Steve Race

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The Independent Online

In Spencer Leigh's survey of Steve Race's life (obituary, 24 June) he states: "When he criticised Roland Kirk, the American saxophonist challenged him to join his musicians at Ronnie Scott's Club, and Race acquitted himself well," writes Ron Malings. I was present at Ronnie Scott's on the night he refers to and this is more or less what happened.

During Kirk's performance Scott became aware that Race was in the audience so he announced the fact and had the spotlight trained on Race, who took several embarrassed bows. Then Kirk, who had clearly been primed, insisted – to Race's greater embarrassment – on his joining in for one number. Stan Tracey obligingly quit the piano and Race sat in. Game he was but that was about all: he survived by comping four repeated chords. However, there was a general sympathy for him from the audience.

That changed when Kirk called him to the microphone and, after complimenting him, asked him just what he had meant in his weekly column in The Observer by referring to Kirk as "the Charlie Cairoli of the jazz world." (Charlie Cairoli was a famous white-faced clown whose act included his performing badly on numerous musical instruments. I saw him in the 1940s at Bertram Mills Circus.) Mr Race funked it. Instead of apologising, he explained that he had meant only that Kirk was a multi-instrumentalist. The audience's gasps spoke volumes. When Race had written the offending piece he had not seen or heard Kirk. He had judged him on advance publicity. He never did apologise publicly and I suspect he never referred again to Charlie Cairoli.