A letter to Bob Jones, written in 1969 – by Terry Johns

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terry johnsTerry Johns is renowned as one of the world’s finest French Horn players and was a member of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and the London Symphony Orchestra.

Visit his website at: http://www.terryjohns.net

Dear Bob

I’m writing to your Aberdare address as you can see.   I was in Paris in the summer and an entirely impromptu visit to the address that I had for you there was unsuccessful.   A shrugging Frenchman weighed down with groceries told me that if you were the person he thought I was enquiring after, that you wouldn’t be back in Paris until September.   I could hear the sound of a piano coming from the top of the building but I was certain it wasn’t you playing it because it wasn’t very good at all and it wasn’t jazz either.   I was really disappointed to have missed you, hoping that we could have visited a club or two.   I can tell you that no one in the London Mozart Players has the slightest interest in jazz or would consider going out after midnight and although the music was terrific, at the end of the tour I found myself in various states of depression, delusion, psychosis and eventually despair.   I was g greatly relieved to get back to London.

I had no right to feel such hostility towards a whole group of people in this way; my feelings were simply a result of class difference I’m sure, so I told myself that the people from musical families and the “middle class” had no more influence on the circumstances of their birth than did I, and as soon as I got to London I headed for the West End to find somewhere to play.   I’m almost always welcome with a French horn.   It adds something unique to a group and I seem to be the only person in London who wants to play jazz on it.   Before I left for the tour I played with Tubby Hayes and Freddie Logan’s Afro Cuban Big Band at the Marquee Club; and I’ll be doing some BBC “Jazz in Britain” broadcasts with Kenny Wheeler and Graham Collier.   If I thought I could make any kind of living playing jazz I’d do it like a flash.   Jazz musicians are the very best of people and anything and everything in their lives is fuel for humour. I was in the Marquee the other day, with Harry Becket, Joe Harriot, and a few white guys, all laughing and joking about Enoch Powell’s “Rivers of Blood” speech. Bob– there was no trace of anything in that room, but the ridiculous. No high horses or resentments. These guys just love one another; music and life are synonymous to them and there seems to be almost no rivalry but a great deal of warmth and companionship.   I’m sure that you will be playing a lot in Paris; the jazz scene there is vigorous isn’t it?   I hope you will write and tell me all about it.

The Royal Philharmonic has a European tour next year.   I’ll come and see you (by arrangement this time) and we can maybe hit Paris with some of our old tunes.   Tubby Hayes taught me to phrase in long lines and to study the way Miles Davis did it.   That style suits the horn perfectly.   I’d love to try a few things with you.   It’d be like the old days.

My conversation with your Parisian neighbour was the first time I had attempted to speak French since I left school.   He understood me well enough I think, but it was a huge effort on my part.   I will try harder!   You must dream in French by now do you not?   I imagine you in Monmartre in the small hours in amongst the cognoscenti talking about jazz and Engels.   Do you still smoke those Gauloises?   I smoke more heavily than ever now and have acquired a taste for American cigarettes.    When I was in the US, I went with a group of players from the Royal Philharmonic to see Sonny Rollins at the Half Note in New York he played fabulously to a club that was packed to capacity.   When I heard him at Ronnie Scott’s there may have been a dozen people listening.   The performance was astonishing all the same.   You will have your club one day, I’m certain of that and you can have him there and play yourself too.   Why don’t you do it in Cardiff?   Would that be the first ever jazz club in the city?   What a thing!!

We could live out the Bohemia and Saturnalia we dreamed of as boys

You would really enjoy the Royal Philharmonic I know you would.   It’s full of eccentric people from the most unlikely origins.   There’s a Canadian Indian violinist who lives in a Volkswagen camper van when the orchestra is touring in Britain and dines alone after the concert every night on fish he catches where he can, or if he can’t, on fresh meat from various local butchers, which he soaks in a wine marinade in Tupperware containers.   Tins of smoked oysters or asparagus and local cheeses add the variety and sophistication and occasionally he entertains one or two guests.   I myself was among the privileged one lovely spring night in Wales and spent the evening on a riverbank laughing at his tales of Tommy Beecham and the old memorial days.   Another of the violinists, a Scotsman, arrived at Heathrow airport in full evening dress at eight o’clock in the morning which had been his habit for years, I was told, at the start of a three week tour of America, and    provoked not the slightest surprise from the other men or the cocktail barman in the departure lounge who greeted him, as a familiar old friend.   The twenty thousand miles across the Atlantic and three or four American states, he travelled in the same clothes and carrying only a change of shirt, a toothbrush and consecutive bottles of whisky in his airline bag.   There are so many other eccentrics too.   I will get to know them better I’m sure, though most keep themselves to themselves.

I’ll be back amongst them tomorrow.   We have rehearsals for a concert with a group called Deep Purple.   The concert will be at the Albert Hall and has already given rise to a fair amount of controversy.   People are saying, for some reason that the Royal Philharmonic oughtn’t to be performing with pop groups.   It’s all expected to be in the papers tomorrow.   I might say that these complainants are some of the same people that advocate the cutting of state funding to the orchestra.   I find all this acrimony to be very tiresome to say the least.   Personally I’m looking forward to the concert hugely. Jon Lord has written a piece specially for the group and orchestra conducted by Malcolm Arnold and it will all be televised.   Fuck the Arts Council!!!

Will you write to tell me all about the Paris jazz scene and what happened to that French “assistante” you were running around with in Cardiff?   I’ll be in London for a while now, recording mostly until we leave again for a German tour in November.

I received a letter from Gethin Evans a few days ago.   He’s well and politely enquiring about everyone in between choir training, piano teaching, chapel organing, conducting and everything else.   He’s a real gem.   I hope I will hear from you soon.

Best Wishes

Terry Johns

PS I played on the film “Custer of the West”, with Robert Shaw, which will be released next year.   Films are great fun!!!

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