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Sinatra’s jazz trombonist plays it again
By Tommy Norton
What links Frank Sinatra, Tom Jones, Shirley Bassey, Barbra Streisand, Liza Minnelli and Engelbert Humperdinck?
The answer: they are among the host of stars who have worked with Radlett trombonist Chris Smith.
In an incredible career spanning five decades, Chris has worked with some of the biggest stars in the music business, but for him none shone as brightly as Ol' Blue Eyes', Frank Sinatra.
Chris, who is bringing his Swing n' Jazz Quartet to the Red Lion pub in Watling Street, Radlett, next week began his career in the military band at Sandhurst before joining up with Frank Weir's Orchestra and touring with Matt Munro and Shirley Bassey. After playing with jazz greats such as Ted Heath, he accepted a job with the prolific Jack Parnell TV Orchestra based at ATV Studios in Borehamwood, and spent the next 15 years recording with some of the best known names in showbusiness.
He moved to Radlett 30 years ago to be nearer the studios and has stayed ever since. During his time at ATV, he worked on the Tom Jones show, Sunday Night at the Palladium and countless Royal Command Performances before getting the call that would change his life.
He recalled: "Almost every international star came to ATV because of its quality and reputation for having the best of all trades; props, make-up and particularly Jack Parnell's band. It was the best in the UK.
"I was working on the set as a session player and then I got the call to come and play trombone at the Albert Hall for five nights with Frank Sinatra."
Mr Smith was very impressed with Sinatra and apparently vice-versa, as whenever Frank came over to tour Europe from then on, Chris joined the band.
"Of all the top stars that I have performed with, Frank Sinatra was the most professional, he knew exactly what he wanted to do," said Chris.
In a period spanning 24 years, Chris hit the road with Frank Sinatra and his considerable entourage, travelling to Paris, Madrid, Amsterdam, Stockholm, Rome, Milan and Helsinki.
"I saw no less than four royal families giving him a standing ovation!," said Chris.
Despite rumours to the contrary, Frank remained a gentleman throughout, says Chris.
"He was always very pleasant towards his musicians and always looked after us extremely well. He appreciated musicians because his early years were spent on the road with the Tommy Dorsey band."
Chris has many happy memories of his time with Frank and worked with him right up to 1994 on the singing legend's last trip to Europe. Nowadays Chris leads his own 16 piece big band, String of Pearls, playing the hits of wartime bandleader Glenn Miller.
He is also performing with his Swing n' Jazz Quartet to Radlett's Red Lion pub on Thursday, February 23. He will be playing alongside his daughter Vanessa Heywood, who is an accomplished singer in her own right. The show starts at 8pm and admission is free.
So, is the Big Band sound on its way back?
"Well, I am trying my best!," said Chris.
"Reality is something you rise above"
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