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I shall never forget seeing Stan Kenton at Hippodrome

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: May 22, 2014

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I'D like to add a few memories of my own concerning performances by jazz stars and big bands in our region.

In the late 50s and early 60s, the Hippodrome started to run Sunday jazz concerts featuring some of the top British stars such as Tubby Hayes, Jimmy Skidmore (and son) plus many others. The star attraction was when US baritone saxist Gerry Mulligan and his quartet (featuring valve trombonist Bob Brookmeyer) arrived in Dudley. So there I was, standing in Castle Hill, of all places, talking to the man himself.

Who remembers the Fighting Cocks pub on the site where Aldi now stands? They, too, featured regular jazz concerts by visiting stars from London. This was manna from heaven for fans of so-called 'modern' jazz who were starving in and around Wolverhampton which was, and still is, a traditional jazz stronghold.

I myself played regularly at the Civic Hall, Wolverhampton, and shared the band room with the Ted Heath band on a number of occasions. I once slipped on the polished wooden steps leading down to the stage and, because I instinctively held my trombone in the air, landed pretty heavily. The man who gave me a hand up was Johnny Hawksworth, Ted's characterful bass player. Johnny Dankworth's band followed shortly after one of Ted Heath's concerts and, although it was full of jazz solo talent, its overall sound never matched the Heath band.

Woody Herman's 'Anglo-American' Herd played the Civic, where I had a long chat with jazz trombone legend Bill Harris, who looked more like a bank manager than a musician. Another visitor was Lionel Hampton's big band which was regarded with disdain by jazz purists because it ventured a little too close to rock and roll.

It was in April 1956 where, at the age of 16, I saw Stan Kenton play in the flesh at the Civic. I shall remember this day as long as I live.

I'm not sure what the future holds for the Hippodrome but, quite apart from its potential as an entertainment venue, many of these old theatre/cinema buildings have architectural value that is not appreciated until it's too late!

John Morton.


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