||This article may require copy editing for grammar, style, cohesion, tone, or spelling. (May 2013)|
|Birth name||Denys Justin Wright|
|Also known as||Denys Justin Freeth-Wright|
|Born||6 May 1924|
|Origin||Deptford, London, England|
|Died||8 February 1992
London (67 years old)
|Genres||Jazz, skiffle, folk|
Club owner and manager
|Associated acts||Stephane Grappelli, Lonnie Donegan, Johnny Duncan, Digby Fairweather|
Denys Justin Wright (6 May 1924 – 8 February 1992), better known as Denny Wright, was a jazz and skiffle guitarist who performed with Stephane Grappelli, Lonnie Donegan, Johnny Duncan (bluegrass musician), Digby Fairweather, Ella Fitzgerald, Billy Eckstine, Fapy Lafertin and many other musicians, including young rising stars such as Bireli Lagrene and Nigel Kennedy.
He was a session musician for many years and frequently acted as arranger and fixer for recording sessions. Wright was a prolific composer for jazz and orchestra and led many bands in his career, ranging from small jazz ensembles through night club bands to full size orchestras. In addition to jazz and skiffle, he worked with Latin American and Jamaican bands, including Kenny Graham's Afro-Cubists. He greatly enjoyed contributing to some of the best swing bands and orchestras of the period, playing frequently with the Carl Barriteau orchestra, with Decca Records' own house-band under Phil Green, and even the Glenn Miller band on occasions. In 1980, Denny Wright was voted the BBC Jazz Society Musician of the Year.
Although he was best known as a guitarist, his favourite instrument was actually the piano, no doubt partly inspired by his great friend George Shearing. His piano playing can be heard, for instance, on Travellin' Blues by Johnny Duncan and the Bluegrass Boys.
Background and early life
Denny Wright was born in Deptford, London, UK, and grew up in Brockley, with frequent forays to the Old Kent Road and the Elephant and Castle. His parents were Joseph William Wright, a first-generation Londoner who worked for the General Post Office, and Selina Elizabeth Stewart, a Scot. Although his first instrument was the piano. His older brother, Alex Wright, was a semi-professional guitarist before the war and it was inevitable that Denny, ten years younger, was soon trying to play his brother's guitar. He must have succeeded, because Denny began playing professionally before World War II, while still at school. For a schoolboy, he was pulling in a substantial income. Indeed, when one teacher took a dislike to him, Denny took his entire class to the cinema and the teacher arrived after lunch to find an empty classroom.
There were always two things that gave away Wright's self-taught guitar style: firstly, that he nearly always used his thumb on the top E string (totally incorrect, according to the 'experts') and that Denny could only play as fast as he could sing — very often on a Denny Wright solo, it is possible to hear him humming or singing along with himself.
Wright spent the first part of the war playing in jazz clubs in the West End of London, doing almost non-stop session work and performing in bands on many hit wartime shows. He worked with Stephane Grappelli for the first time in London around 1941. Wright was unable to join up, being classified as medically unfit due to a childhood injury suffered in a road accident which resulted in his spleen and half of his liver being surgically removed. Whilst still at school, Denny served with the Auxiliary Fire Service in Brockley. When he was old enough to join up, Denny joined ENSA, entertained the troops, and ended the war in 's-Hertogenbosch, Netherlands.
After the war, in 1945, he set up London's first bebop club, the Fullado in New Compton Street, where he played both piano and guitar. In the late 1940s he toured Italy and the Middle East with the Francisco Cavez orchestra before ending up playing in King Farouk's palace. He returned to the United Kingdom. Throughout the 1950s Denny was hard at work providing some of the guitar accompaniments for Lonnie Donegan, Johnny Duncan, Humphrey Lyttelton, Marie Bryant (one of Duke Ellington's vocalists) and others, as well as featuring on the BBC's Guitar Club. Wright worked with Tex Ritter, providing him with musical accompaniment at the Texas Western Spectacle at the Haringey Arena in 1952.
Wright was part of Lonnie Donegan's group who first took skiffle to the Soviet Union in 1957.
From 1940 (Workers' Playtime, among others) until the early 1980s, Denny Wright was a regular in the recording studios as one of Britain's best-known session musicians, providing guitar on hits by Mary Hopkin, Dusty Springfield and Tom Jones, among others.
Denny Wright's free-flowing improvisational style came to the forefront through his work with Lonnie Donegan in the 1950s. Wright was a pioneer in establishing a fresh lead guitar style in the context of the folk and blues roots from which Donegan drew his song repertoire. Drawing upon and transcending the jazz blues elements in his own background, and the vital influence of Django Reinhardt, Wright produced constantly innovative lead breaks and solos for Donegan's live work and recordings on both acoustic archtop and electric guitar.
Together with Bill Bramwell and Donegan's younger lead guitar players, Les Bennetts and Jimmy Currie, he helped forge an approach to lead styling inspirational for the next generation of British lead guitarists working with blues-based material in a rock context.
In the 1960s, in addition to a great deal of session work providing backing for many top artists including Mary Hopkin and Tom Jones, Denny was working with his friend Keith Cooper to keep the jazz flag flying; Tribute to the Hot Club by the Cooper-Wright Quintet [Rediffusion] is a wonderful example of their work together. In addition to jazz and session work, Denny was also a keen contributor on the folk scene, working extensively with the brilliant folk singer and guitarist Steve Benbow. Denny and Steve were to remain firm friends, working together to the delight of audiences to the end of Denny's career. During this period, Denny also began a long partnership with Rediffusion, providing many albums that are now collector's items.
In the early 1970s, Wright once more accompanied Stephane Grappelli, beginning at the Cambridge Folk Festival where Grappelli's career was relaunched. Wright recorded and performed concerts with numerous leading British and international musicians during this time. In 1978, he formed Velvet with Ike Isaacs, Len Skeat and Digby Fairweather. In 1981, Wright was voted BBC Jazz Society Musician of the Year. After Velvet, he formed a band with Don Harper before reforming the Hot Club of London with Johnny van Derrick (violin), Gerry Higgins (double bass) and his protégé Robert Seaman (guitar). Denny played with the Hot Club of London across the UK, as well as at the jazz festivals in Eindhoven and Cork. His last gig, at The Grapes in Shepherd Market, Mayfair in late 1991, was with Johnny van Derrick. The 1970s saw Denny form a close friendship with Anton Kwiatkowski, one of the leading Producers/Engineers for EMI; throughout the decade, the worked together on many albums, mostly for EMI's Music for Pleasure label.
Denny occasionally taught young guitarists, both privately and as a peripatetic teacher at London comprehensive schools, and guest lectured at the Royal College of Music on the life of a session musician.
Denny married Barbara Nelson-Jones, lyricist and actress, in 1961 and their son, St.John, was born on 1 March 1963 while Denny was on stage with Lonnie Donegan in Leeds. Barbara died on 16 February 1989 after an eight-year battle with breast cancer. They had been married over 27 years. Denny, who was devastated by his wife's death, died on 8 February 1992 in London after a nine-year battle with bladder cancer, a direct result of his very heavy smoking. Johnny Van Derrick and Denny's son, who had given up his career to become Denny's carer, were with him when he died.
Denny's hobbies included fishing, sailing, reading historical fiction, and playing board wargames with his son.
Acknowledgements to Wright
Stephane Grappelli: "Denny Wright also is a marvellous player, he's got such a good technique. Of course he can't produce Django's melodic line because Django invented it, but he has his own style, and on top of that he's got the strength of Django Reinhardt. In my opinion he's the only player in the world who can compare to Django and, you know, when I'm playing with Denny Wright and if I let my spirit go, then maybe I find that for a few seconds I'm back again with Django Reinhardt." (Guitar Magazine, mid-1970s)
Paul McCartney: "I remember going to see Lonnie Donegan in 1956 at the Empire in Liverpool. It was wonderful. After we saw him and the skiffle groups, we just wanted guitars. Denny Wright, his guitar player, we really used to love – he was great." (Amazon.com interview) "I loved Carl Perkins, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly and Lonnie Donegan's guitarist, Denny Wright, who was fantastic." (Guitarist magazine, 2004)
Chris Spedding: "We used to buy the old Lonnie Donegan records, and we admired people like Denny Wright, the Donegan guitarist. Skiffle really woke me up, and I bought a guitar which I played in groups at school."
Singles (UK chart position in brackets)
- Lost John, (Trad. arr Donegan) Lonnie Donegan (1956) (2)
- Stewball, (Trad. arr Donegan) Lonnie Donegan (1956) (2)
- Bring a Little Water, Sylvie, (Trad. arr Ledbetter, Donegan, Campbell) Lonnie Donegan (1956) (7)
- Don't You Rock Me Daddy-O, (Varley, Whyton) Lonnie Donegan (1956) (4)
- Cumberland Gap, (Trad. arr Donegan) Lonnie Donegan (1957) (1)
- Last Train to San Fernando, Johnny Duncan (1957) (2)
- Gimme What I Want, (Anthony Thorpe) The Hustlers (1963)
- Easy To Find, (English, Quarteman) The Hustlers (1964)
- Showcase, Lonnie Donegan (1965)
- Lonnie Donegan Live, Lonnie Donegan (1957)
- Live at the Cambridge Folk Festival: The BBC Sessions,Stéphane Grappelli
- Live in London, Stéphane Grappelli
- Songs of Ireland, Steve Benbow
- Non Stop Pepsi Party, Denny Wright and the Hustlers (1974)
- Combo, Don Harper (1977)
- Tribute to the Hot Club, Cooper-Wright Quintet
- Mr Guitar, Denny Wright
- Jazz at the New Theatre
- Priestley, Brian; Ian Carr, Digby Fairweather (2007). The Rough Guide to Jazz. Rough Guides. ISBN 1-84353-256-5.
- Brown, Tony; Jon Kutner, Neil Warwick (2000). The Complete Book of the British Charts. Omnibus Press. ISBN 0-7119-7670-8.