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South was born in Fulham, London. He came to prominence in the 1950s, subsequently playing with many of the on the British jazz scene of that decade, notably Joe Harriott, Dizzy Reece, Tony Crombie, and Tubby Hayes. In 1954, he was in the Tony Crombie Orchestra, together with Dizzy Reece, Les Condon (trumpet), Joe Temperley, Sammy Walker (tenor saxes), Lennie Dawes (baritone sax), and Ashley Kozak (bass).
After returning from a 9-month stint in Calcutta, India, with the Ashley Kozak Quartet, he spent four years with the Dick Morrissey Quartet, where he both wrote and arranged material for their subsequent four albums.
He also formed his own jazz big band in 1966, featuring many of the finest jazz musicians and soloists in the UK such as Hayes, Dick Morrissey, Phil Seamen, Keith Christie, Ronnie Scott and Ian Carr, and recorded an album for Mercury Records.
In the mid-1960s, he began working with British rhythm & blues singer and organist Georgie Fame, recording the album Sound Venture together. At that time he was also composing and arranging for Humphrey Lyttelton, Buddy Rich, Sarah Vaughan, and Jimmy Witherspoon. He also worked as musical director to Annie Ross.
He later branched out into session work, writing themes for television and music libraries, including the theme tunes for the 1970s ITV police drama, The Sweeney, The Chinese Detective, the BBC comedy series Give us a Break starring Robert Lindsay and Paul McGann, and the 1984 TV miniseries Charlie, starring David Warner. He also wrote the scores for the Pete Walker films The Big Switch (1968), School for Sex (1969) and Four Dimensions of Greta (1972).
He is also credited with the arrangements for Emerson, Lake & Palmer's Works Vol. 1 (1977). In 1981, he again arranged for Annie Ross and Georgie Fame in a collaboration on what was to be Hoagy Carmichael's last recording, In Hoagland.
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With Joe Harriott
- Southern Horizons (Jazzland, 1960)
- Tony Crombie and his Orchestra (1954) Decca DFE6247
- Have You Heard? - Dick Morrissey Quartet (1963)
- There and Back - Dick Morrissey Quartet (live 1964/1965 – released 1997)
- Storm Warning! - Dick Morrissey Quartet (live Nov. 1965)
- Presenting the Harry South Big Band - Harry South Big Band - (January 1966) - Mercury 20081MCL
- Here and Now and Sounding Good! - Dick Morrissey Quartet (September 1966)
- Sound Venture - Georgie Fame and The Harry South Big Band Album (October 1966)
- In Hoagland – Hoagy Carmichael/Georgie Fame/Annie Ross (1981)