Kenneth Colyer (18 April 1928 – 8 March 1988) was an English jazz trumpeter and cornetist, devoted to New Orleans jazz. His band was also known for skiffle interludes.
He was born in Great Yarmouth but grew up in Soho, London and served as a member of his church choir. When his elder brother Bill (1922—2009) went off to serve in World War II he left his jazz records behind, which influenced Ken. He joined the Merchant Navy at 17, travelled around the world and heard famous jazz musicians in New York and Montreal.
In the UK, Colyer played with various bands and joined, in 1949, the Crane River Jazz Band (CRJB) with Ben Marshall, Sonny Morris, Pat Hawes, John R. T. Davies, Julian Davies, Ron Bowden and Monty Sunshine. The band played at the Royal Festival Hall on 14 July 1951 in the presence of HRH Princess Elizabeth. Parts of that group merged with other musicians including Keith Christie and Ian Christie to form the Christie Brothers' Stompers.
Colyer rejoined the Merchant Navy, jumped ship in Mobile, Alabama, and travelled to New Orleans, where he played with his idols in George Lewis' band. He was offered the job of lead trumpeter on a tour, but was caught by the authorities, detained and deported.
Colyer was invited to take the trumpet lead for the Chris Barber Band and so formed the first line-up of Ken Colyer's Jazzmen: Chris Barber, Monty Sunshine, Ron Bowden (born Ronald Arthur Bowden, 22 February 1928, Fulham, London), Lonnie Donegan and Jim Bray (born James Michael Bray, 24 April 1927, Richmond, Surrey). They made their first recordings on Storyville in 1953. The next, brief, band in the mid-1950s featured Bernard "Acker" Bilk on clarinet.
Beginning in 1954, Colyer split his time between leading trad jazz groups as a trumpeter and skiffle groups as a guitarist, recording frequently for English Decca. Colyer's melodic Bunk Johnson-influenced lead trumpet gave his jazz bands a distinctive flavor of their own, while his skiffle groups had a "blacker" sound than those of most English skifflers, grounded in the Leadbelly 78s that Colyer brought back from New York when he was 19.
Then followed Colyer's band line-up with Mac Duncan (trombone), Ian Wheeler (clarinet), Johnny Bastable (banjo), Ron Ward (bass) and Colin Bowden (drums), later joined by Ray Foxley (piano). This band played together until the early 1960s when the new front-line featured, at various times, Sammy Rimington and Tony Pyke (clarinet), Graham Stewart and Geoff Cole (trombone), Bill Cole (bass) and Malc Murphy (drums).
In January 1963, the British music magazine NME 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, Kenny Ball, Alex Welsh, Monty Sunshine, Bob Wallis, Bruce Turner, Mick Mulligan and Colyer.
He retired eventually to France where he hoped to teach music. However, it was to be short lived: he died quietly in his sleep on 8th March 1988, possibly from a severe heart attack. Ken was cremated in France and his ashes scattered in the Channel close to the French shore. A trust has since been established to carry on his musical legacy and distribute his recordings. (Info mainly edited from Wikipedia & All Music)
Ken Colyer with Monty Sunshine´s Jazzband 1981 in Hamburg