Cyril Blake

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Sometimes performing under the stage name of "Midnight," and quite often appearing well after midnight, Cyril Blake was an essential part of the freewheeling music scene of England in the decades both…
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Sometimes performing under the stage name of "Midnight," and quite often appearing well after midnight, Cyril Blake was an essential part of the freewheeling music scene of England in the decades both before and after World War II. He became well versed in jazz, blasted away in rhythm & blues bands of various ethnic persuasions, and finally came home to his Trinidad musical roots in the last section of his career. He first left the islands around 1918, showing up as one of the guitarists in a British attraction called the Southern Syncopated Orchestra. From this position of strum-a-rama, he switched to being a trumpet player and was working in both London and Paris clubs whilst the '20s roared.

In the '30s, the man had pretty much settled in London, playing in the bands of brothers Leon Abbey and Happy Blake, and Rudolph Dunbar, who played clarinet. In the mid-'30s, Blake played in a positively regal combo, Leslie Thompson's Emperors of Jazz, followed by some shaking of Joe Appleton's musical orchards. This entire aspect of the British jazz scene, also including performers such as Bertie King, Lauderic Caton, and Brylo Ford, first received due credit in the publication of the epic tome Who's Who of British Jazz by John Chilton, which acknowledged that these players really represented the country's "all-out jazzmen," most of whom performed in Soho clubs such as Jig's on Wardour Street. From here, they influenced generations of British jazzmen to come. Yes, consider Jig's, which had a reputation for being "shady." Yet, check out the kind of people one might run into there. From a biography of Blake's peer, the brilliant Caton: "It was at Jig's that he ran into Fats Waller and Duke Ellington, both of whom sought his (Caton's) services. " Caton hired fellow Trinidadian Blake as trumpeter for his own Jig's band and began cutting records with him.

The trumpeter stepped forward as a bandleader in his own right beginning in 1938, his outfits a popular choice for house bands at several different clubs. He seemed to absorb all the different musical influences pouring through London in the ensuing years, always playing bright and articulate solos without a wasted note. Jig's Club became a venue associated almost completely with Blake; a kind of palpable musical sweat pours out of these recordings done under the name of Cyril Blake & His Jig's Club Band, some of which sound like they were taped by a guy hiding in a moving truck four blocks away. The material includes a lip-smacking cover of "Frolic Sam" by Duke Ellington and his longtime clarinet buddy Barney Bigard, and a Jimmie Lunceford arrangement proving "Rhythm Is Our Business." While having one's name immortalized as a possessive subject in yet another "blues" might seem like an almost anonymous form of immortalization, few listeners will forget "Cyril's Blues" once heard. Louis Armstrong himself made the journey to Jig's, not only to enjoy the atmosphere but to check out the trumpet man.

In the early '40s, Blake cut sides for Regal-Zonophone, a glimpse into the future of exotic hi-fi productions as well as a taste of the Afro-Caribbean influence that would become a stronger element in Blake's music. He was also, for awhile, put in charge of the calypso ├╝bermensch Lord Kitchener, a fine recording artist who admittedly might sound good with a gaggle of chickens backing him up, but certainly sounded great with Blake's units behind him. The calypso artist -- known as "Kitch" to his pals and recording studio bosses -- did the first of what are considered his important records with Parlophone, the releases dispatched to Trinidad with a speed that would have dazzled the Greek gods. Whether it was Carnival time or not, the records were impossible to keep in stock. That innovative orchestrations were something that Kitchener found exciting in the recording studio was extremely encouraging to Blake, as well as later arrangers such as Denis Preston. All tended to push something of a jazz agenda, having played plenty of the stuff and wanting to insert it everywhere, especially in the welcoming context of a swinging calypso beat. The style had been popular in Britain since the '20s, with West Indians migrating to London since the early part of the century. During World War II, West Indian music became more prominent in London clubs and calypsos were broadcast on BBC. Blake continued charging forward as a bandleader until a fatal illness which took him early in the ''50s.