Features

New York, New York . . .

DID YOU EVER serve in Geraldo’s Navy? Have you even heard of Geraldo? Gerald Ford, known as ‘Geraldo’, was a British bandleader and impresario whose career spanned the 1930s, 40s and 50s. While running his own very successful orchestra, he also supplied musicians for special events. One of his contracts was to supply music for the Atlantic liners, like the Queen Mary, when they resumed sailing to and from New York after WW2. Musicians who performed on these liners became known as ‘Geraldo’s Navy’.

When WW2 began, popular music all over the world was dominated by the ‘Swing’ style of jazz and by the big bands that played it. During the war some enthusiasts and amateur musicians began to revive the earliest style of jazz from New Orleans. Few professional dance band musicians were attracted by this development. They began to hear stories about the emergence in New York of a challenging new idiom for jazz: ‘Bebop’. Desperate to master the new style, they began to acquire records and to listen to radio programmes. But the obvious way to reach the source was to sail to New York. Geraldo’s Navy offered a wonderful opportunity. Work your passage to that city and you might have 2 or even 3 nights to explore the clubs of 52nd Street before the boat sailed for the UK. You could hear your new heroes playing their challenging music. Several musicians, who would become very important for the future of British jazz, made this trip; most readers of this column will have heard of John Dankworth or Ronnie Scott, for example.

For one young man, Geraldo’s Navy led to an amazing new life. His name was Peter Ind and he has recently moved to live among us in Saltdean. Last year he celebrated his 90th birthday at The Verdict, our leading jazz venue. Earlier this year he was welcomed by a special evening at the Rottingdean Jazz Club and the Grange Gallery hosted an exhibition of his paintings.

I first saw Peter’s name on record sleeves while I was a student in the 1950s. My friend Mike Shera, in an effort to improve my understanding of jazz, played me recordings by Lennie Tristano and Lee Konitz, very influential jazz musicians at that time. Often, the bass player working with them was Peter Ind. How did this happen?

Peter grew up in Uxbridge, on the outskirts of London. In his teens he began to show his musical talent and was soon able to earn a living from playing the piano. But he was more ambitious. He went to evening classes at Trinity College to develop his understanding of music. Then he decided that he would make the double bass his main instrument. He became a full-time musician and studied with Tim Bell, who was teaching new techniques for players of the bass. In 1949, as he became more interested in jazz, he made his first trip to New York with Geraldo’s Navy.

From that time things developed rapidly. During his time ashore in New York he began to take lessons with the great jazz pianist, Lennie Tristano. Soon, he became such a successful pupil that Tristano felt able to use him on a gig. In 1951 Peter moved permanently to New York. This was the beginning of a great period in his career. With his friend Ronnie Ball, he was accepted as a musician working with the biggest names in jazz. He even came to demonstrate to the wonderful jazz bass player and bandleader Charles Mingus, the advanced bass technique he had been taught in London. From his experience in recording with New York’s leading jazz musicians, he went on to study recording techniques and established his own studio and a record label – Wave Records – which is still active.

It is a remarkable story. From his first trips for Geraldo, Peter Ind was able to establish a reputation as one of the finest bass players in New York, the very heart of jazz music. For a full account of those years I would recommend that you look out for Peter’s excellent book: ‘Jazz Visions: Lennie Tristano and his Legacy’. There is much more to Peter’s life, which I can only sketch briefly. In the 1960s he moved to California, by which time he was married with a family. Eventually, he returned to play in London and to develop his record label. For 10 years he ran two linked jazz clubs, The Bass Clef and The Tenor Clef, where I was able to hear some wonderful music, much of it played by Peter himself. Now he has settled for a more peaceful life in Brighton, but I am sure we will hear more from him yet.

Peter Batten

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