Also known as: 14 Fingers. Old Stone Face..
Dennis William James
29th January 1937 - 25th March 2009
A Journey that started and finished in North London - via the whole world.
Dennis stood for Music, Family and genuine Laughter. - Preferably wicked laughter.
Dennis was a fantastic and respected Jazz Pianist. A 6ft 2" Pianist.
Gertie and William James must have been proud of their son, who took so naturally to lessons at the age of 7 on the Piano in their front room.
Classical lessons were progressing to plan until Uncle Vic introduced Dennis to Boogie Woogie Piano.
The first record Den bought was Artie Shaw's Concerto for Clarinet. A single track that took both sides of a big, vinyl 78.
That was it. The swing of Jazz had taken hold and would never let go.
Dennis played his first pub gig at the age of 14 and was to later pay at many East End Pubs.
Dennis served as an apprentice mechanical engineer for London Transport. When he secured a post as 3rd officer working on oil tankers, he had started on the steady, sensible career path that his parents had encouraged.
However, he was earning more (some weeks more than is dad) and having more fun, playing on the East End pub circuit and in 1962, gave into his calling by 'turning pro'.
A colourful musical career was to follow.
The 60's saw tours in Germany, at the time of a vibrant cabaret scene, playing to the American forces, touring with the up coming comedian Dave Allen.
The 70's saw several world tours on P&O cruises (SS Chusan, Himilaya, Canberra & Oriana). When he returned after long periods away, he would help win back his family's affection by lavishing them with exotic gifts from around the world.
During his cruising on the SS Oriana, He first visited Hong Kong, a place which captured his heart.
After playing several clubs in Hampshire, in particular the Bishops Waltham Country club, Dennis got the call he'd been waiting for. A gig in Hong Kong. He then formed what was to become his second family, The Jamestown Five. Soon to become Jamestown Five +1 when Red Price, saxophonist from the famous Ted Heath band joined.
This Dixieland Jazz band had an 9 year reign and helped to put Ned Kelly's Jazz pub (now the oldest surviving jazz venue in South East Asia) on the map. Often joined by artists (including Kenny Ball) passing through Hong Kong that couldn't resist sitting in with this great band.
Dennis was a fast piano player with a string-busting heavy left hand, his boogie-woogie playing was second to none. The South China Morning post christened Dennis 'Old Stone Face, fastest fingers in Hong Kong'. He was prone to speeding up on his solos - and often there was a cry from the guitarist, Scotsman Nigel, "Tee frantic Dennis, Tee Frantic!" (This coming from a guy that played a 100 mile an hour mandolin).
His vocal style was an English Frank Sinatra. He had gravel and was prepared to use it.
One night, the Hallé Ochestra players came to play after their concert. When Den was presented with a young, spotty, quirky looking violinist, he was unsure of letting him on stage. What followed was one of the greatest nights - the young man was Nigel Kennedy and he dueled with each member of the band, and came back four more nights.
Later years saw dad play the ever decreasing East and North 'traditional' pub circuit. How many pubs are there left with a real piano?
His solo work would draw on an amazing repertoire of old pub songs. This highlighted what could sometimes be a problem for Den's boss/audience. He found it impossible to play straight pub piano for long ('sing-along-a-den' stuff, he'd call it). He just had to put Jazz in there - this sometimes starved the punters of singing along with the chorus, because he'd slide off script and find a more interesting way to play it. He had to do that. He couldn't play bored.
Dennis truly loved and cherished his wife, Marion. Whom he met in the Angel Dance Hall, Edmonton, at the age of 17.
Dad married the lady he would love the rest of his life, in 1959. In return, Marion gave him 3 sons, Steve, Greg and Chris.
Dad was at his happiest with all his family together, and when all three sons were of age to stand and drink with him at the bar, he wore a grin from ear to ear.
When bored and uninspired, Dennis was miserable. No two ways about it.
And polite small talk was not one of his strong points. He just couldn't pretend. The upside to this, was that you would always get guaranteed genuine, Dennis James.
But put him good company, the fast wit and anecdotes came flying, almost as fast as his piano playing.
Dennis was big on Silly, perhaps as a result of a pretty serious up bringing. If the material was silly, it was deemed worthy. He had a massive laugh, that would often result in tears.
- He managed to pass this slightly odd sense of humour down to his family, and all three son's have had to live with those 'laughing to dead pan faces' moments.
Never quite happy that he'd achieved his potential, Dennis always thought the next man was a better player.
But in the last few years, it's fair to say that he seemed to find satisfaction in his life. Putting ghosts to rest with a return visit to Hong Kong and a trip to America that saw old Port calls and a reunion with his much loved Trumpet player, Benny Ligon in L.A.
No matter who was around, if the stereo was playing a Benny Ligon trumpet solo, all conversation was called to a halt with a turn of the volume knob and a cry of "listen to this, listen to this!"
Dennis loved to have heroes. And he became ours.
Dennis James. Husband. Father. GrandaddyBigBoogieMan.
Added by: Chris James on 30 March 2009.
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