist for the Lansdowne Studio's record labels. He became friendly with the American singers Josh White and Big Bill Broonzy and separately made several tours with them.

The regular groups he worked with included Johnny Duncan's Blue Grass Boys and the Lennie Felix Trio and he played Latin and country music as well as jazz.

Fallon crossed many musical boundaries, recording on violin with the Beatles in 1968, and playing a late- night session for Princess Margaret and her coterie. He was one of the first to use the bass guitar, doubling on it and the acoustic instrument for the rest of his career.

In 1952 Fallon founded the Cana agency and devoted much of his time to promoting the people on his books. They included, in their early years, Shirley Bassey, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Fallon described the latter as "a very polite group of young lads". He also booked traditional jazz bands across Europe. The agency was very successful and in the Eighties Fallon specialised in booking piano vocalists in piano bars across the world.

His bass playing continued to be in demand in the studios, on recordings, on television, but he continued his jazz work, accompanying visiting Americans and playing mostly with mainstream musicians like Digby Fairweather and Wally Fawkes into the middle of the Nineties.

Steve Voce

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