John Chilton, Jazz Musician and Historian, Dies at 83
By PETER KEEPNEWSMARCH 3, 2016
John Chilton, an acclaimed jazz historian and one of the few jazz writers to have a successful parallel career as a musician, died on Feb. 25 in London. He was 83.
The cause was pneumonia, said his son Martin, who added that his father also had Parkinson’s disease.
A trumpet and fluegelhorn player, Mr. Chilton was active for almost 50 years on the British traditional-jazz scene, most notably as the leader of the Feetwarmers, the backing band for the eccentric vocalist George Melly. Mr. Chilton worked throughout Britain with Mr. Melly from 1974 until Mr. Melly’s death in 2007.
But Mr. Chilton was better known as the writer of jazz biographies, including what are widely considered the definitive works on two of the music’s seminal saxophonists: “Sidney Bechet: The Wizard of Jazz” (1987) and “The Song of the Hawk: The Life and Recordings of Coleman Hawkins” (1990). Among his other books were “Billie’s Blues: A Survey of Billie Holiday’s Career, 1933-1959” (1975) and “Who’s Who of Jazz: Storyville to Swing Street” (1970, revised and expanded in 1989).
He published a memoir, “Hot Jazz, Warm Feet,” in 2007.
Mr. Chilton shared a 1982 Grammy Award with Richard M. Sudhalter for their notes for an anthology of the trumpeter Bunny Berigan’s work. He was named jazz writer of the year at the 2000 British Jazz Awards.
John James Chilton was born in London on July 16, 1932, to Thomas Chilton, a music hall performer, and the former Eileen Burke. He began studying the cornet at age 12, became interested in jazz shortly after that, and formed his first band as a teenager.
After serving in the Royal Air Force, he worked briefly for The Daily Telegraph as an assistant to the editor before leaving to pursue a career in music. He began writing about jazz in the late 1960s, while continuing to work as the leader of his own band, the Swing Kings.
In addition to his son Martin, he is survived by another son, Barney; a daughter, Jenny Chilton-Higgins; and six grandchildren. His wife, the former Teresa Kendall, died in 2014.
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