TRIBUTE: Remembering John Chilton (1932-2016)

John Chilton

Ann Cotterell, who was the publisher of the autobiography of JOHN CHILTON, remembers the trumpeter, leader of the Feetwarmers, and prize-winning jazz writer who died at the age of 83, on 25th February.

Readers of this website may recognise John Chilton as an important author of jazz biographies including books about Louis Armstrong, Henry ‘Red’ Allen, Roy Eldridge, Louis Jordan, Billie Holiday, Bob Crosby (brother of Bing), Coleman Hawkins, Sidney Bechet and more. His research was meticulous, as evidenced in the two editions of his Who’s Who in British Jazz, an indispensable guide to musicians, especially in pre-internet days. He was also a songwriter, arranger and composer.

For many jazz lovers, John Chilton was for over 30 years best known for his association with George Melly, leading the band which accompanied Melly, touring the world, appearing on numerous occasions on television and dominating the Christmas schedule at Ronnie Scott’s. Before this, he had been in Bruce Turner’s Jump Band, the Swinging Blue Jeans, the Mike Daniels and Alex Welsh bands, and he led his own Swing Kings, accompanying visiting American stars including Buck Clayton, Bill Coleman and Ben Webster.

At the end of 2002 he decided to give up the relentless schedule of touring with Melly and to ‘only work where the London red buses go’. From then on he planned to focus entirely on writing and to work locally, playing in pub residencies with his old friend and musical collaborator, clarinettist Wally Fawkes. His autobiography, Hot Jazz, Warm Feet, published in 2007, shows that there was even more to John Chilton than the well-known attributes of bandleader, musician and writer. He gives a fascinating account of his early life in working-class London – his father was a tap-dancer and music hall comedian – and he describes his experiences as an evacuee and in National Service. His accounts of the people he had known are warm and escapades are recounted with a gentle humour that probably contributed to the success of his long career with George Melly.

Finally, he and his late wife Teresa will be remembered for the Bloomsbury Bookshop in Great Ormond Street, specialising in jazz, which they founded in the 1960s, and they continued to live in Bloomsbury for the remainder of their lives. It is hard to imagine how he packed so much into his life but, in spite of all his touring and time away from home, his family was important and he is survived by his three children, Jenny, Martin and Barney, and grandchildren.

LINKS: John Chilton’s autobiography, Hot Jazz, Warm Feet 
More from the Telegraph on John Chilton’s life and the awards conferred on him
Telegraph obituary

Brian Priestley’s Independent Obituary
Peter Vacher’s Guardian obituary

Categories: miscellaneous

1 reply »

  1. Another of the great British jazzers gone. How sad. There are too few left now. RIP John and sympathies to your family.

Leave a Reply