Wednesday, 06 July 2022

Jazz musicians and friends end on high note at age 94

Jazz musicians and friends end on high note at age 94

IT was the end of an era when a jazz concert in Henley on Saturday night drew to a close.

The event at Christ Church was the last of its kind to be organised by Ken Fitt on behalf of Henley Rotary Club.

Over the last 14 years the former schoolteacher has helped to organise 12 such concerts which raised more than £30,000 for good causes.

He decided that it was time to call it a day as he is now 94.

For his final show, Ken sang and played clarinet alongside his good friend and fellow nonagenarian Alan Grahame.

He said: “The whole show ran for about two-and-a-half hours and we finished with When The Saints Go Marching In or, in this case, go marching out.

“The big show was the Paul Sykes Band, which was absolutely superb, a very tight group.

“Alan and I played together and we did two sets of two songs. He played the vibraphone and also his ‘toys’, as he calls them. He played them with panache — you couldn’t believe a man could look like a star playing the triangle.

“Then we had singer Jenny Howe, who was wonderful, and I sang Baubles, Bangles and Beads and the band played the most wonderful backing music.

“Saturday night was worth being tired for afterwards as we had an appreciative crowd and I must say my friend performed incredibly considering his age.

“With Alan and I being 94, I thought it might be time to take a back seat. It is not just the playing, it’s doing the four choruses, too.”

The concert raised about £500, which will be split between Rotary International’s Ukraine relief effort and the Thames Valley Air Ambulance.

Ken, who lives in Ipsden with his second wife Gloria, 92, started playing the clarinet 79 years ago when he was 15 and is self-taught.

He said: “While I have been a teacher and headteacher as a career, I have always been a semi-pro musician — I just love music.

“Fourteen years ago, I contacted Henley Rotary Club and managed to convince them that what they were missing was a bit of jazz.

“We have had all kinds of bands playing. The Paul Sykes Band has played on three occasions and sometimes we have had bands we have just put together.

“The important thing is we have enjoyed it and if we are seen to be enjoying it, the audience will enjoy it too.

“The real highlight for me over the years was actually this last show. It is probably one of the best shows that we have done.

“I got to perform with Alan, a man who I absolutely adore. He has been a pro all his life and has always said to ask him what stars he hasn’t played with.”

Ken became an honorary member of Henley Rotary Club in 2005 and eight years later was awarded the Paul Harris Fellowship, which is named after the movement’s founder.

This is awarded from time to time in recognition of exceptional service to the community.

Ken has used his musical skills to entertain various community groups, including the Bluebells dementia day centre, and performs for people with Alzheimer’s disease and Down’s syndrome.

He was headteacher at the former Chiltern Edge School in Sonning Common from 1978 to 1986 and said: “Being a headteacher is quite hard work but I used to find if I went to a jazz gig it would lessen my temperature.

“It has been music and my wife that have got me to the age of 94. I do a lot of playing and my wife is my number one roadie and she doesn’t charge!

“On Monday I was playing for the Bluebells group at Christ Church and I believe that music is the best form of medicine. People were singing and dancing — what more could you want?”

Ken plans to keep playing for as long as he can.

He said: “I love the clarinet and have played it for 79 years. I just love the versatility of the instrument.

“The reason I like jazz is because you can get a group of people who have never met before and sit on a stage and you can play I’ve Got Rhythm in B flat and you will all do it and it feels like you have been playing together all your life.

“It is not the same, for example, with classical music where it has to be pinpoint sharp.”

The Fitts, who have five children, nine grandchildren and six great grandchildren between them, also have no plans to leave their home in order to downsize.

“We love it here,” said Ken. “Also my study is full of music and the thought of moving that somewhere else is beyond me. When I pop my clogs it will be someone else’s problem!”

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