Ian Christie, jazzman and film critic

Daily    Drone


From The Times, 9th February, 2010

The clarinetist Ian Christie was an eminent and colourful member of Britain’s traditional jazz fraternity for more than 60 years. He toured and recorded with Humphrey Lyttelton’s first jazz band, before forming, with his brother Keith, the Christie Brothers Stompers, then joining the bands of, first, Mick Mulligan and then Alex Welsh.

His duets with fellow-clarinetist Wally Fawkes, recorded when both were youthful members of the Lyttelton band, remain classics of their genre. He also had the distinction while with Lyttelton of accompanying the celebrated US soprano saxophonist Sidney Bechet, at a concert and in a recording in 1949 that flouted a 24-year-long Musicians Union ban on US jazz musicians performing in Britain.

When the trad boom died, Christie turned to journalism, becoming the film critic of the Daily Express.

A diminutive, retiring figure with a studious manner, wearing horned-rimmed spectacles and the suit and tie that were de rigueur in the 1950s, the young clarinetist could be mistaken for a bank clerk or an accountant. But he lived the

unconventional and bohemian lifestyle of the professional jazzmen, playing one-night stands up and down the country.

Born in Blackpool, Robert Ian Christie left school at 14 to become an apprenticed electrician. He remained loyal to his working-class origins. But his Scottish father, who was a piano tuner and banjo player, had introduced Ian to the clarinet and his younger brother Keith to the trombone.

After his National Service in the RAF, Christie began a photography course in Blackpool. Keith, meanwhile, had joined the Lyttelton band in London and, in 1949, Humph invited Ian to join, generously paying for him to complete his photographic course in London.

For two years, the Christie brothers toured and recorded with the Lyttelton band, which was in the vanguard of what, initially, became known in Britain as New Orleans Revivalist jazz.

Humph later commented that the music was more of a revelation in England than a revival, as it was a style of American music — called Dixieland in the US — that was virtually unknown on this side of the Atlantic until he, and other like-minded enthusiasts discovered it, began playing it, initially as amateurs, and eventually powering the trad jazz boom.

In 1951 Ian and Keith formed the Christie Brothers Stompers, which enjoyed similar success, until Keith outgrew the Dixieland format and moved on to become an internationally noted exponent of modern jazz.

Ian, remaining faithful to the Dixieland idiom, joined the Mick Mulligan Magnolia Jazz Band, which, together with its singer George Melly, gained a reputation both for performing rough, tough, hot jazz and for its hard-drinking Rabelaisian lifestyle.

With the arrival of rock’n’roll, the trad jazz boom ended. The Mulligan band disbanded at the end of 1961 and Christie turned to writing for which, like the clarinet, he had a natural flair and a sharp, often surreal, wit, enhanced by a blunt Lancastrian manner, undiminished by his years in London.

His employment as film critic of the Daily Express came about, he related, after the paper’s proprietor, Lord Beaverbrook, saw an article he had written for the monthly arts magazine Lilliput, and offered him a job.

Beaverbrook personally interviewed him, he said, and mentioned a salary that Christie found so incredible that he repeated it. To which Beaverbrook replied, “I can see I have insulted you” and promptly added another large amount to the sum.

The jazzman-turned-journalist went on to review films for the Express for a quarter of a century. From 1971 he also played regularly with a North London band, the Crouch End All Stars, and, later, with his own group, the Charismatic Codgers.

A noted Christie characteristic was his “need to visit a pub”, no matter how copiously drink was flowing at the event at which he was performing. On occasion he would set out to do so, even if the quest had to be abandoned because of the brevity of the interval.

However, drinking never inhibited his soaring, lyrical, New Orleans-style improvisations or his enthusiasm for convivial company.

Although increasingly frail in later years and suffering from Parkinson’s disease, playing jazz remained his passion. On the last of his annual visits to the US he went to sit in with a Greenwich Village Dixieland band but had forgotten his clarinet. Undeterred, he summoned a taxi, returned to his hotel in Upper Manhattan, collected his instrument and made it back in time to play the last two numbers of the evening.

Christie played his last gig a couple of days before Christmas.

He is survived by his third wife, Belinda, to whom he was married for 29 years, and his two daughters from his first and second marriages.

Ian Christie, jazz clarinetist and film critic, was born on June 24, 1927. He died on January 19, 2010, aged 82