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Farewell Kenny Ball, 1930-2013 | reviews, news & interviews

Farewell Kenny Ball, 1930-2013

Farewell Kenny Ball, 1930-2013

A giant of Britain's trad jazz boom passes away

Kenny Ball: he made joyous, timeless music which still raises a smile

The death today at age 82 of trumpeter Kenny Ball makes him the first of the big three chart regulars of Britain’s trad jazz boom to pass away. Both Acker Bilk and Chris Barber are still with us. It’s easily forgotten, but trad actually was bigger than The Beatles. In January 1963, just as the Liverpool quartet were issuing their second single, “Please Please Me”, Ball was on a sell-out bill at north London’s massive Alexandra Palace. Ball beat them to the US charts, hitting number two there in early 1962 with “Midnight in Moscow”.

Trad isn’t cool, and probably wasn’t then. But it was massive and, as the Fifties closed, was packing colleges and cellars, bringing fans to Britain’s first “raves”. The Beatles' Merseybeat competitors The Swinging Blue Jeans were originally a trad outfit, and the skiffle which fired the nascent Beatles was an off-shoot of trad boom – skiffle king-pin Lonnie Donegan was originally in Chris Barber’s band.

His first high-profile single was a 1959 reconfiguration of 'Teddy Bear’s Picnic'

The trad boom began around 1953 when went Barber went professional and fizzled out soon after that Alexandra Palace show. Still, in April 1961, the New Musical Express had asked “Is trad killing rock?” Soon it was the other way around. With gentle wit, Ball’s last chart single, in 1967, was a version of The Beatles' “When I’m Sixty-Four.”

As far as his success goes, Ball was a relative latecomer. His first high-profile single was a 1959 reconfiguration of “Teddy Bear’s Picnic”. It wasn’t a hit, but “Samantha” took him into top 20 in 1961.

Ball was from Essex, where he died, and was first seen on stage in 1951 with Charlie Galbraith’s All Star Jazz Band. He soon began singing, in addition to playing the trumpet, and worked his way through the bands of Sid Phillips, Eric Delaney and Terry Lightfoot. His music was a raucously upbeat Dixieland sound, setting him apart from the more sedate practitioners of the New Orleans style. He was perfect for dancing.

In 1958 he formed Kenny Ball & His Jazzmen, was spotted by Lonnie Donegan who got him signed to his label, Pye Records, and put him on his TV show. Ball was soon a regular on radio too. Spells at Frankfurt’s Storyville jazz club in 1959 and 1960 toughened his sound up.

Although “Midnight in Moscow” was ultimately aced out Stateside by a competing, American-recorded version, its international success ensured Ball’s career would be long, outstaying trends. In 1963 he was made an honorary citizen of New Orleans.

The route from trad to the Sixties’ beat boom and all that followed is seamless and Ball was a colossal landmark on the journey. He made joyous, timeless music which still raises a smile. He was also a gentleman, always had a twinkle in his eye and will be much missed.

Kenneth Daniel Ball. Born 22 May 1930. Died 7 March 2013

Visit Kieron Tyler’s blog

Kenny Ball & His Jazzmen perform the 1962 hit “Midnight in Moscow” on The Morecambe & Wise Show, 1970

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