Diz Disley (27 May 1931 – 22 March 2010) was an Anglo-Canadian jazz guitarist and graphic designer. He is best known for his jazz guitar playing, strongly influenced by Django Reinhardt, and for his collaborations with the violinist Stéphane Grappelli.
William Charles Disley was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, and was brought up in Ingleton, North Yorkshire, England. In his childhood, he learnt to play the banjo, but took up the jazz guitar at the age of 14, after hearing the playing of Django Reinhardt. Karl Dallas wrote:
Diz himself studied art in Leeds, but he'd played music since he was 12, starting with chords of "Miss Annabelle Lee" in A on the ukelele, living in Ingleton in the Dales. It was a good year for music at Leeds College of Art... Diz was playing banjo in the college band, the Vernon Street Ramblers, and he was asked to join the slightly more prestigious Yorkshire Jazz Band, which brought him to London and the Mick Mulligan-George Melly rave-ups.
Dallas reported that later, Disley played in Ken Colyer's band.
In the sleeve notes for Norry Greenwood & The Craven Hot Club's Sweet and Swinging CD (G8INA-CD003, 1999), Disley wrote:
I had a cheap guitar and a deep desire to play it, but no idea what to do. Norry had a magnificent prewar danceband model, from which he drew beautiful chords. This generous young man took me in hand and started to show me a few things, I remember the first tunes he taught me - "Miss Annabel lee" and "Try a Little Tenderness", in our small back garden in New Road, Ingleton. That would have been the summer of 1946. Norry also possessed a pile of Django Reinhardt records and turned me on to the genius of this great man. That's what got me going in music, and eventually got me playing with a lot of good people from Acker Bilk to Yehudi Menuhin, and touring all over the world. For this amazingly enjoyable and interesting life I owe everything to my old friend Norry Greenwood.
(D. Harris, Producer, G8 Studios)
In the sleeve notes for I Got Rhythm (1974) Alun Morgan wrote:
Guitarist Diz Disley leads the Hot Club Trio and has been prominent in British jazz circles since the end of the nineteen-forties. Disley played banjo with the famed Yorkshire Jazz Band in 1949 and 1950 at a time when the band had Dickie Hawdon on trumpet... Disley formed his String Quintet in 1958 with a library based largely on that of the Quintet of the Hot Club of France ; Diz's companion on many of the sessions was guitarist Denny Wright and the two have remained firm friends.
Disley did his National Service in the Army from 1950–1953 and then moved to London, where he joined Mick Mulligan's band, along with George Melly. Melly described him as having "a beard and [...] the face of a satyr en route to a cheerful orgy". In January 1963, the British music magazine, NME reported that the biggest trad jazz event to be staged in Britain had taken place at Alexandra Palace. The event included George Melly, Alex Welsh, Acker Bilk, Chris Barber, Kenny Ball, Ken Colyer, Monty Sunshine, Bob Wallis, Bruce Turner, Mick Mulligan and Disley.
In the late 1960s, Disley moved across to the folk club scene, becoming the first ever 'folk comedian' and preceding the rise to fame of similar artists such as Jasper Carrott, Billy Connolly and Tony Capstick. Also at this time he collaborated with fiddle player Dave Swarbrick and singer-guitarist Martin Carthy. Disley also played guitar accompaniment to Mike Absalom on the latter's 1968 album, Save the Last Gherkin for Me. By the 1970s, he was one of the folk scene's busiest artists and a mainstay of folk festivals as musician and compere.
In the 1970s, he was influential in persuading Stéphane Grappelli to return to playing public performances. They played together at the 1973 Cambridge Folk Festival and this began a lengthy collaboration between Disley and Grappelli, including tours of Australia, Europe and the United States. Karl Dallas reported Disley as having "single-handedly created a revival of interest in the music of Stephane Grappelli, which has taken him to the Carnegie Hall, Australia and New Zealand" (the latter in September 1974). "...the night he closed at the Palladium, he went to The Troubadour where he was booked later that night to perform his folk club act of idiocy and mayhem, keeping up the tradition he has built up over the past 20 years for delivering a shrewd mixture of musical brilliance and vocal insanity".
Regarding the stories in George Melly's book, Dallas quoted Disley as saying "Oh they're true. Everything in George's book is true. In fact they didn't print the best things."
The Daily Telegraph obituary reported: "In the early 1980s Disley formed a working partnership with the young gipsy guitarist Bireli Lagrene, with whom he again toured the world, and made a return visit to Carnegie Hall."
In 1984 Disley was instrumental in forming a club quintet for Nigel Kennedy, who was starting to explore other musical styles. This led back to Kennedy's attendance at one of the Grappelli gigs in 1973. Musicians in the original line-up with Kennedy were Jeff Green, Ian Cruickshank, Nils Solberg (guitars) and Dave Etheridge (bass), who had played with Disley and Denny Wright on their 1973 tour with Grappelli. In 1986, Disley formed the Soho String Quintette with Johnny Van Derrick (violin), Nils Solberg and Jeff Green and David Etheridge. An album Zing Went The Strings was issued on Waterfront Records.
In the 1990s, during several years he spent in Los Angeles, Disley recorded with the blues saxophonist Big Jay McNeely and country-rockabilly artist Ray Campi. He also painted several now sought-after portraits of jazz greats, including Illinois Jacquet, in the style of the cubists.
Yorkshire Jazz Band
- "St. Louis Blues" (William Christopher Handy) / "Weary Blues" (Artie Matthews), Tempo Records - division of Vogue Records, recorded in London on 18 June 1949. Personnel: Dickie Hawdon (timpani), Alan Cooper (clarinet), Tommy Durn (piano), Disley (banjo), Eddie O'Donnell (trombone), Tiny Lancaster (drums), Bob Barclay (tuba).
- Live at the White Bear
Diz Disley and the Soho String Quintet: Viper's Dream, Oui, Sweet Georgia Brown, Minor Swing. 1959 Pye Records NJE 1069
- Diz Disley & the Downbeats: "Django's Castle" / "Wot Cher! (Knocked 'em in the Old Kent Road)", Parlophone 1961
- Eee! What A Whopper (Surprise - ILP 1015 - 1965)
- Diz Disley and the Soho String Quintette: Zing Went the Strings (Waterfront WF031 1986)
Dave Swarbrick, Martin Carthy and Diz Disley
- Rags, Reels & Airs (1967), Topic
Denny played and sang with: Pat Donaldson, Herry Conway, Dave Pegg, Dave Mattacks, Danny Thompson, Alan Skidmore, Ian Armit, Jean Roussel, Jerry Donahue, Trevor Lucas, Richard Thompson, Disley and John "Rabbit" Bundrick
Stephane Grappelli with the Hot Club of London
- I Got Rhythm! (1974)
Stephane Grappelli & the Diz Disley Trio
- Live at Corby Festival Hall (1975)
- Shades of Django (1989), MPS Records
- Live At The Cambridge Folk Festival (2000)
- Violinspiration (2006), Verve Records
- The Guardian obituary, 15 April 2010, accessed 10 May 2010
- Karl Dallas, Melody Maker July 27, 1974, "Disley - still making whoopee"
- The Times obituary, 3 April 2010, accessed 7 April 2010
- Tobler, John (1992). NME Rock 'N' Roll Years (1st ed.). London: Reed International Books Ltd. p. 116. CN 5585.
- "Mike Absalom Music Shop". Mikeabsalom.com. Retrieved 9 February 2012.
- Karl Dallas, Melody Maker July 27, 1974, "Disley - still making whoopee"
- The Daily Telegraph obituary, 12 April 2010, accessed 13 April 2010