Lennie Bush

Dependable jazz double-bassist and early bebop enthusiast

An old jazz-world maxim used to be "If you are forming a band, always start by hiring a really good double-bass player." Another word of advice often passed on to aspiring jazz improvisers was "If you get into trouble during your solo, listen to the bass line."

Leonard Walter Bush, double-bass player: born London 6 June 1927; married (one son); died 15 June 2004.

An old jazz-world maxim used to be "If you are forming a band, always start by hiring a really good double-bass player." Another word of advice often passed on to aspiring jazz improvisers was "If you get into trouble during your solo, listen to the bass line."

Lennie Bush totally understood and unfailingly provided the instrument's primary functions in ensemble performance. Throughout a 60-year career he dedicated himself to laying down an unerring sense of time, rich tone, and perfect harmonic direction. Over the past 20 years young double-bass virtuosi with flying fingers have been appearing from all continents. Lennie Bush admired them, but concentrated on the crucial business of underpinning the band with the most luxuriant and dependable of suspension systems. Colleagues gratefully came to realise that there would be no bumpy rides with Bush.

Lennie Bush was born in 1927 at Shepherd's Bush in west London and was a childhood victim of polio. It left him with a permanent limp, but in his adult years his arrival at a gig, with rolling gait and handsome, craggy smile, gave musicians and fans a feeling of pleasant expectation. He studied violin as a youngster, but, as Louis Armstrong put it, "the doggone thing grew up on him".

His move to the biggest and lowest-pitched member of the violin family happened when he was 16, and a year later, in 1944, he was working the halls as a member of a variety act called "The Rolling Stones and Dawn". Next came jobs with a variety of dance bands. He also toured regularly with the swing-style jazz trumpeter Nat Gonella's band (which included the emerging stars Kenny Graham and Phil Seaman), and with the smooth British-based American Roy Fox.

The arrival from America of the new and complex bebop sounds in jazz had happily coincided with Bush's arrival on the British jazz scene. He was one of the many young men (Ronnie Scott and John Dankworth among them) who set about discovering everything they could about the new musical developments, and in December 1948 was one of the coterie of enthusiasts who founded Club Eleven in a rehearsal room in Windmill Street, London.

From this Soho base came the first accomplished British bebop sounds. Dankworth says "Lennie was there, and for half a century he occupied the throne as Britain's most senior bebop bassist." Many younger up-and-coming bassists came to listen, and learn. The veteran Spike Heatley says,

Lennie was the most influential player in my early career. He was never flashy, and although his technique was unorthodox he could really drive and anchor a rhythm section. He could even make poor drummers play good time.

He worked on his technique, studying with James Merret Snr at the Guildhall School of Music and consequently became "a man for all sessions". Through the following decades Bush remained busy as both jazzman and studio musician, playing for films, television, commercials and albums. The sheer quality and dependability of his playing was appreciated by everyone, and he developed musical associations with top names like Ronnie Scott, Jimmy Deucher, Victor Feldman, Dizzy Reece, Tony Kinsey, Tony Crombie, Alan Clare, Stan Tracey, Kenny Baker and Don Lusher. One particularly close relationship was with the drummer and bandleader Jack Parnell, whose ATV Orchestra Lennie joined in 1957.

He was also in demand with overseas jazz stars, touring with Benny Goodman several times in Europe, appearing with Louis Armstrong in London in 1956, and accompanying many others, including Zoot Sims, Roy Eldridge, Joe Pass and Stephane Grappelli.

Lennie Bush and his wife Anne moved out of the London area a few years ago to Long Melford in Suffolk. Although semi-retired, he continued to practise assiduously each day and post to friends cassettes containing music which he had discovered and was enthusiastic about.

Campbell Burnap



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