Jazz promoters... Tom Baron
Reproduced by kind permission of Tom Baron, Pat O'Beirne and Just Jazz Magazine

Tom Baron's two main passions in life have been tennis and jazz. Both have stemmed from his schooldays in Blackburn back in the early '40's. Having acquired his first tennis racquet in his mid-teens he joined a succession of clubs, and from them developed as a player, umpire and administrator. Latterly he has been playing for the county as a veteran and competing in club, national and international events. He umpired at Wimbledon for 24 years and at the U. S. Open, held at New York's Flushing Meadow for 7 years, sadly having to cease with professional events when he turned 70 in 2002. 

It was in New York where he was able to indulge in his love of jazz by visiting the tremendous variety of jazz clubs on offer in the evenings and see the likes of Dick Sudhalter, Bucky Pizzarelli, Lionel Hampton, Kenny Davern, John Bunch and many other great musicians. In 1995 he and his wife Chris attended the 'March of Jazz' Party hosted by Arbors Records in Deerfield Beach, and thought, "Why shouldn't it happen back home?" The association with the Melody Maker and listening to jazz on the radio, in particular AFN and BFN led him to join the jazz section of the Blackburn Gramophone Society. There they traded 78's and L. P.'s with fellow enthusiasts in the States and acquired record material not accessible in our country at that time, from the likes of Dizzie Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Errol Garner and Oscar Peterson. And then the love affair that Tom had with the Stan Kenton Band came to fruition when he saw him play at Preston Market Hall in the 50's. They were certainly ahead of their time in East Lancashire! Hearing Ruby Braff, with Howard Alden and Frank Tate, in Bradford was added inspiration, and in the early '90's Tom, together with Clarrie Henley, felt that he wanted to provide an outlet for mainstream jazz in the North West. Clarrie had run gigs for Marty Grosz prior to this and so he secured a hotel near Horwich, which seemed central to the area, and booked Warren Vache, followed later by his brother Allan, backed by London-based and local musicians. As a consequence he met up with Robin Duxbury, who was putting on regular gigs at Blakeys in Blackburn. They decided to join together and pool resources and put on about six events a year featuring touring U. S. musicians. The first event was held at the King Georges's Hall Complex in Blackburn. It was headed by Kenny Davern with Howard Alden and a local backing group.

180 attended. Tom and Robin were encouraged and were given good publicity by Jazz Journal and Jazz U. K. Blakeys continued to operate alongside on a monthly basis, providing quality traditional and mainstream jazz. The special promotions ran for a few years with one or more London-based musicians coming up to support the main attraction. The idea of a Jazz Party continued to flourish in Tom's mind and 1997/8 saw Tom visiting Clearwater and consulting Mat Domber, Arbor's head, as to the implication of hosting his own Jazz Party. Thus he began the planning of his first, which was held at the Imperial Hotel, Blackpool in 2000. The input from Jed Williams of Jazz U. K. on all aspects of the planning, particularly in relation to how to approach would-be sponsors was greatly valued by Tom .A brochure was produced and sent out to the marketing managers of some 50 major companies who had a link with the arts. Allan Greenhalgh of the Rhythm Station at Rawtenstall took him up and gave him valuable support that year, as did three other generous sponsors. Tom is most appreciative of the support of Blackpool Borough Council Tourism Department and both the material contribution and the valuable time, expertise and support offered to him by Allan, Clarrie, Robin, Derek Webster, Steve Voce and Tony Davis who shared comparing duties at the first party, which over 300 attended. The Party is unique in the U. K. and has maintained attendances of over 400 in each of the subsequent years, which speaks highly of the quality of musicians Tom has invited each year. Tom selects and invites the musicians himself. Eighteen are coming from the U. S. A. this year, along with five British and one Finn. He then prepares the programme for the weekend, which comprises of 34 sets. He tells me that it is like playing an extremely challenging game of chess because he tries to cover a spectrum and provide a balanced programme, which acknowledges 'Ragtime to Be-bop' and in particular the Swing Era, in different ways. 

The musicians need to be 'married together' and many are given suggested themes for their sets. Tom's wife Chris is tremendously supportive of him and he would like to acknowledge the work that she does for him throughout the year in relation to the Party and its organisation. 

Patricia O'Beirne    

Tom still playing tennis at the age of 87 in 2019. Photo courtesy BBC TV


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