John Critchinson 1934 – 2017

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john-critchinson

If popularity could be measured in monetary terms, then John Critchinson would have died a millionaire. 'Critch' always brought an irrepressible zest and a smiling persona to every gig he played. And there were many for he was a surefire performer, whose keyboard dash and boundless creativity proved attractive to any number of bandleaders and performers. When it became known that his bladder cancer had returned and was inoperable, the eagerness of fellow jazzers to contribute to a benefit concert at the 606 Club in London was almost overwhelming. Notable among them was bassist and long-term friend Dave Green who tended to him every day and was with Critch when he died at home on 15 December, just nine days before his 83rd birthday.

Best known as the pianist with Ronnie Scott's quintet for some 15 years, John was born in London in 1934 but started his musical journey in the West Country, playing piano with local dance bands and dipping a toe into the jazz mainstream while working as an apprentice electrician with Westinghouse Brake and Signal in Chippenham. He helped start a jazz club nearby, backing visiting soloists including Scott and spent two happy years as a semi-pro with the Avon Cities Jazz Band. It was Bill LeSage who persuaded to him to make his way to London in 1978 and to substitute freelance jazz work for the security of his day job. John prospered, working with Scott until shortly before the latter's death in 1996, and backing visiting US stars like Chet Baker, James Moody and Johnny Griffin before forming a quartet with tenorist Art Themen, drummer Dave Barry and bassist Green. He later fronted his own trio and often accompanied the vocalist Jacqui Hicks who remembered him as, "A lovely, lovely man and very dear to me".

Critch gained further recognition when he formed the Ronnie Scott Legacy Band with Pat Crumly on saxophone, this allowing him to hone his comedic skills as he ran many of Scott's more memorable one-liners. In more recent times, he had played regularly with tenorist Simon Spillett. He recorded quite often, notably under his own name or with the likes of Morrissey-Mullen, Scott of course, and latterly with Spillett. It's a truism but he will be sadly missed. RIP John.

– Peter Vacher