Alan George Clare, pianist, actor: born London 31 May 1921; married; died London 29 November 1993.
ALTHOUGH he was one of the most gifted of British jazz pianists, Alan Clare's eminence as a musician was often sidelined by fame as a comedy actor with Spike Milligan on stage and television.
The two friends came to Liverpool on tour with Milligan's The Bed Sitting Room and Spike was kind enough to arrange for me to see the show on each of its six nights at the Royal Court Theatre. Each evening when I arrived well before the show Milligan on cornet and Clare on piano would play jazz duets for me backstage - Milligan is a surprisingly effective soloist in the Bobby Hackett mannner. On the Friday night all the seats were sold, so Milligan arranged with the manger of the theatre that I could stand in the aisle on the right-hand side of the stalls. As the curtain went up, Milligan came on stage in a night-shirt holding a candle and peering out into the auditorium. He saw me where I stood against the wall by the stalls and said, 'Ullo, mate'. Then he turned to the audience, cupped his hand round his mouth and confided 'BO'.
I hadn't heard Clare play before then, because he worked mainly in the London night clubs. His few records were unjustly obscure and he rarely broadcast. This was surprising, for he was in the same class as George Shearing, Ralph Sharon and Marian McPartland, English pianists who rose to the top playing jazz in the United States when they migrated there.
'He was the most exquisite, silk-smooth pianist I ever heard,' Milligan said. 'We first met during one of the Goon Shows when Peter Sellers introduced me to him - Alan had already become a cult amongst entertainers.'
Clare began working in those night clubs when he was 16 after having studied piano from the age of three. By 1941 he had begun his long association with the violinist Stephane Grappelli when the two worked together at Le Suivi. After the war he again worked with Grappelli at the Studio Club where he became resident pianist - Augustus John had been a founder member of the artists' club in 1919. Clare also led the trio at the Downbeat Club during the Fifties. By this time he had accumulated an enormous repertoire of popular songs and made records under his own name both as a soloist and leader of small bands. His first records were for the small Esquire label, but he signed with Decca in 1956 and stayed with the company for the next four years, using distinguished musicians like Tony Coe, Tony Crombie and Lennie Bush on his recordings. He continued to work in exclusive London night clubs and appeared in Milligan's television series. He recorded regularly with Grappelli during the Seventies and, ironically, Polygram were to issue a new CD of recordings by him on the day of his death. This included his composition 'Holland Park', a tribute to the area of London which he loved and had lived in for 43 years.
Clare had been due to be reunited with his fellow pianist George Shearing when they were to play together on a cruise on the QE2 next May.
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