Ed O’Donnell

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ED O’DONNELL, who was the doyen of the Leeds jazz scene for more than 60 years, has died aged 87.

The tall, bearded trombonist founded some of the leading jazz bands in the city having turned his back on a professional career in London, and was still playing the authentic New Orleans sound that he favoured until the final weeks of his life.

The funeral of Ed O'Donnell at Lawnswood Cemetary, Leeds

The funeral of Ed O'Donnell at Lawnswood Cemetary, Leeds

It was one of those chance meetings in life which led him into jazz bands, although he had already been influenced by the music when he was 15 by trumpeter Jim Leonard, and had taken lessons on the trombone.

In 1948, when walking past Leeds College of Art during his lunch break and hearing music, he went inside. He found several students practising who turned out to be the Vernon Street Ramblers and included such talent as Diz Disley on banjo,and clarinettist Alan Cooper who went on to be a founder member of the Temperance Seven.

They said if he wanted to play it would be good if he worked there, so he signed up for a jewellery design course and his playing days took off at venues such as the Adelphi and the now defunct Royal, in Leeds, as well as in Manchester and London. He went on to found the Paramount Jazz Band, the first of many he helped put together including the White Eagles and the Yorkshire Jazz Band. He also played in the Yorkshire Post Jazz Band for a while.

In 1954 he was asked by Ken Colyer, the jazz trumpeter and devotee of New Orleans jazz, to join his band and found himself in London playing alongside Acker Bilk, with whom he shared digs in Earls Court, and Chris Barber.

Ed O'Donnell, Leeds jazz player

Ed O'Donnell, Leeds jazz player

He eventually decided that the London life was not for him and returned to Leeds. Shortly after Acker Bilk, who had left the band soon after, asked him to join him in getting a band together. But the thought of the travelling, and living on a pittance in London, decided him against it.

He was born Dominic Edward O’Donnell in East Leeds, the younger child of Edward and Emma O’Donnell. His mother was a classical pianist who taught the piano in a private school while his father, who had been badly injured during the First World War, was an administrative worker for Leeds Corporation.

He was educated at Corpus Christi Roman Catholic School and attended the local church where he was an altar boy. When he left school at 14 he worked in a solicitor’s office by day and learned shorthand and typing at Pitman’s College at night.

When he was called up for National Service, he was sent as a Bevin Boy to work in the coal mines of Barnsley and Middleton for three years.

It was after returning to civilian life, and once again working in an office, that he met the jazz playing students.

Having studied at the Art College, where he met his wife Ann who was also studying jewellery design, he swapped his life as a professional jazz player for being a lecturer in hand engraving at the college after returning from London in 1954.

His playing days now were rooted in West Yorkshire, in pubs and clubs, at dances and rag balls and all for the love and passion of jazz.

He returned briefly to the heady days when in 1988 he was part of a reunion of the Yorkshire Jazz Band which included Diz Disley and Alan Cooper, and which was filmed by Yorkshire Television as a tribute to the band’s achievements. In 2004 he returned to London and performed at the South Bank in a reunion concert in memory of Ken Colyer alongside Disley and Acker Bilk.

His final performance came three weeks before he died.

His life in jazz left little time for hobbies and other interests, but he did enjoy horse riding and every summer for many years he would ride the quiet mountain tracks of the Sierra Nevada in the Andalucia region of Spain.

Mr O’Donnell is survived by his wife Ann, daughters Frances and Kate, and grandchildren Naomi and Nathaniel.