Ian Whitcomb is a highly respected performer, composer, and music historian. You can find all of his CD's, DVD's, Books,
and Songbooks by clicking here, or by going to ianwhitcomb.com

Letter from Lotusland

January 2015


Slowly I trudge along the pavement on my way to breakfast at The Corner Bakery on Lake Avenue. It isn’t actually on a corner but I suppose the word is to make it sound folksy, reminding us of an old friendly place where Baker Bob used to run up muffins and cream cakes in the good old days. In fact this bakery is part of a chain and no doubt I’ll see worried-looking supervisors from out of town studying spreadsheets as I stagger in for my greeting of “Welcome to my bakery!” sung by a Hispanic woman at the counter.

       However, they know me there and always serve my scrambled eggs soft and the sourdough toast nice and dark.

       Slowly, as my physical therapists have urged me to walk, slowly and pick up your foot and no scraping. In the 1940s, at our flat on Putney Heath, we used to have a Swiss maid who dubbed me “Mr. Schnell’. It was her joke because the word means quick in German and I was very slow doing my ablutions, etc. Her name was Hanni and we called her Honey. She occupied the back part of the flat, a bedroom and a bathroom. She could be summoned at any time by a bell system in the kitchen. When the bell rang a flag shot up in the box announcing where the bell button had been pressed—bedroom, bathroom lounge. It all sounds rather grand but Wildcroft Manor had been built as Luxury flats, mock-Tudor style, in the 1930s.Our bathroom sported a bidet. But we never used the bells or the bidet-- we weren’t show-offs. Honey was treated like a member of the family.

       In 1955, when I had just started at Bryanston School, we set off as a family for Switzerland, inspired perhaps by Honey. We traveled over land and sea; on the train through France I saw a sign saying Mons and I fantasized excitedly and romantically on all the soldiers who’d died there in World War One and I heard the ghostly stuttering of a machine gun.

       We stayed in Brunnen on Lake Lucerne. My brother and I played in paddleboats on the lake. We had trouble with a German boy but I dealt with the matter by telling him we’d beaten his country in two wars and we’d beat him again if there was another.

       On a lighter note, we found a restaurant with a guitarist and an accordion player, Andy & Rolf. I couldn’t get enough of them and they let me sing with them. Pop songs of the day—I determined to be an accordionist sometime.

       Recently Regina found an odd offer from a Netherlands seller on E-bay. An acetate disc of The Ragtime Suwanee Six on a disc made at John Hassell recordings in Barnes, London. In pen are written the selections, which begin with “The Original Dixieland One-Step”. This is odd because this was my first recording and only few copies were made, the recording company being strictly local and for amateur enthusiasts. I’m surprised to find a copy on offer—for $100. I’d hate to think it came from one of the band.

       Three of the band had been members of the Cranleigh jazz band. This was the boarding school my brother Robin was at; he was the drummer—he had a full kit complete with wood and temple blocks in keeping with the traditional jazz that they essayed. Trombonist Dave Hartley later became a successful dentist while trumpeter John (“Sweaty”) May became a doctor.

       The outsiders were Anton Matthews, a terrific banjoist, only 16. I had met him through his glamorous mother, a fellow student with me at the Putney School of Art. Completing the Suwanee Six was semi-pro clarinetist Johnny Toogood whom I had met when working as a sales assistant at Harrods in 1959. I was in the gramophone records department and he, I believe, was in fine china. I, of course, had made myself leader and chose the repertoire—not all bona fide jazz tunes but with a few 1920s pops thrown in. I played piano, swanee whistle, and kazoo. None of us bothered with reading music because we all had good ears.

       The photo was taken in 1961 when I had just entered Trinity College, Dublin, as a freshman in history. The venue was a posh party in the more exclusive part of Surrey. Next year we had our one and only recording session in Barnes. The tracks aren’t at all bad, plenty of fizz and esprit. I played the disc on my Internet radio show last week and there were no complaints from the online chat room.

       By the way, I met a pretty and perky little thing at one of our gigs. She came from near Kingston and was game for a kiss or two. She took me up on my offer to come across and visit me in Dublin. I got tired of her prissy manner—when I kissed too ardently she withdrew, wagging he finger and warning “Now, Now!’ The climax came when I balked at buying her a sixpenny box of matches in a Dublin pub. My fellow student Jeremy Lewis obliged and that was the end. She took the first boat home. What a rotter I was! What had got into me?

       Flickering with a steady gemlike flame at the back of all my musical efforts was my father. With hardly a word he supported my brother and I.

        I can see him now on a cold and miserable night in a Hammersmith alley making his way to one of our gigs, lugging our loudspeaker system through the slush. He enjoyed golf, billiards and boxing but he played our piano with a tender touch, pressing out golden chords as in a gorgeous dream. I never had his touch—I was a banger—yet he encouraged me with hope, especially when I played him my first rag, “Luscious Slices” in 1959. And every night before turning off the lamp I look at his delicate painting of my mother knitting. He was the father everyone should have


Ian Whitcomb is a highly respected performer, composer, and music historian. You can find all of his CD's, DVD's, Books,
and Songbooks by clicking here, or by going to ianwhitcomb.com