|The Last Post||Intro Contents|
Trombonist Made International ReputationCopyright © 1999The Scotsman, 1997
Chisholm, GeorgeGeorge Chisholm made his name as a jazz trombone player of world class, but his career was a much more multi-faceted affair than that primary reputation might suggest. He played piano and several other brass instruments, was an accomplished band-leader and arranger, and exhibited a parallel gift for verbal comedy which brought some disapproval from the jazz press, but made him a popular favourite on such shows as The Goon Show and The Black and White Minstrel Show.
He was born into a musical family in Glasgow. His father was a drummer, his mother a pianist, and his two brothers were also skilled musicians. His first professional engagement was as a pianist at a local cinema. In the spring of 1934, he was hired on trombone by Louis Freeman, who directed a dance band at the Glasgow Playhouse, where the trombonist also worked with violinist Jack Ansell's Band later that year.
He was back with Freeman in 1935, this time with an enlarged role as pianist and arranger as well as trombonist, then made the move to London to work with the Teddy Joyce Band, before returning home to play with Duncan Whyte's Band, again at the Playhouse. Now well established on the jazz and dance band circuit, he spent the late-30s with a number of name outfits, including the famous band led by Ambrose, and also worked with the saxophonist Benny Carter in Holland in 1937, and recorded with the legendary Fats Waller in London in 1938.
Perhaps inspired by their experiences with these two great Americans, Chisholm and fellow Scots Tommy McQuater and Archie Craig (both trumpet players) were part of a new British musicians co-operative band launched in 1939 with the intention of pursuing a more purist jazz direction than was possible in some of the more commercially oriented jazz-influenced dance bands of the period.
The Heralds of Swing's short existence was abruptly terminated by the war, however, and Chisholm joined the RAF in March, 1940, where he become a founder member of their famous wartime band The Squadronaires, in which his trombone duets with Eric Breeze were a regular feature of the show. He arranged as well as played for The Squadronaires, and remained a member of the band after his demobilization, eventually leaving in 1950.
He freelanced in the studios and in stage bands in the early-50s, then joined the BBC Show Band in 1952, remaining a member until 1957. At the same time, he played regularly in a more overt jazz setting with Kenny Baker's Dozen, and continued to freelance with a variety of bands. In 1956, he took part in an all-star Hungarian Relief Fund concert at the Royal Festival Hall, alongside no less a collaborator then Louis Armstrong.
Chisholm had seized the opportunity to demonstrate his gift for comedy on BBC radio's The Goon Show, and would occasionally work with Spike Milligan in later years as well. Television seemed a natural next port of call for the outgoing and presentable trombonist, and he had his first taste of the medium with Jack Parnell's ATV Orchestra. His appetite was suitably whetted, and in 1961 he joined the cast of the highly popular Black and White Minstrel Show, to the chagrin of some jazz critics of the time, who felt he was wasting his talents on comedy routines.
Chisholm revelled in the fun, however, and kept his jazz credentials in good shape with the Alex Welsh Band, with whom he was a frequent guest in the 1960s and 1970s, including participating in the Salute to Satchmo touring tribute in 1978.
From the mid-60s, he freelanced in many settings, and was a frequent guest on television shows, both as a musician and a comic. He led his own band, The Gentlemen of Jazz, for many years, and was a guest at Dick Gibson's Jazz Party in Denver, Colorado, in 1980. He suffered heart problems in the late-70s, but made a good recovery after heart surgery in 1982, and was soon back playing again. He was awarded the OBE in 1984, but further ill-health led to a thinning out of his committments in the first instance, and eventually to his retirement in the mid-90s.
Chisholm's ready wit was evident in his agile playing as well as his verbal asides. His musical virtues were of the old school -- a full, burnished tone which trumpeter Digby Fairweather has justly described as majestic, a trademark manipulation of intervals in the bottom register of the instrument (which became known as "Chisholm's intervals"), and a penchant for sweet but never sugary elaboration of melody. He was one of the relatively small number of British jazz musicians able to make an international impact working in traditional idioms.