Disley (centre) at the 1981 Essex Festival, England
|Birth name||William Charles Disley|
27 May 1931|
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
|Died||22 March 2010
|Occupation(s)||Guitarist, graphic designer|
|Associated acts||Ken Colyer
William Charles "Diz" Disley (27 May 1931 – 22 March 2010) was an Anglo-Canadian jazz guitarist, entertainer, and graphic designer. He is best known for his acoustic jazz guitar playing, strongly influenced by Django Reinhardt, for his contributions to the UK trad jazz, skiffle and folk scenes as a performer and humorist, and for his collaborations with the violinist Stéphane Grappelli.
William Charles Disley was born, to Welsh parents then overseas for work, in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. When he was four, his parents moved back to Llandyssil in Montgomeryshire in Wales and then five years later to Ingleton, North Yorkshire, England, where his mother worked as schoolteacher. In his childhood, he learnt to play the banjo, but took up the jazz guitar at the age of 15, after being exposed to the playing of Django Reinhardt via a neighbour, Norry Greenwood; as Disley recalled, Norry taught him the chords to "Miss Annabel Lee" and "Try a Little Tenderness", in the summer of 1946.
Disley showed an early gift for drawing, and on leaving school enrolled at Leeds College of Art, a college with a reputation for student music making in particular trad jazz, and was soon playing with his fellow students in the Vernon City Ramblers and, shortly afterwards, the newly formed Yorkshire Jazz Band alongside trumpeter Dick Hawdon and clarinettist Alan Cooper. Diz did his National Service overseas in the Army from 1950–1953 after which he resumed his studies in Leeds and began selling cartoons to national newspapers and periodicals. In 1953 Disley worked for a summer season in Morecambe, Lancashire, in 1953 as part of a comedy harmony group, the Godfrey Brothers, still playing banjo, 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". Subsequently he worked with, and occasionally recorded with, most of the leading London-based "Trad" bands of the day including those of Ken Colyer, Cy Laurie, Sandy Brown, Kenny Ball and Alex Welsh, mostly on banjo but occasionally doubling on guitar. His first love, however, remained the music of Django Reinhardt, in particular the sound of the pre-war Quintette du Hot Club de France, and in 1958 he formed his own quintet to replicate that sound, employing the talents of Dick Powell on violin, Danny Pursford and Nevil Skrimshire on rhythm guitars, and a range of double bassists including Tim Mahn; recordings of this outfit have been released retrospectively on Lake records in 2011, also featuring a classic Disley self-portrait cartoon on the cover.
As the skiffle boom took over from traditional jazz in popular culture in the UK, in the late 1950s- early 60s Diz started working as guitarist with a number of "skiffle" groups including those of Ken Colyer, Lonnie Donegan, Bob Cort and Nancy Whiskey, and featured on numerous recordings of the day. With Ike Isaacs he also co-hosted "Guitar Club" on BBC radio for a number of years, and was voted second best (1960) and best (1961) British jazz guitarist in the UK "Melody Maker" Jazz Polls.
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. That same year Diz played the conductor in the Harrison Marks' film The Chimney Sweeps (1963), a slapstick comedy starring Pamela Green.
Meanwhile, the "trad" and skiffle booms were coming to an end and Disley moved across to the emerging folk club scene, developing a new persona as an entertainer/musical comedian with an act based on songs from trad jazz and the British music hall and other humorous ditties accompanied by lightly swinging guitar, monologues in the manner of Stanley Holloway (especially those penned by Marriott Edgar), banter with the audience, and a string of one-line jokes in the manner of W. C. Fields and Groucho Marx, always finding room at the end of the evening for some hot-club-style guitar instrumentals, often with the assistance of some unsuspecting second guitarist invited up from the audience. He was also employed by the BBC as compere for a number of shows, including introducing The Beatles on their first London concert. As arguably the "folk world"'s then most competent performer in the area of jazzy guitar accompaniment he collaborated with fiddle player Dave Swarbrick on several ragtime tunes the 1967 Dave Swarbrick album "Rags, Reels & Airs" along with singer-guitarist Martin Carthy on the more folk-based material. 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 1973 he was influential in persuading original Quintette du Hot Club de France violinist Stéphane Grappelli (Django Reinhardt's original playing partner) to return to public performances using an all-strings acoustic line-up, recapturing the spirit of the original Quintette to a whole new generation of popular listeners (prior to this, Grappelli had spent a number of years playing "cocktail jazz" in a Paris hotel). After a couple of "warm up" gigs in small folk clubs, they played together to an unexpectedly warm reception at the 1973 Cambridge Folk Festival, with Denny Wright drafted in on second acoustic guitar (a portion of this performance being subsequently released on CD in 2000 as Stéphane Grappelli: Live At The Cambridge Folk Festival), and this began a lengthy collaboration between Grappelli and the "Diz Disley Trio" (sometimes billed as "The Hot Club of London"), including tours of Australia, Europe and the United States, to ever increasing acclaim. 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". With a few changes in line-up (Ike Isaacs, Louis Stewart and John Etheridge occupying the second guitarist's chair at different times), the Disley trio accompanied Grappelli for a further five years until Diz was forced to take a break in 1979 following a broken wrist sustained after being knocked down by a motorcycle in London; his replacement was a young Martin Taylor who went on to tour with Grappelli for the next 10 years. In 1978 Stéphane, Diz and others were invited by David Grisman to contribute the score to a film called "King of the Gypsies" which was duly completed together with Grisman and other musical associates. Stéphane and Diz had walk-on parts playing gypsy musicians and were suitably attired for the occasion. Unfortunately the soundtrack to the movie was never released, although the film is still available via movie outlets for hire or purchase.
Disley was back with Grappelli in 1981-2 including a visit to the U.S.A. which resulted in parts of two performances captured on film, later released as "Stéphane Grappelli - Live In San Francisco" although the two musicians parted ways soon after, this time for good, apparently due more to personality than musical clashes. For the second concert performance shown in the film (filmed at the Great American Music Hall), Stéphane and the Trio were joined for an encore by David Grisman, Darol Anger, Mike Marshall and Rob Wasserman for a performance of "Sweet Georgia Brown".
In 1984 Disley was instrumental in forming a club quintet for Nigel Kennedy, who was starting to explore other musical styles. 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. In the 2000s he also spent time in Spain, where he had purchased some land with the stated intention of building a golf course, and at one point ran a jazz bar there in between trips to the UK for continued performances.
Although frequently characterised as a follower of Django Reinhardt, Disley's' guitar style (with the exception of single-string soloing, which bears some muted resemblance to Reinhardt's) was based strongly on jazz rhythm traditions and in fact forms more of a continuum from early plectrum-style players such as Eddie Lang, Lonnie Johnson and Teddy Bunn, for the latter of which he expressed admiration along with his idol Reinhardt. Over the early part of his career, Disley had developed a highly sophisticated accompaniment style of solo guitar incorporating complex and subtle jazz harmonies, the ability to play in any key anywhere on the instrument (including traditionally "non guitar-friendly" keys such as B flat, E flat etc.), the choice of numerous alternate voicings for any chord, plus the incorporation of moving figures in the bassline and/or internal notes of chords to create considerable melodic and harmonic interest; all of which stood him in good stead when playing in jazz company as well as being almost from another galaxy so far as most attendees of folk clubs in the 1960s and 1970s would be concerned (much folk music of the day being accompanied by simple guitar chords played in the root position, utilizing open strings where possible to simplify the left hand fingerings required). While much of Disley's typical playing in this respect remains undocumented from his folk club years except for a few amateur recordings, the two tracks on Dave Swarbrick's "Rags, Reels & Airs" album on which Diz plays give an indication of his unique talent in swinging accompaniment.
Much better documented are the years of Disley's association with Grappelli in which his rhythm playing is notable for the lightness and propulsion engendered by his right hand technique (in tandem with his long term preference for using Selmer/Maccaferri-style instruments noted for their projection and bright open tone), as well as choice of appropriate chord voicings, with his individual guitar contributions most easily discernible in the solo musical introductions to certain swing tunes as well as taking the occasional acoustic guitar solo backed by the other rhythm guitar and double bass. While his own rhythm guitar playing is somewhat less prominent in the general group context, the availability of several Grappelli concerts on video with the Diz Disley trio offers valuable insights into Disley's' general musical approach in a way that audio recordings alone could not convey.
Anecdotes and personal reminiscences
Disley was very much a one-off "character" and remembered (mostly benignly) for his numerous personality characteristics and eccentricities. Contributors talk of his general lifestyle of only slightly ordered chaos, his ability to make large sums of money then be completely penniless, his penchant for driving around (and occasionally sleeping in) an ancient Rolls Royce hearse with a sack of carrots and a juicer in the back (he believed at one point that drinking carrot juice would offset the general consumption of alcoholic beverages through the preceding hours), his arrival at clubs for a booked performance only to discover that he had got the wrong week, his loss of valuable guitars by leaving them in a hedge or under a caravan overnight for safety only to discover in the morning that they had disappeared, and his frequent habit of arriving at folk club gigs without a guitar (or money), then borrowing one from a member of the audience on which he proceeded to play the entire gig. He addressed most persons he met as "Dear Boy" and among his commonest requests would be either an advance on his fee, or to cash a cheque for the same purpose, which he would refer to in rhyming slang as "sausage me a gregory" (sausage & mash = cash, Gregory Peck = cheque). Younger artists such as David "Brillo" Etheridge (double bass) and Chris Newman (guitar) have spoken highly of his mentoring and sharing of his musical knowledge at formative stages in their own careers and it could indeed be said that the resurgence of interest in gypsy swing in the UK from the 1980s onwards owes in no small part to the activities of Disley who virtually single handedly kept the flame alive during the 1950s, 60s and into the 70s during a period when such music was perceived by many to have little place in the jazz world.
- St. Louis Blues / Weary Blues Tempo Records (division of Vogue Records), London, 18 June 1949. Dickie Hawdon, trumpet; Alan Cooper, clarinet; Tommy Durn, piano; "Disley", banjo; Eddie O'Donnell, trombone; Tiny Lancaster, drums; Bob Barclay, tuba.
- Ken Colyer's Jazzmen / Ken Colyer's Skiffle Group: Back To The Delta Decca LF.1196 1954 - features Diz Disley, banjo on 6 of 9 tracks album details
- Ken Colyer's Jazzmen on Various Artists: The National Jazz Federation Presents: Traditional Jazz At The Royal Festival Hall, London Decca LK 4088 1958 - 2 tracks only, featuring Diz Disley, banjo album details
- Ken Colyer's Jazzmen: Ken Colyer Jubilee Decca 6.25013 1982 - features Diz Disley, banjo on 6 tracks (1954 recordings, same as "Back To The Delta") album details
- Johnny Parker & His Reunion Band with Ken Colyer: At the 100 Club Jazz Crusade 1113274 2014 (2xCD) with Diz Disley on ?? tracks (rec. London, 1984) album details
- Alex Welsh on Various Artists: Best of British Jazz from the BBC Jazz Club, Vol. 4 Upbeat 122 1996 - features Diz Disley, banjo on ?? tracks (others feature Diz' own Quintet of the same era). Original recordings 1956-60. album details
- Kenny Ball & His Jazz Men: Invitation To The Ball Pye Records NJL 24, 1960 - includes Diz Disley, banjo album details
- Kenny Ball, Chris Barber & Acker Bilk: The Best Of Ball, Barber & Bilk Marble Arch Records MAL 613 1966 - includes Diz Disley, banjo with Kenny Ball And His Jazzmen on 4 tracks album details
- Kenny Ball: At the BBC 1957-1962: The Airshots Upbeat 157 2000 - includes Diz Disley, banjo/guitar on ?? tracks album details
- Sandy Brown's Jazz Band: McJazz Pye Nixa NJL 9 1957 - includes Diz Disley (as "W. Disley"), banjo album details
- Sandy Brown's Jazz Band on Various Artists: Best of British Jazz from the BBC, Vol. 2 Upbeat 119 1995 (5 tracks) - includes Diz Disley, guitar/banjo (?1950s recordings) album details
- A Jazz Legend: Through the Years 1930-1998 Avid 634 1998 - includes Diz Disley, guitar on ?? tracks album details
- Nancy Whiskey & Her Skifflers: on Various Artists: Skiffle Showcase Stomper Time Records STCD 25 2009 (2 tracks only, rec. 1958, including Diz Disley, guitar) album details
- Diz Disley and his String Quintet: Jazz at the White Bear volume 2 77 Records, 1959 album cover, reissued on CD Jazzology, 1985 with extra tracks album details
- Diz Disley and his String Quintet on Various Artists: Best of British Jazz from the BBC Jazz Club, Vol. 4 Upbeat 122 1996 - 4 tracks only (others feature Alex Welsh band of the same era also including Diz). ??same tracks as "Jazz at the White Bear volume 2". Original recordings 1956-60. album details
- Diz Disley and the Soho String Quintet: Viper's Dream, Oui, Sweet Georgia Brown, Minor Swing. Pye Records NJE 1069, 1959 album details
- Diz Disley & the Downbeats: "Django's Castle" / "Wot Cher! (Knocked 'em in the Old Kent Road)", Parlophone 1961 album details
- Diz Disley: Eee! What A Whopper Surprise ILP 1015, 1965 (songs of George Formby) album details
- Diz Disley and the Soho String Quintette: Zing Went the Strings Waterfront WF031, 1986 with Johnny Van Derrick, violin; Nils Soberg, Geoff Green, guitars; David Etheridge, double bass album details
- Diz Disley Trio on Various Artists: The Gypsy Jazz Guitar Festival '98 Fret Records FJCD114 1998 with Jez Cook, guitar; Andy Crowdy, double bass (2 tracks only) album cover
- Diz Disley and his String Quintet Lake LACD307, 2011 - original 1958-59 recordings, with Dick Powell, violin; Danny Pursford and Nevil Skrimshire, rhythm guitars; Johnny Johnson, Tim Mahn or Toni Goffe, double bass (?same or considerable overlap with CD reissue of "Jazz at the White Bear") album details
- Rags, Reels & Airs Bounty BY 6030, 1967, also as Polydor Special 236 514, 1967 (Diz plays on 2 tracks only) album details
- Save the Last Gherkin for Me! Saydisc SDL 162 1969 - includes Diz Disley, guitar on 5 of 12 tracks album details
- Like an Old Fashioned Waltz, Island Records ILPS 9258, 1973 (Diz plays on 2 tracks only) album details
- Roundabout Parade PAR 001 1975 (includes Diz Disley, guitar) album details
- Stéphane Grappelly And Friends Philips 6308 017, 1970 - includes Diz Disley on ?? tracks album details
- Stéphane Grappelli / Jean-Luc Ponty: Giants MPS Records 0068.265, 1981 (Diz plays on 1 track only) album details
Stéphane Grappelli with the Hot Club of London
- I Got Rhythm! Black Lion 2683 047, 2xLP, 1974 with Diz Disley and Denny Wright, guitars and Len Skeat, double bass - live recording from the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, on 5 November 1973 album details
Stéphane Grappelli & the Diz Disley Trio
- Violinspiration MPS 20 22545-3, 1975, with Diz Disley & Ike Isaacs, guitars; Isla Eckinger, double bass album details (re-released as "Shades of Django" in 1990.)
- On the Road, Philips 6357 028, 1975 (live recording, Australia 1974), with Diz Disley & Ike Isaacs, guitars; Len Skeat, double bass album details
- Tiger Rag Revisited, Philips 9286 893, 1977 (live recording, Australia 1975), with Diz Disley & Ike Isaacs, guitars; Ed Gaston, double bass album details
- As Time Goes By SG records SG 101, 1979 (live concert recordings, 1978) - with Diz Disley & John Etheridge, guitars; Philip Bates, double bass album details
- Stéphane Grappelli: Live At Carnegie Hall Doctor Jazz Records FW38727 1983 with Diz Disley & John Etheridge, guitars; Brian Torff, double bass album details
- Stéphane Grappelli: Live in San Francisco Black Hawk BKH 51601 1986 (live concert recording, 1982) - with Diz Disley & Martin Taylor, guitars; Jack Sewing, double bass album details
- Stéphane Grappelli: Live At The Cambridge Folk Festival True North TND 209, 2000 (recorded live at the Cambridge Folk Festival 1983 and 1973) with Diz Disley & Denny Wright, guitar; David Etheridge, double bass (all on 1973 tracks only; remainder do not feature Disley) album details
- Live at Corby Festival Hall, May, 1975 Storyville 101 8345, 2003 (live recording, 1975) with Diz Disley & Ike Isaacs, guitars, Dave Moses, double bass album details
- What a Wonderful World Signature / CBS Special Products (cat. no. ??) 1989 featuring Diz Disley, guitar on ?? tracks album details
- David Grisman Quintet: DGQ-20 Acoustic Disc 20 1996 (3xCD) featuring Diz Disley, guitar on ?? tracks (possibly on "Tipsy Gypsy") album details
- Biréli Lagrène: Live At Carnegie Hall "A Tribute To Django Reinhardt" Jazzpoint Records jp 1040 1993 with Vic Juris (2 tracks only), Diz Disley (rhythm guitar), Jan Jankeje (double bass) - recorded live at Carnegie Hall New York, June 22, 1984 (except 1 track Frankfurt, July 1981) album details
- Biréli Lagrène Ensemble featuring Vic Juris: Live In-Akustic INAC 865 1985 with Vic Juris, solo guitar; Gaiti Lagrene, Diz Disley, rhythm guitars; Jan Jankeje, double bass album details
Big Miller & the Blues Machine
- Last of the Blues Shouters Southland (Select-O-Hits) (cat. no. ??) 1999 featuring Diz Disley, guitar on ?? tracks album details
- Little Bit of Heartache Watermelon 1059 1997 - features Diz Disley, guitar on ?? tracks album details
Johnny Silvo & Diz Disley
- Blues in the Backyard Fellside Recordings FECD143 1999 album details
- Various TV and concert performance extracts included on DVD: Stéphane Grappelli: A Life In The Jazz Century, Music on Earth MoE 001, 2002 (2-DVD set) DVD details
- Stéphane Grappelli Live in San Francisco - Live 1982 concert recordings with Diz Disley and Martin Taylor (guitars), Jack Sewing (double bass) - DVD, Storyville Films 26072, 2007 DVD details
- Diz Disley's Soho String Quintette: Sweet Georgia Brown - Anglia TV, September 1986 (from promotional tour for "Zing Went The Strings" album) youtube
- Diz Disley's Soho String Quintette: Roses of Picardy - Anglia TV, September 1986 (from promotional tour for "Zing Went The Strings" album) youtube
- Diz Disley's Soho String Quintette: Sweet Georgia Brown - Anglia TV, September 1986 (from promotional tour for "Zing Went The Strings" album) youtube
Other filmed performances apparently in existence (information from ):
- Stéphane Grappelli, violin; Diz Disley & Martin Taylor, guitars: "Rhythm On 2" Great Malvern, UK, BBC2
- Stéphane Grappelli, violin; Diz Disley & Martin Taylor, guitars; Julian Lloyd Weber, cello: "Rhythm On 2" Edinburgh, UK, BBC2
- The Guardian obituary, 15 April 2010, accessed 10 May 2010
- "Disley, Diz : Actually William Charles". Encyclopedia.com. Retrieved 13 March 2016.
- D. Disley, in sleeve notes for Norry Greenwood & The Craven Hot Club's Sweet and Swinging CD (G8INA-CD003, 1999)
- Peter Vacher. "Diz Disley obituary | Music". The Guardian. Retrieved 2016-03-14.
- The Times obituary, 3 April 2010, accessed 7 April 2010
- "DIZ DISLEY and his STRING QUINTET - - LAKE LACD307 : Jazz CD Reviews - 2012 MusicWeb International". Musicweb-international.com. Retrieved 2016-03-14.
- Liner notes to "Violinspiration" LP (Stephane Grappelli and Diz Disley Trio), 1975
- "The Melody Maker Jazz Polls 1960-1974". iancarrsnucleus.webs.com. Retrieved 2016-03-14.
- Tobler, John (1992). NME Rock 'N' Roll Years (1st ed.). London: Reed International Books Ltd. p. 116. CN 5585.
- Keith Woods (2010). "Tales From The Woods Issue no. 56" (PDF). www.tftw.org.uk. Retrieved 22 March 2016.
- "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
- MacKenzie chapter, p. 159
- "Diz Disley retrospective". Mudcat.org. 2010-03-22. Retrieved 2016-03-22.
- Mike Harding. "Folk: Remembering Diz Disley". BBC. Retrieved 2016-03-14.
- "Diz Disley - health - died 22 March 2010". Mudcat.org. 2010-03-23. Retrieved 2016-03-18.
- "Obit: Diz Disley - 22 March 2010". Mudcat.org. 2010-03-22. Retrieved 2016-03-14.
- "Diz Disley | Gypsy Jazz UK". Gypsyjazzuk.wordpress.com. Retrieved 2016-03-14.
- "Martin Taylor Discography - Video". Gould68.freeserve.co.uk. Retrieved 2016-03-14.
- Some reminiscences of Diz, including photos and artistic work: Jazz Eddie's pages
- More reminiscences, photos etc. on Gypsy Jazz UK site
- Diz Disley page on PATRUS53.com
- Balmer, P. Stéphane Grappelli: A Life In Jazz. Bobcat Books, 2008 ISBN 9781847725769 especially chapter 20: Along Came Diz. view on Google Books
- Bean, J.P. Singing from the Floor: A History of British Folk Clubs. Faber & Faber, 2014 ISBN 0571305466 view on Google Books
- Chilton, J. Disley, "Diz" (William Charles). Biographical entry in Who's Who of British Jazz: 2nd Edition. Bloomsbury, 2004 ISBN 0826423892 view on Google Books
- Fairweather, D. Disley, Diz (William Charles). Biographical entry in Carr, I.; Fairweather, D;, Priestley, B.: Jazz: The Essential Companion. Paladin, 1988 ISBN 0586085300 view on Google Books
- MacKenzie, A. The Legacy of Django. Ch. 22 in Alexander, C. (Ed.): Masters of Jazz Guitar: The Story of the Players and Their Music. Balafon Books, 1999 ISBN 9780879307288 view on Google Books
- McDevitt, C. Skiffle: The Definitive Inside Story. Robson Books, 1997 ISBN 1861051409 view on Google Books
- Smith, G. Stéphane Grappelli: a biography. Pavilion Books, 1987 ISBN 1851450122 (section with Diz: pp. 153-177) view on Google Books
- Woods, K. Tales From The Woods Issue no. 56, 2010 (includes Diz Disley appreciation on pp. 3-5) pdf version