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Archive for the ‘Hornfinger and The Jazz Musketeers’ Category

Some consider it to be the birthdate of R&B pop chancer Michael Jackson, but on 29th August, 1958,  five-thousand miles down the road, a true musical legend was born. Three Jazz musicians at the peak of their game – fusion percussionist Jackson Geoffrey-Jackson, slap-bass master “Slippy Two Thumbs” Simpson, and Monster of Bluegrass Wilbury T. Wilson, proponent of the electric ukulele – were recruited by visionary freestyle composer and self-styled trumpetographer, Hornfinger.

Hornfinger and his new band, united in their goal to reclaim their jazz from the big band popularists of the era, staged what were branded rehearsal nights – deliberately underselling what were a series of glorious five-hour improvisations – at The Valley, Hornfinger’s jazz club on the outskirts of Las Vegas, Kent. The nights were attended by such luminaries as Leroy “Doublefoot” Richards and Williams Gregg. Not only did these concerts – forty in total, over a five-month period – spark an ebullient response, they formed the basis for what was to be The Jazz Musketeers’ first 33rpm pressing.

1959 saw the début release from Mr. Hornfinger & his Jazz Musketeers (as they were known until 1960), One Day in Real-Time, produced by Bebop pianist and fabled Fifth Musketeer  McQueen Falconbridge. Whereas side A of Real-Time featured edited highlights of live recordings from the rehearsal nights, Side B pushed the boundaries of recorded music

The album, though retrospectively considered a classic, was not well received. Melody Maker, notorious for its anti-jazz bias, said the following:

“That miniature trumpet solo is well off. Every time that man played it I wanted to punch his face.”

The New Musical Express was more cryptic:

“Its esotericism appeals, but some moments of accessibility risk alienating the hipster demographic.”

The album flopped, selling less than two copies of its original pressing.

Still reeling from the critical mauling, Hornfinger effectively disappeared: although he still frequented The Valley, he would only do so while wearing a fake moustache under the guise of his alter-ego, Sir.

Rudderless without Hornfinger at the helm, the remaining Jazz Musketeers tried to continue as a three-piece, but the emerging skiffle movement in Britain meant that gigs were increasingly hard to come by. However, in the Spring of 1960, Tony Stravinsky (brother of Igor) arranged a residency for the quartet at Club Protzig in Vienna – notorious as the epicentre of the black market cheese ring during the Fromage prohibition – where they performed for six years. During this time the group found their voice, and an enthusiastic European audience, to boot.

Vienna became their home away from home, a city that fed and understood them, that was until Jackson Geoffrey-Jackson was arrested (and subsequently deported) for possession of Liptauer. Still, the band was regalvanised by their stint in Austria, their reinvigoration only tempered by the absence of their conductor-in-chief – the increasingly eccentric Hornfinger – a situation The Jazz Musketeers were keen to rectify on their return to Britain.

Next week:  An Unauthorised History of Hornfinger and The Jazz Musketeers, 1967-1971

© 2011 Ashley J. Allen, All Rights Reserved

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Jackson Geoffrey-Jackson (born June 12th, 1942) is an English jazz fusion percussionist and drummer, best known as one of the principal innovators of the Big Funk jazz movement. Many consider Geoffrey-Jackson to be the second-best drummer in the jazz world. He is most famous for his work as a member of Hornfinger and The Jazz Musketeers.

Born to parents Minnesota Jackson and Bill Geoffrey on the backwater streets of Las Vegas, Kent, the percussionist Geoffrey-Jackson’s phenomenal ability developed at a young age. In a place where the only hope of escape for youngsters was music, Geoffrey-Jackson made his first hand drum at the age of seven from an old tea chest and the skin of a dead manta ray. Despite the stench, his early performances were greatly received.

He left school at the age of ten to work as an errand boy at the local casino – The Valley – where he watched, enviously, the jazz bands play their magnificent fusion of traditional jazz and fast-emerging Nu-Yorican funk. He did form his own jazz bands with some young friends, but many of the musicians could not match Geoffrey-Jackson’s ability. The most successful of these bands was The Flashbang Revolution Quartet, with a young Leroy “Doublefoot” Richards (who later formed the space-jazz fusion band, The Pina Colada Experience).

As he reached the age of thirteen – and so was old enough to work behind the bar – Geoffrey-Jackson began to develop an extensive network of jazz contacts in and around the casino. He had now moved on to playing a conventional drumkit and was offering his services to any bands with a drummer-shaped vacancy. The first person to truly recognise his talents was the legendary pianist Marcellus Pye, who invited him to join him and his other three band members in the Marcellus Pye Quartet, which caused much confusion.

The Quartet’s manic gigging in the Kent area drew the attention of Cheese and Onion Records. The band looked set for the big time, with the record company offering them a four-album deal. But, alas, it was not to be as Pye soon developed an acute case of agoraphobia and refused to leave his house (he later made it big with his acclaimed self-produced album Dog Eyes, which he recorded in his Aga stove).

Cautiously, Geoffrey-Jackson embarked on a solo career, returning to congas and djembe (pronounced der-jemb). His first album, These Hands Were Made For Walking – produced by jazz legend and future Jazz Musketeers colleague McQueen Falconbridge – was a moderate success, but it did spawn the hit single Bang Bang (The Carpenter Song). After the release of the Major Funk, General Jazz, his second album, Geoffrey-Jackson decided that he was not suited to the limelight – he claimed that it made him feel a little fruity. He decided to move to Boston, USA, to hone his talents under the baton of renowned American bandleader Sir Randolph “Shaky-Hand” Winter. Winter, and his band The Green Room, are said to have been responsible for Geoffrey-Jackson’s famed sound, which is a blend of big band and acid funk, colloquially known as Big Funk.

Geoffry-Jackson and Winter parted ways very amicably after two years (they both still talk about the other in high regard) when Geoffrey-Jackson was given the opportunity to hook up with Dixietown Trumpeter “Atlanta” Pete Boyce. Boyce had been a fixture on the New Orleans circuit for the past five years, but had struggled to find a percussionist who could lay down beats with the right groove, until he heard Geoffrey-Jackson’s Mighty Brew 45. Through their collaboration was born the innovative album How Low Can You Blow, which was a huge success in America, but sadly flopped in Britain. At the time, it was overlooked as a novelty record. Nowadays, it is recognised for its pioneering use of the electric bass and high-hat replacing the age-old sock cymbal. Herbie Mann once described the album as “silky”.

With his confidence boosted, Geoffrey-Jackson pushed his abilities to the limit with his Latin-Inspired …And On The Eighth Day, God Created Mambo. However, this was a sign that the man was running out of ideas, and fast. The follow-up was a brave attempt at a concept album: Cleopatra And Me told the tale of how Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt, seduced Julius Caesar with samba music. This was the last straw: his record label dropped him not long after its release.

Depressed and despondent, Geoffrey-Jackson was crushed by accusations of pretentiousness and vowed to change his ways. He returned to Britain a shell of a man. Luckily, he still had some good friends back home, like “Doublefoot” Richards, who helped him through this difficult period. It was Richards who suggested to Geoffrey-Jackson that he travel a little before returning to the music scene. He took Richards’ advice and set off on a pilgrimage to Brixton. He spent two years there, working on his sound.

It took a further three years for Geoffrey-Jackson to end his self-imposed exile in order to resume his career. He recruited one-time cohort “Hoops” Martin, a Scottish tubular bells player, to help record a new album. Released under the name of Frankie Smithington, the resulting album, Funk Goes The Weasel, was released, and was a major success. It was that recording that confirmed Geoffrey-Jackson’s place in jazz history and, more importantly, a place in the Jazz Musketeers line-up.

© 2010 Ashley J. Allen, All Rights Reserved

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