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Johnny Marshall 1930-2017

If you asked me to make a short list of my favourite solos by British jazz musicians, very close to the top of the list would be the 16-bar baritone saxophone solo on Georgie Fame’s “I’m in the Mood for Love (Moody’s Mood for Love)”, from the 1964 studio album Fame at Last. A version of the Eddie Jefferson/King Pleasure recasting of James Moody’s 1949 recording, which put words to Moody’s tenor improvisation on a song by Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Fields, it’s also my favourite Fame track.

Fame sings it quite beautifully, with just his Hammond B3 — on a heavy vibrato setting — plus the bassist (probably Tex Makins) and the drummer (probably Red Reece) for company. The solo is played by Johnny Marshall, who was a member of the Blue Flames from October 1962 to April 1964. He steals in between verses, improvising in the way that jazz musicians once aspired to do: creating a new and memorable melody from the bones of the old.

The tempo is slow-medium, and Marshall allows his solo to unfurl in a completely unhurried way. His airy tone is perfect for the big instrument: using its range but avoiding any hint of gruffness or stodginess. The phrasing and overall shape of his improvised melody develop with exquisite balance. When he hints at doubling and tripling the tempo, it never sounds rushed. It’s a solo that any bop-and-after baritone player — Serge Chaloff, Gerry Mulligan, Cecil Payne, Pepper Adams, Ronnie Ross, Lars Gullin — would be proud to own. After listening to it for more than 50 years, I know it off by heart, but it never gets old.

Today I heard, via Tim Hinckley, of Johnny Marshall’s recent death at the age of 86. Born in Cornwall, he died in North Devon, where he had lived since the 1990s, with a weekly residency at a club in Bideford. The story posted on Devonlive.com mentions that he played with Sarah Vaughan and Stevie Wonder (and Romano Mussolini, Benito’s piano-playing son). But to me he’s the man who, in a London studio one day half a century ago, used his allotted 16 bars to make a small but indelible mark on the world.

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16 Comments Post a comment
  1. Richard Harris #

    It is such a wonderful record and a superb solo. Like you I’ve been listening to it ever since the album first came out in the sixties. The solo always reminds me in approach of Lars Gullin, Gullin’s “Darn that dream”, but it’s in no way a copy, just perfectly judged. Sorry to hear of JM’s passing, he must have been asked about that date countless times

    A Georgie Fame autobiography would be something.

    June 2, 2017
  2. isn’t it amazing what 16 bars can do for ya ?

    June 2, 2017
  3. John Axon #

    Lovely post, Richard. Thank you.

    June 2, 2017
  4. Lovely post, Richard. Thank you but the link is incorrect. It’s here:

    http://www.devonlive.com/search/search.html?searchType=&searchPhrase=John+Marshall&where=

    June 2, 2017
  5. So pleased to be reminded of this track and that unbelievably beautiful baritone solo.

    Many thanks

    June 2, 2017
  6. peter flanagan #

    I’ve loved that track, and the lift the solo adds, since I was too young to understand why. It taught me that the specialness of a piece of music can grab you, even if you dont have a clue why – it’ll always reward you if you stick with it, one day you’ll understand what your instinct knew straight away. Still grabs me in the same way today, every time – the clock stops.

    June 2, 2017
  7. Art Manchester #

    Thanks for turning me on to this beautiful bari solo. As someone who plays that instrument I can really appreciate the individuality of his approach. I also like his final statement behind the vocal at the conclusion of the track. Thanks for posting again.

    June 2, 2017
  8. John Marshall was from Reading I believe (or maybe he studied there?) — there was a club in Reading in the 60s called The Latin Quarter and it held jazz sessions on sunday afternoons and JM was almost always there. One of the many who turned my head around to jazz. Later I was lucky enough to get him as session drummer for one of my records – Watching You Fall — the first record that came out on the Dawn label – produced by Peter Eden. A great drummer and a sad loss.

    June 2, 2017
    • No, Mike — the drummer John Marshall is still very much alive. It’s the bari player who’s gone.

      June 2, 2017
  9. Richard Harris #

    Just to add to (my) Lars Gullin inference. The original instrumental base for “Moodies mood for love” was recorded by James Moody on Lar’s beat up alto saxophone, as they wanted a ballad to close out the record date. Moody said that’s why the song is phrased the way it is, he wasn’t that familiar with the horn or the tune and was initially hesitant. Happenstance. Nice interview with him on YouTube.

    June 2, 2017
  10. Succinct and brilliant.

    June 2, 2017
  11. Colin Harper #

    A terrific solo – I hadn’t heard it before. Incidentally, one of Georgie’s other baritone players from the 60s, the late Glenn Hughes (d.1966), is featured – in what I think is his only extended exposure on record – in a terrific new double vinyl LP issued in a run of 500 by Record Collector magazine, credited to Don Rendell (it’s a Rendell sextet with Hughes and Kenny Baker), ‘Live At Klooks Kleek’, recorded at the London venue in remarkably good sound in 1963.

    There’s also a new 2CD edition of 1967’s ‘the Two Faces of Fame’ out imminently on RPM, with hitherto unrelease 1967 recordings added.

    June 3, 2017
  12. timothy hinkley #

    Well said Richard. I agree entirely mate, that bari solo is just sublime…just enough technique and loads of soul. I learned a lot from Johnny who was very kind and generous to a young, stroppy rock’n roller in 1966. As you say Richard, he left his mark with that beautiful work of art, the baritone playing on Fame’s rendition of Moody’s Mood For Love. RIP John “Johnny Marshall” Renworth 1930-2017

    June 4, 2017
  13. Stuart Edge #

    My late father and Johnny were great friends when I was growing up back in the ’80s. He even taught me to play alto. I lost touch with him when I moved away in the ’90s.
    Thanks for posting this. It has reminded me what a huge part of my young life Johnny was and what amazing memories I have of him and my father. I miss them both.
    RIP, old friend, RIP

    June 4, 2017
  14. I’d respectfully submit that Marshall’s solo doesn’t rise to the Adams level; it doesn’t possess the hard-nosed assertiveness of the latter, who true – probably WOULD have double-timed the solo, at least in places.

    June 6, 2017

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