Ron Simmonds had a multitude of talents. He was a fine lead trumpeter, working in innumerable British, German and American jazz orchestras. He was a gifted arranger and composer and when he lived in Berlin had his own weekly jazz programme on the American State Department-sponsored RIAS radio channel. In his later years he ran a remarkable jazz history archive, www.jazzprofessional.com, which, by the time of his death, had had more than 10 million visitors.
In Berlin Simmonds was on call for German symphony orchestras as a Gershwin specialist, playing the trumpet solos in the composer's American in Paris, Concerto in F and Rhapsody in Blue. During the same period he recorded with Acker Bilk's band in a studio that had once been the wartime Abwehr headquarters of Admiral Canaris.
Born in Canada, he moved with his English parents to Brentwood, Essex, in 1936. The family moved to Coventry in 1940, just in time to live through the massive German air-raid of 14 November.
Taking up the trumpet when he was 17, Simmonds joined the renowned band of Tommy Simpson in 1947, graduating to lead trumpet and getting his first taste of international touring. When Sampson retired through ill-health in 1949, Simmonds joined a succession of big bands including those led by Oscar Rabin, Leon Roy, Vic Lewis, the Skyrockets and the Squadronaires. He particularly enjoyed working for Vic Lewis, whose band then included some of Britain's top jazz musicians, among them Ronnie Scott, Ronnie Chamberlain, Bert Courtley, Kathy Stobart and Johnny Keating.
Leaving the Squadronaires in 1953 he began a long association with the bandleader Jack Parnell which eventually led him into show-business and radio work. After a brief period with Ambrose and, in 1955, a season with Geraldo in Monte Carlo he played in Ronnie Scott's band in 1956 before rejoining Parnell. For three years he played in the show West Side Story in London. He also played lead in Bill Russo's London Jazz Orchestra and worked with Kenny Baker's Dozen for The Goon Show and Sunday Night at the London Palladium.
He joined the Ted Heath band in 1959 for two years, taking over the lead from Bobby Pratt. Despite suffering a 50 per cent loss of hearing from all the noise he had been subjected to, he continued his career, joining John Dankworth's big band.
In 1963 he moved to Munich and in 1965 to Berlin, playing with the visiting American bands of Lionel Hampton, Oliver Nelson, Quincy Jones, Henry Mancini and Stan Kenton. Hampton had cut down his big band, and Simmonds found himself playing the sole trumpet on band arrangements that had originally been written for four trumpets. After the band fell apart trying to play these on its first night Simmonds took on the Herculean task of rewriting the band book overnight after the concert.
"How much do I owe you?" asked the mightily impressed Hampton.
"Two hundred dollars," said Simmonds.
"If I was to pay you that you'd be getting more than I am," said the famously parsimonious Hampton.
Simmonds's work in Berlin was cosmopolitan: he wrote a children's story and two plays, broadcast by RIAS, and two UFA film scripts. In 1985 he was commissioned to write a special score of Mozart's Symphony in G Minor for the combined NDR Symphony Orchestra and the NDR Big Band. He wrote scores for all the main German radio big bands. For 10 years from 1971 he was with Peter Herbolzheimer's Rhythm Combination and Brass, working with guest Americans of the calibre of Stan Getz and Gerry Mulligan.
In 1980 Simmonds's lower lip became paralysed during a dental operation and he had to give up the trumpet. He was then contracted as first concert pianist in the Radio Saarbrücken Symphony Orchestra until, in 1993, he retired to the Costa Blanca, where he played with a small group of expatriate London musicians from the BBC Show Band and the Ted Heath and John Dankworth Bands.
Devoting himself to his website, he turned it into one of the great jazz archives. He had an extraordinary knowledge of computing technology and had been working, shortly before his death, to add the obituaries of jazz musicians from The Independent to the site.
Steve VoceReuse content