Pye Jazz, Nixa Jazz

Galleries (two or more picture) … click to enlarge

Kenny Ball’s Hit Parade: Kenny Ball & His Jazzmen EP 1962

Pye Jazz … great company sleeve design, shame about the records. You don’t have to look like a prat to play trad, but it helps, and 90% of its sales seem to have been generated by Kenny Ball. There were also Chris Barber releases, but his hit, Petite Fleur, was on the Pye Nixa label. Bob Wallis and Monty Sunshine were also on the label, as was early Acker Bilk (but not the hits).

I love the sleeve design.

Washington Square: Kenny Ball & His Jazzmen, single, 1963 7NJ 2068
Knitted toilet roll cover (Karen Viney) with Aldermaston marcher and Pye Jazz single

Like all jazz labels, LPs and EPs dominated. Singles were fewer and further between, except for the brief 1958-1962 trad boom. The other point that attracts me is the very strong sense of design. As well as that basic sleeve, there are some superb designs from the Pye Jazz labels.

By Jazz, they really meant “Trad.” Pye was the great trad jazz label, mainly via its subsidiary, Golden Guinea. The Golden Guinea LPs of The Best of Ball, Barber & Bilk were huge sellers at a mere guinea (21 shillings or £1.05) instead of the usual 32 shillings (£1.58) for an LP.  They also sold heavily for at least three years. There were also some Golden Guinea EPs. Trad jazz had its stomping era for a few years. Jazz Britannia is another straight to Golden Guinea budget LP featuring Pye Jazz’s best-selling trad bands.

Jazz Britannia: Various artistes 1961 LP
The Pye Jazz roster, straight to Golden Guinea

Jazz Today

Chris Barber Plays Vol 1: Polygon 10″ LP 1955 JTL 3

Pye Jazz started in 1955 as the Jazz Today series, on Polygon, labelled “Polygon presents Jazz Today.” Pye already has a tiny logo on there. The first releases were 10” LPs featuring Chris Barber.

Session For Four: Vic Ash, Polygon Jazz Today EP JTL 100 – first release, June 1955

Ottilie Patterson’s That Patterson Girl was an EP on Polygon Jazz Today (as JTE 102) in June 1955, then reissued on Nixa Jazz Today in 1956 with the new catalogue number NJE 1012.

Polygon was dropped after a few releases, absorbed into Nixa,  and it soon became the “Nixa Jazz Today Series”, and finished in 1964.  

Session For Four EP. Polygon 1955. Tiny Pye logo at the bottom JTE 100
Hoagy (EP) Vic Ash Quartet, Nixa NJE 1002, Pye logo above Nixa
Chris Barber In Concert Part 1 Pye-Nixa September, 1957 NJE 1039, Pye logo grows, Nixa shrinks

For Some reason, pop musicians had bands with ‘The’ (Cliff Richard & The Shadows) while trad jazzers were a possessive, leader-centred lot and had bands with ‘His’… , Ian Menzies and His …, Kenny Ball and His …, Acker Bilk and His … If they didn’t have His they went for a possessive apostrophe: Chris Barber’s Jazz Band. Bob Wallis’ Storyville Jazz Band,

Nixa Jazz Today

Echoes of Harlem: Chris Barber’s Jaaa Band with Ottilie Patterson, NJL 1

Chris Barber had the first Nixa Jazz LP, Echoes of Harlem, catalogue number NJL1, as usual featuring Ottilie Patterson on vocals, plus Monty Sunshine and Lonnie Donegan. The tracks all date from 1955

Gallery – Nixa Jazz Today EPs

Terry Lightfoot’s Jazzmen 1957 NJE 1027 Nixa Jazz Today
Chris Barber 1 + 1: originally Polygon JTE103 in 1955, reissued as Nixa NJE 1013 in 1956
Monty Sunshine Showcase 1957 Nixa Jazz Today
Hoagy: Vic Ash Quartet, originally Polygon JTE102 in 1955 Nixa Jazz Today NJE 1002, 1956
Chris Barber In Concert Part One NJE 1039, Nixa Jazz Today, September 1957
That Patterson Girl Volume 2 Pye-Nixa Jazz Today NJE 1023 1957. The addition of ‘Pye’ means a later pressing
Mr Acker Bilk Marches ON EP 1958, still Nixa Jazz Today, NJE 1061

Skiffle

Skiffle came to the fore when a young Lonnie Donegan agreed to do an interval set of American folk and blues standards during Chris Barber’s Jazz Band appearances. This was presumably to let the horn section … notoriously thirsty blokes in most trad bands … to get a few beers in. Lonnie Donegan, as an offshoot of the Chris Barber Band, has “Jazz Today” and “black label” on his skiffle EPs, consisting of blues standards like Midnight Special and Worried Man Blues. Once he’d departed for a more lucrative career, the tradition continued with Dick Bishop doing the skiffle interlude.

Skiffle Session: Lonnie Donegan 1957 EP Nixa Jazz Today NJE 1017
The Chris Barber Skiffle Group 1957 Nixa Jazz Today NJE 1025

These are the Donegan tracks revered by the likes of Van Morrison forty years later when they collaborated. Arguably, the greatest early educational influences on British rock musicians of the 60s and 70s were Lonnie Donegan, and also The Shadows. Lonnie Donegan remained a buzz word. The Fish Man by Ian Menzies and His Clyde Valley Stompers (1960) has Lonnie Donegan Presents … on the centre label.

Jazz or blues?

In the very late fifties / early sixties, jazz band leaders like Chris Barber brought over blues singers and performed and recorded with them. A few ageing bluesmen got onto Pye Jazz and blues was seen as  an exotic sub-genre of trad for about two years.

Sonny, Brownie and Chris: Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee & Chris Barber’s Jazz Band,
10″ LP Nixa Jazz Today 1958

The 10″ LP with Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee has classic blues … Betty & Dupree, Key To The Highway (with banjo). Chris Barber plays acoustic bass on some tracks. It makes sense for a trombonist … double bass and trombone are not fixed interval instruments … no frets, no keys, no buttons.

More than forty years on, Chris Barber exhumed his travels with blues musicians in a CD series Lost and Found which features Sonny Boy Williamson, Howlin’ Wolf, Hubert Sumlin, Jimmy Witherspoon, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee and Sister Rosetta Tharpe. The blues greats are revealed playing in British Town Halls and Municipal Theatres strutting their stuff with somewhat incongruous banjo plucking and trombone solos.

There was no distinction between ‘jazz’ and ‘blues’ so that the 1957 Nixa Jazz Today series LP Murderers’ Home: An Anthology of Negro Worksongs and Country Blues was defined as jazz. It consists of Alan Lomax’s field recordings on Parchman Farm from 1947. Then you look on Discogs, and early blues is defined as ‘folk.’

When the Murderers’ Home LP was reissued on Pye’s mid-price Golden Guinea label (the later destination for much Pye Jazz), it still had GOLDEN GUINEA JAZZ across the top. That was in 1965 at the height of the blues boom, so is an odd classification.

It also went onto multiple EPs.

The Bluest: Brownie McGhee & Sonny Terry, EP, Nixa Jazz Series 1958
Blues And Josh White Part Two, EP NJE 1058, 1958

Mississippi Blues Vol 1 – Big Bill Broonzy, EP, Nixa Jazz Today NJE 1005 1955
Southern Saga Big Bill Broonzy, EP, Nixa Jazz Today NJE 1047 1957

Josh White and Big Bill Broonzy appear on such a bewildering selection of budget label releases that they must have been really cheap to license.

Pye Jazz

Early Pye Jazz releases had black Pye Nixa labels instead of the plum series for the “popular “category. The labels say “Black label” for the colour blind. I have the feeling that around 1959, their really cool sleeve designer(s) had moved on.

Swingin’ Seamus: Ian Menzies & His Clyde Valley Stompers. EP 1959 ‘Pye Jazz Black Label’ printed on the rear
Ole Man River: Bob Wallis’ Storyville Jazzmen 1961 ‘Pye Jazz Today Black Label’ on reae

Once it became plain Pye Jazz, the output tended to raucous cheerful trad.

Mr Acker Bilk Requests: Part 1 and Part 2. ‘Pye Jazz Today’ on sleeve, Pye-Nixa Jazz Today Series on label. Recording engineer was Joe Meek.

The EPs, by Barber and Bilk, were engineered by a young Joe Meek, probably one of the most interesting things about them. Acker Bilk got a picture sleeve on a single for Under The Double Eagle in 1958. His EPs, with supposedly humorously pompous notes with 18th century capitalization, featured a beardless so unrecognisable Acker. Sample text:

The discerning Enthusiast for Phonograph Recordings will not be Slow to descry, among the Jingles performed hereon by Mr Acker Bilk and his Paramount Jazz Band, a certain Proportion of Airs particularly associated with the Formative Years of that Music which Mr Bilk favours with his elegant Interpretations.

I’d always wondered where Chris Welch picked up all that tortuous stuff about ‘quaffing a beaker’ and ‘failing to trouble the chart compilers’ and now I know. Pye Jazz Today sleeves.

At that point, Nixa had disappeared and it’s Pye black label with JAZZ TODAY SERIES at the side.

These are the same Chris Barber EPs with two different titles.
The Very Best of Barber Vol 1 EP, Pye Jazz Today
Jazz Parade Vol 1 May 1959 EP, Pye Jazz Today
Both engineered by Joe Meek.

Jazz Parade Vol 3 April 1960 EP, Pye Jazz Today
Jazz Parade Vol 4 October1960 EP, Pye Jazz Today

Kenny’s Big Four: Kenny Ball & His Jazzmen, EP November 1961 NJE 1080
Kenny Ball Plays: Kenny Ball, EP, 1962 NJE 1086

Kenny Ball did a good line in pleasant melodic film themes and pre-world music titles, jazzed up. He had a good bass player too. Like so many bands, Kenny Ball’s Jazzmen were led by the trumpeter. What makes the trumpet player the leader? They’re all jaunty, and (to my mild surprise) sound good today. No wonder he had the hits.

It’s Trad Dad: Kenny Ball / Bob Wallis, EP, 1962 NJE 1083
Kenny Ball Hit Parade Vol 2: Kenny Ball & His Jazzmen, EP NJE 1087

It’s Trad Dad was a popular film in early 1962, though the “trad” contributions were small, and EMI got a hit LP from its own mainstream pop artists in the film. Pye Jazz just scraped an EP’s worth with Kenny Ball and Bob Wallis. The film premise, saving trad from its older detractors was well out of date by 1962:

Some (pop) films don’t just miss the boat. They help sink it.
Mark Kermode, talking about It’s Trad, Dad. BBC 4 on Pop Music Film, 18 January 2021

Chess on Pye Jazz

There must have been a period in 1962 where Pye were unsure where to place the Chess catalogue they’d licensed. It was destined for Pye International, but on the way the LP Bo Diddley Is A Gunslinger appeared on Pye Jazz with sleeve notes from Alexis Korner.

No singles were issued from the album, and the tracks are among his obscurer titles.

Muddy Waters At Newport was originally Pye Jazz, with later pressings as Pye International. One of the greatest blues classic albums of all time too. We return to that jazz, folk or blues question. Newport was a folk festival and regarded blues musicians as folk.

Muddy Waters At Newport 1960: Muddy Waters, Pye Jazz LP

Big Bill Broonzy, though not a Chess artist, had two LPs out as Pye Jazz too.

Pye Jazz sleeves

Old Rugged Cross: Monty Sunshine Quartet 1957, black label, with black sleeve for “Jazz Today”
Under The Double Eagle: Mr. Acker Bilk 1958 Pye Jazz Today Series, single, not an EP

Petite Fleur: Chris Barber’s Jazz Band, 1959. Black centre label instead of matching plum to sleeve as on popular series discs.
Someday (You’ll Be Sorry): Kenny Ball & His Jazz Band 1961 7NJ2047 ‘Jazz Today’  labelled, dated 4.9.61 on reverse

The white and black striped label appears in 1961, and because trad jazz stayed in print a long time, you can find 1957 EPs by the likes of Monty Sunshine in their original black labels, then in later pressings with the white and black striped label. Monty Sunshine’s Quartet was an offshoot of the Chris Barber Band, so that the single Old Rugged Cross by Monty Sunshine has Bye and Bye by Chris Barber’s Jazz Band on the B-side.

Come Along Please: Bob Wallis & His Storyville Jazzmen, 7NJ2048. First with new centre label, numbered sleeve in pink chequered design – black ones not ready?
Come Along Please: Bob Wallis & His Storyville Jazzmen, 7NJ2048, The sleeve catches up with the centre. Numbered sleeve

Midnight in Moscow: Kenny Ball  Pye Jazz 1961 7NJ 2049
Oh, Didn’t It Rain? Bob Wallis & Sandy Brown. 1961. 7NJ  2060.

Pye killed the Pye Jazz label at the end of 1964. Trad survived a little longer. Bournemouth Pier had a circular café with trad and “jazz stomping” an extremely easy dance where couples held hands and stomped round in circles. This went on every Saturday night, and it persisted right through into 1966.

If you want to know about the interface between R&B garage bands and trad jazzers, try the humorous short story linked here:

NEW YEAR’S RAG by Dart Travis

Post 1964

After the demise of Pye Jazz, at the end of 1964 subsequent trad records moved to the Pye label, such as Kenny Ball’s last hit, When I’m Sixty Four in 1967.

When I’m Sixty-Four: Kenny Ball & His Jazzmen, 1967

At that point the pink Pye group company sleeve included the words “Pye Jazz” but there were very few releases and the logo did not extend to the centre label.

Selected Pye Jazz singles

Monty Sunshine QuartetOld Rugged Cross1957
Chris Barber’s Skiffle GroupDoin’ My Time1958
Mr Acker Bilk & His Paramount Jazz BandUnder The Double Eagle1958
Chris Barber’s Jazz BandPetite Fleur19593
Ian Menzies & His Clyde Valley StompersThe Fish Man1960
Bob Wallis & His Storyville Jazz BandI’m Shy, Mary Ellen, I’m Shy196144
Kenny Ball & His JazzmenSamantha196113
Kenny Ball & His JazzmenI Still Love You All196124
Kenny Ball & His JazzmenSomeday (You’ll Be Sorry)196128
Kenny Ball & His JazzmenMidnight in Moscow19622
Kenny Ball & His JazzmenMarch of the Siamese Children19624
Kenny Ball & His JazzmenThe Green Leaves of Summer19627
Bob Wallis & His Storyville Jazz BandCome Along Please196233
Kenny Ball & His JazzmenSo Do I196214
Kenny Ball & His JazzmenThe Pay Off (Amoi de Payer)196223
Kenny Ball & His JazzmenSukiyaki196310
Kenny Ball & His JazzmenCasablanca196321
Kenny Ball & His JazzmenRondo196324
Kenny Ball & His JazzmenAcapulco 1922196327
Kenny Ball & His JazzmenHello, Dolly196430

Pye Jazz on CD

There are CDs in the Pye Anthology series. As with the popular artistes, some are out of print and have “ambitious” resellers. As of 2020, whatever the values listed in guide books, trad jazz is very hard to sell.

There are other super budget 3 CD sets of trad, but these Pye Jazz Anthology releases are coherent and curated.