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John Robert Brown
"Dick Hawdon taught me from when I was six years old. I had a really good balance of tuition growing up. Dick brought my first trumpet round when I was five. He taught me from when I was six years old. One week he'd turn up with a book of Louis Armstrong hot breaks but he also took me through the Arban tutor, to sort me out with embouchure and technique. And my dad would write out transcriptions for me. When I wanted to go out and play football, Dad wouldn't let me out until I'd finished the latest Bunny Berigan solo he'd written out! That was when I was eight or nine years old. At the age of eight I could play Bunny Berigan's I Can't Get Started from beginning to end, putting it down an octave when it got too high.
"After college in Leeds I did a post-graduate course at the Guildhall, a one-year course which enabled me to get to London. At the time I was working with the Ken Mackintosh band. Also, I played with an alternative NYJO, called Super Jazz, or Young Jazz. Then I joined the Pasadena Roof Orchestra, a 1920s/1930s-style band which did a lot of touring. I did that for about ten years, generally working around Europe, but I had trips to the Far East and to America, which was my way of seeing the world. Probably I stayed a little too long with the Pasadena Orchestra, because when I left I started picking up much more freelance work, once people knew I was around.
"I joined Ray Gelato's band, a very good showcase, which I did for several years. Since then, I've relied on free-lance work, though I've been doing Acker Bilk's band once a week. Acker is now 83. He still fills all the theatres. Acker's great. Only after working with him do I realise what a good musician he is. Although he's not schooled, he's very much a natural musician, and a great ensemble player. I searched YouTube to find any earlier Acker and Kenny Ball. As I had seen them when I was growing up in the seventies or the eighties, I tended to take them for granted. But when I actually researched them, blimey, they were great! Kenny had a knockout band, and the same with Acker. You see them on YouTube; you realise why they were famous - because they were good. Acker and Kenny used to go to listen to MY dad and uncle!
"My dad [Ernie Tomasso, who died in 1991], and my uncle Freddie, played for Harry Gold in the late forties and early fifties. Harry had a really good band. He was very popular. When I first went to London I bumped into Harry. He said: 'I'm looking for a trumpet player. Come and join my band.'" "I did play with Harry, though by then he didn't have many gigs. My dad and my uncle had both moved to London before the War, because my dad got the house job in the Nest Club. My dad was there for a year or so during the late 1930s. People like Coleman Hawkins and Fats Waller would sit in. After the war my dad moved back to Leeds. I started off at the age of seven, doing the clubs! With my brother, Peter, and my sister Sharon we did a family act, which was my first time on the stage. At that point in my development I met Louis Armstrong.
"I was brought up on the earlier styles, Swing and Dixieland, by my dad. At college I discovered Miles Davis, Clifford Brown, Freddie Hubbard and the fusion stuff, which opened up my mind to anything. Because of that, tomorrow I'll be out with Keith Nichols, doing a 1930s swing style, and another time I'll be out with someone like Alan Barnes, doing a mainstream-to-bebop thing. I play across the board, stylistically. I hope not to get too typecast in one style. Playing in different styles every night keeps me fresh.
"I always go back and listen to Louis. I'll always be listening to the earlier greats. I do a show called Trumpet Greats, which is a tribute to all my heroes: Bunny Berigan, Bobby Hackett, Will Bill Davison, Muggsy Spanier, and then move on to Miles - and Clark Terry, another great idol. "Alan Barnes has a record label. He kindly asked me to do an album, which I recorded last week. It's my debut solo album, which should be out early mid-summer (2012)."
John Robert Brown