jabw_vintage report No. 29

Let us tell you about......

Patrick 'Spike' Hughes, musician, conductor, arranger, dance band leader, jazz populariser, composer, journalist
b.1908 - d.1987

this page first published by John Wright, 8 December 2002
last updated 14 December 2007vintage@jabw.demon.co.uk

I've known the name Spike Hughes since my earliest days of record collecting. Recently I was looking at his list of jazz recordings and published books and I figured this man must have made some impact on not just popular music but also music as a whole. Thanks to Andrew Homzy, and to Abebooks.com, the opportunity arose to buy Spike's two volume autobiography. I read them straight away and found Patrick 'Spike' Hughes to be a complicated character who somehow managed to cross paths with and become a dear friend of many of the most important names in theatre, jazz, classical and popular music during the 1930's, and himself was a wonderful musician and writer.

Patrick Hughes was born in 1908. His father, Herbert Hughes, was an Irish/Ulster musician/songwriter who became music editor of the Daily Telegraph and founder of the Irish Folksong Society. Patrick's mother was artistic but can be best described as a traveller, sometime teacher, sometime explorer. As a young child Patrick spent his childhood travelling with his mother and gaining a wide musical experience. You can read more about Patrick Hughes' early life but on this page I'll explore his developments in dance and jazz music.

In the first volume of his autobiography, Opening Bars, Patrick remembers, whilst living in Vienna in 1924, he saw a black jazz performer Bo-Bo and his Band and the following year he saw the black Arthur Briggs and his band performing jazz. Patrick wrote out a few 'blues' compositions and persuaded Briggs' band to play them. Back in England Patrick settled down in Cambridge to try and enter as an undergraduate. He continued travelling, visiting Dublin and Salzburg where he met cellist Rozsi Varady and for whom he wrote a cello sonata which was published and performed.

Florence MillsBack in London, Patrick began writing incidental music for performances at the Festival Theatre. He was also writing music reviews which were published in The New Age. Patrick passed the entrance exams to Cambridge but changed his mind and stayed in London.

In 1927 he saw the all-negro revue Blackbirds which featured Florence Mills, Edith Wilson and the Pike Davies Band. Patrick thought that Florence Mills came across as too refined for her character and was more impressed by Edith Wilson who belted out 'If you can't hold the man you love, don't cry when he's gone...'.

Both the energy of Edith Wilson and the vitality of the Pike Davies Band left a lasting impression on young Patrick Hughes. At this time Patrick was also hearing many of the new jazz records coming out of USA, thanks to Levy's gramophone shop, and he became particularly impressed by Red Nichols, Fletcher Henderson, Bix Beiderbecke, Eddie Lang and Adrian Rollini.



Most of his young life Patrick had listened to the great symphony orchestras, attended the fabulous opera houses of Europe, studied all the classical instruments, but his ears were now hearing jazz, syncopated dance music, a music where every musician had the opportunity to improvise, a music where every musician was a composer. In his mind Patrick Hughes had always been a composer....
Edith Wilson

Al StaritaIn June 1928 he had no instrument to call his own but when his friend left a string bass in his apartment Patrick began to teach himself to play the string bass. In 1929 he began approaching dance bands for work as a music arranger. At an early stage he even approached Bert Ambrose whose band played an arrangement. On hearing his arrangement played Patrick was disappointed with the band's sight-reading abilities and he had not taken into account how quiet the guitar solos would be in the dance hall. Ambrose must have been unimpressed. Drummer Bill Harty had heard the band and gave Patrick some advice. The result was that it was with Al Starita that Patrick Hughes first found work with a dance band. Al Starita's band were the Piccadilly Players and Patrick was required to write arrangements for the popular numbers played in the dance hall. Soon he had decided to form his own band but on meeting the dancer Philip Buchel, who also played saxophone, he became a member of the Night Watchmen. The band featured drummer Pat O'Malley, violinist Stanley Andrews and singer Val Rosing. A spell in France was followed by a residence at the Cafe De Paris as relief band to the Blue Lyres.

Patrick often attended classical music concerts armed with a score, and would study it under an EXIT sign. On one occasion this caused composer William Walton to introduce himself to Patrick and they discussed music. It was William Walton who introduced Patrick to Philip Lewis, recording manager for Decca Records. Lewis wanted a special house band for his Decca label. He already had Arthur Lally leading the 'Philip Lewis Band' (sometimes as the Rhythm Maniacs), but Lewis wanted a 'house jazz band'. Patrick assembled a band consisting of himself, Val Rosing, Stanley Andrews, Leslie Smith (guitar) and Eddie Carroll (piano). The first two recordings were made in February 1930 but they were found to be American tunes not yet published in Britain so the record could not be released (Can't We Be Friends? and Futuristic Rhythm). Unfortunately the masters were lost. William Walton

Sylvester AholaThe next session had the added attraction of Sylvester Ahola on trumpet. For the purpose of the record labels Patrick chose to use his occasional nickname of Spike, someone dreamed up a band name, and the records were issued as by Spike Hughes and his Decca-Dents, someone else dreamed up the hyphen! The band consisted of Spike (sb), Philip Buchel (as), Stan Andrews (vn), Eddie Carroll (p), Leslie Smith (g) and Val Rosing (dr) who also sang on all four issued titles. Melody Maker praised the new band and Spike was encouraged to attend more and more sessions at Decca. He was so busy that when he couldn't attend an afternoon performance at the Cafe de Paris they sacked him. As well as his band's own sessions he was playing the string bass in Arthur Lally's house dance band at Decca, a very prolific outfit sometimes recording two sessions a week, making more than 100 recordings between February and August 1930. It's odd that Spike never mentions playing in a band directed by Arthur Lally.

Further Decca-Dents sessions featured Max Goldberg (trumpet) and from April 1930, much to Spike's disappointment, the labels were credited to Spike Hughes and his Dance Orchestra.


In his book Spike remembers a session with two additional violinists one of whom had composed a three-part passage which was incorporated into one of the band's recordings. The violins, both from Elizalde's band, must have been Ben Frankel and George Hurley who are listed by Rust at the session 27 June 1930.

Other star players were to be featured including Jack Jackson and Danny Polo and other musicians from Fred Elizalde's band, Bobby Davis and Norman Payne. A memorable session on 23 May featured visiting US stars Jimmy Dorsey and Muggsy Spanier but the recordings were rejected. Later, 15 July, Jimmy Dorsey returned to the Decca studios and it was Spike Hughes and his Three Blind Mice who accompanied him (Spike, Claude Ivy (p), Alan Ferguson (g) and Bill Harty).
Jimmy Dorsey

The Three Blind Mice name was also used on the labels for two recordings which featured the tap-dancing of Philip Buchel, we can be sure the sound heard IS his dancing and not some clever rimshots from the drummer as there was no drummer at that session. Philip Buchel was also an accomplished alto sax player as can be heard on theserecords and the session was enhanced further by the presence of Norman Payne's trumpet. They recorded Happy Feet and a Buchel composition You Know What I'll Do. Listen to Buchel and Payne demonstrating their Trumbauer and Bix styles. From July 1930 - November 1932 most of the musicians employed by Spike were home grown. Decca F.1856

Philip Lewis had recognised Spike's talents as a musician and writer of music and employed him to write arrangements and accompaniments for a host of things, particularly for Decca's overseas catalogue. These Decca records sold well in Europe but the Europeans seemed just as keen on the Decca-Dents!

The Dutch branch of Decca became particularly enthusiastic about the Spike Hughes band, insisting on a tour. Spike protested that his band was just a studio group and his musicians had proper day jobs in posh hotels. Decca however insisted on a tour so it was a quite different band that travelled to Scheveningen to perform at a dance, two concerts, a broadcast and at a student bar. It was a difficult first concert for the boys who included Buddy Featherstonehaugh. They struggled to play what the audience expected or what the enthusiastic Dutch Decca man expected '.... why can't you play the tunes on Decca F.1690...?' he protested. The second concert was more satisfying and the band played a broadcast from Hilversum for half an hour (Spike's first ever radio work).

On returning to Britain Spike found that Philip Lewis had been caused to resign from Decca, despite all the work he had done for the young company, and together they had to think of a new future. They tried music hall but their audition was a disaster. Philip died in 1931.

Spike continued writing orchestrations and with his tin string bass he sat in with several bands in the Decca studios, and occasionally at HMV and Columbia, dragging the instrument back and forwards across London week in week out. At least one of his orchestrations for Roy Fox was recorded on 5th Jan 1931, Ten Cents A Dance, and Spike played with the band at least during that session. Then his break came when he was offered a job to play in the pit orchestra for Charles B. Cochran's 1931 Revue. He was also asked to write some orchestrations for the show. The show was a great success in Manchester. While in Manchester Spike sat in for Theo Farrar in Henry Hall's Gleneagles Band at the Midland Hotel, making eight recordings including I Lost My Gal From Memphis. Returning to London, 1931 Revue was a flop but for Spike the show was important for several reasons. It had brought him into close contact with black musicians and dancers and Spike struck up close friendships with two musicians, the West Indian trumpet player Leslie Thompson and singer Joey Shields. Both were in Spike's studio band during many sessions 1931-32. Joey was unusually credited with the vocals on record labels from the September '31 sessions (unfortunately the Decca label man printed Jerry on the labels!). Joey also had provided the vocals for two recordings made of Spike's hot arrangements of negro spirituals Roll, Jordan and Joshua Fit De Battle Of Jericho. The BBC, almost predictably, took offence at the idea of jazzing spiritual music and banned their broadcast.

I have about 16 of Spike's London recordings and I could discuss them for hours, but instead I'll refer you to a very detailed analysis of many of the Decca sides by Peter Tanner, published in Memory Lane.
Spike Hughes

a Melody Maker from 1932The 1931 Revue also furthered Spike's career with contacts at the magazine Melody Maker. The magazine was edited by Dan Ingham, also a drummer, who had worked with Percival Mackey and Sid Bright (at Decca). Eventually Spike was offered the job of music critic for Melody Maker and for this job he assumed the identity of "Mike" (for 13 years). Reviewing 'hot' records was very enjoyable work but "Mike" began to write scathing reviews on the comedy and novelty foxtrot recordings, bandleaders complained, and so Dan Ingham reluctantly resumed the job of writing reviews for the more trivial musical output of record companies, disguised as Pick-Up. Spike really did enjoy reviewing hot records as it meant he could deliver a very favourable review of his own recordings as well as his favourite bands like Duke Ellington. Check out these Mike clippings.

During 1931 Spike's career and activities developed significantly. He began writing music for films, he worked as a copyist and arranger for Percival Mackey, he was broadcasting, and after listening intently to the work of Duke Ellington he was composing again. He had not yet met Ellington, not yet been to New York, yet felt the urge to write A Harlem Symphony which his band recorded in November. When A Harlem Symphony was issued the label included a dedication to Duke Ellington. Spike's band continued to record 'hot' numbers, some obscure numbers, some of his own compositions, yet the records did sell. As Spike says '... it was not what we played that mattered, but how we played it'. More and more arranging jobs came Spike's way and he was writing for Douglas Byng. An old frieindship was renewed, with Hyam 'Bumps' Greenbaum who became musical director at Decca. Spike also attended his first concerts conducted by Toscanini.

Gertrude LawrenceDecca produced catalogues of records for issue in several European countries including Sweden, Holland and Ireland. Spike wrote the arrangements for many of those records and formed a quintet for the recordings, often accompanying singers singing in a language none of the musicians understood. The 'continental' quintet included violinists Boris Pecker and Pierre Fol, cellist Jaques Peretti-Tatte, pianist Claude Ivy and Spike on string bass. The quintet began to grow and became a 10-piece group. Spike handed over the bass playing to Eugene Cruft, while other players included James Lockyer (viola), Robert Murchie (flute), Haydn Draper, Leon Goossens (oboe), Sidonie Goossens (harp) who was Greenbaum's wife, and .... Chapman, a fine horn player. Somehow Spike found time to marry his first wife Bobbie and their daughter Angela was born in 1931.

Spike's 10-piece orchestra accompanied many of Decca's solo artistes including Gertrude Lawrence, but for her recording of Limehouse Blues he put together a 15-piece orchestra with saxes and brass. In his book Spike thought that the recording had not been issued, but presumably that recording is what was issued on Decca F.3578.

In his book Spike recalled that in 1931 he appeared in a film as a member of Percival Mackey's dance band, performing in a night club scene. (I have not identfied this film yet). There was also a film Cambridge, about life in a college, for which Spike's quintet supplied a jazzy sound track. Later Spike was shown an edited version of Cambridge and was outraged to find that the editing had totally mixed up the film scenes combining them with the wrong pieces of music, and for a time he had considered legal action.

By the end of 1931 Decca was still looked upon as a minor label, producing much uninspiring music with no big names. Then came Jack Hylton, captured from the hallowed grooves of HMV. Being as it were part of the furniture at Decca, Spike found himself playing in Hylton's first session at Decca (November 2, 1931). Discographies have not noted his presence at this session but Spike vividy remembered that while he played bass at this session the usual bass player stood next to him and blew a sousaphone in his ear, and the band was so slick that they recorded 6 titles in one morning (discographies suggest that 7 titles were recorded, two of which were rejected). It was ironic that here was Spike playing in a band that produced some of the 'novelty' dance music that he had scoffed at in the columns of "Mike" - that first Hylton session included Tom Thumb's Drum with vocals by Leslie Sarony!

Spike continued to work for Hylton including tours to Paris, Amsterdam and Brussels. Jack Hylton seemed to enjoy Spike's company on these tours mainly for the intellectual conversations as his musical contribution to the band was minimal. Even in those days, Spike reveals, Jack Hylton hoped his own career would develop into that of an empresario putting on shows. At this time Spike struck up a close friendship with pianist Billy Munn who attended three sessions with Spike's band in February 1932. They co-wrote Six Bells Stampede, Billy's contribution being a piano phrase that had fascinated him when he heard it in a Paris night club. The title was also Billy Munn's idea, it was a tribute to the stampede that regularly occurred after Decca recording sessions as musicians headed for the Six Bells pub. Listen to this section which features Spike's bass playing

There was also a clandestine visit to the studios at Parlophone (Feb 10, 1932) when Spike's band cut four titles, three sung by Joey Shields, and the fourth, Buddy's Wednesday Outing, featured a fine sax solo by Buddy Featherstonehaugh. The records were issued as by Buddy's Brigade and The Roof Garden Orchestra

Jack Hylton

Alicia Markova1932 would turn out to be a very busy year for Spike. Early in the year Hyam Greenbaum left Decca and Spike found himself the frequent conductor at light music sessions. He was also writing music again and several compositions made it to the recording sessions. Also Spike's band began to play gigs. In Huddersfield people did not ask them to play Decca F.1656 but this time the performance was made difficult with dancers requesting polkas and barn dances, so for Spike gigging was a short-lived experience. His last gig as a bandleader was, however, very gratifying. It took place at the Commemoration Ball, Wadham, Oxford, and the high fee was enough to allow Spike to take his full recording band up to Oxford and play what the people requested - the music on the records.

At this time Spike received a commission to write a jazz ballet for the Camargo Ballet Society. The story and choreography were being prepared by Frederick Ashton and Buddy Bradley who had been using the Decca recording of Six Bells Stampede for teaching purposes. Spike went to his bottom drawer for his contributions which consisted of excerpts from Sirocco, Elegy, Harlem Symphony, the whole of Six Bells Stampede, an overture based on a spiritual and a few bars of a tune called Weary Traveller. The title for the ballet was the subject of much debate till finally Hyam had the idea, as it was about the cross between black and white, to call it High Yellow (reference to a mixed-race complexion desirable in black women). The scoring had to bring about the union of 'Jazz' and 'Legit' music, played by the London Symphony Orchestra augmented by selected dance band musicians. The rehearsals went well with 'jazz' and 'legit' respecting one another and there was genuine excitement about their combination in performance. Spike only confirms Buddy Featherstonehaugh in the dance band line-up.

The first performance of High Yellow took place 6th June, 1932, the opening night of the Camargo season. The audience included many of the Royal Family and the well-to-do of society, and the likes of C. B. Cochran and Osbert Sitwell. Dancers included Alicia Markova. The planned six performances were a great success and the production was a subject of discussion and press reviews long afterwards.


For a brief time Spike wondered if he could lead a band resident at a top hotel. He began discussions with a director of the Savoy Hotel, Richard Collet. Spike offered a band as contrast to Carroll Gibbons and the Savoy Orpheans, with an idea to include five brass players, not playing loud but playing with a variety of mutes to achieve variations in tone colour. Other events got in the way of this ambition but by September 1932 Carroll Gibbons Savoy Orpheans included five brass, Bill Shakespeare (t), Billy Higgs (t), Arthur Fenhoulet (t, tb), Paul Fenhoulet (tb), Lew Davis (tb).

Then another big break came Spike's way. Elsie April was producing the revue Words And Music for Noel Coward and asked Spike if he would orchestrate the show. Buddy Bradley was the choreograpaher and still had a fascination for Six Bells Stampede. Spike was compelled to include it in the new score and it combined well with Coward's Something To Do With Spring. Soon Spike met Noel Coward himself and found him to be charming and got to know him well through many hours spent together.

Noel Coward

When the first band-call (music rehearsal) took place Elsie April was disappointed with the products from other orchestrators and asked Spike to stay on and re-score the inadequate pieces. In the end almost the entire score of Words And Music was Spike's, with the exception of three tunes orchestrated by Hyam Greenbaum.

The show was due to begin at the Opera House, Manchester, so Spike was set up again at the Midland Hotel. Noel Coward was continually making late changes to the show which meant Spike worked almost non-stop for seven days. Eventually his total output would be 600 pages. The first night seemd to go very well so the next day Spike spent relaxing hours on his own, satisfied that his work was complete, totally happy with himself. As he lunched alone he was unexpectedly joined by Noel Coward and Charles Cochran, and quite suddenly Spike was asked to conduct the next show that night. For some reason Coward was unhappy with the conductor Reginald Burston. Spike agreed when he had assurances that Elsie April would assist with cues and that Coward would himself take on some conducting if Spike met with any problems.

On that second night conductor Hughes was surprised how well he knew the show and had no great problems. Coward tried to move in to conduct the finale but Spike had the last word and even conducted the National Anthem. Coward was well satisfied and asked Spike to conduct the remainder of the three weeks run. This proved to be hard work as Coward began changing scenes and running orders, no performance was exactly like another. Coward did some conducting during early shows but as the novelty wore off Spike gradually took over entirely. There were even new numbers turning up that Spike had to orchestrate.

At the end of the Manchester run Spike half-hoped that he would be conducting the show in London. When it was decided that the conductor would be Hyam Greenbaum Spike was both disappointed and relieved by the decision. He also noted that when Greenbaum finished conducting The Cat And The Fiddle the unfortunate Reggie Burston would take over, so as Spike put it 'everybody was happy'. It was late September 1932 when Words And Music opened at the Adelphi. Hyam was unhappy with the drummer in the pit so hired old friend Dan Ingham who was still at the Melody Maker.

Words And Music includes the immortal Mad Dogs And Englishmen and the no less popular Mad About The Boy. Other tunes include Something To Do With Spring, The Younger Generation, Let's Say Goodbye, The Party's Over Now, The Oldest Postmistress In England and Three White Feathers (added in London). The principal performers included Doris Hare and Joyce Barbour. The orchestration that gave Spike the most satisfaction was The Younger Generation though he was disappointed with the corny ending.

It was usual for orchestrators not to be credited on programmes but during the first few weeks of the show there were several complimentary reports on the score and questions were being asked. Eventually Charles B. Cochran circulated a letter naming Spike Hughes as principal orchestrator with contributions from Hyam Greenbaum. After a bit of negotiation with Cochran's business manager, Hal Lewis, Spike was paid £500 for his work (which would be around £50,000 today). Looking forward to a well-earned holiday Spike began thinking again about Vienna and Italy until Buddy Featherstonehaugh said 'Why don't you go to America?'

With no great plan Spike set off for USA in January 1933, hoping to look up some people like Irving Berlin, John Hammond and Irving Mills. Spike had met Irving Mills and John Hammond recently in London. Mills was a music publisher who represented Duke Ellington and several other black bands in the US. The man meeting Spike at New York harbour was John Hammond. Spike had been introduced to John Hammond by one of Mike's predecessors, Edgar Jackson, who was also at one time editor of Melody Maker. Hammond was a rich young American who had some good friends in the jazz business, indeed his 21st birhday party was attended by Fletcher Henderson and Benny Goodman (and also the composer Joseph Szigeti). Listening and talking about the latest additions to Hammond's record collection Spike had found someone with the same tastes in music and they became great friends. John Hammond

Irving Mills
It was arranged that Spike would stay at Hammond's apartment in Greenich Village. On the first day they went uptown to Harlem and the first person they visited was Benny Carter who was rehearsing his band. As they were talking and drinking in a speakeasy Spike began to think of recording in New York, but they were soon on the move and the next stop was Lafayettes Theatre where they watched several variety artistes. At Lafayettes Spike and John were the only whites in the house. Later, still day one, Spike was taken to the office of Irving Mills. Here he met Harold Arlen, Cab Calloway, Frances Langford, and heard Arlen presenting a new song Stormy Weather. Spike often returned to listen to auditions in Irving Mills offices and it got him into composing mood again, this time composing foxtrots. His first collaboration with a lyricist was with Ned Washington which produced Let's Drink To Love, but the song was never heard in public. There was also collaboration with Ted Koehler. Altogether Irving Mills acquired the copyright for just three of Spike's ballads, however, the only music that ever appeared with Mills Music Inc. was Six Bells Stampede and Benny Carter's band recorded the title in New York (March 14,1933). It should also be noted that the Mills Blue Rhythm Band recorded Buddy's Wednesday Outing (March 1, 1933) and that Joe Garland played Buddy Featherstonehaugh's sax solo note for note. I suspect, however, that Spike may have written out the solo for him, and anyway the record was issued only in Britain and Australia.

Spike was fascinated by the Dunbar Palace (the sign always said DU BAR P LACE) where Harlemites danced the lindy hop wildly in hats and overcoats - here was real Harlem. While in New York Spike had a love affair with an English woman named Georgina but it ended and she returned to Europe.

During his stay in New York Spike saw Bessie Smith perform several times at Lafayettes Theatre. 'Not for the squeamish', Spike described her singing, but for him hearing her sing Empty Bed Blues at Lafayettes was a moving experience. The Cotton Club on the contrary was a huge disappointment. The fact that blacks were not allowed in the audience made Spike very uncomfortable, while the black performers, no matter how big a name, were diluted by the need to perform to the simple needs of the white downtown customers. Spike found the Cotton Club boring and a waste of time. Meeting Irving Berlin was also a disappointment. Spike presented him with a letter of introduction from Charles Cochran but Berlin was so depressed that Spike could not get him interested (this was before Berlin was working on songs for Fred Astaire).

At the Savoy Ballroom Spike again saw blacks entertaining blacks, and at Small's Pardise he heard jazz. Spike's first visit to Small's was to hear a band featuring Henry 'Red' Allen (t) and Leon 'Chu' Berry (ts). On a night out Chu took Spike and John Hammond to hear Art Tatum play piano and within a few days they had persuaded the Brunswick record company to make solo recordings of Tatum playing in his legato style (session dated 21 March).

Henry Red AllenBenny CarterArt Tatum

To see the white jazzmen Spike frequently visited the Onyx Club. Spike was happy to find out that his name was familiar to customers there who were eagerly reading the Melody Maker in New York, and Spike was glad that the identity of Mike had not been figured out. While in New York he had kept in touch with the Melody maker to find out which US recordings were just being released in Britain; he would then listen to them in New York and write the Mike review column and thereby maintain the hidden identity. Spike met Benny Goodman at the Onyx Club, renewed aquaintance with Jimmy Dorsey and met his brother, trombonist Tommy Dorsey, who was at that time playing a regular radio spot with Rudy Vallee. Spike orchestrated his own Let's Drink To Love for Rudy Vallee to sing, and with a part for Tommy's trombone. The band rehearsed the music, and Spike was delighted by Tommy Dorsey's playing, but Rudy arrived with with a throat problem and couldn't sing. When he heard that Irving Mills was not interested in Spike's orchestration Vallee insisted on paying Spike forty dollars, much to Spike's embarrassment.

Spike renewed another aquaintance in New York, Noel Coward, who was appearing in Design For Living on Broadway. Spike saw the revue several times and attended Noel's farewell party.
Rudy Vallee

Billie HolidayAnother 'discovery' that Spike witnessed while with John Hammond was Billie Holiday, she sang at their table at Monette's Supper Club.

Spike decided to call Decca in London explaining that he wanted to stay longer in New York and suggesting that he make some recordings with an all-black band. Decca agreed, after all they had an arrangement with the Brunswick label. In all fourteen sides were cut and issued as Spike Hughes and his Negro Orchestra. As well as members of Benny Carter's band, including Dick Wells (tb), Spike was keen to have Red Allen and Chu Berry in the recording studio. When the first session date was allocated Chu had to work in Jersey and it occurred to Spike that Coleman Hawkins could take his place. With the respect that Spike and John Hammond had in Harlem it was no problem for Benny Carter to invite Hawkins to the studio. The sessions recorded at 1776 Broadway included several of Spike's own compositions and a few of his arrangements of standard tunes. Oddly Spike chose not to record Harlem Symphony or Six Bells Stampede, instead he chose several 'European' titles.
>

As Spike walked into the Brunswick studio for the first time (April 18) it occurred to him that here was a childhood ambition fulfilled. As a youngster he had listened intently to Red Nichols and Duke Ellington recordings that had been made within these same four walls. Spike decided that amongst the hallowed company that he had assembled he could not play the bass but would limit himself to standing in front of the band and explaining the music. The first session featured Spike's Nocturne and Pastorale and the standards Someone Stole Gabriels's Horn and Bugle Call Rag. Monette Moore should have sung Someone... but failed to show so Benny Carter did the honours. (When the recordings were issued in Britain the label details had not been corrected and Monette Moore was credited!). Spike was satisfied with the first session, the band were all good sight readers and had soon begun to play in the style he was seeking in their solos.

For the second session (May 18) Chu Berry was available and Spike was uncomfortable about leaving out Hawkins or Chu so both were engaged for the session. The pianist failed to show, but typically Benny Carter was able to find a fitting replacement, Luis Russell, though he arrived too late to play in Arabesque. Two other Spike compositions recorded at this session were Fanfare and Sweet Sorrow Blues. Next day, the third session included Spike's Donegal Cradle Song where Coleman Hawkins delivered particularly excellent solos, 'masterpieces of invention' Spike described them. Indeed when music was published later that year Spike had the solos transcribed and included in the orchestration. Listen hear to part of a Hawkins solo

That third session was to have kicked off with Spike's Firebird for which he had included an essential part for soprano sax which he knew Benny Carter could play. Unfortunately Benny had long ago pawned his soprano and failed to find it before the session. While the band struggled through the score for Donegal Cradle Song the soprano sax was at last found and brought to the studio in time for Firebird. The session also saw the return of pianist Red Rodriguez and Spike had relented and played his string bass. Dickie Wells told Stanley Dance in 1971 'No one in the outfit had the idea that he had so much hell in that valise until we started rehearsing. It was a good thing he had a gang like he had -- these were cats who could see around a corner.'
Chu Berry

Coleman Hawkins

Note: Spike's recollections about the order titles were recorded is at odd's with published discographies, but in 1950 Spike was relying only on his own memory. In his book Spike describes a jam session that produced two records, but the Rust discography suggests there may have been jam sessions at both the May sessions producing Sweet Sue - Just You and How Come You Do Me Like You Do?. Henry Red Allen sang in that last number.

In 1951 Spike wrote in his second book:

"... three days had meant to me the fulfilment of an ambition - the ambition to lead and write music for a Negro band of my won choosing, to make records with it, and finally in the last hour of the last day, to sit in with a charming, highly gifted group of players and play the double-bass with them, not as the organiser of a recording session, but as their respected coleague and artistic equal.

I never played the double bass again. I had played it for nearly four years, in five different countries and for various incompatible reasons. I played it for the last time as I had played it for the first: to amuse myself and have fun. as a composer, as a bandleader, as a performer, anything that came later would have been an anti-climax. I left jazz behind me at the moment when I was enjoying it the most, the moment when all love affairs should end. To have returned to Europe and to have tried to take up jazz again where I had left it in New York would have been folly and an impossibility. When at the end of May 1933 I sailed to Southampton in the Aquitania, I carefully threw all Georgina's letters to me into the Atlantic; figuratively I threw jazz into the ocean too".

Just before leaving New York, Duke Ellington's band was preparing for a visit to Britain. Spike wrote a general article on the Duke and it was published in the British paper The Daily Herald. That was a turning point in Spike's life because from that moment on he stopped being a musician and became, full time, a writer. It's not made clear in Spike's autobiography about when and where he first met Duke Ellington. He may have seen the Duke perform at the Cotton Club but doesn't actually say so. Once he got back to London, though, Spike closely followed the progress of the touring Ellington band, attended Ellington rehearsals with Jack Hylton, and actively encouraged the public to listen to the band at performances. Spike interviewed Duke regularly. Later in his own autobiography Music Is My Mistress Duke made reference to Spike, recalling that for his Palladium concert Spike asked him not to play 'commercial' titles, and Duke also recalled that Spike had asked audiences to refrain from applause at the beginning and end of solos. Duke Ellington

At the end of his second volume of autobiography Spike devoted a whole chapter on his appreciation of conductor Toscanini, particularly his interpretation of Beethoven symphonies. Much as I like Beethoven symphonies I could understand little of what Spike had to say on the subject. Oddly, while in New York, Spike never entered the doors of one of the world's finest opera houses, the Metropolitan Opera House. In his book he seemed unsure of the reason, probably the repertoire at the time did not interest him.

I'm delighted to say (November 2005) that Spike's nephew Alisdair Sutherland has offered these words about his uncle:

After the publication of Second Movement in 1951, he married his third wife Charmian (my mother's sister) in 1954 and they moved to a farmhouse in Ringmer, near Lewes Sussex, where they lived until his death in 1987.

After 1933, he wrote and broadcast mostly  about classical music, but continued to review jazz for many publications. My own early jazz education in the 1950s came from being sent those new jazz album review copies which he thought fit for my ears.  I guess my early taste was very much formed by his careful choice of classic jazz in those days - it was mainstream, Fats Waller, Art Tatum, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Oscar Peterson, Jack Teagarden, Bobby Hackett, Pete Fountain, and the more accessible of the modern jazz MJQ, Miles, Gil Evans, Charlie Byrd.

The review copies always arrived in the post or at Christmas with his handwritten notes written on the sleeve. I remember receiving a Paul Quinichette album with THEY ALL PLAY TOO FAST! in blue biro across the back.

In addition to the Famous XX Operas and Art of coarse... series of books mentioned, he published several travel food guides, such as Cold Food for all seasons and Eating In Italy, (co-authored with his wife) and Out of Season a memoir of their 1955 winter trip around Italy, (Robert Hale), written while researching Great Opera Houses.

Patrick (only Spike in his professional life) was a very regular BBC radio broadcaster and for many years through the sixties and seventies presented the annual televised Glyndebourne production on Southern TV. In addition to writing the definitive Glyndebourne history, he was a very regular contributor to the Glyndebourne annual programme, and also wrote the sub-titles for many of the operas performed there. He was one of the very few people who have been invited to Desert Island Disks three times.

Patrick was a diabetic for most of his adult life. At the time of his death he had been working on a new encyclopaedia of opera. His widow Charmian died in 2003, and his musical estate has been passed by her to Patrick's daughters. There is a memorial bench to them both in the gardens of Glyndebourne.

In private, he was a wonderful man, with eclectic tastes and conversation, strong opinions, and very high standards.

I hope this brief outline will be of interest and help to you and others interested in Spike Hughes' career and work.

Alasdair  Sutherland (nephew), November 2005

Acknowledgements


To find re-issues of Spike Hughes work do a Google search and look out for:

Spike Hughes wrote many books on a wide variety of subjects, some of them reprinted several times and available in paperback, for example

You can join the very active discussion group and talk about Spike Hughes and other dance band musicians:

Subscribe to British dance bands group

or check out the group site first at http://www.yahoogroups.com/group/british-dance-bands/


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