King of swing: Jonathan Wyatt looks back on 30 years of his big band
PUBLISHED: 15:18 23 February 2018 | UPDATED: 15:29 23 February 2018
Archant © 2008
Big band leader Jonathan Wyatt is celebrating 30 years of performing. He tells Simon Parkin about getting the music bug in Sprowston, his big break at Norwich Theatre Royal and his love of the north Norfolk coast.
Jonathan Wyatt is this year celebrating 30 years of leading his own highly successful big band but his musical roots can be traced back to the Norwich suburbs.
“My mum and dad, who sadly aren’t with us anymore, the family home was in Sprowston, so there are a lot of memories,” he recalls.
“The band still rehearses there and I have very fond memories of it. I remember going to the 30th Norwich Scouts, I remember being active on the St John Ambulance Brigade, and one of the first musical ensembles I started playing with was Sprowston Brass Band, which aren’t based there any longer.
“It is a brass band that is sort of a mix of young and old. I started on my trombone and, along with being a pupil at Sprowston High School, and learning in the music department there, that was really the first sort outside school musical activity I did.”
The son of Melvine and Gordon Wyatt, his dad was a plumber and young Jonathan, who was born in 1970, grew up listening to the sounds of Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey.
“Mike Tooby, head of music at Sprowston High School, encouraged my interest and I remember that I always wanted to play the trombone. My dad told me he would sell his car to buy me one...but he didn’t have to,” he said.
Young Jonathan joined Sprowston Brass Band and was taught how to play swing and jazz with the likes of Bert and Ray Nabarro. He then became part of the student jazz orchestra before thinking about putting together his own small band.
“We rehearsed in Richard Nichols’ front room at his home in Old Catton. It was a bit of a squeeze,” he said.
He was the youngest big band leader in the country when he formed the highly-regarded Jonathan Wyatt Big Band in 1987. Over the subsequent 30 years he has led them to become one of the best-loved big band ensembles playing regularly across East Anglia.
Over the years more than 100 men and women have been part of the band, with some brilliant members including Brad and Elliot Mason, Patrick White, now to be seen in the trumpet section of the John Wilson orchestra, along with talents like Freddie Gavita and Sam Meakin.
“I have worked with some wonderfully talented people over the years. The likes of Bradley and Eliot Mason of Norwich who now work with some of the biggest names in the business in America,” he said.
Jonathan credits the legendary Norwich showman, the late, great Dick Condon has his inspiration for put his own band together and Norwich Theatre Royal holds a special place in his heart.
He was working in the theatre coffee bar when Dick encouraged him to form the Theatre Street Jazz Band and secured them their first dates at Cromer Pier.
“When I left school and I worked at Norwich Theatre Royal so I have very fond memories of theatre under Dick Condon,” he remembers. “I worked in the coffee bar, the restaurant and in the bar. Dick was one of the first people to give me and the band the opportunity to play at the Theatre Royal.
“We played both in the bar when they used to have jazz nights and then with the big band when we ended up doing a Royal command performance there in front of the Duchess of Kent. That was just before the theatre closed for its major refurbishment. It was a great honour.
“Dick was a lovely man, a real people person and worked so hard to get people into that venue, so we loved working for him.”
As the big band began to grow Jonathan was working in the post room at Norwich Union before moving to the training department working with recording equipment.
That led to him making the decision to go freelance as a TV sound man. His first jobs included Channel 4 Racing and then Brookside and Hollyoaks.
They may be about to enter their fourth decade but it is clear that still loves playing with his band and singers such as Norfolk comedian and singer Olly Day, the Moonglow Sisters, Stephen and Paul Amer and many more. The band have also helped to raise tens of thousands of pounds at charity events across the region.
They are regulars at several venues, but some are particular favourites they return to again and again.
“Nowadays the places that I’d say those that are special to me are local venues really,” he says. “The Pavilion Theatre in Gorleston, which we have found ourselves doing three concerts a year at. That is a real old time music hall type venue, with lots of little tables set up in cabaret style.
“We also love doing our Christmas concerts at the Forum in Norwich and we also really love our little bijou jazz gigs that we put on at The Old Rectory in Costwick.
“Also playing at the Pavilion Theatre on Cromer Pier is always special. Dick Condon had a spell in charge there and it was him that introduced us to that venue.”
The North Norfolk pier is special because Jonathan harbours a love of the coastline as a get away.
“When I was a child my parents had a holiday chalet in Bacton,” he says. “I grew up going there for weekends and breaks before music started taking me away. It has a very sort of village feel to it. It holds a lot of memories and so I do love going to the North Norfolk coast for walks at the weekend.
“I love to walk at Blakeney. I really love that part of the coastline, the peacefulness of it. It is great to take your away from it all. I find it so relaxing.”
• The Jonathan Wyatt Big Band will be performing at The Old Rectory Hotel in Costwick on March 29 and May 31 and at the Pavilion Theatre in Cromer on April 21 with Olly Day.
• Full details at jwbb.co.uk