Kenny gets blue

The one-time home of drummer Kenny Clare in Waltham Forest has been decorated with a blue plaque in recognition of his role in British jazz

The name of drummer Kenny Clare (pictured right, courtesy of the Premier Drum Company) has been added to the burgeoning forest of blue jazz plaques initiated by Waltham Forest council.

He is recognised with the installation of a blue plaque on the house in Richmond Road, Leytonstone, east London where he lived briefly in the 1950s.

The London Borough of Waltham Forest's Blue Plaque scheme celebrates many aspects of local history and cultural heritage. For several years the National Jazz Archive, located in Loughton Library, Essex, has been working with Waltham Forest to identify the residences of jazz musician in the borough, which covers Leyton, Leytonstone, Walthamstow and Chingford. This project is part of the Story of British Jazz that the Archive began during a period of funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund in 2011–14.

Clare was born in 1929 and spent his early years in Leytonstone. He began his playing career in the late 1940s with the Oscar Rabin band before joining Jack Parnell. In the 1950s and early 1960s he was featured with the John Dankworth and Ted Heath bands and in 1963 began playing with the Kenny Clarke-Francy Boland Big Band. From 1972 he worked with many bands in the UK, US and Europe, working on radio, television, commercials and film sound tracks.

Clare performed with jazz greats including Ella Fitzgerald, Dame Cleo Laine, Stephane Grappelli, Johnny Griffin and Harry James. He was a particular favourite of Tony Bennett, who interrupted a UK tour to appear at a benefit night in tribute to Clare following the drummer's death in 1984.

Kenny Clare’s blue plaque (pictured left) has been placed on the house where he lived in his mid-20s, from 1953-57. It joins those already installed for other jazz musicians who lived in Waltham Forest at some point: Sir John Dankworth, Dave Shepherd, Jackie Free and Kenny Wheeler.

Notably, the musical roles of Wheeler and Dankworth were marked on their plaques only in lower-case lettering while in what appears a promotion for the art Mr Clare is a "British Jazz Drummer". In the first attempt at the Dankworth plaque the musical knight was dubbed “saxiphinist”, the error corrected following protest from Digby Fairweather.

The next plaque due for installation will celebrate trumpeter Freddy Randall (pictured right), who was part of the post-war British jazz revival.

More information about blue plaques honouring jazz musicians in Waltham Forest is at the National Jazz Archive website.

Bruce Lindsay

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