British trumpeter Ken Colyer’s passion for New Orleans traditional jazz has created a unique and ongoing legacy.
The Ken Colyer Trust was set up a year after his passing in 1988 to encourage musicians and audiences to experience New Orleans traditional jazz.
Christine Stotesbury—along with another 60 British devotees of New Orleans jazz—will celebrate the 25th anniversary of an annual tour to New Orleans to experience local music. This pilgrimage has been taken every year in April by fans inspired by Colyer’s passion.
In the 1950s Colyer was in the British Merchant Navy. He jumped ship in Mobile and travelled to New Orleans, where he played in George Lewis’ band among others. He was eventually detained and deported. According to Stotesbury, Colyer “told stories of his pleasure listening to the black prisoners singing gospel in the late evenings. He always told us back in the UK that that was a highlight of his time in prison.”
Stotesbury continues: “Eventually funds were raised with the help of Dick Allen [the late jazz historian] to pay his bail. He was then released and repatriated to the UK where he arrived with a clear and dedicated plan to play ensemble jazz as he had heard and played it [in New Orleans].”
In Goin’ Home: The Uncompromising Life and Music of Ken Colyer, Mike Pointon and Ray Smith write that “Ken was one of the most influential and controversial figures in British jazz and blues history. Colyer’s deep-rooted love of the blues was showcased through Studio 51, his cellar club in the heart of London, which often featured American legends and encouraged the early progress of such major stars as the Rolling Stones.”
Yes, the Rolling Stones share a history with Ken Colyer. The Ken Colyer Jazz Club—a.k.a. Studio 51), opened after his return to the UK, and started booking R&B and rock ’n’ roll in the ’60s. The Rolling Stones were regulars, and it was there that John Lennon and Paul McCartney first encountered the Stones. They offered their manager “I Wanna Be Your Man,” which became the Stones’ first British hit.
But we digress.
Music historian Sam Charters is quoted in Goin’ Home: “I can give you an interesting perspective as to what happened in New Orleans when Colyer came. It was marvelous; I was not there while he was there, but I came down a couple of months afterwards, and the air was still vibrating with the effect of Colyer’s visit.”
Christine Stotesbury sums up Colyer’s legacy: “Who would believe that after 25 years the link between Ken Colyer and New Orleans would still be bringing us back?”