Victor Ash

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While it is considered a good thing for a jazz musician to be "burning," a slang expression meant to imply forceful improvisation with great inspirational heat, a British saxophonist and clarinetist named…
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While it is considered a good thing for a jazz musician to be "burning," a slang expression meant to imply forceful improvisation with great inspirational heat, a British saxophonist and clarinetist named Victor Ash might represent the results of taking this concept too far. Take into account this performer's series of broadcasts combining jazz and religion, and it may even seem as if the fires of Hell are being stoked. Yet listeners who have heard Ash's strictly mainstream, family-safe brand of British trad jazz would never make such a connection. As well as the aforementioned religious series entitled Sunday Break in the late '50s, Ash is known for his own concerts and accompanying a variety of big-name performers touring England. This list includes Frank Sinatra, whom Ash accompanied on all tours in the U.K., Europe, and the Middle East since 1970.

Ash was studying music privately in the mid-'40s, and made his professional debut early in the next decade in the band of British trumpeter Kenny Baker, not to be confused with the bluegrass artist of the same name. With Baker until 1953, Ash then spent three years collecting at the end of Victor Lewis' smoking combo before establishing himself as a prized accompanist for visiting artists such as songwriter Hoagy Carmichael and rococo bandleader Cab Calloway. The reedman also started up his own combo, strengthened by his winnings in Melody Maker polls throughout the '50s. In 1957, Ash fell on the United States for the first time; he returned for another tour the following year, and was back once again in 1959 with the Lewis combo. The same year, Ash's group toured the U.K. as the only British group in a Newport Jazz Festival package.

With Stan Getz and Jimmy Hamilton his favorite players on tenor sax and clarinet, respectively, Ash can be counted on for a sound both pleasantly light and melodically robust, even in the context of the Sunday Break sermonizing. He cut several long out of print albums for labels such as Pye, Nixa, and the British MGM, including some that lean toward easy listening. He has continued to be a presence on the British scene, performing with his own quartet and as a soloist with the BBC Big Band. The Ash tray of repertoire in the 2000s included chestnuts from the '40s such as "Little Brown Jug," "Chattanooga Choo Choo," and "In the Mood." His group performed regularly for charities, including a benefit for the Chalfont St. Giles Infant School.