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Moonlight on the Dighty: Jimmy Deuchar was Dundee’s jazz trumpet hero

Dundee jazz trumpet legend Jimmy Deuchar and Tubby Hayes performing.
Dundee jazz trumpet legend Jimmy Deuchar and Tubby Hayes performing.

Dundee’s Jimmy Deuchar was one of Britain’s greatest jazz trumpeters who never forgot his roots.

Jimmy played in some of the world’s finest jazz and show bands alongside luminaries like Johnny Dankworth, Tubby Hayes, Jack Parnell, Ronnie Scott and Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts.

Glenn Millar composed Moonlight Serenade in 1939 and 40 years later Jimmy released Moonlight on the Dighty about the burn which ran past his Barnhill home!

He admired Fats Navarro

Jazz promoter and broadcaster Alan Steadman from Broughty Ferry said it was a pity that Jimmy’s contribution to jazz is not more widely recognised.

He said: “Unlike many musicians getting into jazz in the 1940s/50s, Jimmy was influenced, not by the traditional style, but by the new sound of be-bop.

“He admired the American trumpet player Fats Navarro whose big, rich tone he was to emulate both on trumpet and flugelhorn.

“This love of modern jazz took him to London where this “unknown” was soon playing with luminaries like Johnny Dankworth, Tubby Hayes, Jack Parnell and Ronnie Scott.

Ronnie Scott.

“He went on tour with these band leaders and also played in a number of well-known big bands both in the UK and in Germany.

“On his return to Dundee in the early 1970s, he continued to write and arrange for – and occasionally play with – some of these bands including one put together by the Rolling Stones drummer, Charlie Watts.

“I tried unsuccessfully to persuade him to ask Charlie to come to play with him at a Dundee Jazz Festival.”

Rolling Stones legend Charlie Watts.

Truly musical family

Jimmy was born in 1930 in Dundee into a truly musical family.

His father Jim, who was an engineer, was the trumpet leader of the Marine Ballroom Band in Arbroath.

Jimmy’s uncles, Bill and Chic Smith, were active in the London big band scene in the 1930s.

Bill was a major influence on Jimmy’s career.

He would bring jazz records into the house and Jimmy always wanted to be a trumpet player.

Jimmy’s family moved to London when he was a year old but returned to Angus during the Second World War.

He attended school at Brechin, Arbroath and Carnoustie.

He joined Brechin City Band which gave him first-class training.

Jimmy Deuchar, second from left, pictured during a performance in Broughty Ferry in 1977.

Jimmy was a promising teenage trumpet player who featured in the dance bands of the Hotel Seaforth, Arbroath, and the Locarno, Dundee, before joining his father at the Marine Ballroom in Arbroath.

He performed National Service in the RAF at Uxbridge for 18 months where his trumpet was never far away.

During his time in the RAF Jimmy went to Club Eleven which was a nightclub in London which played a significant role in the emergence of the bebop jazz movement.

Johnny Dankworth heard him play and asked the Angus lad to join the big band he was forming as soon as his National Service was finished.

Jimmy joined the Johnny Dankworth Seven in 1950 at the age of 20 alongside Don Rendell, Bill Le Sage, Eddie Harvey, Joe Muddel and Tony Kinsey.

Dankworth taught him so much and he went on to play with England bandleader Geraldo which included some studio work and some radio work.

Working with Ronnie Scott

Jimmy appeared with the Ronnie Scott Sextet at the Paris Jazz Fair in 1952 alongside Tony Crombie, Victor Feldman and Tommy Pollard.

The band were playing opposite the legendary jazz trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie who would watch them in the wings before he went on stage.

Jimmy was watched by Dizzy Gillespie.

A US tour followed before the band returned home to perform at the Empress Ballroom in Dundee.

Jimmy joined Jack Parnell’s band in 1952

Jimmy took over the trumpet chair in the Lionel Hampton Orchestra in 1956 when Richard Williams fell ill.

There followed a British and European tour with the all-star American swing outfit.

Jimmy returned to Dundee in the 1970s and stayed in Barnhill.

He made The Scots Connection record in 1979 with tenor player Gary Cox which included Moonlight on the Dighty.

Jimmy was a fine composer

Alan said the song is one of his favourite tunes.

“As well as a tasteful arranger Jimmy was also a fine composer,” he said.

“Moonlight on the Dichty was his tribute to the local burn or as it was described by one reviewer ‘a stream that flows near to his home’.

“Local jazz fans could hear him play at the regular Sunday sessions at The Sands night club on Broughty Ferry’s Esplanade as well as at a number of Dundee Festivals.

“I had the pleasure of occasionally meeting with Jimmy for a drink in the Woodlands Hotel, close to where we both lived and I loved hearing about his life and times.

The Jimmy Deuchar Quintet played the best of traditional and new jazz to a crowd at the Dundee Arts Centre in 1990.

“He once told me a lovely story about being with Ronnie Scott on board a liner heading for the USA.

“One of the band asked this crew member resplendent in a pristine white uniform for two gin and tonics.

“‘That should be fine’, was the reply. ‘but I am in fact the Captain!'”

Later Jimmy joined the BBC Show Band under Cyril Stapleton, playing alongside former Dundee Palais musician Johnny McLevy, who hailed from Ure Street, and other well-known Scots, George Chisholm and Tommy McQuater.

Havana Swing

He suffered from ill-health but continued to perform in the 1980s and early 1990s including a spell with Havana Swing.

Jimmy launched Jazz Between the Generations in 1993 which was a series of masterclasses at Bell Street Music Centre.

It was aimed at encouraging young jazz players with a view to forming a big band along the lines of the Strathclyde Youth Orchestra.

Just before he died in 1993 at the age of 62, Jimmy was preparing to record a major work, Concerto for Joe, which he wrote for Joe Temperley.

“As to Jimmy’s place in jazz, there can be little doubt that he was Britain’s foremost modern jazz trumpet player particularly in the 1950s,” said Alan.

“Musicians talked of his amazing ability to sight read and of his innate feeling for the music.

“His arranging skills were also highly regarded.

“He told me that he sometimes wrote these whilst travelling on the tour bus.

“Great jazz musicians are remembered not only for their playing but also for the inspiration they were to others.

“I’m sure Jimmy fitted into both these categories and accordingly his legacy will live on.”

Jimmy influenced some of Scotland’s best jazz trumpeters

Local trumpeter David Fimister played alongside Jimmy at the Sunday sessions at The Sands in Broughty Ferry.

He described him as a world class musician, internationally acclaimed for his playing, composing and arranging.

He said: “His modest genius was reflected in his soloing style always delivered with taste and warmth.

“I learned from him, in particular that every note counted; nothing was wasted.

“I feel now that those who were there didn’t fully realise what they were witnessing and should perhaps have savoured it more.”

Colin Steele is one of Scotland’s top trumpet players.

Colin joined his first jazz group the John Rae Collective at the age of 19 and then went on to work with Tommy Smith, Tom Bancroft Orchestra and pop band Hue and Cry.

He described Jimmy as a legend of pure musicality and someone who inspired him greatly as a young player.

He recalled a time when they were both double-booked to play at the opening of a supermarket in Dundee.

The manager said they had to play from 10am to 1.30pm and then from 2pm to 6pm.

Colin said: “Jimmy told the manager exactly what he thought of that idea and we ended up playing for an hour before retiring to the nearest hostelry!”

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