One of the most fascinating items that have recently found their way into my collection is a photo album from the 1950s depicting unidentified (for the time being) jazz musicians from London, UK. Since I first browsed the album, I’ve become truly intrigued by this one-of-a-kind time document. Unfortunately, I don’t have much information about these artists, and I’m putting the photos up here, hoping that somebody can help me to identify some of them.
At the time of writing I have zero information about the album’s provenance, other than that I’ve bought it online from the UK. There are a few leads which I’ve gathered by analysing the photos:
- The Downbeat Swingtet: the first few pages depict a group of young musicians called the Downbeat Swingtet. The name can be read on the drummer’s bass drum and on the music stands. A Google search for the band name didn’t yield any result. The band was an octet, consisting of a drummer, a pianist, three varying woodwinds and three varying brass instruments. The alto player doubled on baritone saxophone and clarinet. There’s no bass player on any of the photos. On the first page, the orchestra is performing for a group of child boy scouts, while another photo shows them playing for an audience of teenagers, but in what I think is the same location. I suppose that this is some kind of youth centre and given the age of the musicians and the location, I believe that it was a amateur band.
- London: One of the photos later in the album, on the pages showing more informal photos, depicts a street sign saying ‘Broad Walk SE3’. This is a street in Blackheath, South East London, and appears to be the area where the main characters of these pictures lived. There’s only one photo with a stamp on the back, and that’s from a photographer from Southall, West London. (EDIT: a reader pointed out that the specific area on the photos is called Kidbrooke)
- The pianist: The person whom is featured the most on the photos is the piano player. He appears in the photos of the Downbeat Swingtet, in later photos with a (bop?) quintet accompanying a singer, as well as in the informal photos. The biggest lead here is one photo on which the name ‘Johnny Pocknee‘ is written. One other photo has ‘Pockney‘ written on the back. But I can’t find anything with either spelling in a jazz context of that time.
- RQ: Two photos depict members of the Downbeat Swingtet practicing outside in a garden, and their music stand bears the letters ‘RQ’ instead of ‘Downbeat Swingtet’. Are ‘RQ’ possibly the initials of another band leader with whom they played?
- 1956: A calendar visible in the background displays ‘June 1956’, so that should be the timeframe which we’re looking into.
- ‘AKO’: On later photos, our pianist is seen playing at two or three different gigs with a different band, and this is where I think things get really interesting. First of all, it seems to be a bop quintet, with a tenor saxophone/trumpet frontline. The rest of the band appear to be older than our pianist. Maybe they were professionals or more established names and he was allowed to sit in for a couple of gigs? The music stands here carry the letter ‘AKO‘, but I’m not sure if this was just a brand or actually the initials of the band (with the ‘O’ being short for Orchestra?). There’s also a guitar player visible on one of the photos of this quintet. A large photo of this band is the only photo in the album that has a stamp of a professional photographer on the back, which could mean that it was a (semi-)professional band.
- ‘…SS Six’: It’s only a half lead, but on one of the photos of this last group, the trumpet player partly covers a poster on which the letters ‘SS Six’ are visible. So I assume that this is a band name that ended on ‘…SS Six’.
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Click on the photos to enlarge.