By Matt Micucci
British jazz trumpeter, band leader and award-winning author of books on jazz topics John Chilton died on February 25, aged, 83, after a short illness.
Chilton was born in London in 1932, and started playing the cornet at the age of 12, having become infatuated with jazz after listening to the music of Jelly Roll Morton and Sidney Bechet on the radio. After serving in the Royal Air Force in the early 50s, he formed his own jazz band that played at holiday camps in Skegness with a troupe that included, among others, comedian Dave Allen.
In 1958, he joined clarinetist and saxophonist Bruce Turner’s group, and played with them until 1963. It was around this time that he met and married professional photographer Teresa Kendall, whose idea it was to open the Bloomsbury Bookshop in tiny premises on Great Ormond Street, London, in 1967.
Chilton is perhaps best known as the leader of the Feetwarmers, the group he formed in January 1974, and that accompanied British jazz singer and writer George Melly. Together, they made records and toured the world for nearly 30 years, including trips to America, Australia, China and New Zealand. In 1983 and 1984, they had their own BBC television series called Good Time George, and throughout their years of activity they appeared on countless other TV shoes, including Parkinson and This is Your Life.
Throughout his life, Chilton kept jazz scrapbooks on the life of jazz artists. These scrapbooks helped him lay down the foundations for extensive research that led to his biographical writings on the topic of jazz, the first of which was a result of his collaboration with veteran journalist Max Jones titled Louis: The Louis Armstrong Story, published in 1971. His exhaustive tabulation of his information on early jazz musicians titled Who’s Who of Jazz (Storyville to Swing Street), first published in 1972, was described by poet Philip Larkin as “one of the essential books on jazz”. On March 2007, he published his autobiography Hot Jazz Warm, Warm Feet.