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
News
news

Emergency call 'started off dumb, but got pretty serious'

News
people

Britain First criticised for using actress's memory to draw attention to their 'hate-filled home page'

Arts and Entertainment
JK Rowling is releasing a new Harry Potter story about Dolores Umbridge
arts + entsJK Rowling to publish new story set in wizard's world for Halloween
News
Russell Brand was in typically combative form during his promotional interview with Newsnight's Evan Davis
people

Thought you'd seen it all after the Jeremy Paxman interview?

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch
tv

Greatest mystery about the hit BBC1 show is how it continues to be made at all, writes Grace Dent

Life and Style
tech

Did she really send it? And if so, what on?

Voices
Funds raised from the sale of poppies help the members of the armed forces with financial difficulties
voicesLindsey German: The best way of protecting soldiers is to stop sending them into conflicts
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from David Ayer's 'Fury'
film

"History is violent," says the US Army tank commander Don "Wardaddy" Collier

News
The Edge and his wife, Morleigh Steinberg, at the Academy Awards in 2014
peopleGuitarist faces protests over plan to build mansions in Malibu
News
news
News
peopleFox presenter gives her less than favourable view of women in politics
News
George Clooney and Amal Alamuddin married in Venice yesterday
peopleAmal and George Clooney 'planning third celebration in England'
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley at the premiere of Laggie at Toronto Film Festival 2014
theatreActress 'to make Broadway debut'
Property
One bedroom terraced house for sale, Richmond Avenue, Islington, London N1. On with Winkworths for £275,000.
property
Sport
Erik Lamela celebrates his goal
football

Argentinian scored 'rabona' wonder goal for Tottenham in Europa League – see it here

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

Business Focused Business Analyst - Finance and Procurement System Implementation

£350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Reading are...

Head of Business Development and Analytics - TV

competitive benefits: Sauce Recruitment: Outstanding analytic expertise is req...

Commercial Property Solicitor - Bristol

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: A VERY HIGH QUALITY FIRM - A high q...

Head of ad sales international - Broadcast

competitive + bonus + benefits: Sauce Recruitment: Are you the king or Queen o...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker