Selection 1: Bag of Chris (Karan)
. . .
Dudley Moore, piano; Chris Karan (Chrisostomos Karanikis), drums, tablas; Jeff Clyne, Bass. Recording engineer George Chkiantz
Chkiantz’s prime territory was ’70s guitar-based rock and prog-rock: Led Zeppelin (Whole Lotta Love) , Jimmy Hendrix (Axis Bold As Love), Rolling Stones, Hawkwind, Family, King Crimson, Soft Machine, and incongruously, those heavy metal giants, sex, drugs and sausage roll, the Dudley Moore Trio.
Perhaps better known for his comic partnership with Peter Cook, The Dudley Moore Trio played in the basement of Peter Cooke’s Establishment Club in ’60s London. From here, Moore became increasingly involved with the satirical review, Beyond the Fringe, a British comedy stage revue written and performed by Cook, Moore, Alan Bennett, and Jonathan Miller, originating in University Oxford Review and Cambridge Footlights, elites at play.
A sample of British comedy from 1964 highlight Moore’s endearing cheeky stage persona. If jazz was at its peak in the 60s, my article of faith, perhaps comedy was too, appositely in black and white, and quite probably, mono. Surreal physical comedy and sharp writing, unlike much of what passes for comedy today, avoiding offense except to approved targets.
A skilled jazz composer and pianist, but, in a world awash with piano trios, the lure of television and later, Hollywood proved too much for Moore, moving to the US. During the ’70s and ’80s , numerous parts in film and television followed. Throwing himself into the American way, Moore, a mere 5 feet 2 1⁄2 inches in height (described as a Hollywood ‘sex thimble‘) was married and divorced four times. In the 90’s his health began to fail, with a degenerative condition, which resulted finally in his death in 2002, age 66.
The previous year, in late 2001, Dudley Moore was awarded a CBE (Commander of the British Empire) for his contribution to the arts. Despite his failing health, Moore attended Buckingham Palace to receive his honour, I can only imagine, if he could have been able to, re-enacting his One-Leg-Too-Few cameo, hopping one-legged around his wheelchair for The Queen.
A friend holding his hand when he died, reported his final words – “I can hear the music all around me.“
A more conventional second jazz selection, which nevertheless hints at the serious talent underneath that infectious smile.
Selection 2: Amalgam (Moore)
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The Dudley Moore Trio album was Dudley’s most ambitious record. His preceding titles (1965/6) consisting only of standards and show tunes, and one a film score. This fourth, 1969 aIbum consists solely of Moore compositions for the Trio, and has never seen a CD reissue or indeed a second vinyl repressing. It looks likely the 1969 vinyl release is it.
However the British jazz composer and pianist Chris Ingham has produced a CD, The Jazz of Dudley Moore , trumpet added for a quartet presentation, and a roving multi-venue tour around the UK presenting it (short promo YouTube):
As a fellow jazz musician, Ingham’s take on Moore is insightful:
“For all the acclaim he received as a comic actor, and the affection with which he is remembered as a hilarious and lovable personality, it may be that the most interesting thing about Dudley Moore’s reputation is how undervalued he is as a jazzman and composer….
It’s easy to see why. In the 1960s, as modern jazz got edgier and angrier, the Dudley Moore Trio popping up on primetime TV with their slick, upbeat take on the Oscar/Erroll tradition hardly represented the hip forefront of what jazz was ‘about’.
And perhaps there was a hint of the dilettante-genius about Dudley. The organ scholar who specialised in classical parodies at Oxford, the adorable pint-sized stooge to Peter Cook’s barbed flights of comic fancy, the emphasis of the classical repertoire in his latter musical efforts. This kind of versatility indicates a musician some way from being a dedicated jazz man and is the very enemy of jazz posterity “
“Oscar Peterson/ Errol Garner tradition” exactly hits the Dudley Moore stylistic spot. Sweet, light, melodic, one foot in the steps of Tommy Flanagan, caressing the keys more than hammering them, dazzling technique, sparkling more than explicitly soulful, spiritual, or outside
The outlier track of course is the selection Bag of Chris, an altogether darker vibe in the indo-jazz fusion direction so many were taken with at the time. Drummer Chris Karan pares down to tablas (he recorded on tablas the same year in a Music For Pleasure album Curried Jazz), but the star is Moore’s edgy rhythmic and percussive groove on the lower keys of the piano. Restless syncopation ebbs and flows in what was apparently a spontaneous improvisation for which, fortunately, tapes were rolling. Despite Moore’s generally breezy pretty piano manner, a different spirit shows through when he is not trying to be his performing-self, deep rhythmic roots in his soul. It is also one of those rare recorded moments when a piece of music takes on a life of its own, the performers reduced to a captive of the groove.
It would be typical of Moore’s impish sense of humour if the title “Bag of Chris” (drummer Chris Karan) is also a play on more common words, a Bag of Crisps.
Vinyl: Decca SKL 4976 Full Frequency Stereophonic Sound
Short measure to judge by the large runout, they could have squeezed a couple more tracks in.
Decca could also have produced a slightly cleaner pressing: a slightly noisy vinyl floor, and occasional spits (ingrained or welded dust spots, persist despite ultrasonic cleaning) something avoided by EMI issues of this period. Still, mustn’t grumble.
Inner Sleeve – clever Decca. Hole in the back cover displays the colour of the inner sleeve – Red for mono, blue for stereo. Lots of helpful advice about checking your stylus every 100 sides. Which impecunious students in the ’60s, of course did…not.
American release, pressing with roles reversed, Decca’s London Records label for the US market, also in 1969. Interestingly, an alternative cover, the boys looking moody ,faces pulled from the back cover photos, and Dud’s cheeky smile replaced by a tight-lipped, more challenging stare.
The Beyond the Fringe comic revue broke on Broadway several years previously, in 1963, but with an alternative American cast, and some tailoring of humour to better suit New Yorkers. Would the comic characters Pete and Dud, have had any traction for American audiences? Indeed, would you buy a jazz record, recorded by a comedian? So many red flags, even I had to think twice, overcome some internal prejudice, a real jazz musician has no other life, they just live to play, that sort of stuff. However Bag of Chris won me over.
Peter Cook could not play an instrument to save his life, but his sharply-judged humour has weathered well. “You know, I go to the theatre to be entertained. I don’t want to see plays about rape, sodomy and drug addiction…I can get all that at home.”
LJC Soapbox: British jazz may not often reach the heights of American, but when it comes to a sense of humour, ours stands up pretty well, even if only on one leg. It is possibly because English is our native tongue, we’ve had use of it for a lot more years, though I’ve no great hope for humour anywhere, with an ever-diminishing list of things you are allowed to laugh at. A one-legged man?
The potential cruelty of disability is softened because we know Dudley is only pretending to have one leg, however we also know in real life there are people so disabled.The joke depends on him maintaining that pretense, hopelessly optimistic of his suitability for the part of Tarzan. Cook verbally circumnavigates the missing leg issue with increasingly parsel-tongued descriptions of the deficiency, none of which dampen Dudley’s belief in his ability to play Tarzan.
Your heart goes out the one-legged man, it’s not his fault that he has only one leg, and unsuitable for a he-man role. Cook doesn’t want to hurt his feelings by dashing his hopes, but cannot accede to them. Instead he hopes that Dudley himself will come to realise his hopes are forlorn, and relieve Cook of the responsibility for rejecting him. And all the time, Dudley is the hopping up and down, we pray he doesn’t fall.
It has pathos, it has irony, it toys with our sympathies, and offers a profound moral dilemma on fairness in an unfair world. It is pure comic genius, but if you laughed, be careful. Humour is no laughing matter any more.
I came to write a post about a jazz piano album, and as sometimes happens, found myself in a different place. Anything that comes to mind, the floor is yours.