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Cant We Be Friends? by Tony Pyke and Cuff Billett

Here's an album that defies the listener to place it in a neat pigeonhole. It just can't be done. The group of senior British jazzmen come from varied backgrounds and styles. Although the individual players have been influenced by New Orleans musicians, this band draws its material from many styles including New York, Chicago and the hot dance bands of the twenties. Let's introduce the band.

Tony Pyke is a self-taught reedman who began his career in the mid 1950s on clarinet and later added an alto sax to his arsenal. Pyke is well known for his two periods with the Ken Colyer Jazzmen: 1965-1971 and 1978-1983. Since 1995, Tony has made several recordings with another Colyer veteran, trombonist Geoff Cole on the Jazz Crusade label.

Cuff Billett, like Tony Pyke, started in the 1950s and ran his own band in Portsmouth from 1956-60. Joining Barry 'Kid' Martyn's London group, Cuff remained there until 1967. He toured and recorded with a number of New Orleans players including Louis Nelson, George Lewis, Capt. John Handy and the recently deceased Harold Dejan. From the mid 80s to the early 90s, Billett was part of Butch Thompson's King Oliver Centennial Band. Formed in 1972, his own New Europa Jazz Band is still a fixture at festivals in Britain.

Alan Dandy is a native of Birmingham and promoted jazz performances at universities there and around the country. Dandy has performed with Brian White's Magna Jazz Band, Dick Charlesworth, Ian Christie and the great Muggsy Remembered Band.

Andy Lawrence picked up his instrument in his school band in the late 1950s. The London based musician left to join Terry Lightfoot's Jazzmen in 1969 and stayed until 1973. Lawrence has worked with Max Collie, Goff Dubber and international stars Yank Lawson, Warren Vache and the great Ruby Braff who passed away last month. Andy rejoined Terry Lightfoot in 1989 and continues to perform with the band today. This is his first appearance with Jazz Crusade.

Johnny Baker is a drummer who began his career on trombone. For a decade, he performed on both instruments, but concentrating on drums, he has played with Ken Sims Dixie Kings, Mike Casimir's Iberia Stompers and the Hugh Rainey Band. The versatile rhythm-man received instruction and encouragement from Crescent City legends Louis Barbarin and Freddie Kohlman. His performance on this CD draws on a variety of jazz styles and he carries it off perfectly.

The tunes on this session range from New Orleans favorites, Pagan Love Song & Rip 'Em Up Joe to the 'hot dance' standards, Save Your Sorrows, Baby Face and the seldom heard Japansy penned by Al Bryan & John Klenner in 1927. The band is loose and lively. Billett and Pyke form a confident and 'hot' front line. Billett's open horn at times reminds the listener of Wild Bill, Max Kaminsky and other fine Condon Crowd trumpeters. Pianist Alan Dandy shows his worth on many tunes but really shines on Weary Blues and Sweet & Lovely. Andy Lawrence and Johnny Baker show great versatility throughout the session. The Pyke/Billett band is obviously having fun and it's contagious.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Tony Pyke and Cuff Billett
  • CD Title: Cant We Be Friends?
  • Genre: Traditional / New Orleans
  • Year Released: 2003
  • Record Label: Jazz Crusade
  • Tracks: Pagan Love Song; St. Louis Blues; Squeeze Me; Blue Skies; Cant We Be Friends; Weary Blues; Sweet & Lovely; Rip 'Em Up Joe; Bye Bye Baby; Dream a Little Dream of Me; Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall; I'm In The Mood For Love; Japansy; When I Grow too Old To Dream; Save Your Sorrows; Baby Face.'
  • Musicians: Tony Pyke (clarinet, alto sax); Cuff Billett (trumpet); Alan Dandy (piano); Andy Lawrence (string bass); Johnny Baker (drums).
  • Rating: Five Stars
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