Monty Sunshine: Clarinettist in the vanguard of the trad-jazz boom of the 1950s and early 1960s

Monty Sunshine, the clarinettist on the million-selling "Petite Fleur", was at the forefront of the traditional jazz boom in the late 1950s and early 1960s. He had a delightful stage presence and remained modest. "How can any jazz musician get conceited?" he once asked me, "He only has to put on the records of the great masters to wake up to his true status."

Monty Sunshine's great-great-grandparents had come to England from Romania and had anglicised their surname to Sunshine. Monty Sunshine was born in Stepney on 9 April 1928; his father was a tailor who also played the violin. During the war, he was evacuated to Northampton and he later studied at the Camberwell School of Art. He heard Wally Fawkes playing jazz at the art school and switched his own allegiance from flute to clarinet. Sunshine was in the RAF from 1946 to 1950 and played in the Eager Beavers, a jazz band at RAF Wroughton.

Ken Colyer, a trumpeter and a zealot for early New Orleans jazz, formed the Crane River Jazz Band in 1949 and Sunshine joined them on his discharge. The band had a residency at the White Hart pub in Cranford and charged a shilling (5p) for admission. A review in Jazz Journal in December 1950 was condescending: "Before New Orleans music can be played, a complete relaxation and unself-consciousness, not normally an attribute of the white man, must be attained. All this may take 20 years, or a lifetime, but the boys are still hoping."

Colyer signed up as a merchant seaman in 1952, solely to abscond to New Orleans. He was arrested for working without a permit and jailed for a month. When he returned, he found that Sunshine was part of Chris Barber's Jazz Band. Barber had been trying to persuade a research chemist and trumpeter, Pat Halcox, to go professional, but without success. It looked like an ideal band for Colyer to join, but with his dominant personality, it became Ken Colyer's Jazz Band. At first, the band had a residency at Bert Wilcox's London Jazz Club at Marble Arch. This was in the crypt and the commissioners decided that jazz was inappropriate for a sacred building. They had success with the Decca album, New Orleans To London, which included a popular single, "Isle Of Capri".

Colyer had a fierce integrity, only being interested in early New Orleans music and loathing the band's banjo player, Lonnie Donegan, who deliberately provoked him. After many arguments, the rest of the band left Colyer, and as Chris Barber's Jazz Band, they welcomed Pat Halcox.

The band toured in a 1934 Humber Shooting Brake with the bass on top. If it rained, the water would come through the floorboards, and the venues were little better as few jazz bands played dance halls. Their potential was appreciated when they played the Royal Festival Hall in 1954, however. The critics attended following a rumour that Princess Margaret would be there. She didn't arrive but the band received excellent reviews, especially Sunshine.

In 1956, a track from one of Barber's albums became an international hit, "Rock Island Line", which led to Lonnie Donegan leaving the band. Chris Barber said, "Our band was a co-operative and he had the cheek to ask us for more money. I said, 'Lonnie, skiffle is bringing in the money now, but next time it might be clarinet solos – ha, ha.' Next thing I know, 'Petite Fleur'." Donegan prospered as a solo performer while the Barber band held on to its audience.

On holiday in Spain, Sunshine had heard an accordionist playing "Petite Fleur". He discovered it was a Sidney Bechet tune, recorded in 1952. When Barber suggested a clarinet solo for Chris Barber Plays, Volume 3 (1957), Sunshine recorded "Petite Fleur" in a small group with Dickie Bishop (on guitar, though it sounds like a zither), Dick Smith (bass) and Ron Bowden (drums). According to Barber, "Monty's turntable was going a little fast so he learnt it in A flat minor rather than G minor."

The Chris Barber Band was especially popular in Hamburg, which his fans renamed "Freie Und Barber-Stadt (Free Barber-Town)" instead of "Freie Und Hansestadt (Free Trade Town)". When "Petite Fleur" was issued as a single in Germany, it went to No 2, encouraging Pye Records to release it in the UK. It climbed to No 3 and then became a Top 5 record in America.

The band appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show and back home, they received a gold disc from Hughie Green. They had a Top 30 entry when Sunshine featured another Bechet composition, "Lonesome (Si Tu Vois Ma Mère)". Bechet, who was dying of cancer, sent Sunshine a photograph, which was signed, "To Monty, who put Petite Fleur in the Sunshine."

Barber's performance also featured Muddy Waters' blues music. Sunshine was unimpressed though, and said they were sounding like "a bad imitation of the Shadows".

As a result, Sunshine was sacked and replaced by Ian Wheeler. Undeterred, he formed his own band and worked with such stalwarts as Johnny Parker and Diz Disley. He had another shot at the "Petite Fleur" market with "Jacqueline" (1961). His version of "Creole Love Call" (1962) with multi-tracked clarinet was described by The Gramophone as "a trifle coarse maybe, but good enough for Trad fans."

Meanwhile, the Trad fans had turned to Acker Bilk. He had noticed the marketability of sweet-sounding clarinet records and, far more astutely than Sunshine, he built on the success of "Petite Fleur".

Still, Sunshine toured regularly, either as a guest artist or with his own band, sometimes using Beryl Bryden and George Melly as guest vocalists. His 1963, album, Monty Sunshine And His Band, emulated Benny Goodman and his Orchestra.

In 1972, he played with a reunion of the Crane River Jazz Band and from 1975, took part in reunions with Chris Barber. In 1987, he and Lonnie Donegan formed Donegan's Dancing Sushine Band.

Sunshine's name was a gift for album titles which included A Taste Of Sunshine (1976), Sunshine In London (1979), Sunshine On Sunday (1987) and by way of a change, Live At The Workers' Museum, Copenhagen (1997).

If Sunshine's health had held out, he might have found success as an elder statesman in this Jamie Cullum era. He said, "I've had youngsters tell me that they want to play the clarinet like me. I tell them not to aim so low."



Monty Sunshine, clarinettist: born London 9 April 1928: died 30 November 2010.

Suggested Topics
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
News
Strange 'quack' noises could be undersea chatter of Minke whales
science
Voices
voices Furore is yet another example of shameful Westminster evasion, says Nigel Farage
News
weird news... and film it, obviously
News
peopleThis time as he’s awarded the Freedom of Stirling and handed an honorary degree
Arts & Entertainment
tv
Sport
sport
News
Matthew Mcnulty and Jessica Brown Findlay in 'Jamaica Inn'
mediaHundreds complain over dialogue levels in period drama
Voices
voicesMoyes' tragedy is one the Deputy PM understands all too well, says Matthew Norman
News
peopleJay Z and Beyoncé to buy £5.5m London townhouse
Voices
voicesMoyes' tragedy is one the Deputy PM understands all too well, says Matthew Norman
Arts & Entertainment
Rocker of ages: Chuck Berry
musicWhy do musicians play into old age?
News
Jilly's jewels: gardener Alan Titchmarsh
peopleCountry Life magazine's list of 'gallant' public figures throws light on what it means to be a gentleman in the modern world
Sport
John Terry goes down injured in the 70th minute
sportAtletico Madrid 0 Chelsea 0: Blues can finish the job at Stamford Bridge, but injuries to Terry and Cech are a concern for Mourinho
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Cover Supervisor Needed Nottingham/Derbyshire

£3360 - £16800 per annum: Randstad Education Nottingham: Cover Supervisor requ...

English Teacher

£6720 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Nottingham: Urgently Required. En...

Supply teachers needed in Cambridgeshire

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Randstad are looking ...

Geography Teacher

£6720 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Nottingham: We are currently recr...

Day In a Page

Brits who migrate to Costa del Sol more unhappy than those who stay at home

It's not always fun in the sun: Moving abroad does not guarantee happiness

Brits who migrate to Costa del Sol more unhappy than those who stay at home
Migrants in Britain a decade on: They came, they worked, they stayed in Lincolnshire

Migrants in Britain a decade on

They came, they worked, they stayed in Lincolnshire
Chris Addison on swapping politics for pillow talk

Chris Addison on swapping politics for pillow talk

The 'Thick of It' favourite thinks the romcom is an 'awful genre'. So why is he happy with a starring role in Sky Living's new Lake District-set series 'Trying Again'?
Why musicians play into their old age

Why musicians play into their old age

Nick Hasted looks at how they are driven by a burning desire to keep on entertaining fans despite risking ridicule
How can you tell a gentleman?

How can you tell a gentleman?

A list of public figures with gallant attributes by Country Life magazine throws a fascinating light on what it means to be a gentleman in the modern world
Pet a porter: posh pet pampering

Pet a porter: posh pet pampering

The duo behind Asos and Achica have launched a new venture offering haute couture to help make furry companions fashionable
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: The mutiny that sent a ripple of fear through the Empire

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

The mutiny that sent a ripple of fear through the Empire
Hot stuff: 10 best kettles

Hot stuff: 10 best kettles

Celebrate St George’s Day with a nice cup of tea. Now you just need to get the water boiled
Sam Wallace: Why Giggs is perfect fit as Manchester United boss... in the longer term

Sam Wallace

Why Ryan Giggs is perfect fit as Manchester United boss... in the longer term
Renaud Lavillenie: The sky's the limit for this pole vaulter's ambitions

Renaud Lavillenie: The sky's the limit for this pole vaulter's ambitions

Having smashed Sergei Bubka's 21-year-old record, the French phenomenon tells Simon Turnbull he can go higher
Through the screen: British Pathé opens its archives

Through the screen

British Pathé opens its archives
The man behind the papier mâché mask

Frank Sidebottom

The man behind the papier mâché mask
Chris Marker: Mystic film-maker with a Midas touch

Mystic film-maker with a Midas touch

Chris Marker retrospective is a revelation
Boston runs again: Thousands take to the streets for marathon as city honours dead and injured of last year's bombing

Boston runs again

Thousands of runners take to the streets as city honours dead of last year
40 years of fostering and still holding the babies (and with no plans to retire)

40 years of fostering and holding the babies

In their seventies and still working as specialist foster parents