In the summer of 2014, while at our caravan in Steeple Bay, Essex, I learned that the jazz musician Kenny Baxter was playing at the Hamlet Court pub in Westcliff-on-Sea the first Thursday of each month. I first followed him and his band, the Southend Modern Jazz Quintet, back in the 60s.Though he was now passed 80 he was still immortalising the jazz pioneered by the likes of Sonny Rollins. I had also read that he had married none other than Toni Daly, or Antoinette as I had known her, once again from my teenage years. Then she was a promising pop singer but now she was singing jazz standards with her husband’s band so I just had to get along and hear them. The night was memorable. the music swung and Toni sang well, one song in particular revealing the sound her voice gave back in those halcyon days.
So when did we first meet? That is easy to pin point very precisely, it was the weekend of July 29-31, 1966, the weekend England won the world cup. But it was not football that brought her and her friend Penny Holmes into our company. At that time the band I had played in for the past few years, since my days at Southchurch Hall High School, was undergoing a transformation. We had originally been doing music of the Shadows and other pop songs of the time, but now we were into jazz and soul music. We were the Sebastian Thyme Big Soul Band with an impressive line up with John on Hammond organ and vocals, Melvin on guitar, Alan on bass, his brother Trevor on drums, Martin and others on saxophones and me on trumpet. We sung and swung standards like Night Train, In the Midnight Hour, Wade in the Water and even recorded a couple of Nina Simone standards, ‘Feelin’ Good’ and ‘Break Down and Let it all Out,’ but back to the connection with Toni.
She had got to know John and with her friend Penny joined us at Windsor Park for the 6th National Jazz and Blues Festival. What a line up of bands were at that gathering! Spencer Davis, The Who doing there explosive routine, The Move, Yardbirds, Georgie Fame with the Harry South Orchestra and none other than the trio who would later call themselves the Cream, namely Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker. We spent a rough Friday night sleeping out under the stars and indulged in the music all day Saturday. Then in the afternoon we heard on the radio of England’s victory, Germany defeated 4:2! There was nothing else for it, after the concerts ended for the evening to head into the city and catch the spirit of the occasion. There was plenty going on and we must have stayed there in town until morning.
Now here is the bit that made the weekend not quite how you might think of it. Earlier that year, in January, I had become a Mormon. I was a baptised member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, so that Sunday morning all of us ended up at two places of worship, a sacrament service at the Mormon church in Exhibition Road followed by a mass at the Catholic Westminster Cathedral. Toni was of an Irish Catholic family and religion was not a subject of any embarrassment for any of us. We had respect for each others traditions. I was new to Catholicism and my friends were new to my Christian faith, we learned from each other.
For much of August we continued to hang out with these girls. I had a few dates with Penny and John with Toni. But then as September arrived we went our separate ways. But it was a month that is full of sunshine and pleasant memories.
With Toni’s passing this week on December 7th, 2016, I just wanted to put that happy time on record. Toni, may you sing with the choirs of heaven, 'gloria, in excelsis Deo'.