Bob Wallis was a feisty British jazzman who had a handful of chart successes in the early 1960s, during the trad boom that directly preceded the coming of the Beatles and all the other Merseyside groups that decimated the number of UK jazz bands at that time.
Wallis was a trumpeter with real drive and energy - one of his heroes was Henry Red Allen - as well as being full of life, remarkable for someone who suffered from ill health for most of his years. He played with his own band for much of that time, the Storyville Jazzmen, though earlier and later in his career he played with other bands as well.
Wallis was born in Bridlington, East Riding of Yorkshire, in 1934, where his father eventually became harbour master. At an early age he joined the local Salvation Army Band with his local friend, Keith Avison, who was to play trombone with Wallis for a number of years. By the age of 20 he had discovered the world of jazz and set up his own band in Bridlington which also played in nearby Hull.
He went to Denmark for a short spell and made his first couple of records there - as vocalist with the Washboard Beaters. The skiffle craze was rampant at the time and the Wallis singing style was some of the most idiosyncratic ever heard. Once you grew used to the gravelly-voiced style, however, it became clear that the singing was essentially melodious and that Wallis could certainly carry a tune.
Back in the UK, he went to London and played for a short time with Ken Colyer's Omega Brass as well as joining Acker Bilk. These bands were recording mainly for the specialist 77 Records label. Ultimately he joined up with Hugh Rainey's All Stars (Ginger Baker was their drummer at the time) and shortly afterwards the band changed its name to The Storyville Jazzmen, fronted by Wallis. In 1959 the band recorded an LP for Top Rank, Everybody Loves Saturday Night which entered the top ten album charts. A single followed and then the band moved to the more jazz- oriented Pye label where they made three albums and a number of singles which also had modest chart success. They also appeared in two films, It's Trad Dad! and Two Left Feet. At this time the band was made up of Wallis on trumpet, Keith 'Avo' Avison (trombone), Doug Richford (clarinet), Pete Gresham (piano), Hugh Rainey (banjo and later guitar), Brian 'Drag' Kirby (bass) and Kenny Buckner (drums). Later for the third album The Wallis Collection Al Gay replaced Doug Richford on reeds and, following an illness, Kenny Buckner left to be replaced by Alan Poston.
When the trad boom ended in 1963, Wallis and the band, who had been TV regulars as well as having a long summer season at the London Palladium, effectively broke up. Wallis played with one or two other bands before moving to the Continent where he spent most of his remaining years, still blowing up a storm with reconstituted versions of the Storyville Jazzmen. Occasionally these bands included former colleagues, such as Keith Avison and Pete Gresham. Drummer Alan Poston was still playing with the band when it made its final recordings in the mid eighties. Clarinettist Forrie Cairns was also with the band for much of this time.
Ultimately Bob settled in Zurich with a residency at the Casa Bar, where he finally found his spiritual home, much appreciated by residents and visitors alike. He continued to make records for European labels such as Storyville, WAM and Pebe, but the chart appearances were long gone. Nevertheless the band remained true to the Wallis ideals, with a driving style that owed much to his energy and fine sense of humour. Phil Kent, who was the bass-player with Bobs band during their residency in Zurich, is one of the few remaining members of the Storyville Jazzmen. He is still playing bass, and lives in Lydeard St Lawrence, near Taunton, Somerset.
When it became clear in 1990 that his ill health was not going to improve, he returned to England with his wife, Joyce, where he died in hospital in 1991. His long battle with illness was over but his records attest to the fact that Wallis was one of the great British jazzmen of his time. His son, Jay, carries on the family tradition of playing trumpet.