Kenny Ball was a very fine lyrical trumpet player, and the leader of a very successful ‘Trad’ Jazz band in the 1960s – known as Kenny Ball’s Jazzmen. The word “Trad” signified ‘traditional’ – based on the style of New Orleans Jazz.
It was a very influential time for me. British pop music was for a year or so dominated by a Trad Jazz boom, in which bands like Kenny Ball’s Jazzmen had big hits. Kenny’s biggest was “Midnight in Moscow”, which I certainly did buy as a 45 rpm vinyl single – and I still have it. It’s a very distinctive smoky sound, all instrumental – well arranged, well-produced – a really great example of the genre. Other hit bands of the time were Acker Bilk and his Jazz Band, the Chris Barber Band – which spawned Lonnie Donegan as a lead singer – and my absolute favourite, the Temperance Seven, though they were styled a little to one side, on 1920’s arranged bands like the Savoy Hotel Orpheans.
All this might seem a far cry from our own Queen rock music. But actually, it’s not. We were so lucky to grow up in this period, because we were able to learn from a broad range of styles. If you listen to our “Good Company” track on A Night at the Opera, you’ll hear me recreating a whole Jazz band with my guitar. And the arrangement as well as the sound is very close to what I imagined someone like Kenny Ball would have come up with, including trumpet, clarinet, and slide trombone. I had learned a lot from growing up with this great stuff in my ears … alongside the early rock and roll records from the USA.
So I’d like to pay my tribute here to Mr. Kenny Ball – creator of great ripples in the waters of popular music. Sad to see him go.