Dick Charlesworth

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Clarinetist and saxophonist Dick Charlesworth remains one of the most popular and enduring exponents of the traditional jazz renaissance that captivated British audiences in the pre-Beatles era. Born…
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Clarinetist and saxophonist Dick Charlesworth remains one of the most popular and enduring exponents of the traditional jazz renaissance that captivated British audiences in the pre-Beatles era. Born in Sheffield on January 8, 1932, Charlesworth landed a job as a clerk with the Ministry of Labour in 1948. The position relocated him to Hull and eventually to London, where in 1952 he acquired his first clarinet, later doubling on alto saxophone in a local dance band. After a year moonlighting with Jim Wheeler's Jazzmen, Charlesworth founded his own group in 1957 -- upon claiming top honors in the South London Jazz Band Contest and vying for ITV's National Jiving Championship, the band signed to the Melodisc label, which renamed them Dick Charlesworth's City Gents and outfitted each member in a pinstriped suit and bowler hat.

The City Gents' raucous, flamboyant update of the classic Dixieland sound fit perfectly with their Latin motto "Dum vivimus vivamus" -- i.e, "While we live, let us enjoy life" -- and while they never achieved the same commercial peaks as contemporaries like Acker Bilk or Chris Barber, in 1961 they finished third in Jazz News' annual readers' poll counting down Britain's top acts. Charlesworth's clear tone and graceful phrasing were not the City Gents' sole strength -- trumpeter Bob Masters (who later founded the Robert Masters Artists' Agency) and trombonist Dave Keir were also much admired by audiences and critics alike, and the group also earned acclaim for the scope of its repertoire, which spanned from familiar swing-era standards to long-forgotten New Orleans staples.

When Beatlemania spelled the end of the trad jazz revival, Charlesworth dissolved the City Gents and spent the remainder of the 1960s fronting dance bands aboard the ocean liners Canberra and Orsova. After spending much of the following decade operating a bar in Spain, he returned to London in 1977, collaborating with trumpeter Keith Smith for three years before partnering with trumpeter Rod Mason. Charlesworth was later a fixture of the Legends of British Trad package tours organized by drummer John Petters, and also enjoyed an extended partnership with trumpeter Alan Littlejohn -- in addition, he frequently appeared on the BBC Radio series Jazz Score, and continued performing live well into his seventies. He died April 15, 2008.