When I first met Hank Shaw he was in his early twenties and was one of our finest jazz trumpet men.
Hank was an eternal innocent. He had no enemies and seemed to like everybody. He didn’t drink, but he did smoke considerable quantities of pot – because just a few drags of the magic weed allowed him to be transported from this cruel world into that special land out there in space heaven, where Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Fats Navarro and Charlie Parker were always wailing the blues.
A typical (although invented) example of Hank’s disassociation with the cruel realities of life would be:
The scene: the band room of a London jazz club. Hank is just about to lead his worthy little group of beboppers on to the stage when the owner of the club comes in.
Owner to Hank: “I have just heard. They have dropped an atom bomb on Manchester. There must be an awful lot of deaths although they haven’t given the figures yet. What do you think we ought to do?”
Hank: “ That’s bad news man….bad, bad news. I mean….. like I had a gig up there next Saturday…… I guess that’ll be cancelled,,,,,,,(turning to the band) yeah……..hey, listen, let’s start with Cherokee in B flat.”
Hank was sweet and inoffensive but could be easily intimidated by men in serious suits who were firmly attached to the hard realities of life. One such was Tommy Kinsman.
Tommy had a band agency. He was also an up market toff whose public school upbringing got him most of the high-paying aristocratic gigs. He would supply these hoorays with whatever music they needed, be it a piano tinkler to give atmosphere to a private party or a full size dance orchestra for some important ball. The word was that he would charge £50 per musician but give them only £10
He also got the royal gigs. Whenever there was action at the Palace or some royal castle, Kinsman got the gig. For these he would always appear in person to lead his band and of course, hobnob with his fellow Hooray Henries.
As Ronnie Scott explained it to me; there was – or maybe still is – one night in the year when a special party is thrown for the domestic staff of Buckingham Palace, and where members of the Royal Family become the servants. This is a very big occasion. Tommy Kinsman’s number one orchestra – chosen as much for their ability to keep their mouths closed as to what goes on, just as much as their ability to play, was, as ever, to provide the music. Tommy hated jazz and he hated jazz musicians, whom he saw as uncouth animals. But because he had been informed that Princess Margaret, a big jazz lover, was going to be present, he hired Ronnie Scott and Kenny Baker, jazz trumpeter and all round virtuoso, in addition to his normal band.
But for some reason or other, on the very day of the royal gig, Kenny became unavailable, and on Ronnie’s recommendation Hank Shaw was rushed in as the chosen replacement, which is why at 12 noon of the day of the gig, Hank was sitting in Tommy Kinsman’s office.
“Now listen Shaw” said Kinsman haughtily. , “I don’t normally hire you damned jazz chappies. Frankly, I don’t think you people know how to act in civilised company”
Hank, totally intimidated by this up-market big-shot started to shrink down in his chair.
“Have you ever met a member of our Royal family, Mister Shaw?”
“Er, no,” said Hank
“Okay. Well, thankfully, the chances are, even though they will be present, they won’t bother to speak to you. But just in case they do I am going to tell you how you reply to them. Raising his voice, he said “You are never to speak to a member of the Royal Family unless they speak to you first, and then you reply as follows….”
…..Hank was now about as far away from his world of jazz as he had ever been. He was on the verge of getting up and running as far and as fast as he could. But this was a £30 gig. In those days if you even got five pounds for a jazz gig, it was big money. £30 pounds was fortune – enough not only to pay off the debt to his drug supplier but buy another whole weeks-supply as well.
“……..to the Queen you bow your head and say ‘yes your Majesty’. If it is one of the Princes you also bow your head and say, ‘Yes your Royal Highness’. If Her Royal Highness Princess Margaret speaks to you..” etc. etc.
Tommy Kinsman, now having frightened him to the roots of his innermost soul ended up in a voice of quiet sinister threat: “I know all about you jazz players, Shaw. So unless spoken to, SPEAK TO NO-ONE. Do you understand?”
“Oh yes sir. I won’t speak to a soul”
“Good” said Kinsman. “Because if you embarrass me in front of the Royal Family, (now pointing his long finger at him), you will never work again in this country. Do you understand?”
Kinsman then wrote his pass into the Palace and told him to be there in an evening suit with black tie at 7.30 pm.
And so there was Hank sitting in the brass section, reading his fourth trumpet parts without speaking to a soul –except Ronnie Scott, whom he spoke to only sparingly in case Kinsman fired him, or had him flung into a dungeon in the Tower of London or somewhere.
As ever, it was a very lavish affair with the footmen continually bringing masses of booze to the band room .
By one o’clock in the morning everybody was pretty well smashed with booze, including the band– and it sounded like it! Only Hank was stone cold sober, reading his trumpet parts carefully, saying a word to no-one.
Came the 1.30 am band break and Hank, seeing the whole band, including Tommy Kinsman, boozed up to the eyeballs, and all having a great time, thought ‘the gig ends in about half an hour. Nobody will notice if I just sneak off for a little smoke’.
For Hank to go to a gig without a joint was like a gangster going on a hit without his automatic. It was unthinkable. And so he went to the men’s room, locked the door and lit up. 5 minutes later, pleasantly stoned, he made his way back to the band room.
As he turned the corner which led to the band room he all but bumped into Her Majesty who was coming round the corner from the opposite direction. She had just come from the band room after thanking the musicians.
“Oh, you are one of the musicians” she said to him. “Have you everything you require?”.
Hank’s stoned out mind instantly skidded into panic mode. Here was the actual Queen of England! Oh God! He knew he must use the right words or be banished forever by Tommy Kinsman. But what was it he had to say and do? His mind had frozen stiff. The strain and desperation must have caused his mind to regress back to when his mother read him fairy stories about queens and knights in armour and such.
“Have you got everything you require,” the Queen had asked? Ronnie Scott, who was on his way to the men’s room to warn Hank that the Queen was about, saw he was too late. All he could do was watch how Hank reacted to the Queen’s question.
He suddenly flung himself down on the ground, raised himself on one knee. his other leg stretched out behind him, his arms spread out on either side like a bird in flight, his nose nearly touching the carpeted floor. Then he said very loudly:
“Yes – O Queen”
The Queen walked straight passed him so we never knew if she cracked up laughing.
I know I would have. Ronnie Scott who told me that story most certainly did.