Les Wood with the New City Jazzmen
CD Review by Bert Thompson
Earlville Association for Ragtime Lovers Yearning
for Jazz Advancement and Socialization
Editor, Webmaster:  Phil Cartwright
Bert's Bits
Almost mid way between London and Brighton is the town of Crawley, Sussex,
population a little over 100,000 people.  After the Second World War, Crawley was
designated to be a “New Town” under a British Government scheme to provide for
the resettling of large numbers of people and jobs out of London to towns in the area
of South East England, and Crawley, then with a population of fewer than 10,000,
officially became a “New Town” in January of 1947.  Ten years later, while the British
traditional jazz revival was well under way in 1957, a new jazz band was formed by
trumpeter Bernard Hodgson in this “new town,” under the sobriquet of, appropriately
enough, the New City Jazzmen.  The band held forth in the area for over fifty years,
the seven members finally deciding to disband in 2011, four of them having been
among the original group and one other having been with the band for almost fifty
years.  Possibly because they did not undertake tours of the country or Europe, they
did not enjoy the recognition that other bands had at that time but against whom they
could have held their own.  Leading lights in the British jazz world such as Ken
Colyer, Chris Barber, Cuff Billet, Sammy Rimington, and George Chisholm were not
averse to guesting with the New City Jazzmen over the years.
An architectural surveyor by profession and clarinet player by avocation, Les Wood
was a familiar figure on the London jazz scene from the 1950’s through the mid sixties,
according to Bernard Hodgson, about which time he put his clarinet away.  However,
he did start to attend New City Jazzmen sessions in the later sixties and was persuaded
to bring his clarinet and play between sets with the band’s rhythm section.  When the
regular New City Jazzmen clarinetist, Chris Jaques, became hors de combat for some
six months in 1969, Wood agreed to emerge from his voluntary musical retirement to
deputize full time with the stipulation that on the return of the ailing clarinetist
Jaques, Wood would step aside.  At the end of this period when Jaques came back,
Wood resumed his retirement, simply disappearing from the musical scene, never to
be seen or heard from again.  
On one of the dates Wood was with the band, trombone player Ron Westcott recorded
the concert with a single stereo microphone, and it was never released until now on
this CD.  The results are surprisingly good, despite some of the proceedings being
somewhat off-mike, as is the case with the back line on the first track, Gatemouth;
Wood’s vocals on Make Me a Pallet and See See Rider; Godfrey’s piano solo on Chiri-
Biri-Bin; and Westcott’s trombone on Travelling Blues and again on Dippermouth
Blues.  These, however, are minor shortcomings.
What the CD does well is illustrate how solid a band New City was and how fine a
clarinetist Wood was.  The band is firmly in the New Orleans camp, emphasis being
placed on ensemble playing as is made clear from the start on Gatemouth and then on
almost all of the tracks to follow.  
Solos—and there are some good ones—are invariably backed by the rest of the
ensemble, although on occasion a change of texture is established, such as the banjo’s
taking a true solo on Running Wild, all the others dropping out; or a change in rhythm
adds variety as in Salutation March where the first time through all of the strains are
first played in 6/8 time, segueing into 4/4 time for the repeat of the third strain, which
then becomes the vehicle of solos for the rest of the cut. The nice call/response section
between trumpet and trombone in the first strain in the march tempo is a small nugget
to be savored.  And the band’s command of dynamics is certain and effective, as can
be heard in La Harpe Street Blues and the measured Saratoga Swing where the coda is
led into with a crescendo, the rising volume being punctuated by Norman’s triplets
and the concluding ritard.
Each of the players fills his role well.  Hodgson’s trumpet is not brash but is
authoritative.  He adds a slight vibrato at the end of phrases, which is very pleasing,
and he demonstrates his being comfortable in all ranges, although he tends to
gravitate toward the middle range.  His mute work is also very effective, as for instance
in Saratoga Swing where he “growls” through his solo.  On trombone Westcott is, as
was said above, a bit under-miked, but that does not prevent one from appreciating
his work playing behind and around the trumpet lead.  He is heard to advantage on
tunes where his solos are quite audible, such as Make Me a Pallet on the Floor and See
See Rider, on which with his mute he achieves a kind of vocalizing effect, and his
obbligatos behind Wood’s vocal on See See Rider are very supportive.  The rhythm
section provides a solid base throughout.  Solos from piano and banjo are infrequent,
but when called upon, Hazell and Godfrey respond well.  Drums do not solo on the
CD, but Norman provides some fine touches, such as rim, tom-tom, and cowbell
accents behind Wood’s solo on San Jacinto Stomp, or the four-bar tag he adds that
neatly leads in to the coda on Dippermouth Blues.
But the one allowed to stand clearly out front is the “sub,” Les Wood, on clarinet.  He
is nothing short of spectacular.  Clearly he lands firmly in the George Lewis camp, not
imitating him but displaying Lewis’ influence in his style of playing.  His tone is a bit
harsher than Lewis’—perhaps a little strident at times—but his phrasing, his runs, his
deft fingering, his vibrato—all suggest Lewis: if one did not know he was a disciple by
his own admission, the playing would surely indicate it.  But his ideas are his own—
he does not copy those of Lewis.  He soars above the band, reaching into the high
register more than Lewis tended to do, but also demonstrating facility in the
chalumeau register.  Unfortunately he seemed to vanish after he left this band on the
return of the regular clarinet player—a significant loss to the traditional jazz world.
Ordering information on this CD and the other eight CD’s by the New City Jazzmen
that are still available, all recommended, can be had from Bernard Hodgson at  An 80-odd page book detailing the story of the band, titled
The New City Jazzmen: The Story (surprise!), written by Bernard Hodgson, is also
available.  It is a well-written, witty account of the band’s formation and ensuing
adventures through 2001, some ten years before they called it a day.
NEW CITY JAZZMEN— Les Wood with the New City Jazzmen (Own label – no number).  
Playing time:  72m. 29s.
Gatemouth; Running Wild; Perdido Street Blues; Chiri-Biri-Bin; Salutation March; San
Jacinto Stomp; La Harpe Street Blues; High Society; Listen to the Mocking Bird; Make Me
a Pallet on the Floor*; Travelling Blues; See See Rider*; Saratoga Swing; If Ever I Cease to
Love; Dippermouth Blues.

Les Wood, clarinet and vocal*; Bernard Hodgson, trumpet; Ron Westcott, trombone; Mike
Godfrey, piano; Sluff Hazell, banjo; Alan Kennington, bass; Paul Norman, drums.

Recorded in Apr. 28, 1969 at Brighton College of Technology, Brighton, England.