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British Devotee of Classic DixielandCopyright © 1999The Scotsman, 1999
Randall, FreddyFreddy Randall was a big name in the British traditional jazz scene of the late 1940s and early 1950. Randall's heroes were the so-called Dixieland players from the Chicago scene, men like Wild Bill Davison and Muggsy Spanier, and his own playing reflected their influence more overtly than the classic New Orleans style favoured by revivalist bandleaders like George Webb or Ken Colyer.
He was born Frederick James Randall in Clapton, East London, and became interested in music at school. He took up trumpet at 16, and began to play in local bands, including Albert Bale's Darktown Strutters and Will De Barr's Band. He never learned to read music, but had a flair and exhuberance which marked him out, and he achieved a high degree of technical proficiency, although he was entirely self-taught.
He formed his first band under his own leadership, the Saint Louis Four, in 1939. He served in the Rifle Brigade from 1940-43. He was invalided out of the service, and formed another band, then joined Freddy Mirfield's Garbage Men in 1944. While in that band, his trumpet playing began to attract wider attention, and he formed his own band in 1946, taking up a Sunday night residence in Cooks Ferry Inn at Edmonton which became a celebrated spot for jazz fans of the Dixieland persuasion.
The trumpeter was something of a showman as well as a gifted soloist, and the looser and more improvised approach of the Dixieland school suited him better than the tight-knit ensemble discipline of the New Orleans revivalists. The late Bruce Turner was one of the players recruited in the early days of the Cook's Ferry band, and the saxophonist recalled Randall's attacking style in his autobiography.
"I now saw that music should not simply be enjoyed, it should be seen to be enjoyed. I had never been one for florid or violent musical displays, but now I understood why Freddy always received more applause for his solos than I did. He bounced around that stage like a rubber ball, exuding charm. Fred didn't merely merely attack a 32-bar chorus, he positively violated it."
Although the prevailing critical opinion of the time favoured the New Orleans revivalists as the authentic voice of jazz, Randall's band became extremely popular, and were soon touring nationally. The trumpeter also fronted a big band for bookings at the Green's Playhouse in Glasgow during the 1950s, while his own band was featured in broadcasts and recordings, initially on his own Cleveland label, and later for Parlophone.
The band often worked with singers, including Pearl Carr, Diana Coupland and the American singer, Billy Banks. In 1956, his band became the first postwar British jazz group to tour in the United States in the wake of a band-for-band agreement between the unions. Ironically, the 'trade' brought a UK visit from the quintessential New Orleans trumpeter, Louis Armstrong, rather than any of the Dixielanders.
Randall was at the height of his popularity at this period, but in 1958 the trumpeter announced his retirement on medical grounds, citing lung strain. He ran a hotel in Brighton for a time, then a nursing home in Berkshire. A sequence of returns to the music began when clarinetist Dave Shepherd talked him into reforming a band in 1963, and they enjoyed a minor chart success with a version of The Anvil Chorus before Randall retired once again.
He re-emerged as a co-leader with Shepherd in 1972, in a fine band which also featured saxophonist Danny Moss and pianist Brian Lemon. They played at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1973. Shepherd left the band not long after, but Randall carried on leading his own group througout the decade, often accompanying visiting Americans.
He gave up touring at the end of the 1970s, but continued to play in the Essex area until 1993, when he retired from music for the final time, and moved to Teignmouth with his family.