Saturday, November 28, 2015

Harry Parry & His Radio Sextets

If ever anybody was more deserving of being described as a multi-instrumentalist, that musician was Harry Parry, the Welsh bandleader who mastered all sorts of instruments, from reeds to brass to drums to the violin, before settling for a career as a clarinetist leading several trio and sextet combos on highly popular BBC radio shows throughout the 1940s and '50s. Not only was Parry an accomplished musician, but his vast knowledge of the history of jazz made him a perfect host for the BBC's Jazz Club series as well. His rise to stardom was preceded by a period of apprenticeship within the ranks of several dance bands led by then-popular names such as Oscar Grasso, Charles Shadwell, and Louis Levy, among many others. Parry, who sang occasionally, also had a fine ear for talent, and some of the small swing groups that he fronted when popular acclaim beckoned included a young George Shearing on piano. Shearing was also featured on some of the trios and sextets that Parry put together for broadcasting purposes during the World War II years.

The war and postwar period of Parry's career is precisely what is captured on the 2004 Dutton Vocalion release, Parry Opus. The 26 tracks included on the CD were recorded between 1942 and 1946 are perfect examples of Parry in his prime, playing the clarinet and leading sextets that often feature Shearing on piano and Ben Edwards on drums. As a clarinetist, Parry was obviously influenced by Artie Shaw and Benny Goodman, so it's no wonder that he chose to record songs that were closely associated with Shaw and Goodman, such as "Frenesi," "Moonglow," "Runnin' Wild," "After You've Gone," and "Body and Soul." As these sides show, there is always a sort of restrained elegance to Parry's playing, and he leads his sextets with great conviction and charm. The collection also features some of his own compositions, including "Parry Opus" and "Potomac Jump," the latter written during a highly acclaimed engagement at London's Potomac restaurant. Both the contents and the fantastic sound make this release the perfect introduction to Parry's sound, which still comes across as fresh and exciting all these years later. Parry, who also dabbled in acting and television, passed away in London in 1956, due to a heart attack, when he was only 44 years old.


Christopher said...

Great article but the clip from Pathe is a travesty. Clearly the soundtrack has little to do with what we are seeing. The sound is not the live recording from the session. It is so disappointing that filmmakers thought they could get away with this. It's rare to have a clip where you actually see what you are hearing ie an proper live un dubbed film.

Anton Garcia-Fernandez said...


Thank you so much for your kind words about the article. You are absolutely right about the clip: the sound is definitely not the live recording from the session, and that is, as you say, quite disappointing. I've seen other clips like this from the era, and I am not exactly sure why filmmakers decided to do this instead of actually using the live sound from the session. Surely at the time that this clip was shot the technology was available to record the live sound simultaneously. Now I am not an expert on film or sound recording, but could it be simply that the filmmakers believed that the sound quality would be much better if they superimposed sound that wasn't recorded at the same time as the image was shot? In any case, I agree with you that it is disappointing...

Thanks again,

Anton G.-F.