Kenneth Daniel "Kenny" Ball (22 May 1930 - 7 March 2013) was an English jazz musician, best known as the bandleader, lead trumpet player and vocalist in Kenny Ball and his Jazzmen.
Ball was born in Ilford, Essex. At the age of 14 he left school to work as a clerk in an advertising agency, but also started taking trumpet lessons. He began his career as a semi-professional sideman in bands, whilst also working as a salesman and for the advertising agency. He turned professional in 1953 and played the trumpet in bands led by Sid Phillips, Charlie Galbraith, Eric Delaney and Terry Lightfoot before forming his own trad jazz band - Kenny Ball and his Jazzmen - in 1958. His dixieland band was at the forefront of the early 1960s UK jazz revival.
In 1961 their recording of Cole Porter's "Samantha" (Pye 7NJ.2040 - released February 1961) became a hit, and at the end of 1961 they reached No. 2 on both the US Billboard Hot 100 chart and the UK Singles Chart, with "Midnight in Moscow" (Pye 7NJ.2049 - released November 1961). The record sold over one million copies, earning gold disc status. Their next single "March of the Siamese Children" (Pye 7NJ.2051 - released February 1962), from The King and I, topped the pop music magazine New Musical Express's chart on 9 March 1962, further hits followed and such was their popularity in the UK that Ball was featured, along with Cliff Richard, Brenda Lee, Joe Brown, Craig Douglas and Frank Ifield, on the cover of the New Musical Express in July 1962, although in the United States they remained a "one-hit wonder".
In January 1963, New Musical Express reported that the biggest trad jazz event to be staged in Britain had taken place at Alexandra Palace. The event included George Melly, Diz Disley, Acker Bilk, Chris Barber, Alex Welsh, Ken Colyer, Monty Sunshine, Bob Wallis, Bruce Turner, Mick Mulligan and Ball. The same year, Ball became the first British jazzman to become an honorary citizen of New Orleans, and appeared in the 1963 film Live It Up!, featuring Gene Vincent.
In 1968 the band appeared with Louis Armstrong during his last European tour. Ball later appeared on BBC Television's highly rated review of the 1960s music scene Pop Go The Sixties, performing "Midnight in Moscow" with his Jazzmen on the show's broadcast on BBC 1 on 1 January 1970. His continued success was aided by guest appearances on every edition of the first six series of the BBC's Morecambe and Wise Show. He later said that the peak of his career was when Kenny Ball and his Jazzmen played at the reception for the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana.
Ball and his band enjoyed one of the longest unbroken spells of success for trad bands and his status rivals contemporaries Acker Bilk and Chris Barber. Their joint album, The Best of Ball, Barber and Bilk, reached No. 1 on the UK Albums Chart. He has charted fourteen Top 50 hit singles in the UK alone. All such releases were issued on the Pye record label.
In 2001 Ball was part of the recording of an album on the Decca label. It featured Don Lusher, Acker Bilk, John Chilton and the Feetwarmers, John Dankworth, Humphrey Lyttelton and George Melly, and was entitled British Jazz Legends Together.
Ball continued to tour until shortly before his death, his last scheduled concert being with Acker Bilk and Chris Barber at Manchester's Bridgewater Hall on 21 February 2013. He died at Basildon Hospital, Essex, where he was being treated for pneumonia.
The band continues with Ball's son at the helm and under the name of Kenny Ball Junior and his Jazzmen and managed by Steve Hughes Management Limited.
The line-up changed greatly over the years, but the following personnel were in situ when the musical ensemble was at its commercial peak:
Kenny Ball (trumpet),
John Bennett (trombone), still in the line-up at the time of Ball's death,
Andy Cooper (clarinet),
Ron Weatherburn/Hugh Ledigo (piano),
Paddy Lightfoot (banjo),
Ron Bowden (drums),
Vic Pitt/John Benson (bass, bass guitar),
The personnel of the Jazzmen at the time of Ken's death were:-
Keith Ball (Bandleader and Vocalist),
Ben Cummings (Trumpet),
John Bennett (Trombone and founder member of the band with Ken in 1958),
Julian Marc Stringle (Clarinet, replacing Andy Cooper in Summer of 2012),
Hugh Ledigo (piano),
Bill Coleman (Double Bass),
Nick Millward (Drums),
Syd Appleton (Sound technician and tour manager)
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