Obituary: Spike Heatley – Jazz Journal

Spike Heatley and Anita O’Day. Photo by Bruce Fleming / JJ Archive

Spike Heatley was the good friend I never met. We have communicated on Facebook over the years and got to know each other. I reviewed his records, wrote a short film about him for JJ and he bought my books, both jazz and fiction. Best of all were the jokes we shared, not on Facebook but via email as they were mostly blue, and I’m not talking about the 12 bar variety. We also shared a birthplace in North London, him in Muswell Hill and I in Highbury. It has made us lifelong Arsenal supporters, for better or for worse.

Spike died at Dinan hospital in Brittany on November 10. He had been living in Brittany with his family since the 1990s when he retired. He did, however, come out of retirement for concerts in Britain with old friends about nine years ago. A recent meeting with an old friend Martin Taylor almost persuaded him to go out again. The two did, however, play a few duets together.

Brian, John “Spike” Heatley was born in Muswell Hill, London on February 17, 1933. When asked how he was known as Spike, he recalled that he was one of the first young boys. to have a team haircut. The short, prominent tips gave her a name that has lasted her entire life.

His first professional musical experience dates back to 1954/55 when he toured in the great orchestras of Harry Leader and Harry Bence. He then joined the Alan Ross Quartet and worked with them at the Palace Hotel, Karachi, Pakistan. Returning to Great Britain in 1957, he worked in various trios with Dill Jones, Stepháne Grappelli, Helen Merrill and Dinah Washington. Then he worked with Eddie Thompson and in 1958, Vic Ash, visiting the USA with him.

Spike was the last bassist to play in the Jazz Couriers during the last months of their existence in 1959, performing at the Vienna Jazz Festival. When Tubby Hayes announced he was breaking up the band to form a new quartet, Spike was the band’s lead bassist, later replaced by Jeff Clyne.

Meanwhile, Ronnie Scott was in search of premises to start his own jazz club, securing the first of many loans, this one from his stepfather and eventually settling into a basement room in Soho which had previously worked as a taxi driver. rest room. Scott wanted Spike for his opening night at the club and the bassist joined the Eddie Thompson Trio for the first performance at Gerrard Street.

Scott announced in a Melody maker announces that the opening night will feature music by Tubby Hayes and the Eddie Thompson trio with Spike on bass and Peter King on viola and that the grand opening performance will feature “The First Club Appearance of Jack Parnell jazz since the relief of Mafeking ”. Scott was already warming up as a tenor and actor. Spike remained a member of the house rhythm section for a while and only left when Ronnie decided he needed to replace Thompson with a pianist whose reading ability was substantial.

It was at Scott’s former club that John Dankworth first heard Spike play and soon after recruited him for his new big band. Spike went through a lean period when he left Dankworth two years later, but quickly formed a new trio with Brian Lemon and John Marshall accompanying singer Salena Jones. The trio performed at Scott’s as a second feature film with the Kenny Clarke / Francy Boland Orchestra and were selected to play opposite the Bill Evans Trio for an additional four weeks.

An idea of ​​how good Spike Heatley was around this time can be seen from the comments of Marian McPartland, who toured with him and drummer Ronnie Stephenson. She said: “They’re just awesome, they really swing, listen hard and don’t get in the way. They read well, no problem with the keys. Spike read much better than the average American bassist. Pianist Mary Lou Williams said much the same, pointing out that with a bassist she needed to chat and rehearse for a few days. She said they had a short rehearsal and she was “lucky to have Spike, a really good bass player.” She added: “If I had worked with Oscar Pettiford, we would have needed a week in advance to really get together.

During the 1970s, Spike worked in the studio to supplement his income and supported singers such as Donovan and Rod Stewart. He also worked for some time on television with the Play outside program. He has also performed frequently with The Bebop Preservation Society. When Tubby Hayes became extremely ill and had to have a valve replaced in his heart, it slowed him down – for a while. Spike invited him to join the BPS for a while, just to play the tenor and have no other worries. It worked well for a brief period, but Tubby, being Tubby, started playing more and more, getting involved a lot more and ended up returning to the hospital where he died from a second operation. cardiac.

It was the 1980s and Spike himself was slowing down and needing a rest. Over the years he has performed and toured with his friend Bill Le Sage, Charlie Shavers, Jay McShann and Teddy Wilson as well as many others. He had supported singers Anita O’Day and June Christy. Regarding the latter, he told me that it was nice to work with her, but he was not happy because he thought that her husband was not treating her very well. It showed the human and caring side of Spike Heatley.

In 1991, Spike retired and moved to Brittany where he lived with his wife and children for the rest of his life. He however couldn’t stay in retirement for too long and was tempted to return to London in 2013 and again in 2014 when he made successful tours of the South East of England with his trio and the tenor saxist Art Themen. While living in France, Spike still managed to record with a line-up including Alan Barnes and drummer Malcolm Mortimore. These were carried out during visits to the UK. Some of his later work in Britain was with the Great Guitars combo which included, at one point or another, Charlie Byrd, Herb Ellis, Barney Kessel and Martin Taylor. Spike picked up his bass to play at home with Martin Taylor when the guitarist visited him and kept his hand, regularly playing bass at home and keeping in touch with the stage thanks to his sound. Jazz Review subscription.

Spike Heatley was one of the great bassists in jazz, perhaps not as well-liked as he should have been, but will be remembered for his substantial contribution to jazz and through his many recorded performances. Spike is survived by his wife Stevie, daughter Merrill and son Danny.

RIP, Spike, old mate I’ve never met.


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