Monty Sunshine

Profile:
Jazz clarinettist and bandleader, born in London on 8 April 1928, died 30 November 2010.

Monty Sunshine, the clarinettist on the million-selling "Petite Fleur", was at the forefront of the traditional jazz boom in the late 1950s and early 1960s. He had a delightful stage presence and remained modest. "How can any jazz musician get conceited?" he once asked me, "He only has to put on the records of the great masters to wake up to his true status."

Monty Sunshine's great-great-grandparents had come to England from Romania and had anglicised their surname to Sunshine. Monty Sunshine was born in Stepney on 9 April 1928; his father was a tailor who also played the violin. During the war, he was evacuated to Northampton and he later studied at the Camberwell School of Art. He heard Wally Fawkes playing jazz at the art school and switched his own allegiance from flute to clarinet. Sunshine was in the RAF from 1946 to 1950 and played in the Eager Beavers, a jazz band at RAF Wroughton.

Ken Colyer, a trumpeter and a zealot for early New Orleans jazz, formed the Crane River Jazz Band in 1949 and Sunshine joined them on his discharge. The band had a residency at the White Hart pub in Cranford and charged a shilling (5p) for admission. A review in Jazz Journal in December 1950 was condescending: "Before New Orleans music can be played, a complete relaxation and unself-consciousness, not normally an attribute of the white man, must be attained. All this may take 20 years, or a lifetime, but the boys are still hoping."


Colyer signed up as a merchant seaman in 1952, solely to abscond to New Orleans. He was arrested for working without a permit and jailed for a month. When he returned, he found that Sunshine was part of Chris Barber's Jazz Band. Barber had been trying to persuade a research chemist and trumpeter, Pat Halcox, to go professional, but without success. It looked like an ideal band for Colyer to join, but with his dominant personality, it became Ken Colyer's Jazz Band. At first, the band had a residency at Bert Wilcox's London Jazz Club at Marble Arch. This was in the crypt and the commissioners decided that jazz was inappropriate for a sacred building. They had success with the Decca album, New Orleans To London, which included a popular single, "Isle Of Capri".

Colyer had a fierce integrity, only being interested in early New Orleans music and loathing the band's banjo player, Lonnie Donegan, who deliberately provoked him. After many arguments, the rest of the band left Colyer, and as Chris Barber's Jazz Band, they welcomed Pat Halcox.

The band toured in a 1934 Humber Shooting Brake with the bass on top. If it rained, the water would come through the floorboards, and the venues were little better as few jazz bands played dance halls. Their potential was appreciated when they played the Royal Festival Hall in 1954, however. The critics attended following a rumour that Princess Margaret would be there. She didn't arrive but the band received excellent reviews, especially Sunshine.

In 1956, a track from one of Barber's albums became an international hit, "Rock Island Line", which led to Lonnie Donegan leaving the band. Chris Barber said, "Our band was a co-operative and he had the cheek to ask us for more money. I said, 'Lonnie, skiffle is bringing in the money now, but next time it might be clarinet solos – ha, ha.' Next thing I know, 'Petite Fleur'." Donegan prospered as a solo performer while the Barber band held on to its audience.

On holiday in Spain, Sunshine had heard an accordionist playing "Petite Fleur". He discovered it was a Sidney Bechet tune, recorded in 1952. When Barber suggested a clarinet solo for Chris Barber Plays, Volume 3 (1957), Sunshine recorded "Petite Fleur" in a small group with Dickie Bishop (on guitar, though it sounds like a zither), Dick Smith (bass) and Ron Bowden (drums). According to Barber, "Monty's turntable was going a little fast so he learnt it in A flat minor rather than G minor."

The Chris Barber Band was especially popular in Hamburg, which his fans renamed "Freie Und Barber-Stadt (Free Barber-Town)" instead of "Freie Und Hansestadt (Free Trade Town)". When "Petite Fleur" was issued as a single in Germany, it went to No 2, encouraging Pye Records to release it in the UK. It climbed to No 3 and then became a Top 5 record in America.

The band appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show and back home, they received a gold disc from Hughie Green. They had a Top 30 entry when Sunshine featured another Bechet composition, "Lonesome (Si Tu Vois Ma Mère)". Bechet, who was dying of cancer, sent Sunshine a photograph, which was signed, "To Monty, who put Petite Fleur in the Sunshine."

Barber's performance also featured Muddy Waters' blues music. Sunshine was unimpressed though, and said they were sounding like "a bad imitation of the Shadows".

As a result, Sunshine was sacked and replaced by Ian Wheeler. Undeterred, he formed his own band and worked with such stalwarts as Johnny Parker and Diz Disley. He had another shot at the "Petite Fleur" market with "Jacqueline" (1961). His version of "Creole Love Call" (1962) with multi-tracked clarinet was described by The Gramophone as "a trifle coarse maybe, but good enough for Trad fans."

Meanwhile, the Trad fans had turned to Acker Bilk. He had noticed the marketability of sweet-sounding clarinet records and, far more astutely than Sunshine, he built on the success of "Petite Fleur".

Still, Sunshine toured regularly, either as a guest artist or with his own band, sometimes using Beryl Bryden and George Melly as guest vocalists. His 1963, album, Monty Sunshine And His Band, emulated Benny Goodman and his Orchestra.

In 1972, he played with a reunion of the Crane River Jazz Band and from 1975, took part in reunions with Chris Barber. In 1987, he and Lonnie Donegan formed Donegan's Dancing Sushine Band.

Sunshine's name was a gift for album titles which included A Taste Of Sunshine (1976), Sunshine In London (1979), Sunshine On Sunday (1987) and by way of a change, Live At The Workers' Museum, Copenhagen (1997).

If Sunshine's health had held out, he might have found success as an elder statesman in this Jamie Cullum era. He said, "I've had youngsters tell me that they want to play the clarinet like me. I tell them not to aim so low."
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Albums

Monty Sunshine - Black Moonlight & Sunshine album art Monty Sunshine Black Moonlight & Sunshine London Records UK 1963 Sell This Version
London HA-R 8037 Monty Sunshine - Monty Sunshine And His Band album art Monty Sunshine Monty Sunshine And His Band(LP, Mono) London Records London HA-R 8037 UK 1963 Sell This Version
Monty Sunshine - Chris Barber Plays album art Chris Barber & His Jazz Band* Featuring Ottilie Patterson & Monty Sunshine Chris Barber & His Jazz Band* Featuring Ottilie Patterson & Monty Sunshine - Chris Barber Plays Marble Arch Records UK 1968 Sell This Version
MLP 15 398 Monty Sunshine - On Sunday album art Monty Sunshine On Sunday(LP, Album) WAM MLP 15 398 Germany 1971 Sell This Version
Monty Sunshine - Portrait album art Monty Sunshine Portrait (Album) WAM Germany 1972 Sell This Version
Monty Sunshine - Monty Sunshine album art Monty Sunshine Monty Sunshine (Album) Happy Bird Netherlands 1974 Sell This Version
DJB 26088 Monty Sunshine - A Taste Of Sunshine album art Monty Sunshine A Taste Of Sunshine(LP) DJM Records (2) DJB 26088 UK 1976 Sell This Version
2437 562, 2664 197 Monty Sunshine - Old Merry Tale Jazzband Live album art Old Merry Tale Jazzband & Dick Cary featuring Monty Sunshine, Fatty George, Bob Wilber Old Merry Tale Jazzband & Dick Cary featuring Monty Sunshine, Fatty George, Bob Wilber - Old Merry Tale Jazzband Live(2xLP, Album, Gat) Polydor, Polydor 2437 562, 2664 197 Germany 1978 Sell This Version
Monty Sunshine - Sunshine In London album art Monty* Sunshine In London (Album) Black Lion Records UK 1979 Sell This Version
KAZ CD 11 Monty Sunshine - Jazz Classics album art Kenny BallAcker BilkGeorge ChisholmJack ParnellKenny BakerMonty Sunshine Kenny BallAcker BilkGeorge ChisholmJack ParnellKenny BakerMonty Sunshine - Jazz Classics(CD, Album) Kaz Records KAZ CD 11 UK 1990 Sell This Version
DM 23 CD Chris Barber's Jazz Band Featuring Pat Halcox, Monty Sunshine And Ottilie Patterson Chris Barber's Jazz Band Featuring Pat Halcox, Monty Sunshine And Ottilie Patterson - Chris Barber In Concert Volume One(CD) Dormouse DM 23 CD UK 1991 Sell This Version
LACDD55/56 Chris Barber's Jazz Band Featuring Pat Halcox, Monty Sunshine, Ottilie Patterson Chris Barber's Jazz Band Featuring Pat Halcox, Monty Sunshine, Ottilie Patterson - The Chris Barber Concerts (Festival Hall '56, Birmingham '58, Brighton '58)(2xCD, RM) Lake Records LACDD55/56 UK 1995 Sell This Version
Monty Sunshine - The "Petite Fleur" Man album art Monty Sunshine The "Petite Fleur" Man Kapp Records US Unknown Sell This Version
S 70 151 IT Monty Sunshine - Monty Sunshine album art Monty Sunshine Monty Sunshine(LP) Kapp Records S 70 151 IT Germany Unknown Sell This Version

Singles & EPs

SEP412, SEP 412 Monty Sunshine - Wild Cat Blues album art Ken Colyer, Monty Sunshine, Chris Barber Ken Colyer, Monty Sunshine, Chris Barber - Wild Cat Blues(7", EP) Storyville, Storyville SEP412, SEP 412 Denmark 1953 Sell This Version
Monty Sunshine - Petite Fleur / Rock O' My Soul album art Chris Barber's Jazz Band Featuring Monty Sunshine / Lonnie Donegan And His Skiffle Group* Chris Barber's Jazz Band Featuring Monty Sunshine / Lonnie Donegan And His Skiffle Group* - Petite Fleur / Rock O' My Soul (Single) Metronome Finland 1959 Sell This Version
Monty Sunshine - Monty album art Monty Sunshine With Chris Barber's Jazz Band Monty Sunshine With Chris Barber's Jazz Band - Monty (EP) Columbia Sweden 1961 Sell This Version
NH 66971 Monty Sunshine - Sunstroke album art Monty Sunshine Sunstroke(7", Single, Mono) Polydor NH 66971 UK 1961 Sell This Version
Monty Sunshine - Two Lovers album art Monty Sunshine Two Lovers (Single) United Artists Records Netherlands 1968 Sell This Version
LL-187 Monty Sunshine - 心淋しく = Lonesome (Si Tu Vois Ma Mere) album art Chris Barber's Jazz Band Featuring Monty Sunshine Chris Barber's Jazz Band Featuring Monty Sunshine - 心淋しく = Lonesome (Si Tu Vois Ma Mere)(7") Columbia LL-187 Japan Unknown Sell This Version
224 594 SEPH, SEPH 224 594 Monty Sunshine - Monty Sunshine's Jazz Band album art Monty Sunshine Monty Sunshine's Jazz Band(7", EP, Single) Polydor, Polydor 224 594 SEPH, SEPH 224 594 Germany Unknown Sell This Version
EPJ 1004 Monty Sunshine - Monty Sunshine album art Monty Sunshine Monty Sunshine(7", EP) Jazzville (2) EPJ 1004 Denmark Unknown Sell This Version

Compilations

Monty Sunshine - Chris Barber's Jazzband Featuring Lonnie Donegan & Monty Sunshine album art Chris Barber's Jazzband* Featuring Lonnie Donegan & Monty Sunshine Chris Barber's Jazzband* Featuring Lonnie Donegan & Monty Sunshine - Chris Barber's Jazzband Featuring Lonnie Donegan & Monty Sunshine (Comp) Decca, Decca Germany 1979 Sell This Version