Trombonist Jackie Armstrong was a linchpin of Ted Heath's renowned big band, judged by many the finest and most adventurous British orchestra of the postwar era. Born George Armstrong in Consett, County Durham, on April 13, 1920, he first picked up the trombone at age ten, and within two years was a member of the local Easington Colliery Band. He quit school at 14, and after a brief career as a carpenter was invited in 1935 to join Archie's Juvenile Band, a teen big band popular on the U.K. variety circuit. The outbreak of World War II spelled the group's demise, however, and Armstrong signed on with music hall comedian Alec Halls, also enjoying a brief stint playing Dixieland before receiving his call to duty, serving as a driver with the British Royal Artillery. His opportunities to play music were so few and far between that it took him several years to regain his pre-war aptitude. Armstrong finally resurfaced in 1947 behind bandleader Lou Preager. During a performance at London's Hammersmith Palais, he came to the attention of Heath, who was in search of a trombonist to replace the exiting Laddy Busby. Armstrong joined fellow trombonists Harry Roche, Jack Bentley, and Jimmy Coombes in Heath's formidable trombone section, but quickly emerged as a featured soloist, assuming the spotlight with breathtaking performances on recordings including "The Touch of Your Lips" and "Sophisticated Lady." He also served as Heath's comedic foil, but pined for a quiet domestic life and resigned his post in 1953, joining Woolf Phillips & the Skyrockets during their residency at the London Palladium. Armstrong spent the mid-'50s with Cyril Stapleton and his BBC Show Band, followed by a stint with fellow Heath alum Jack Parnell in the ATV Orchestra. When the Heath band re-formed under Don Lusher, Armstrong returned to the fold, remaining with the group until its farewell performance on December 4, 2000. He died July 16, 2005, at the age of 85.
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