Obituary: Joe Mudele

Joe Mudele, who has died aged 93, was among the earliest pioneers of modern jazz in Britain, and one of the most valued double bass players in London’s recording studios during the boom years of the 1950s and ’60s. In a profession often noted for envy and backbiting, his sunny dis-position stood out, making him universally popular.
Born in north London on September 30 1920, Joe Mudele was brought up at Downham, south-east London. His father, who had been both wounded and gassed on the Western Front, died in 1931, leaving the family hard up. Joe’s first job on leaving school at 14 was as a singing pageboy at the local cinema. Other jobs followed, including drayman’s boy with a brewery, and apprentice tiler for a builder.
Always keen on music, he strummed various stringed instruments with a band of friends until spotting an ancient double bass in a bicycle shop. On an impulse which he could never explain, he put down a de-posit, took it home and was soon playing it in local bands.
Called up in 1939, Mudele spent the war years in the RAF, playing with station bands in his spare time.
On his release he took lessons with James Merritt, principal double bass with the Philharmonia Orchestra, and in 1946 began playing pro-fessionally.
Within a year he was a member of the Tito Burns Sextet, a popular broadcasting band which was also a kind of “Trojan horse” for the new and radical style of jazz known as bebop. The young Ronnie Scott was a fellow member, and a slightly younger John Dankworth joined them later.
There was a cultish, underground atmosphere to the early bebop move-ment in Britain. In 1948 a group of musicians calling themselves Club Eleven rented a Soho basement and held the country’s first regular be-bop sessions. They included Scott, Dankworth and Joe Muddel (as he then styled himself). In 1949 Europe’s first jazz festival was held in Paris.

Although not booked to appear, Mudele and several others attended, intent on sitting in whenever possible and on hearing Charlie Parker in the flesh. “I actually cried when I heard him in person for the first time,” Mudele recalled.
He also got to play two numbers with Parker and his drummer, Max Roach, an event he would talk about for the rest of his long life.
Out of Club Eleven emerged, in December 1949, the Johnny Dank-worth Seven. The band was hugely admired by initiates, but struggled desperately in its early days. Its eventual success came too late for its bass player, now married with a small daughter. He left and went to work at a West End nightclub, the Coconut Grove.
But his reputation was made. Over the next few years Mudele toured the country with such stars as Hoagy Carmichael, Sophie Tucker, Judy Garland and Billy Eckstine. But his reputation was made.
Over the next few years Mudele toured the country with such stars as Hoagy Carmichael, Sophie Tucker, Judy Garland and Billy Eckstine.
He formed his own band in 1951, giving the great Jamaican saxophon-ist Joe Harriott his first regular gig in Britain, and appeared in the first modern jazz concert at the newly opened Royal Festival Hall. In 1952 he was voted Top Bassist in the Melody Maker’s annual readers’ poll.
With growing affluence, and especially after the launch of commercial television in 1955, the demand for recorded music burgeoned. From being a daytime sideline, studio work became a lucrative full-time occu-pation for musicians.
Records, films, television spectaculars, incidental music – Mudele soon lost count of the number of sessions. He would sometimes quote a few examples at random, and the sheer diversity of performers and con-texts could be mind-numbing: Mantovani, Cilla Black, the Menuhin-Grappelli duets, the Big Ben Banjo Band, and Sing Something Simple, the longest-running musical programme on British radio.

Yet, unlike many session musicians, Joe Mudele (as he finally settled down to spelling his surname) never lost his consuming love for the jazz that had first inspired him. He played regularly on Monday nights at Bexley Jazz Club, near his home. When the enthusiast who had run the club died, it was Joe Mudele, then in his eighties, who, with his wife, took over the job — vastly improving the programming. He continued playing almost to the end.
Joe Mudele was twice married. He is survived by his second wife, Janet, and two daughters.
Joseph Mudele, jazz bassist, born 30 September 1920; died 7 March 2014