Jazz has had a rough deal from the cinema. This year, a group, including Paddy Whahnel, Alan Lovell and Doug Dobell, decided to try to make an honest film about professional musicians—the Bruce Turner Band. Living Jazz was presented in a programme of jazz-and-film at the NFT: director—Jack Gold. In this piece, Whannel and Lovell put questions to Bruce Turner.
How did you first become interested in jazz? When did you start playing, and how did you develop the style which you play now?
Ibecame interested in jazz because of my elder brother. He had a big record collection—the early Duke Ellington, Fletcher Henderson—as early as 1934 or 1935, and he sort of forced it on me. He used to bribe me to stay in and listen to records. I couldn’t understand half of it. But it was the sheer repetition, constantly hearing those records: I finally broke down and liked it. The first record I remember hearing was “Creole Love Call”— Duke Ellington, with a funny vocal. I first took up the clarinet because my brother got discouraged, and passed it over to me. That must have been about 1936. I didn’t play saxophone until after the War.
Who influenced you most at that time?
My tastes have been pretty consistent. The first two players who interested me were Johnny Hodges and Benny Carter, on clarinet Benny Goodman and Barny Biggard. It’s the same today.
How did you become involved in the British jazz scene?
I had done some work in the Air Force with Billy Kay on the camp near Cambridge. At this time bebop was just coming in and I couldn’t play it. They kept trying to make me play like a fellow called Charlie Parker, but I didn’t understand. I left the band after a few months. I became so discouraged that I gave up jazz, sold my instrument, and went to work in the Civil Service —the Ministry of Food. That would be in 1947. Then, a friend of mine, Neville Scrimshaw, who was working with Humphrey Lyttleton, made me sit in with the band at the Lyttleton Club, which was then in Leicester Square. I got a couple of offers that same night from little bands—not Humph’, because he already had Wally Faulks, but from little Chicago-style bands. I joined one. Then I took an audition with Freddie Randall.