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Who’s Who of British Jazz by John Chilton

When I was first asked to review this book, written by a friend of over 30 years, my first inclination was to decline as I felt I couldn’t be entirely objective. But when I learned the subject matter my fears vanished. After all, a book on British jazz has about the same importance as a pictorial history of the Swiss navy, or an in-depth study of Irish erotic art.

But reading through the entries set off a chain reaction of memories. The British were exposed to jazz very early, starting with an extended visit by the ODJB in 1919, closely followed by Benny Peyton and Sidney Bechet. The 1920s saw visits by Paul Specht (with Arthur Schutt on piano); Adrian Rollini, Chelsea Quealey and Fud Livingston at the Savoy with Fred Elizalde; and the 1930s began with Jimmy Dorsey and Muggsy Spanier with Ted Lewis; tours by Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway; and continued with Coleman Hawkins and Benny Carter, until the reactionary Musicians’ Union banned American orchestras well into the 1950s.

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