Orbituary - John R.T. Davies
Scholarly jazz musician with the Temperence
Seven who played
13 instruments and was an innovative restorer of old recordings
Reproduced from The Telegraph Wednesday May 26 2004
John R T Davies
John R T Davies, who died yesterday aged 77, was a jazz musician with an international reputation for remastering old recordings; but his closest brush with fame was as a member of the Temperance Seven, which swept to the top of the Hit Parade with You're Driving Me Crazy in 1961.
When Davies was invited to arrange for the "Temps", it was largely made up of students at Chelsea College who could not read music yet played at least two instruments each. He happily agreed to provide some simple scores, writing himself in, as trombonist and alto-saxophonist, and entering into its light-hearted spirit by adopting the name Sheikh Wadi El Yadounia and wearing a fez.
Davies brought with him experience of playing alongside such post-war jazz musicians as Mick Mulligan and Ken Colyer, as well as a deep knowledge derived from his large record collection. This enabled him to move its musical model from 1923 to 1926, when Louis Armstrong was emerging as jazz's greatest performer.
The Temperance Seven took their name from Father Mathew's temperance movement in 19th-century Ireland, adding to the joke by declaring that they were one over the eight when its seven members rose to nine. Their polite, nostalgic and very English style - strongly suggestive of tea dances - differed from that of both the "trad jazz" bands and the other groups of the period.
Girls began screaming when the vocalist Paul McDowell opened his mouth. Then the band, dressed in frock coats and wing collars, appeared on the television programme Juke Box Jury to play the theme tune on three phonafiddles, a sousaphone and banjo. It led to a flurry of invitations, climaxing in an appearance on Sunday Night at the London Palladium.
The rock critic of the Village Voice in New York even declared that the group was proof of the existence of God.
Davies's careful nourishment contributed to the steady improvement in the band's music, which attracted the attention of Sir George Martin, the music producer later responsible for the Beatles' records. Martin agreed to record the Temps at the Abbey Road studio in London and gave them useful, if largely unwelcome, suggestions designed to increase their chance of success. He objected to You're Driving Me Crazy because it ran to more than four minutes, while most 45 rpm records lasted two minutes 10 seconds; but the number's sophisticated scoring, fey lyrics and Davies's elegant alto solo contributed to an astonishing success. This led on to a stream of later hits such as Pasadena and Hard-Hearted Hannah.
But when success came it was a deep shock to the band's members. While bemused at receiving the then large sum of £60 a week, some entertained doubts about professionalism and commercialism, while being conscious that they had their own futures to consider.
After the Temps appeared at the Royal Command Performance, the Beatles began to rocket into the charts, while the band wound down their activities, though they continued to perform with new members until the late 1960s. Most went off to pursue non-musical careers; but Davies had plenty to occupy him in jazz.
The son of a skin specialist, John Ross Twiston Davies was born on March 20 1927 and went to Dartington Hall. He developed an early interest in jazz, much to his father's disapproval. But he did not take up an instrument till he was given a guitar while serving with the Royal Signals in Austria after the war. On returning home he started playing banjo with Mick Mulligan. He switched to trombone and, with his brother Julian, who played tuba and later double-bass, became a founder member of the Crane River band. They began to play in the revivalist tradition of Bunk Johnson and George Lewis, and continued to do so with the same front line for almost 40 years.
Although Davies was already dedicated to jazz, he had to make ends meet with a wide variety of day jobs, including working at Heathrow airport. In the evenings he would play with the cornet player Steve Lane, the trombonist Cy Laurie and the clarinettists Sandy Brown and Acker Bilk as well as his own band.
After the Temperance Seven wound down, Davies still found plenty of congenial collaborators, whom he would bemuse by turning up for a gig with 17 instruments, including a 19th-century cornopean. He formed, with the American journalist Dick Sudhalter, the Anglo-American Alliance, and had the cornet player Bobby Hackett to stay so frequently that his children called him "Uncle Bobby". Another friend was the clarinettist Jimmy Noone Junior, with whom he made a particularly finely matched partnership on Apex Blues.
At the same time Davies's scholarly interest in jazz was encouraged when Sudhalter, who had been researching a life of Bix Beiderbecke, told him of the transcripts in the American Library of Congress of the Paul Whiteman Orchestra's numbers from the 1920s. This led him to put on a concert at the Royal Festival Hall, in which he played the parts of the saxophonist Frankie Trumbauer. The cost of putting on a performance by a 28-piece orchestra meant there were only a handful of performances, though it made some excellent recordings.
Davies had first started a record label called Ristick, his youthful nickname, in the late 1940s, and concentrated on painstakingly creating small collections of largely unknown players. The most startling of these contained the work of a cornet player whose distinctive style he had identified on a variety of recordings made around 1930, though nobody could tell him the player's name, except that it was perhaps "Charlie. . .", ". . .Charlie", "Big Charlie" or "Charlie Thomas". The collection was released under the name "Big Charlie Thomas." Davies restored such records in the old stables of his Buckinghamshire home. He first began sticking together pieces of old discs, then used early tape recorders, finally cutting his own CDs.
The major record companies were doing the same thing, but they could match neither his scholarship nor his willingness to devote unlimited time to removing clicks, crackles and pops from a single record. This he did by carefully remixing the balance of treble, bass and volume to produce a version that was sometimes better than the original.
His reputation was such that large music companies with flawed orchestral recordings started asking him to make repairs by copying notes from elsewhere on a tape, rather than recall all the players to re-record. Some friends felt that this should have enabled him to make handsome profits during the raging inflation of the mid-1970s, but Davies elected to stick to the Labour government's inflation guidelines. However, his expertise later paid dividends when record companies were glad to have the name John R T Davies in small type on their CDs of Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman and others which he had remastered, because it was an instant guarantee. Ever ready to help others with a serious interest in the subject, he was making a final CD of unissued and test pressings of such musicians as Wingy Manone and Joe Venuti.
John R T Davies leaves his wife Sue, who bought him his first alto as a wedding present, a daughter and a step-daughter; another daughter predeceased him.
Please visit my Home Page