Despite his slim discography, Pete Chilver looms among the most influential figures in postwar British jazz. One of the nation's first electric guitarists, he was also at the vanguard of the evolution from swing to bebop. Born October 19, 1924, in Berkshire, England, Chilver studied piano as a child before moving to guitar, leaving school in 1940 to form his own group, the Silver Sovereigns. Later that same year he befriended Joe Deniz, the gifted West Indian guitarist who supported famed bandleader Ken "Snakehips" Johnson -- Deniz in turn introduced Chilver to a series of Caribbean-born musicians, among them Trinidadian guitarist Lauderic Caton, whose electric guitar playing behind bandleader Harry Parry convinced Chilver to acquire an amplifier of his own. During World War II he served as a draughtsman, moonlighting as a member of Berkshire's Embassy Aces band -- trumpeter Johnny Claes later secured the group's release for a tour of American military bases, and for a short time, Chilver sat in with the Glenn Miller Army Air Force Band in place of an ailing Carmen Mastren. In 1946 Chilver signed on with bandleader Ray Ellington, a major catalyst behind the emergence of British modern jazz, and for a time collaborated with accordionist Tito Burns, another seminal figure.
In 1947 he made his recorded debut on the all-star Melody Maker's Jazz Rally session alongside future greats including tenor saxophonist Ronnie Scott and pianist George Shearing. Early the following year, Chilver reunited with Scott for a date credited to the Esquire Five, followed by an unissued Decca session led by drummer Jack Parnell. While his intricate, lyrical approach to bebop held rival guitarists in awe, Chilver paid the bills playing swing, and in 1948 he was hired to support Britain's most popular bandleader, Ted Heath, followed by a stint with Ambrose. In 1949 he went freelance, and accompanied Benny Goodman during the American bandleader's first-ever British performance at the London Palladium. Upon completing a brief tenure with the Ralph Sharon Sextet, in 1950 Chilver wed Norma Domenico, the sister of Heath's singer Lydia MacDonnell, and the couple relocated to North Berwick, where he managed the family hotel. He never performed or recorded again, despite for many years operating Edinburgh's West End Café, widely considered the premier modern jazz club in all of Scotland. Chilver died in Edinburgh on March 16, 2008.