Oral history of jazz in Britain
Nurse, Rupert. (1 of 3). Oral history of Jazz in Britain
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Nurse, Rupert, 1910-2001, Hutchinson, Leslie "Jiver", 1906-1959, Lord Kitchener,. 1922-, Calypso
Interviewee's home in Carshalton, Surrey, UK
Nurse, Rupert, 1910-2001 (male)
Wilmer, Val, 1941- (female)
Part 1. Rupert Theophilus Nurse, born 26th December 1910 in Port of Spain, Trinidad. Great grandfather was a slave who, when freed, became a nurse, hence the name. Rupert was the only child of Arnold Nurse and Gertrude (maiden name Small). Father's mother was Portuguese. Rupert first heard calypso music around the age of eight as he grew up in Trinidad near a calypso tent. Jazz wasn't so popular at that time. Recalls the annual calypso carnival which took place two days before Lent. Explains that the term 'calypso' is actually a West Indian misnomer derived from the name of Enrico Caruso. Was involved with American construction of airport runways etc., during 2nd World War. Taught in Tobago (languages, maths, composition etc.). Relates how he first got involved in music as a young man and later got together with friends, including trumpeter Arthur Winter, who all played instruments. Studied Glenn Miller book on arranging. Basically a self-taught musician. At this time was playing mainly calypso and a little (American-style) dance music. Returned to Trinidad and into servicing radios for a living (circa 1936). Knew Lord Kitchener (Aldwyn Roberts) who was singing in Trinidad at that time. By the 1940s he had established his own band, The Modernaires, which played at the U.S. army bases. The band featured five brass and four saxophones and it was in this period that he learned orchestration of calypso and big band jazz and dance music. Played various clubs and for all social groups, including the 'upper classes' at the Country Club and for poor workers in the country. Members of The Modernaires included Michael Whyatt (trumpet), Arthur Winter (trumpet), Neville Boucarut (double bass), Wally Stewart (tenor saxophone). Nurse himself played tenor saxophone at this time. The band made a big impression with their big band music. Nurse also orchestrated popular calypsos for the big band, which was something of an innovation at the time. Al Jennings (bass) came to the UK during the 2nd World War. Towards the end of the War he got together with Harry Lowe, a music agent. The demise of the Ken Johnson Band had left a void in the London music scene which was partly filled by Jennings' group, the Trinidad All Stars. Other members of the band were Peter Joachim (trumpet), Clarrie Wears (piano), Norbert Payison (tenor saxophone), Wally Stewart (tenor saxophone) and Neville Boucarut (double bass). Broadcast on BBC Radio in November 1945. The band was helped by bandleader Geraldo. However, conflict between band members led to the break-up of the band later that year, so the opportunity of a second broadcast scheduled for Boxing Day was lost. Some of the band members stayed on in France following a visit there.
Item notes: Contemporaneous photographs by Val Wilmer held by NSA jazz section.