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Sound of sorrow as great jazz saxophonist, Tommy Whittle, dies
The jazz world is in mourning following the death of saxophonist Tommy Whittle who lived in Bushey and died on his birthday, Sunday, October 13, aged 87.
Mr Whittle was well known in Bushey, having presented weekly jazz sessions in King George V park for many years.
He was considered a local celebrity, though few really knew what an illustrious music career he had enjoyed.
Mr Whittle was widely regarded as one of the leading saxophonists in British jazz and played a prominent role in its development and popularity in the 1950s.
Born in Grangemouth in Scotland, where he took up clarinet at the age of 12 and saxophone a year later, he moved to Chatham in Kent at the age of 16 and began playing in local dance bands.
As a teenager, Mr Whittle was already highly regarded as a jazz soloist and in 1946 he was invited to replace tenor saxophonist and future jazz club proprietor Ronnie Scott in one of the greatest orchestras of the era, the Ted Heath Band.
After six years, he left to join drummer Tony Kinsey's trio which was then resident in Studio 51 in London.
He recorded frequently with Kinsey but went on to form his own quintet in 1954. The following year, Mr Whittle won the New Musical Express Top Tenor title and the following year he won the same title in Melody Maker magazine.
He was encouraged to make the most of his popularity and took his band on the road, touring in Europe and the United States.
Back in the UK, Mr Whittle joined the BBC Show Band and teamed up with former Ted Heath Band drummer Jack Parnell’s television orchestra, going on to broadcast with many musical icons including Bing Crosby and Peggy Lee.
It was then that he made the move north to Hertfordshire and set up home in Merry Hill Road, Bushey.
In 1966 he was introduced to singer Barbara Jay and she performed with him when the Tommy Whittle Band’s regular singer was unable to perform.
Romance blossomed and the couple were married a year later and soon set up home in Little Bushey Lane.
A few years later they moved on to Heathfield Road and then finally settled in their current home.
He remained prominent in the jazz world, running a weekly club for 10 years at the Hopbine pub in Wembley. He also played at the Dorchester Hotel, where he led a dance and cabaret band.
Mr Whittle was also in great demand for session work and recorded with Barbra Streisand and Tom Jones, among a host of others. He also recorded with swing master Benny Goodman and with his own quartets.
He also joined and then led the Pizza Express All-stars jazz band and worked closely with his wife on Ella Fitzgerald tribute shows.
He repeated his 1950s poll-winning successes by winning the Top Tenor title in the British Jazz Awards in 1990 and 1991 and appeared at the Royal Albert Hall in 2000 on a Ragtime to Swing bill with trumpeter Kenny Ball and American singer Carla Valente.
He also performed at a number of Royal Command performances in front of the Queen.
Despite his wide acclaim, he was well known locally for his regular annual concerts with his band and wife in King George playing fields where he did his best to convert more music lovers to jazz.
Mr Whittle was awarded a lifetime achievement medal for his contribution to British jazz from the Worshipful Company of Musicians in 2005 and was still playing earlier this year before contracting pneumonia while on holiday in Spain.
He is survived by his wife, Barbara, and sons Martin and Sean and one granddaughter and a huge back catalogue of classic recordings.
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