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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Don Mather, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf, Glyn Pursglove

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Trip to Mars / Parnell on Parade

Vocalion CDNJT 5308



  1. The Hawk Talks
  2. Sure Thing
  3. Carioca
  4. April in Paris
  5. Cottontail
  6. Catherine Wheel
  7. Trip to Mars
  8. Summertime
  9. The Champ
  10. Skin Deep
  11. When The Saints Go Marching In
  12. Sugarfoot Stomp
  13. East Meets West
  14. Twilight in Turkey
  15. When Yuba Plays the Rumba on the Tuba
  16. Topaz
  17. Night Train
  18. Dragnet
  19. Route 66
  20. Sky Blue Shirt and a Rainbow Tie
  21. Love and Marriage
  22. Ting-a-Ling
  23. Fuller Bounce
  24. Fanfare Boogie
  25. Topsy
  26. Cha Cha Rock

I am old enough to remember that, when I was a youngster, it was still the period of big-band shows in Britain. I was introduced to several big bands at such concerts, including those led by Ted Heath, Oscar Rabin and Eric Winstone. My favourite band was the Squadronaires and I actually preferred their drummer - Jock Cummings - to Ted Heath's Jack Parnell, although I later realised that Parnell was a pretty good drummer. In 1951, Parnell graduated from the Heath band to form his own groups and became a considerable composer and arranger, notably in his role as musical director for ATV (Associated Television) for many years. In this incarnation, he wrote many TV themes, including the beautiful Love Story (which is sadly not on this compilation).

This CD assembles more than 70 minutes of his music from the 1950s, including a whole LP (Trip to Mars) and an EP (Parnell on Parade), as well as a dozen items taken from singles. The album reminds us that Britain had many fine jazzmen at this time, including Jimmy Deuchar, Laddie Busby and Joe Temperley. It is also a reminder of how dependent British jazz still was on the USA, borrowing many tunes (and even arrangements) from the States.

For instance, three of the tunes here were written by Louie Bellson during his stint with the Duke Ellington Orchestra. If you compare the originals with Parnell's versions, you may well conclude that the Duke was superior. The Hawk Talks lacks some of the relaxed thrill of the Ellington original, while Skin Deep reproduces the Ducal arrangement but contains less drumming - even though Parnell is joined on drums by Phil Seamen. And Ting-a-Ling is a respectable but hardly enthralling performance. On Route 66, Jack Parnell sings mid-Atlantic vocals, supported by a Merry Macs-type backing group.

This is not to say that every track is derivative. April in Paris is given a fresh approach, with novel voicings for the saxes and brass. Even that old warhorse When the Saints Go Marching In is brightened up with an inventive arrangement plus a gutsy tenor-sax solo from Red Price. In fact many tracks are rendered special both by notable soloists and thoughtful arrangements. As a drummer himself, Jack Parnell knew the importance of the drummer in propelling a band, and the recordings benefit from some lively drumming. The title of the final track, Cha Cha Rock from 1958, suggests that the big-band era was giving way to new influences. But these recordings supply evidence that there was plenty of life in the genre.

Tony Augarde 

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