Cy Laurie (1926 - 2002)
(Reproduced from The Daily Telegraph 23rd Apr 2002)
CY LAURIE, who has died aged 75, was a clarinettist, bandleader and an important figure in the British revivalist jazz movement
Laurie, who based his style on that of the New Orleans clarinet master Johnny Dodds, was equally well known for the jazz club which bore his name in London’s West End throughout much of the 1950s. During this time he led a series of bands, the most successful being the Cy Laurie Four, and recorded regularly.
Cyril Laurie was born in London on April 20 1926 to Latvian immigrant parents, and trained as a draughtsman. He began playing on a decrepit soprano saxophone which had been left at a pawnbroker’s shop owned by his father; but he soon swapped it for a clarinet, on which he was self-taught.
At this time, the late 1940s, the revival, or rediscovery, of early jazz was gathering momentum and Laurie took an enthusiastic part. He played in the bands of Charlie Galbraith, Mike Daniels and Owen Bryce before forming the Cy Laurie Four, and ran his own small weekly club at the Seven Stars in Bow, eventually moving to central London.
Revivalist jazz gradually turned into “trad jazz”, which grew in popularity until it amounted to a form of pop music. One of its centres was Cy Laurie’s Jazz Club, held nightly at Mac’s Rehearsal Rooms in Great Windmill Street. There was a night club on the ground floor and a boxing gym above. Dark and intimate, with a dance floor surrounded by dilapidated sofas, these premises held an irresistible bohemian appeal for the young people from the suburbs who flocked to the club’s “all-nite raves"
The very words “Cy Laurie's” were said to raise nameless fears in the minds of suspicious parents. Laurie led the resident band. When playing, he tended to get carried away, waving his instrument wildly in the air. “If you played trumpet or trombone on either side of him you stood to get badly cut about unless nimble,” observed his fellow clarinettist and rival bandleader Sandy Brown.
Laurie had long been fascinated by Eastern religions and, in 1960, he turned over the club to his trombonist, Terry Pills, in order to study with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in India. Three years later he returned, but soon left again to continue his studies in Italy. He did not resume playing until 1968.
Laurie appeared as guest artist with the Black Bottom Stompers, and co-led a quintet with the saxophonist Eggy Lay, before joining the trombonist Max Collie in his successful touring shows “New Orleans Mardi Gras” and “High Society”.
Laurie’s later career was often interrupted by his meditational and philosophical interests. In the early 1980s he worked with the singer and actress Helen Gould in a show which included dancing and comedy. Together with his wife, Ronnie, he also devised a show of his own, “That Rhythm Man”, which toured successfully towards the end of the decade.
Throughout the 1990s Laurie played mainly as a featured guest with other bands. Traditional jazz was now experiencing a second boom, as the original clientele of his club arrived at the age to be throwing retirement parties, silver weddings and so on. Four CDs, compiled from recordings made throughout his career, are currently available. In 1997, he celebrated his 70th birthday by leading a reunion band, composed of former members, in a show at the 100 Club. Ill health forced him to give up playing in 1999.
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