GEORGE ESKDALE, Principal Trumpet, The London Symphony Orchestra, 1932-57.
I have always found the lives of musicians interesting. No surprise there. Anything at all, regarding musicians of all kinds, whether it is what Beethoven had for breakfast or how a gigging saxophonist threaded a living together in the London of the 1950s.
I know a bit about the latter because, when a student, I rented a room in a house where the landlady’s son was a tenor sax jazzer, as they were called then. From time to time we had a natter on whichever landing we passed. When he died a few years back, and I found virtually a full-page obituary in The Times, I was surprised, pleased and a little bit moist-y eyed. Yes, Harry Robinson, you deserved it too, as well as Beethoven, even though the two of you would never have met in Archer Street, Soho, on a Friday morning. (More of that maybe some other time.)
It was in the 50s that I first met George Eskdale at the Royal Academy of Music in London, not in my first week there, because he sent a dep, but thereafter he was my trumpet teacher, my Professor, a Wizard of a player to me, a veritable child of only just 17 as I was then. Since then, while threading my own unpredictable path through music, he remains someone I have continued to revere as a musician and as a person. Attentive, kind, friendly but not familiar … there were manners in those days … he could not have been a better role model. Truth to tell, he was a teacher by example only, but there are many ways to be a teacher and he was the only one I knew.
Recently in clearing out my library with a view to downsizing … or more truly taking pity on my children having to sort my stuff when I have passed on … I came across a lovely appreciation of George in a record magazine. International Classical Record Collector was an ideal of its type, and is still in existence although under a new banner. Tully Potter, its editor at the time, a writer of relaxed and wide understanding of both music and musicians, had written a perfect pen portrait of the great man.
Together with some pictures from George’s early years and containing facts about his early life of which I was quite unaware, the article begins with a key moment (1935) in trumpet history: the first recording of Bach’s 2nd Brandenburg Concerto. I once asked George about it during a lesson, ignorant as I was at that time of anything to do with recording processes of any kind: it was still mainly the days of 78rpm records. At that time, he said, there were no retakes possible to cover blips and the recording a long work was made as a series of chunks each fitted one side of a record. The Brandenburg was done in an afternoon and he was paid 40 guineas (40 x £1/1/- , in modern terms 40 x £1.05) and supplied with a crate of Guinness. Guinness and Guineas. That was George to a T.
I am very grateful to Tully for allowing me to post on my blog his appreciation of George Eskdale, of whom one final word from me. (I will post it in a couple of days.) As a schoolboy, I soaked up every moment of music that I could squeeze out of our old Sobell radio (after doing my homework and my practice), twirling the dial in desperation for anything of interest, whether it was ancient or modern. Whether Bach from London or Kenton from the American Forces’ Network in Germany. I chanced one evening on the LSO playing Vaughan Williams’ 5th from the BBC and was enraptured by the pure singing tone of the trumpet solos in the 1st movement. “I must study with him, whoever he is” I told my parents.
My father managed to find out who ‘he’ was, and a year or two and many family worries later, there I was with George Eskdale, the one and only, having just bought a trumpet for the first time a week before (as instructed via the Academy, a Besson C and Bb and having auditioned on an ancient cornet), ready to start my own musical adventure. His special sound continued to inspire me through the years. Thank you George.
To be continued.