Ken Colyer

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Ken Colyer
Ken Colyer.jpg
Background information
Born (1928-04-18)18 April 1928
Great Yarmouth, England
Origin London, England
Died 8 March 1988(1988-03-08) (aged 59)
Genres New Orleans jazz
Occupation(s) Instrumentalist
Instruments Trumpet, cornet
Years active 1940s–1980s

Kenneth Colyer (18 April 1928 – 8 March 1988) was an English jazz trumpeter and cornetist, devoted to New Orleans jazz. His band was also known for skiffle interludes.[1]


He was born in Great Yarmouth but grew up in Soho, London and served as a member of his church choir. When his elder brother Bill (1922—2009) went off to serve in World War II he left his jazz records behind, which influenced Ken Colyer. He joined the Merchant Navy at 17, travelled around the world and heard famous jazz musicians in New York and Montreal.[citation needed]

In the UK, Colyer played with various bands and joined, in 1949, the Crane River Jazz Band (CRJB) with Ben Marshall, Sonny Morris, Pat Hawes, John R. T. Davies, Julian Davies, Ron Bowden and Monty Sunshine. The band played at the Royal Festival Hall on 14 July 1951 in the presence of HRH Princess Elizabeth. Parts of that group merged with other musicians including Keith Christie and Ian Christie to form the Christie Brothers' Stompers. Colyer rejoined the Merchant Navy, jumped ship in Mobile, Alabama, and travelled to New Orleans, where he played with his idols in George Lewis' band. He was offered the job of lead trumpeter on a tour, but was caught by the authorities, detained and deported.[citation needed]

Colyer was invited to take the trumpet lead for the Chris Barber Band and so formed the first line-up of Ken Colyer's Jazzmen: Chris Barber, Monty Sunshine, Ron Bowden (born Ronald Arthur Bowden, 22 February 1928, Fulham, London), Lonnie Donegan and Jim Bray (born James Michael Bray, 24 April 1927, Richmond, Surrey). They made their first recordings on Storyville in 1953. Colyer and the others parted company in 1954, each claiming in later years to have fired the other. The next, brief, band in the mid-1950s featured Bernard "Acker" Bilk on clarinet.[citation needed]

Then followed Colyer's band line-up with Mac Duncan (trombone), Ian Wheeler (clarinet), Johnny Bastable (banjo), Ron Ward (bass) and Colin Bowden (drums), later joined by Ray Foxley (piano). This band played together until the early 1960s when the new front-line featured, at various times, Sammy Rimington and Tony Pyke (clarinet), Graham Stewart and Geoff Cole (trombone), Bill Cole (bass) and Malc Murphy (drums). 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, Diz Disley, Acker Bilk, Chris Barber, Kenny Ball, Alex Welsh, Monty Sunshine, Bob Wallis, Bruce Turner, Mick Mulligan and Colyer.[2]

In 1972, after a bout with stomach cancer, Colyer took his doctors' advice to stop leading a band. The band continued to work under the leadership of banjoist Johnny Bastable, as his "Chosen Six", recruiting John Shillito (trumpet). Colyer continued with a solo career into the 1980s. Around that time he was occasionally associated with Chris Blount's New Orleans Jazz Band, and some of his live recordings with that band were later released on a CD (KCTCD5). He moved to the south of France in his last years. Lake Records was started by re-issuing Colyer albums (from the Decca catalogue) and the current catalogue contains most of his best recordings.[citation needed]

A biography, "Goin' Home" (published 2010), was compiled by Mike Pointon and Ray Smith. It won an accolade from the House of Commons Jazz Society in May 2011. A year after Colyer's death a group of family members, friends and musicians met at the London School of Economics to set up the Ken Colyer Trust with the original aim of publishing his autobiography "When Dreams are in the Dust". For 25 years it supported the work of established jazz musicians and encouraged young musicians and audiences. That work is now being continued by other interested parties. The trust sponsored a memorial plaque at the site of the jazz club Studio 51, at 11–12 Great Newport Street, near Leicester Square. It was unveiled on 18 April 1995 by Humphrey Lyttelton, Julian Davies and Ken Clarke.[3]

Colyer was (and still is) revered by devotees of New Orleans jazz, among whom he was often known as "The Guvnor". Some critics who especially espoused more modern styles tended to sneer at his playing, though Humphrey Lyttelton strongly dissented from this view. There was a tendency at times to regard him as a musical Luddite but this was a misunderstanding: on one occasion Ken stated that he would be very happy to have Joe Harriott sit in with his band. His approach to jazz lies at the opposite extreme to, say, Miles Davis who varied his styles and settings greatly over time; Ken by contrast kept a single musical ideal before him and pursued it single-mindedly.



Ken Colyer's Jazzmen

  • Decca F10241 "Goin' Home" / "Isle of Capri" (1954)
  • Decca F10332 "La Harpe Street Blues" / "Too Busy" (1954)
  • Decca F10504 "Early Hours" / "Cataract Rag" (1955)
  • Decca F10519 "If I Ever Cease to Love You" / "The Entertainer" (1955)
  • Decca F10565 "It Looks Like a Big Time Tonight" / "Red Wing" (1955)
  • Decca FJ10755 "All the Girls Go Crazy About the Way I Walk" / "Dippermouth Blues" (1956)
  • Tempo A117 "Just a Closer Walk with Thee" / "Sheik of Araby" (1956)
  • Tempo A120 "If I Ever Cease to Love" / "Isle of Capri" (1956)
  • Tempo A126 "My Bucket's Got a Hole in It" / "Wabash Blues" (1956)
  • Tempo A136 "Maryland, My Maryland" / "The World is Waiting for the Sunrise" (1956)
  • Columbia DB4676 "The Happy Wanderer" / "Maryland, My Maryland" (1961)
  • Columbia DB4783 "Postman's Lament" / "Too Busy" (1962)


  • Ken Colyer in New Orleans, (1953) Vogue Records EPV 1202
  • Ken Colyer in New Orleans, (1953) Vogue Records EPV 1102
  • Ken Colyer's Jazzmen (1953) Tempo EXA31
  • They All Played Ragtime (1958) Ken Colyer's Jazzmen Decca DFE6466
  • And Back to New Orleans (1956?) Ken Colyer's Jazzmen Decca DFE6268


  • Decca Skiffle Sessions, Lake Records, LACD 7
  • The Lost 1954 Royal Festival Hall Tapes, [Upbeat Jazz Records – 2004], URCD 198
  • More Lost 1954 Royal Festival Hall Tapes, [Upbeat Jazz Records – 2008], URCD 205
  • Live at York Arts Centre (1972), Upbeat, URCD 210
  • The Crane River Jazz Band
  • Club Session with Colyer (1956) Decca LK4178
  • Studio 51 Club Sessions with Colyer (1972) Upbeat URCD217
  • Out of nowhere Ken Colyer's Jazzmen K.C.RECORDS (1965) GNO 101
  • Back to the Delta (1954) Ken Colyer's Jazzmen/Skffle Group Decca LF 1196
  • New Orleans to London (1953) Ken Colyer's Jazzmen Lake LACD209
  • Marching to New Orleans (1957) Ken Colyer's Omega Brass Band Decca LF1301
  • Marching Back to New Orleans (1955/57) Ken Colyer's Jazzmen & Omega Brass Band Lake LA5021
  • This is Jazz (1959) Ken Colyer Jazzmen Columbia 33SX1220
  • Sensation - The Decca Years (1955-59) Lake LA5001
  • The Classic Years 1957) Ken Colyer's Jazzmen Upbeat URCD149


  1. ^ Profile,; accessed 1 June 2008.
  2. ^ Tobler, John (1992). NME Rock 'N' Roll Years (1st ed.). London, UK: Reed International Books Ltd. p. 116. CN 5585. 
  3. ^ City of Westminster green plaques,; accessed 2 November 2014.

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