Jazz stars: Jack Hylton

Today, on the birthday of Jack Hilton, one of the most popular jazz musicians in the UK and Europe, the Jazz Stars column feature a story about his life and selection of musical compositions  that he performs.
As an impresario, bandleader, arranger, musical publisher and theatrical producer, Jack Hilton had a major influence on the culture of popular dance music ensembles in the 1920-30s.

Jack Hylton (born John Greenhalgh Hilton) was born on the second of July 1892 in Lancashire. His father worked in a cotton mill and often performed as an amateur singer, later bought a pub, and his mother was a schoolteacher. Jack made his first public appearance as a singer and accompanist at his father's pub. He wore traditional mill worker clothes, a cap and sabots, and was nicknamed "Singing Mill-Boy. By 1909, despite his young age, Jack Hylton was already considered a professional performer. He accepted an offer to become musical director of a touring pantomime artists' troupe.
After moving to London in 1913, he worked as а hired pianist at the movie theater, accompanist at dance parties and in the 400 Club orchestra.

During World War I, he served as music director for an army entertainment unit (an organization formed to entertain the troops). In 1919, Hylton assembled a small orchestra in London to work at Queen’s Hall Roof Restaurant. That same year he began recording jazz arrangements of popular songs and recorded them in the studios of His Master's Voice (HMV) and Zonophone with subscription "Directed by Jack Hylton". Already in the twenties, he becomes a prominent figure on the British stage.

Hylton's band, which sometimes included more than 20 musicians at a time, quickly stood out among the rest. Unlike many other bandleaders who performed in one particular nightclub or ballroom, Hylton often went on long tours throughout England; the band's performances actually shaped the way jazz should be for most Brits. By the mid-1920s, Jack Hylton had become known as "the British king of jazz".

Having recovered from a very serious car accident in early 1927, he and his orchestra went on their first "Continental Tour". A busy schedule of recording and performing in the best concert halls of Europe left no time to organize the then-popular radio sessions. When the band did appear on the radio station, listeners perceived it as something special. Accordingly, radio stations gave "Jack Helton and his Orchestra" the prime time in the early evening, as they did on February 11, 1929, when the band gave a forty-minute concert that was listened to by an audience of millions.
In 1929 alone, the band gave about 700 performances and traveled about 63,000 miles. Jack Hylton was also a successful entrepreneur. He managed to sell almost four million records in 1929 according to the Daily Herald of June 7, 1930. At this stage of his career, Hylton was no longer playing the piano, but only conducting the orchestra. The musician also became director and major shareholder of the new record label Decca, switching from HMV at the end of 1931. That same year, the Jack Hylton Orchestra played “Mavra”, composed by Igor Stravinsky, at the Paris Opera. By this time, the orchestra's repertoire had expanded considerably. The group's program included more than sixty pieces, ranging from "Merry Widow" by Franz Lehar, "Preludes in C-sharp minor" and "Preludes in G-minor" by and Sergei Rachmaninoff to hits and tunes already considered jazz classics, such as "St. Louis Blues", "Tiger Rag" and "Lime house Blues".

While touring Europe in 1931, Hylton organized a series of radio broadcasts from every major city in which the band performed. They broadcast four times from Nice, six times from Prague, and five times from Vienna.

In late 1931, the band made history by becoming the first British band that broadcast live to America. Hylton established contacts with virtually all the popular performers of his time, and arranged for such stars as Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington to tour Great Britain.

In 1935 -- after the orchestra was in the movie "She shall have music"4) Hylton temporarily disbanded the orchestra and left with several musicians for the United States, where he hosted a radio show for 10 months. Under the terms of his contract, Jack Hylton was only allowed to perform with American musicians. He managed to repeat his European triumph, and music critics wrote about the emergence of the "Hylton sound" on the stage.

Upon his return to Europe and before the outbreak of World War II he continued to tour extensively, play on the radio and record discs. In April 1940 seven of the musicians were drafted into the army, and Hylton disbanded the orchestra.

From 1941 he began to engage in producing, achieving tremendous success in this field as well. His productions ran in theaters and on the radio. In 1955, Jack Hylton founded his television studio, which until the 1960s produced entertainment programs.

He died in 1965 of a heart attack at the age of 72. He is buried in St. Catherine's Cemetery in Gosfield, Essex.
On May 30, 1965, a televised tribute to Hylton, Stars Shining for Jack, was performed at the Drury Lane Theatre in London with many artists, including Arthur Askey, the Crazy Gang, Marlene Dietrich, Dickie Henderson and Shirley Bassey.

According to one legend, Jack Hylton "discovered" Audrey Hepburn to the world. As a producer, he was auditioning and screening for the London production of the Broadway musical Boots on Clasps. Audrey was one of ten girls selected from three thousand applicants.

In 1950, Hylton briefly reunited with several of his former musicians. In spite of rather successful concerts the band, tentatively called The Band that Jack Built, did not come to fruition.

1) The 400 Club was a night club at 28a Leicester Square, in the West End of London
2) Daily Herald is suburban Chicago's largest daily newspaper
3) “Mavra” is a one-act comic opera composed by Igor Stravinsky, and one of the earliest works of Stravinsky's neo-classical period. The libretto, by Boris Kochno is based on “The Little House in Kolomna” by Alexander Pushkin.
4) “She Shall Have Music” is a 1935 British musical comedy film directed by Leslie S. Hiscott and starring Jack Hylton, June Clyde and Claude Dampier