There was also an American musical film of the same name that the song was to inspire, starring Bing Crosby, Mary Martin and Brian Donlevy. The film was directed by Victor Schertzinger. The plot loosely follows the origins and breakthrough success of the ‘Original Dixieland Jazz Band’ in New Orleans. It was well received by critics on its release. It was nominated for an ‘Academy Award for Best Original Score’.
Although unusual for a young boy aged 11 years, I was introduced to Jazz and Blues more out of serendipity than choice during the year of 1954. Following a serious accident in my twelfth year of life, I was a patient in Batley Hospital (long since closed) for nine months. This lengthy period of hospitalisation was followed by a 2-3-year period of being housebound much of the time, being unable to walk.
For almost six of my nine months in 'Batley Hospital', both me and the man in the adjacent hospital bed were enforced neighbours, who under normal circumstances would never have shared the same ward. As my injuries were critical, I spent all my time in the hospital in the adult ward. I had damaged my spine and told by the doctor that I’d never walk again and he (Geoffrey) had broken his back and damaged his spine and was also told he’d never walk again.
Geoffrey had been a war camera/correspondent for fourteen years of his life and he had travelled the world and had made many famous contacts between 1940 and 1954. I’ll never forget being shown black and white photographs of dead, dying and mutilated bodies in various war zones he had covered. Apart from both of us having been told we’d never walk again, the other thing we each shared was our love of music and song. My preference was for the ballads of the day while Geoffrey loved nothing else but Jazz and the Blues. Over the following six months in adjacent hospital beds, this 11/12-year-old boy and the ex-war correspondent in his mid-forties became the closest of friends and struck up the most unusual combination of musical tastes.
We spoke mostly about music. During the hospital visiting hours, Geoffrey would occasionally be visited by people I didn’t know but whom I’d seen on the television on a Saturday night show we always watched together (after having persuaded the Ward Sister to place the only ward television at the bottom of our beds). I recall being introduced to these famous strangers whom I didn’t know very much about. They included Humphrey Lyttelton, Jonnie Dankworth and Cleo Laine. Writing this post reminds me that this was the first time that I was introduced in person to celebrities of the day.
Before I’d left the hospital, I had become a regular listener to all Jazz and Blues music and songs and had grown to love the sound. Geoffrey was eventually transferred to another hospital down south and nearer his home after six months, and apart from receiving a few letters from him initially, no further contact followed.
Having met his famous friends and hospital visitors in 1954 though, I naturally followed the ongoing careers of Lyttelton, Dankworth and Laine.
Humphrey Lyttelton was to finish up as a B.B.C broadcaster. As a broadcaster, he presented BBC Radio 2's ‘The Best of Jazz’ for forty years and hosted the comedy panel game ‘I’m sorry I Haven’t a Clue’ on Radio 4, becoming the UK's oldest panel game host. Cleo Laine became an international Jazz singer, pop singer and film actress, and was eventually made a D.B.E. She went on to marry Johnnie Dankworth who also became knighted.
These three celebrities were the first of a long line of famous names that I would meet over the next 64 years. For a few years after my hospital release, and being unable to walk, much of my time was spent at home listening to all styles of music and singing on the radio. It was during this period that I became more acquainted with the singing and music of Geoffrey’s famous friends, along with falling in love with the sounds and style of singers like Louis Armstrong, Fats Domino, Ella Fitzgerald. Sarah Vaughan, Lena Horne, Billie Holiday, and Ray Charles etc.
By my early twenties, whilst in Canada, I continued to follow the sound of the Blues although my taste was forever broadening to include pop, rock and roll, and country and western. I am so glad for having met my hospital companion so many years ago in Batley Hospital. Geoffrey won't be alive today but wherever his body rests, I dedicate this song to him in the fond remembrance of our six-month shared hospital experience. Thank you, Geoffrey, for sharing with that young boy in 1954, your love of jazz and the sound of the Blues.
Love and peace Bill xxx