Obituary: Aubrey Frank

Aubrey Frank, saxophonist: born London 3 June 1921; died London 3 June 1993.

AUBREY FRANK was a prominent member of the generation of British jazz and dance-band musicians that prepared the way for the advent of bebop. Younger instrumentalists such as Ronnie Scott brought the post-war African-American innovations to the wider attention of the jazz-loving public, but the saxophonist Frank was one of the local heroes who can claim considerable responsibility too. Steeped in the professional mores of the dance-band era, he was a world- class player admired by his peers.

Born into a Jewish family in the East End of London, he was forced into a position of early responsibility by his father's death. He was 11, but his elder brother had married and left home. By the age of 14 1/2 he was playing alto saxophone with a junior band at Collins' Music Hall - a job that lasted a week. A year later, switching to tenor saxophone, he joined the Savoy Junior Band where, in the saxophone section, he met his lifelong friend Harry Conn.

For two decades Frank worked with London's 'name' bands, beginning in 1940 with Jack Harris at the London Casino. He valued the virtues of the great black American swing ensembles of Count Basie and Jimmy Lunceford, and established friendships with black British musicians as well, arranging employment for them when a black face was a rare sight on bandstands. At Hammersmith Palais, where he worked with Eddie Carroll, he found work for the superlative Jamaican saxophonist Bertie King, then joined Geraldo who, as a BBC staffer, made up to nine broadcasts a week.

Gigs overlapped frequently in the early war years and he often dashed between bandstands. For over a year, while in steady employment with Ambrose, he participated in all Ken 'Snakehips' Johnson's broadcasts and recordings, often sitting in with Johnson's West Indians at their Sunday tea-dances which attracted a more 'rhythm-oriented' public and gave him a chance to improvise. When Johnson was killed in the Blitz, Frank introduced several of his musicians to Ambrose who, having lived in the segregated United States, had never visualised employing black musicians.

In November 1941, on the eve of his conscription, Frank took part in EMI's epochal First English Public Jam Session recording. He temporarily escaped his RAF duties to continue playing for, among others, the musically revolutionary bandleader Lew Stone and the Belgian trumpeter and racing driver Johnny Claes, and was also a member of the early Ted Heath Orchestra.

On demob he rejoined Ambrose then, unwilling to travel, continued to freelance and teach, his students including Tommy Whittle, later a prominent figure in modern jazz. Other 'progressive' associations continued - in the veteran Harry Hayes' bop band and with Jack Nathan, where he shared saxophone chores with Ronnie Scott and another 'modernist', Harry Klein. His playing during this period can be heard on the recent Esquire CD set Bebop in Britain.

Aubrey Frank, who continued to teach during the later part of his career, impressed all who met him with his gentle courtesy and generosity. Many researchers are in his debt. His was an unusual personality in the abrasive world of backstage. 'He was too much of a gentleman to be a professional musician,' said Harry Conn. That he earned a solid reputation was a tribute to his musicianship.

He was an active committee member of the Coda Club, the monthly social gathering of veteran musicians, but, essentially a private person, failed to inform even close friends there when he was made a Freeman of the City of London. He never married, living with his mother until her death some 20 years ago.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Ashdown Group: Human Resources Manager

£28000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: A successful organisation...

Recruitment Genius: Internal Recruiter - Manufacturing

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Internal Recruiter (manufact...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager (CIPD) - Barking / East Ham - £50-55K

£50000 - £55000 per annum + 25 days holidays & benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Man...

Recruitment Genius: Operations / Project Manager

£40000 - £48000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This software company specialis...

Day In a Page

The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

They fled war in Syria...

...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

Kelis interview

The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea