Tributes to Jim Wilkes

Jim Wilkes Memorial Concert at Waterfoot  New Millennium Theatre, 23rd Dec 2006
Photos by Barry Aldous

Dorothy was present with some of the family.

Len Taylor and his wife, Mary organised the event and Roger Winpenny lead the band on Cornet/Trumpet.


03/07/06 - I've just been given the news from Barry Aldous that Jim Wilkes died today. I have no further information at this time but I'm sure you will all join me in passing on our deepest sympathy to his wife and family. Jim was indeed very special to many of us, he was always so bright and cheerful. His natural flair as a 'front man' as well as his musicianship surpassed many. Nobody could tell a story like Jim, and his imagination knew no bounds when it came to leading up to announcing the title of the next number. Thanks for the memories Jim.  

Fred Burnett 

04/07/06 - It was very sad today to hear that Jim Wilkes had passed away. As one of Jims "Rascals" I have a lot of respect for Jim, not only as a Trumpet Player, Front man, Vocalist and everything else that Jim was but as a friend. I was always made welcome when "Guesting" with his band "The Jim Wilkes Stompers" and was delighted when he asked me to become the regular bass player of "The Rascals". 

As a member of "The Festival Jazzmen" we had Jim dep with us on many occasions and we all looked forward to his appearance with the band. His narratives, Jokes, Vocals and Musicianship always made the night a memorable one. Rest in peace Jim we will never forget you. Our thoughts are also for Dorothy who must be so proud of "Her Jim" - God bless, 

Gerry & Margaret Clayton 

04/07/06 - Jim made so many of us happy in his company, both as a Jazz musician and as a great and very warm person. He had true charisma and will be mourned and remembered forever, by thousands. 

We played in completely different styles, but when we did get together, we bounced Jazz off each other and it was, I think pretty good, certainly what Jim played was. There was a distinct empathy between us there among the sparks that ignite when you play Jazz and you plug in to a stream of collective phrasing in which the participants are thinking as one. We loved each other's playing. One last session would have been nice, Jim. 

Joe Silmon

04/07/06 - We are all saddened to hear of the passing of our dear friend Jim Wilkes. He was a great larger than life character always full of enthusiasm whatever the gig and a very fine trumpet player, and front man. He played with The Festival Jazzmen on numerous occasions and was great fun always making up his own words to well known Jazz Tunes on the spur of the moment. We will all miss him so much and would like to pass on our sincere condolence to Dorothy and his family. We will never forget him. 

Cyril & Nora Wroe & The Festival Jazzmen.

04/07/06 - I was very sorry to hear about Jim Wilkes. He was a great entertainer and always willing to dep if free.

Keith Allcock

05/07/06 - Terribly sad news re Jim Wilkes, such a lively positive personality, yet another enormous loss to our Northwest Jazz world. Jim had depped for me in the past and I know how impressed the band were with the way he led, so many musicians and fans will miss him.

Richard Knock

06/07/06 - Just like to say that we at Winston's Pennine Jazz ( on the other side of the hill) were very saddened to here about Jim leaving us. I worked with Jim regularly in the Tom Roberts Jazz Band and Jim also helped us out here at Pennine a few times. We will all miss his great skills as a trumpeter, entertainer and above all his qualities as a damn fine bloke, but of course there will be many great memories for us all, our best wishes to those closest to Jim. It was great Jim cheers Mate!!! 

Eugene Farrar.

12/07/06 - Jim's passing will be a great sadness to many people who knew Jim, whether as a friend or acquaintance.   His bubbly nature drew people to him. He will be sadly missed

Tom Power

13/07/06 - I well remember the effervesent Jim Wilkes making frequent trips to the Buxton area in the late eighties and early ninties to play with the Bibbington Limeburners and the Hot Spa Stompers. Playing alongside Ged Hone, Geoff Hallam, Stewart Scott, Chris Brown, Trevor Trueman, Dave Aspinall and a very young Spats Langham, to name but a few. His infectious enthusiasm for the music and his ability to grasp the attention of any audience were a delight to behold. Sadly the likes of Jim Wilkes with his multifarious musical talents are almost irreplaceable. 

You have made a great contribution to the jazz scene Jim and I know that you will be missed by many more people than you would ever have believed possible. 

Roger Marshall
Dove Jazz Club

13/07/06 - Thanks for the info on Jim Wilkes. I would like to pass on my deepest sympathy to his family. If you are in contact I would be very grateful if you would do so for us all at Feast of Jazz.  We are unable to attend his funeral so please give them our regards.

Brian Gumbley & Toni Stanczyk

20/07/06 - Many jazz fans will have been devastated to hear of the death of Jim Wilkes. The jazz world has lost one of the most popular bandleaders ever to grace the jazz stage. I first met Jim when Eagley Jazz Club was born in Bolton twenty years ago, and I soon realised what an exceptional man he was. He was obviously a top quality musician, but he had other oustanding qualities. He was a natural showman who got great personal happiness within himself when he was performing, and he knew exactly how to pass his happiness on to his audience. At the end of a concert where Jim and his Stompers had performed, all of his audience went home with a smile on their faces. 

I have many happy memories of Jim, but one stands out above all others. About ten years ago Jim was diagnosed with a serious illness and underwent c
onsiderable medical treatment over a long period. Finally, the doctors gave Jim the all clear. That night he was playing at Eagley and our concert should have finished at 11-15pm, but at midnight Jim and his Stompers were still playing. I couldn’t get Jim off the stage. He was so delighted to have been given the good news, and his delight came through in his music.

We are going to miss you Jim, but I am certain of one thing. When you walked through the Pearly Gates, the first thing you will have done is get your hands on a trumpet and your new found friends will be in for some great jazz nights.

Bernard Callaghan
Eagley Jazz Club

21/07/06 - Dear old Jim, what a great guy. I owe lots to Jim because it was he who invited me to join his band playing at The Anchor, Brighouse, when I had moved up from Pontypool to Harrogate in 1974. I had very little band playing experience, and playing with The Anchor Jazz Band as it was known, under Jim's spontaneous direction was a great learning experience. We made a recording on Palm Sunday in 1975 and recently Jim transferred the recording to CD. When The Anchor changed hands and the Band played its last gig there, Dave Cooper the reeds player commented, "It's the end of an era". And these words go through my head when I think of Jim leaving us to play on.

Malcolm Hogarth

22/07/06 - Coming back from two weeks in Canada we were so sad to hear of the death of Jim Wilkes. We knew he was in hospital before we went and sent him a card from our grandson Phillip and ourselves. Jim was a fine musician and raconteur with a lovely nature and he also had a kind and generous outlook on life, For example ,when he heard of Phillip's interest in music initially at the age nine he gave him a small accordion. It was typical of the man that he always gave a lot of support to young musicians. He is a musical legend who will be sorely missed. 

Kay & Phil Turner

23/07/06 - Dear Fred, I particularly want mention my dear friend Jim Wilkes, who died recently. He and I played together in North Yorkshire with our quartet and trio in the 1960s and since he subsequently lived in Rochdale for many years and I am in Birmingham, we used to meet mid-way about once a month for lunch and to put the world right. He played with my band, Syncopated Rhythm, in February this year and I have special memories of that occasion and very many others over our 42 year friendship. Many thanks

Ian Cockerill

I sang with Jim just once, for the Heartbeat Charity Night,  and I feel so privileged that I had the experience. It was a great night, he was a great performer.

Sue Parish

Reproduced by kind permission of Howard Maude, Dennis Harrison and Just Jazz Magazine March 2007

A memorial concert was held for the late Jim Wilkes on Saturday, 23 December, 2006, at the New Millennium Theatre, Waterfoot, Lancashire, to celebrate the life and musical career of an exceptional entertainer. Attending were family, friends and musicians who paid tribute to this larger-than-life character who, in a style all of his own, had provided over many years a unique contribution to the jazz scene, both to the North and further afield. Jim was equally at home whether playing at jazz dubs, horse racing meetings, corporate functions, weddings, birthday parties, or opening retail outlets with just himself and a banjo player. It is rumoured that on one occasion he played his trumpet whilst ascending in a hot air balloon, a feat which I can well believe did happen.

Although trumpet was his prime choice of instrument, he was an exceptionally talented vibes player too. Anyone witnessing his playing of this instrument were advised not to sit too close, as holding two hammers n each hand during a frenzied solo could result in hammer heads joining the audience without warning. It was a spectacle not to be missed.

As an assistant head teacher in Rochdale, Lancs., his annual school Christmas concerts were legendary. Reluctant at first to be involved, his charges soon realised it was the thing to be in and eventually there were cries of “please sir, find a part for me.” Jim always managed to, and no one was ever left out, regardless as to the number of pupils currently at the school.

During the mid-1970s, Sunday lunchtime jazz sessions at the Anchor Inn, Brighouse, West Yorkshire, drew capacity audiences. Licensee Rod Marshall, himself a jazz musician, would sometimes join the band, either on piano or flute. Other noticeable musicians who played in Jim’s team have included the late Dave Cooper (reeds), Malcolm Hogarth (piano), Paul Harrison (reeds), and occasionally, when in the area, the late Red Price (reeds) would offer an inspiring and always well-received contribution.

From originating the Anchor Jazz Band, Jim later formed the Scammonden Stompers, playing mainly in the Yorkshire area. This band evolved into the current Jim Wilkes’ Stompers.

Jim’s ability to engage with an audience through linking the performance of the band with inventive stories was second to none. Many subsequently checked, via the Internet, Jim’s facts, and on occasions actually found them perfectly correct. His vocals, sometimes employing ad lib lyrics of the topics of the day, were again a great asset to any individual session.

A week or so before received the sad news of Jim’s passing, he told me that he felt he was nearing the end of his final performance. Following an earlier cancer scare, he said that he had enjoyed ten bonus years of life. During this time the 
band members often suggested that he eased off a little, but this had no effect. He could not change the habits of a lifetime.

Determined and always offering jazz music with an entertaining edge to it, he played his last full band gig at the Conservative Club in Sale, Cheshire, on Friday evening, 28 April, 2006. We could tell all was not well. Jim completed the session in true professional style, but was noticeably tired and exhausted.

After a short spell in hospital, he sadly passed away at his home in the company of his family on July 3,2006.

I regard myself as truly fortunate and indeed privileged to have been a member of his bands, and to have held his friendship for over thirty years. He will be sadly missed by all those who knew him and who had had the pleasure of his company both on and off the stand.

The memorial concert raised over £650.0O, and a cheque to this value will be handed to a representative of the Marie Curie Cancer Foundation in due course.

A note of Jim Wilkes’ early involvement with jazz music follows, by his long time friend, pianist Derek Harrison.

Howard Maude

Early Music Days at Dudley Teacher Training College Dining Dudley College in September, 1955, I was soon involved in forming a college jazz band. We played at college dances and local functions, and were quickly aware of a tall, thin figure with a shock of black hair, clearly infected by the spirit of our music. A first year student like myself, Jim Wilkes eventually asked, “What can I do to get in the band?” I suggested he learned the banjo — since this was the only instrument we didn’t have. Alter the Christmas break, Jim returned to college on a motorbike, with a banjo sticking out of his waterproof jacket. And — it turned out — he could play it!

We shared chords and tune structures, and Jim rapidly became a key figure in the band. Together we went to hear Louis Armstrong at Birmingham Symphony Hall, relished Eddie Condon’s book, ‘We Called It Music' and played at prestigious gigs in Dudley Town Hall for two pounds ten shillings each — (two Greenbacks and a Redback!). At one stage, Jim realised he had strung his banjo like a guitar, and re-tuning it the orthodox way, patiently learned his chords all over again — to the intense frustration of other band members.

I recall one evening when we played a Conservative Ball in Stourbridge Town Hall, Jim insisted that we play Maryland, My Maryland — which jazz fans will know has the tune to the Labour Party anthem, The Red Flag, as its main theme. There were strong protests from an apoplectic colonel type below the stage, and we came close to being invited to leave! Jim practised his banjo in his room, much to the irritation of the violin playing, classical music loving ‘Matron’ of the Hall of Residence. On arriving for the first day of a new term with an even larger banjo case strapped to the pillion of his motor bike, she was heard to desperately exclaim, “Oh! Not another banjo Mr. Wilkes!!” On one more occasion in my many memories of Jim, the band played on a lorry around the streets of Dudley during a College Rag Day, including an unplanned concert in the market square. At the end of the busy day, the vellum of Jim’s banjo was spattered with blood from his enthusiastic playing.

Even then — Jim gave his all to every performance!

Derek Harrison

11/06/17 -

Page of the week (11/06/17) about Jim Wilkes brought back some great memories from some fifteen or twenty years ago when, as a former brass band cornet player I was trying to master the mysteries of jazz. I met him just a few times, the first of which was at Eagley jazz club and he was so enthusiastic about helping me. He sent me some information on chords and invited me to his house for a lesson on how to find my way around them. The back room of his house was filled with a baby grand piano and the walls covered in pictures of him performing on an array of different instruments. With great patience he explained how things worked and played along with my stumbling trumpet solos, then as I started to catch on, he played with increasing enjoyment and kept encouraging me to "go for it". It is a session I will never forget - even though I was a rank beginner he took great delight in the music and I can clearly picture his smile of quiet satisfaction when his wife called through that it was fish and chips for tea.

Some time after that Jim became the first jazzer to invite me to sit in with his band - I felt hugely honoured and he treated me like a musical equal when, quite obviously I wasn't. Never the less he assured me I was on the right track and his encouragement helped me to finally get the hang of it.

Later, as leader of a band and with his blessing, I often sang his song "Life is Brief", the lyrics of which reflect his positive outlook on life. I still sing it now, and when fronting a band and communicating with an audience, am greatly influenced by Jim. He was a great entertainer but more than that he was a lovely chap with a big heart: one of the great characters that make the jazz scene so rewarding and enjoyable.

John Percival


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