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Forty years before the Beatles led the British Invasion of the American musical scene, there was a similar American musical invasion of the U.K.: jazz. Sidney Bechet, one of the earliest and most enduring jazz expatriates, toured England in the mid-1920s, sparking a rush of interest in early jazz. And playing alongside Bechet was one of the most enthusiastic converts, Ted Heath.
Heath caught the jazz bug and kept it for the rest of his life. He spent the late twenties and most of the thirties playing with most of the biggest British big bands: Jack Hylton, Ambrose (for nearly ten years), and Geraldo. Inspired by Glenn Miller's big band sound, Heath formed his own group in 1944, and it became the dominant swing group in the U.K. until his death (and beyond).
Heath attracted many of the best performers and arrangers. Johnny Dankworth, trumpeter Kenny Baker, Stanley Black, Ronnie Scott (who went on to own the most famous jazz club in London), and Jack Parnell were among Heath's featured players. And his roster of arrangers is even more impressive: Dankworth, Johnny Keating, George Shearing (his rare ventures into arranging were for Heath), Tadd Dameron, Robert Farnon, and Roland Shaw.
Heath was successful enough, both commercially and critically, to be invited to tour the U.S. and play Carnegie Hall in 1953. Heath had a steady series of mid-chart hits throughout the fifties, with such tunes as "Dragnet," "Swinging Shepherd Blues," "Skin Deep," and "Sucu Sucu." One of the first acts to record for London's Phase Four stereo showcase series, Heath had the label's biggest hit in 1962 with Big Band Percussion.
Heath suffered from a heart conditions in the late 1960s and retired from performing. Trombonist Don Lusher took over the lead of the band, though, and it continued to record and perform for over 20 years, finally retiring with a gala concert at London's Royal Festival Hall in December 2000. (Lusher turned around and then formed his own band, which he continues to lead today.)
You can find out more about Ted Heath and Don Lusher at The Don Lusher Website. Coincidentally, another Heath alumnus, trumpeter Tony Fisher, recently revived Bert Kaempfert's music with a 21st century reincarnation of The Bert Kaempfert Orchestra.
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