Nat Temple Page
The bandleader some saw as the British Benny Goodman, he graced a wide variety of stages.
Thursday June 5, 2008
Nat Temple, who has died aged 94, was the last of the great British showmen bandleaders and the closest to being the British Benny Goodman. A clarinettist and alto saxophonist, he could also have had a successful solo career. He played swing as beautifully as he could more classical themes, and at a concert at the Royal Albert Hall, conducted by Malcolm Sargent, he was the first British musician to play the clarinet introduction to Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue.
In the days when technical accomplishment was a key factor of success, Temple was fronting 15 or 20 musicians, all of whom knew how to play an instrument as if they were born to it. He introduced Frankie Vaughan to a wider audience and accompanied Hoagy Carmichael on his British tours.
He was always immaculately dressed, wearing a dinner jacket that was crafted by as fine an exponent of tailoring as Temple was of his own trade. In the days when he led his band onto some of the more fashionable platforms in the country - particularly at debutantes' dances - that counted for something. A slim figure with a trim moustache and a glint in his eye, he was as attractive to look at as he was to listen to.
He was also very funny. There were, of course, always vocalists on the bandstand with him, but he could not resist "singing" a chorus or two himself. I can remember his band playing a typically syrupy tune of the 1950s called The Rose and the Pearl. Temple turned to the microphone and intoned: "My name is Rosie, yours is Pearl." The dancers loved it.
His greatest success, however, was with audiences who never saw him. He was a great broadcaster. On the various radio shows hosted by the Canadian actor/comedian Bernard Braden from 1950, such as Breakfast with Braden and Bedtime with Braden, Temple was always there to prove that he could compete with the work of scriptwriters such as the legendary Frank Muir, Denis Norden and Dick Vosburgh. Braden told his jokes and the bandleader topped them. Audience reaction showed that it was a good mix.
Temple was born in Stepney, the heart of the Jewish East End of London. His father was a tailor, all of whose sons were musicians. His younger brother Harry played alto sax and clarinet, and when Nat formed his own band, Harry joined him. But it was an elder brother, Barney, who was really responsible for his success.
At the age of 15, Nat was already haunting Archer Street in the West End of London, the "marketplace" where musicians would gather in search of gigs. Barney was the one who introduced him to the street - but not until he had received a year's tuition.
However, work was slow in coming. His first gig, at the Bethnal Green working men's club, was not exactly propitious. At the end of the evening, he went to collect his promised 50 shillings (£2.50) and was told to "clear off". But he kept trying. He worked at the Plaza Ballroom, Dublin - where he first decided that the clarinet was to be his principal instrument. Basil Tschaikov, his teacher, convinced him that this should be his speciality.
From Dublin, he went to Margate, Kent, where at the Dreamland Ballroom he played with Maurice Burman, a drummer who had his own orchestra. Among those in the outfit was a vocalist named Sam Costa. He would later achieve international fame as a radio comedian and disc jockey, but when he formed his own band, Nat went to work with him. He then spent nine years playing with Harry Roy until joining the Grenadier Guards in 1940. He spent the war playing with service bands, much of it in north Africa, but also got the chance to play with the famous Geraldo and Ambrose bands while on leave.
Demobilised in 1946 - he was given a medical discharge following a nervous breakdown brought on by excessive playing - Temple soon formed his own band, specialising in summer seasons at Butlin's and accompanying visiting American artists. It was Temple who employed Vaughan as his staff vocalist. He was also an accomplished composer, with a clarinet solo, Canzonetta, and his signature tune The Lovers' Lullaby. His most famous orchestral recording was Nattering Around.
The BBC appreciated Temple's ability to line up some of the best jazz musicians in the country, and his sense of humour. Later, he moved to television and had his own programmes: Jack in the Box, aimed at younger viewers, and Beauty Box, an evening show. He provided music for Crackerjack and Eamonn Andrews from the 1950s. His was also the resident house band for Decca records, often on the road at university balls and top London hotels, and played many Christmas parties at Windsor castle. He was a freeman of the City of London.
His wife Freda died in 2005 after 62 years of marriage. He is survived by four daughters and six grandchildren.
Nat Temple, bandleader, born July 18 1913; died May 30 2008