Obituary: Ivor Mairants

IVOR MAIRANTS was one of the most distinguished survivors of the dance band tradition of the pre-war years. But he was much more than a guitarist in a dance band: his inquiring mind led him into authorship, teaching, journalism, commerce and, later, classical guitar composition.

He was born in Poland, and came with his parents to England on the eve of the Great War. His father was a Talmudic scholar who, in the words of his son, "meditated with God", leaving his wife to run a haberdashery shop in Poland and, after that, a sweets and tobacco shop in the East End of London.

After hearing the Savoy Orpheans in a broadcast received on a homemade crystal wireless set, Ivor Mairants made up his mind to become a musician, and duly saved pounds 3 to buy his first instrument, a banjo, from Ebblewhite's music shop in Aldgate. His first professional engagement, at the age of 15, earned him 7s 6d, sufficient encouragement to launch himself on a career in music.

Work in various dance bands followed: the Valencians, the Florentine Band, Fred Anderson's Cabaret Band, Al Starita. But the banjo was already losing its appeal, and it was as a guitarist that Mairants found work with the dance bands of Roy Fox, Ambrose, Lew Stone, Geraldo, Ted Heath and Mantovani, the household names of popular music before, during and after the Second World War. By then he had discovered Segovia's editions of Bach, a source of nourishment that made a lasting impact.

A period of freelancing followed. He formed his own guitar quintet, which broadcast regularly in the BBC's Guitar Club series. His recording of the Adagio from Joaquin Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez sold over a million copies. He accompanied the tenor Beniamino Gigli in a recording of Neapolitan songs; and in the late Thirties he was engaged by Sir Thomas Beecham to play the mandolin for Ezio Pinza in a Covent Garden production of Don Giovanni - an experience he described in his autobiography (My Fifty Fretting Years, 1980) as "nerve-shattering". But Beecham smiled and said "Very nice" after the first rehearsal.

Mairants also appeared in two films, playing a beribboned period guitar in Saraband for Dead Lovers (1948), and a more modern instrument in The Battle of the River Plate (1956), in which, dressed in Latin American costume, he performed as a member of a night-club band in Montevideo.

In 1950 he started the Central School of Dance Music in London. Among his teaching staff were John (then Johnny) Dankworth, Jack Brymer, Kenny Baker, Bert Weedon, Ike Isaacs and Eric Gilder. His next venture was the opening of a guitar shop in 1958, the Ivor Mairants Musicentre. His stock of fine guitars, imported from Spain, Sweden, Germany and the United States, attracted guitarists from all over the world. Occasional visitors of the calibre of Julian Bream, Charlie Byrd and Narciso Yepes helped to create more of the atmosphere of a friendly club than of a retail shop.

Writing, arranging and teaching were other occupations. Two of his guitar pupils were Benny Hill and Eric Sykes. The latter, a flamenco aficionado, was sometimes given a lesson in his dressing room during a season at the London Palladium; it led to a guest appearance as straight man in Sykes's comic flamenco act on television. Not to be outdone, Benny Hill also used Mairants in his television show.

Mairants's technical manuals, embracing all guitar styles, met with varying degrees of success, but his flamenco tutor achieved world-wide fame, selling steadily over the years in various languages including Japanese. Yet well-meaning "experts" had advised him not to pursue the project; and the great Segovia even delivered a lofty snub with the words, "All my life I have striven to lift the guitar to higher musical levels, therefore I am not interested in a flamenco book and do not want to see it."

Throughout this time, Mairants developed and refined his jazz playing to impressive proportions. His frequent professional contact with the very best jazz guitarists such as Django Reinhardt, Joe Pass, Barney Kessel and Herb Ellis led, in 1995, to his monumental book The Great Jazz Guitarists, the product of many years' hard labour.

In later years, his fertile imagination turned more and more to composition. Determined to enlarge his range and improve his technique, he enrolled at Dartington Summer School at an age when most people are happy to retire. The encouragement he received from Peter Maxwell Davies, Harrison Birtwistle, Witold Lutoslawski, Hans Keller and others resulted in some accomplished and attractive pieces for classical guitar.

In his late eighties, he composed Jazz Sonatas for Solo Guitar, classical in style but containing prominent elements of jazz. Two of the sonatas were set pieces in the first competition for the Ivor Mairants Guitar Award, held under the aegis of the Worshipful Company of Musicians last December. Mairants, a member of the company and a Freeman of the City of London, presided over the panel of judges with his usual imperturbability; it was to be his last public appearance before the cancer against which he had battled with fortitude finally overtook him, after a long life of unremitting work in the service of music and five months short of his 90th birthday.

Ivor Mairants, guitarist, composer, writer and teacher: born Rypin, Poland 8 July 1908; married 1931 Lily Schneider (one son, one daughter); died London 20 February 1998.

Suggested Topics
Sport
Mourinho lost his temper as well as the match
sportLiverpool handed title boost as Sunderland smash manager’s 77-game home league run
Voices
Sweet tweet: Victoria Beckham’s selfie, taken on her 40th birthday on Thursday
voices... and her career-long attack on the absurd criteria by which we define our 'betters', by Ellen E Jones
Arts & Entertainment
Billie Jean King, who won the women’s Wimbledon title in 1967, when the first colour pictures were broadcast
tv
News
Snow has no plans to step back or reduce his workload
mediaIt's 25 years since Jon Snow first presented Channel 4 News, and his drive shows no sign of diminishing
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Life & Style
food + drinkWhat’s not to like?
Voices
Clock off: France has had a 35‑hour working week since 1999
voicesThere's no truth to a law banning work emails after 6pm, but that didn’t stop media hysteria
Arts & Entertainment
Maisie Williams of Game of Thrones now
tvMajor roles that grow with their child actors are helping them to steal the show on TV
Life & Style
Lana Del Rey, Alexa Chung and Cara Delevingne each carry their signature bag
fashionMulberry's decision to go for the super-rich backfired dramatically
Arts & Entertainment
Kingdom Tower
architecture
Life & Style
Sampling wine in Turin
food + drink...and abstaining may be worse than drinking too much, says scientist
Arts & Entertainment
Game of Thrones writer George R.R. Martin has been working on the novels since the mid-Nineties
books
News
Easter a dangerous time for dogs
these are the new ones. Old ones are below them... news
News
Brand said he
people
Voices
Actor Zac Efron
voicesTopless men? It's as bad as Page 3, says Howard Jacobson
Sport
Roger Federer celebrates his victory over Novak Djokovic in the Monte Carlo Masters
sport
Arts & Entertainment
The monster rears its head as it roars into the sky
film
Voices
For the Love of God (2007) The diamond-encrusted skull that divided the art world failed to sell for
its $100m asking price. It was eventually bought by a consortium
which included the artist himself.
voicesYou can shove it, Mr Webb – I'll be having fun until the day I die, says Janet Street-Porter
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

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit