Sam’s the man when it comes to planning jazz

Sam Ashton
Sam Ashton

Hornby jazz man Sam Ashton has been infatuated with the genre since the age of 14.

Sam, who celebrated his 78th birthday this month, has been using his wealth of knowledge and experience of the music to bring a quarterly jazz concert to the village’s Institute for four years.

Whilst at school, Sam heard the likes of Louis Armstrong, Bunk Johnson, Bix Beiderbeck and Jelly Roll Morton seeping out through the study window of a more senior boy.

He was told to join the jazz club, which he did.

Leaving school, Sam did two years national service, mostly in Germany, and then spent a few years working in agriculture and contracting in Oxfordshire until returning to Lancashire in late 1961.

He worked for Thomas Graveson Ltd, beginning with supervising site clearance for motorway construction which included demolition to prepare for development in Preston and industrial waste disposal across north Lancashire.

During national service in Germany he rigged up an aerial from trip-flare wire and listened to all the jazz he could find on the airwaves including Willis Conover’s daily Jazz Hour on the American Forces Network.

Post demob and working in Oxfordshire, he caught up with a school friend at university who smuggled him in to the jazz club, where he heard a wide range of live bands up from London including Sandy Brown and Joe Harriot.

He also went on a coach trip to the Festival Hall to see a show based around Count Basie’s orchestra, also featuring Joe Williams and Lambert Hendricks and Ross.

He also frequented the Reading Jazz Club, and all the while building up a collection of records aided by regular listening to Humphrey Lyttleton’s Monday evening’s Best of Jazz programme.

In the 1960s, now working all over the country for Gravesons, he sought out live jazz wherever it could be found, and in Lancaster, going when possible, to the Monday night scene at the John O’ Gaunt.

Ronnie Scott, Stan Tracey, and Dakota Staton were amongst the musicians who came to the university.

And there were trips to Manchester to see the visiting giants of jazz including Duke Ellington, Buddy Rich, Dave Brubeck, the MJQ and Gerry Mulligan.

In 1995 he discovered Neil Ferber’s Appleby Jazz, first the Saturday night gigs, and then the festival.

This was held annually over the last weekend in July, in a marquee.

With one exception he went each year until its demise in 2007.

This brought him into contact with old friends from yesteryear, plus new ones, and some of the musicians.

Over the years, under Neil’s leadership the festival increased in size and scope, and had a massive reputation, but the withdrawal of a grant, plus the loss of a crucial sponsor caused financial failure. This had a profound effect on Sam and left a big void in his life.

In the meantime efforts by a committee of the Hornby Village Trust raised the necessary funds to carry out a massive re-development of the Institute.

One evening after a club meeting Sam approached then chairman Anne Shaw about promoting jazz events in the main hall.

His aim, he said, was to do about four gigs per year featuring only the best musicians, and not to pursue grants. She responded with enthusiasm.

For the first gig Sam chose Lancaster singer Sue Parish and his only worry was that it may struggle to compete with the local free scene in the pubs.

His fear proved groundless, and on that November evening in 2008 the place was packed and the Hornby venue has proved to be very popular with both musicians and the audience.

The next jazz gig at The Hornby Institute is on Friday March 22, when internationally acclaimed violinist Tim Kliphaus will be returning to the venue accompanied by Nigel Clark on guitar and Roy Percy on double bass.

Tickets are £12, bar opens at 7.30pm bar, music starts at 8pm.

In the meantime, the Hornby Institute hosts The Swing Commanders, with their mix of 1940s classics, boogie-woogie, western swing, 50s jump jazz and more, on February 2, from 8pm.