Talbot 'Tolly' Rothwell tried to sell me the concept of jazz. I was not buying. Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk. Charles Mingus and Miles Davis may have had talents that struck us like a lighting bolt in our later years, but as a callow youth of fourteen, I was all for dodging what I deemed the unlistenable bullet.
Davis' ‘Kind Of Blue’ would often sneak snake-like out of Tolly's study. Plus, the Carry On scriptwriter had an ally.
Kenneth Williams was not up on the names and styles from the world of jazz, but he knew what he liked, and he liked a bit of Mingus.
It would take Colin MacInnes’ book ‘Absolute Beginners’ to educate, inform and take me into the bosom of modern jazz. MacInnes' fictional world was one of youth, and of creative and personal ambition
Kenneth Williams liked it for different reasons. Jazz was unpredictable. At its best it gave the impression of having no set form or agenda. It could veer off at the least expected moment and take on new forms from old.
Kenneth Williams was the living embodiment of jazz. I liked Kenny, and, even at fourteen I should have trusted his judgement.
But Tolly was old school and proud. Even though Mingus and Davis were hip with the city kids, he played them purely for their soothing qualities .. and at a volume you’d have to strain to hear.
His Davis of preference was the artist’s early more mellow and subdued style of jazz which would retain the complexities of bebop yet would also convey a more vocal and expressive mood. This came to be known as ‘Cool Jazz’.
Kenneth Williams’ would favour Mingus for his fearsome temperament, which earned him the nickname ‘The Angry Man of Jazz’.
His refusal to compromise his musical integrity led to many on-stage eruptions, exhortations to musicians, and dismissals. Kenneth approved of a bit of boat rocking.
But now I get it. The Carry On duo of Tolly Rothwell and Kenneth Williams still have an influence on my listening habits. I bit the bullet and did a bit of self healing to the sounds that can still nourish the soul and inform the mind.