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All This Jazz: A True Gentleman

In her latest blog jazz singer Jill Grant pays tribute to her friend and fellow musician John Burch, who died this year. …I never tired of hearing him tell of his jazz life over the years (he was playing at Ronnie Scott’s old place the night it was raided by the police, for example – a policeman slammed the piano lid down on his hands for refusing to stop playing)…

Then by way of contrast the irrepressible Jill introduces us to an entirely different character - Betty Bombastic

John Burch

John was a brilliant piano player, true gentleman and good friend to me for over twenty years. He died in April this year. It’s a cliché to say that somebody “put up a brave fight” and the phrase always makes me a bit uneasy – what about those who don’t feel able to do this in the face of terminal cancer? Are they somehow less deserving?

However, John was someone of whom it can be said with justification. He knew there was no cure but fought to buy himself some time. He had a fierce will to live and a lot to live for, both in terms of his beloved family and passion for music.

John’s career encompassed both rhythm and blues and modern jazz and the roster of those he worked with is both long and distinguished – Sonny Rollins, Dick Morrissey, Graham Bond, Jack Bruce, Ginger Baker, and latterly Derek Nash, to name just a few.

I first met John when he was doing a duo gig with the late Randy Colville, a fine reeds player from Scotland. Randy invited me to sit in, and thus started my friendship with John. We did several gigs together, then when my marriage broke up suddenly in 1994 he proved a tower of strength and I came to regard him in the light of a big brother.

He invited me to visit him at Whitstable, for a meal and to run through some songs afterwards – starting a pattern that continued until just before he died. I never tired of hearing him tell of his jazz life over the years (he was playing at Ronnie Scott’s old place the night it was raided by the police, for example – a policeman slammed the piano lid down on his hands for refusing to stop playing.) He was quite a Jack-the-lad in his youth, too which often made me fall about laughing and exclaim “John!”

He, like me, had a left-field sort of sense of humour and one of his gags was “Funny Names for Solicitors” – sadly I didn’t write them down at the time. He was one of those people who could swear creatively and inventively and this caused me a lot of amusement too. On one of my last visits to his place, he’d made a curry as he often did (and very good they were too). All was ready bar the poppadums, so he said “I’ll pop them under the grill while we have a nice cup of tea.”

We were drinking our tea when – Sniff! Sniff! “I’ve burnt the effin’ poppadums!” cried John. He dashed into the kitchen and yanked the grill pan out, to reveal two very burnt offerings. When I’d stopped laughing, I assured him I could go without them, but he had some more which he managed not to burn.
On another visit he asked me to look up a chemotherapy drug on the internet. He thought it was called Avastan. (In fact it’s Avastin.) “’Ere – sounds a bit funny, that Avastan”, he remarked as we were saying goodbye. “Like I’ve got a load of little effigies of Stan R (another jazz player and good friend) in my pocket!” He mimed taking something out of his pocket. “’Ere – Avastan!” he said. Off the top of my head I replied “No thanks John – I’ve just put one out” and we both burst into giggles.

I miss him. Like every day.

* *

Betty’s Method

It’s Betty Bombastic we’re talking about – my very own pet punk diva and now budding ac-tor.

Her Method is up there with Buddy’s Habits, Moody’s Mood and Parker’s Mood – except hers is strange. Very strange.

She wants to be an ac-tor. Not actress, you notice – Betty is in deadly earnest. Very deadly. She wants to tread the red carpets and wear a dress insecurely held together with large safety pins. Now that punk is yesterday’s news, she wants to continue asserting herself at airports, enquiring querulously “Do you know who I AM??” Doesn’t cut much ice these days, she has found. Hence her change of direction.

She landed a small part in Charley’s Aunt (stop sniggering at the back there!). Her sole line was “Brazil. Where the nuts come from.” She blew it by saying “Bra-nuts. Where the zils come from”. She was mortified at the mirth this engendered.

A little bird (me, actually) told her that Ada Scroggins has taken up Method coaching, so she hied herself along to the Balls Pond Road where Ada’s bijou garden flat-ette can be found. Dodging the dustbins and fish carcases (Ada likes cats), she was soon sipping a rum and pep and listening to Ada’s pearls of wisdom.

“Now then, deah,” cooed Ada. “I want you to imagine you are a frog. Think green sliminess. Think lily pads. Think long sticky tongue. What is your motivation – as a frog? What are you saying to yourself – as a frog?”

Betty racked her brains (this did not take very long). Then opening her bow-shaped carmine mouth, she gave forth the inimitable line:

“Ribbit. Ribbit ribbit ribbit.”

A strange drumming sound resounded in her ears. She looked down – to find it was Ada having a paroxysm complete with foot percussion. (Ada’s cats were unamused.)

Back to the drawing board, Betty!


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