Obituary: Freddy Randall

Steve Voce
Tuesday 25 May 1999 23:02 BST

AT ONE point in the Fifties the three most popular revivalist jazz bands were led by trumpeters. Humphrey Lyttelton was the most eminent, Freddy Randall was the most instrumentally gifted, and everybody liked Mick Mulligan even though he wasn't much good as a trumpet player.

I remember a concert at the time in Liverpool where Mick Mulligan blasted a typically energetic and hopeful solo through his horn. As he stepped back from the mike he turned to one of his sidemen and said "All the vulgarity of Freddy Randall with none of the technique."

It's true that Randall was a flashy player. But from time to time every trumpet virtuoso from Kenny Baker to Harry James has displayed the same quality. And why not? The brazen and declamatory nature of the horn lends itself to the permanent fanfare.

Despite his remarkable physical dexterity with the trumpet Randall was not a schooled musician. Bruce Turner, who played clarinet in one of Randall's best bands, remembered its first broadcast when it appeared with the orchestra of Paul Fenhoulet and three other bands including the Tito Burns Sextet. The orchestra and bands were to play together and the Randall musicians froze in horror when scores were placed before them, for they didn't read music.

At a rehearsal a few minutes before transmission the orchestra started off and the other three bands dispatched their written parts with ease. Fenhoulet pointed his baton dramatically at the Randall band and - silence. Randall's musicians didn't know what to do. Fenhoulet was speechless. Then a BBC sound engineer banged on his window and then ran into the studio. "I'm awfully sorry", he said. "Could you do that bit again? None of the mikes on the Randall band worked."

Randall took up the trumpet when he was 16 and joined Albert Bale's Darktown Strutters. He formed his first band, the Saint Louis Four, in 1939. He joined the Rifle Brigade at the beginning of the war but was invalided out in 1943. He surprised audiences with his outstanding ability when he joined Freddie Mirfield's Garbage Men in 1944. John Dankworth played clarinet in the band.

That year Randall won an Individual Award at the annual Melody Maker concert. He recorded with Mirfield and stayed with him until 1946 when he formed his own band. Over the next 10 years this was to include many of the most inspired jazz improvisers, including Bruce Turner, Brian Lemon, Lennie Felix, Roy Crimmins, Danny Moss and Archie Semple.

From the late Forties on, Randall and his band played every Sunday night at the Cooks' Ferry Inn in Edmonton, North London. Even though this was an obscure place to hide his light, Randall's fame spread throughout the country. The band's music was Dixieland. It was derived from the original Chicago-style jazz played by Muggsy Spanier and by Eddie Condon and his gang, and took account of the music of the Bob Crosby Orchestra. Ignoring the determination of most revivalist groups to let their music be dominated by the banjo, Randall used a rhythm guitar and often a tenor saxophone. As a result his music was generally more sophisticated than that played by the other bands. His guitarist Neville Skrimshire approached Bruce Turner to join the Randall band and took Turner to the Sunday night session at Cooks' Ferry Inn. "Sunday?" said Turner. "Won't everyone be in church?" "In north London", said Skrimshire, "there's only one true God, and it's Freddy Randall".

When producer Mark White started the BBC Jazz Club broadcasts in 1947 he often called on Randall and when, in 1949, White took a collection of stars into the Decca studios to make some records Randall was amongst them. His feature on "Black and Blue" gave an early example of his eloquence with the growl mute style of trumpet.

Randall had based his style first on the playing of Spanier, a limited but effective American trumpeter. But he soon surpassed Spanier, and from then on Randall had no doubts about his talents (when Alun Morgan submitted a liner note for a Randall LP to the trumpeter for his approval, Randall made an alteration. Morgan had written that Randall had "one of the best jazz bands in the country". When Randall returned the script "one of" had been deleted and "bands" had become singular).

He was undoubtedly a great player and towered above his contemporaries. One can only speculate at the result had he been dropped into one of Eddie Condon's or Jack Teagarden's bands of that time.

Although he was so talented, Randall had little time to talk about other players, and when his musicians travelled, the conversation, unlike that of other bands, was seldom about Armstrong or Ellington. The trumpeter was usually fairly distant from his musicians and often treated them with suspicion.

On one occasion he called his trombonist Roy Crimmins to one side. "I'm raising your money by a pound a week", he told Crimmins. "Keep your ears open, and I want you to tell me what the other guys in the band are saying about me." Roy told the band's clarinet player Archie Semple about the arrangement. It transpired that Archie had been given a one pound rise on the same basis, and when they checked they found that everyone else in the band had, too.

A low point was reached when their leader told Crimmins and the others that he'd been robbed and wouldn't be able to pay them that week. His credibility was not enhanced by the fact that he was wearing a new and very elegant camel hair coat.

Randall's band was one of the first to accompany visiting American jazz musicians. Billy Banks, who had made some legendary records with Eddie Condon in the Twenties and with Sidney Bechet in the Thirties, visited this country in 1952 to sing in British music halls. Because he was regarded as a variety act, Banks was not subject to the Musicians' Union ban on American jazz musicians appearing in Britain, and he was able to record with Randall and the band. By now Randall was familiar with the recordings of the American cornettist Wild Bill Davison, and he took the pillar-of- fire-in-the-night characteristics of Wild Bill's playing into his own style. Later, in 1965, Randall's band backed Davison on a British tour and made an intriguing and successful LP with him when the tour finished.

Like so many of the jazz bands of the time, Randall's band took on punishing tours of the provinces, playing one-nighters all over the realm. The audiences came out faithfully and it seemed that the fashion for small band jazz would never end. In 1956 the Musicians' Union relented ("Who needs Louis Armstrong when we've got Kenny Baker?" had been it's parroted call) and allowed Louis Armstrong and His All Stars to tour Britain as part of an exchange system. The exchange for Armstrong was the Freddy Randall band which was sent to the American Deep South to tour in a rock and roll package with Bill Haley's Comets. The British musicians were greeted mostly with hysterical apathy. But not in Birmingham, Alabama when they played before a segregated audience. Pickets marched around outside the auditorium with placards that read "Down with rebop. Christians will not attend this show. Ask your preacher about jungle music."

Randall played with such great power that it was inevitable that he would damage himself. The many spectacular records he made for the Parlophone label between 1951 and 1957 testify to his energy. They included the classic "Dark Night Blues" (1952), an eloquent display of plunger muting of the trumpet, and he was always supported by musicians of great taste, like Crimmins, Turner, Semple, Danny Moss, Lennie Felix and Lennie Hastings. In 1958 he retired from music because of lung strain.

He bought a hotel in Brighton, which he ran from 1958 until 1961 when he sold it and bought a nursing home in Berkshire. He reformed his band in May 1963, keeping it together until 1966 when he again left full time music. He was back again in 1972 when he co-led a band with a clarinettist from one of his earlier bands, Dave Shepherd. They played at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1973 and their performance there was issued on record. In late 1973 he formed the Freddy Randall All Stars, backing various American musicians including Bud Freeman. This band stayed together until Randall gave up touring in the late Seventies. He continued to play jobs in the Essex area throughout the Eighties and recorded with the American saxophone player Benny Waters in 1982. He finally gave up playing and retired to Teignmouth in 1993 and shortly afterwards began to suffer from Alzheimer's disease.

Frederick James "Freddy" Randall, trumpeter, bandleader: born London 6 May 1921; married (one daughter, one son); died Teignmouth, Devon 18 May 1999.

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