About The Speaker...
I was born in 1946 – so I’m a ‘boomer!’ – and fell in love with jazz music on the radio when I was around six years old. As a youngster I played the drums (a home-made kit) then at high school the violin, clarinet and later alto-saxophone as well as the trumpet until at the age of 19 I took up the trumpet seriously and all the other instruments ‘went to the wall’! From the age of 19 (for the sake of a ‘safe’ career!) I spent eleven years as a librarian, stamping books by day and playing the trumpet (really the trumpet-cornet!) by night, until in 1976 I was ready to turn professional as a fulltime jazz musician and did so from 1977. By then I was lucky enough to be working with all of the best British musicians who played in the Traditional-Swing style and led a huge variety of bands under other leaders – as well, later, as projects of my own – until in 1994 (with my longtime partner, trombonist Pete Strange) I formed the all-star ‘Great British Jazz Band’ which played and recorded for Candid Records between 1994-2005. At the same time I led the touring package show called ‘The Best of British Jazz’ (1999-2005, replacing the late Kenny Baker, Britain’s greatest jazz trumpeter) and also formed my own band ‘Digby Fairweather’s Half Dozen in 1995. This was a busy time, and the Half Dozen continues to tour in 2023 after winning the British Jazz Award for ‘Top Small Group’ twelve time between 2005 and 2019. During this time we toured and recorded for six years with the legendary cultural icon George Melly (Britain’s self-styled ‘Dean of Decadence’!) and since then have played shows regularly with Paul Jones (he of The Manfreds and Blues Band) as well as appearing as a solo act in theatres and for jazz festivals all over the UK.
Away from the trumpet I’ve enjoyed writing about jazz in just about any context, and a small selection of books I’ve written (or co-authored) include my autobiography ‘Notes From a Jazz Life’ (2nd edition, Northway, 2015) as well as ‘Nat Gonella; a Life in Jazz’ (Northway, 2005) ‘On the Road with George Melly’ (JR Books, 2007) ‘Ace of Clubs; a celebration of the 100 Club’ (Brewin Books, 2021); Jazz; The Essential Companion; The Oxford Guide to Jazz; The Rough Guide to Jazz; Grove’s Dictionary of Jazz et al.
Over the years another of my activities have included broadcasting about jazz! I started in 1986 and over the next six years learned the ropes at BFBS, BBC World Service (‘Jazz for the Asking’ etc) Jazz FM (‘Digby’s Sunday Joint’ 1991-2) and BBC Radios 2/3 (‘Jazz Notes’ and ‘Jazz Parade’, five nights a week, 1992-98). After that I returned to playing fulltime (losing a lot of money in the process!) but still come back to the airwaves for ‘specials’ including most recently Jazz FM’s ‘Definitive History of British Jazz’ presented by Clive Myrie (2021).
I also spent ten years involved in jazz education. With pianist Stan Barker I registered the non-profit making Trust ‘Jazz College’ which taught improvisation in schools and music colleges and enjoyed working regularly with Stan for ten years around Lancashire and the Midlands from 1979089.
As to recordings: well, my first solo album ‘Having Fun’ came out in 1979 on the Black Lion label and since then I’ve appeared on over 70 more, either as leader or sideman. Recently in 2020 the international Trapeze/Acrobat company began a multi-CD series called ‘Notes From A Jazz Life’ which has now reached Volume 3 and which traces my recording career from my very first self-led band back in 1971 up (so far!) to 2013. Of volume 3 (just out) critic Andrew Liddle was kind enough to say (in ‘The Jazz Rag’ Winter 2023) :’This and the first two volumes offer collectively a fascinating opportunity to experience the development of one of the great figures of recent years as well as giving a dazzling glimpse of the British jazz scene over the period’. Thanks Andrew!!
Other things I’ve enjoyed doing over the years have included setting up the first UK research centre for jazz: the National Jazz Archive which opened in Loughton Essex in 1988 and is still going strong. I’m now their ‘Founder and Lifelong Patron’. Then in 2016 I also set up something a bit different; the first cultural centre for Jazz in Britain: ‘The Jazz Centre UK’ . It’s in my hometown Southend-on-Sea, but I hope to move both organizations under one roof in London one day.
I’ve been very lucky indeed with awards over the years and I hope you won’t think me immodest if I (briefly) list some of them: BBC Musician of the Year (1979); Services to Jazz (British Jazz Award/Benno Haussmann Award, 1993); Freedoms of London and Southend (1992/2000); London Worshipful Company of Musicians, ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’ (2013); All Party Jazz Appreciation Group of House of Lords/Commons ‘Special Services to Jazz Award’ (2021)
Well! Having blown my own trumpet (no pun intended!) for so long I thought I should perhaps quote what a few nice people in the jazz world have been kind enough to say about me. So here goes:
‘Digby is one of our most articulate jazzmen in both his words and his music. Whatever he says or whatever he plays is of great interest to the world of jazz’ (SirJohn Dankworth CBE)
‘Digby is one of the best ambassadors jazz could have!’ (Michael Dynan, The Stage)
‘Digby Fairweather is a superb cornettist who will knock your lights out every time he hits high C!’ (Blues and Roots, 1999)
‘Much spoken of and justifiably’ (Humphrey Lyttelton/l978)
Digby Fairweather has assuredly taken the place vacated by the late Humphrey Lyttelton as Britain’s leading jazz personality (Jim Simpson, Director, Birmingham International Jazz Festivval/Big Bear Music/ 2021)
‘A true British jazz legend’ (Freddy Gavita, Ronnie Scott All Stars)
About Their Talks...
I have lots and lots of tales and am very happy to talk about almost anything to do with jazz – or my career! But one talk I’ve launched recently is called: ‘One Man, Fifty Years, One Hundred Minutes’. The minutes of course are infinitely adjustable and the talk can be with recorded music or even with an accompanist if finances permit – so that I can play live! But as I say I’m open to (almost!) any offers!
Minimum fee – well £150.00-£200 + realistic contribution to travel if beyond London (I live in Southend-on-Sea).