b. 6 August 1923, London, England. One of the best known and most popular of post-World War II British jazzmen, drummer Parnell was at his most prominent during a long stint with Ted Heath’s big band. Before then, however, he had already made a mark on the UK jazz scene. While still on military service he became a member of Buddy Featherstonhaugh’s Radio Rhythm Club Sextet, playing alongside Vic Lewis and other jazz-minded servicemen. Between 1944 and 1946 Parnell also recorded with Lewis, and the Lewis-Parnell Jazzmen’s version of ‘Ugly Child’ sold extremely well (50, 000 78 rpm discs would probably have made it a hit had there been such a thing as a hit parade in those days). The Lewis-Parnell band played in clubs and also made a number of theatrical appearances. Following a minor disagreement over billing, Lewis took over sole leadership of the band while Parnell joined Heath, where he became one of the band’s most popular figures.
With the band he also sang, displaying an engaging voice and an attractive stage personality. Leaving Heath after seven years, Parnell became musical director of ATV, directing the pit band for the hugely popular UK television series Sunday Night At The London Palladium, throughout the 60s. Among his later television credits, he was musical director for The Muppet Show. In the late 70s, after two decades in television, Parnell returned to the UK jazz scene. He has continued to play in clubs and at festivals, sometimes backing visiting American jazzmen, at other times working with leading British stars. During his early days with the Heath band Parnell had an image of gum-chewing showman drummer, an image that in fact concealed a skilful, swinging and often-underrated artist. His later work, with the need for an image no longer necessary, reveals his subtle and propulsive playing. In 1994, Parnell took over as leader of the newly formed London Big Band, ‘the largest band in Britain’, consisting of the ‘cream’ of the UK music business.