Thursday, December 18, 2014

Christmas with Kenny Ball and his Jazzmen

This post not only gives me a chance to wish everyone a Happy Holiday season, but to do a long overdue tribute to one of my favorite British trumpeters and bandleaders Kenny Ball (1930-2013).

Kenny was one of England's top trumpet men and his band the Jazzmen carried on the great tradition of Kenny's idol, Louis Armstrong and his All Stars. Kenny had his share of hit records such as Midnight in Moscow, Samantha, I Wanna be like You, Green Leaves of Summer and So Do I and along with Acker Bilk,Chris Barber and others he was a key figure of the British "trad" boom of the 50s and 60s.
Because of this,like Louis the critics tended to shun him as "commercial;"-however Kenny always served up a good portion of traditional jazz and his horn and voice always had the pulse of Louis and pure jazz to it.

This 1994 Christmas album is just brimming with fun and good jazz. Supporting Kenny are his longtime trombonist John Bennett, clarinetist Andy Cooper, Hugh Ledigo,piano-John Fenner,banjo and guitar-John Benson,bass and Ron Bowden,drums.
The menu ranges from Paul McCartney's Wonderful Christmas Time to White Christmas and Silent Night. There may be a few too many Band vocals, but it's Christmas time-let's not be a Scrooge, all the vocals are done with great joy. Kenny's own vocalizing is very prominent-he sounded like a cross between Pops and his fellow Brit, Nat Gonella. His "Pops" impersonations are very sweet and accurate-so many guys think if they sing in a gravelly voice they're doing a great Louis impression.

Kenny's trumpet is still solid too at 64 years of age. He wasn't the tiger of the Midnight in Moscow days but stills provides solid leads and tasty choruses.
The rest of the Jazzmen get their innings too with special kudos to the always solid John Bennett and the talented string man,John Fenner.
All of the selections contain the joy of Christmas with the Ball trademark-here are some of my favorites:

I'm very fond of the swinging 4/4 treatment of the old English carol, Ding Dong Merrily on High..
The band riffs along with good solos by the horns and Hugh's piano.
God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen and We Three Kings have neat treatments with the feel of Midnight in Moscow. Sleigh Ride gets a nice trad rendition although the boys omit the popular third strain("birthday party at Farmer Brown's). The old reliables Jingle Bells, Santa Claus and Rudolph receive lively treatments with Andy Cooper getting in on the fun with Rudolph. Kenny's breaks on Deck the Halls smack of Pops and the Hot 5, complete with a Potato Head Blues quote.

Kenny has a nice Louis-ish vocal and trumpet spot on Have Yourself a Merry and his aforementioned Louis vocals on White Christmas and Silent Night are most welcome.

Kenny left us in 2013, but his son Keith is keeping the Band going with John Bennett still aboard.
It's a tough job to fill because so much of the Band's success revolved around Kenny's dynamic horn, voice and showmanship. We wish Keith all the best,however.
I picked up the Christmas CD on Amazon where there are many Ball CDs available from the late 50s to the present. Check out the BBC Airshots CD from '57-62 for the early "hell bent for leather" Ball band, just before Midnight in Moscow-It's a real Trad Lover's Treat. Youtube has many wonderful Ball videos. There are many from the Band's late '60s-early' 70s years on the Morecombe and Wise show.

Kenny Ball will always be one of my favorite" Merry Gentlemen"of Jazz and his Christmas album is a great testament to his artistry and flair for fun. We at Pete Kelly's wish you a Very Happy Holiday Season.
We'll be back in 2015 for a post on the Beautiful pianist/songstress Una Mae Carlisle.