Merton Cahm



Merton Cahm, who was on the earlyish Manchester Jazz scene, in the late 40s and 50s,  now lives in Tel Aviv, and is still playing clarinet and tenor sax., in both Dixieland and Classical Music settings. He sent me two photos which I’m attaching, and a lovely story to go with it. I’m summarising that. Talk about success stories, “local boy making good!”.


This slightly ageing ”local lad”, Merton Cahm, about the same age as Eric Lister,  who was also on the local scene in the mid-40s – Eric also happens to be Merton’s first cousin - returned recently to Israel from a gig at the Waldorf Astoria, New York, no less!, during which, towards the end of a 10-day tour of the USA by the Israel Philharmonic (Merton’s employers), the 82-year old Tony Bennett sang three songs with the orchestra, arranged during a rehearsal (for the whole orchestra) by Tony Bennett’s accompanist (pianist), Les Musicker. It only took him ten minutes to write out the three arrangements for a whole orchestra! The only one that Merton can recall out of the three is “Somewhere”.  The intention of the tour was to raise money to keep this wonderful orchestra going, because the Israeli Government contributes little towards it.


The music that the orchestra was playing in the USA was all Leonard Bernstein material, mostly from “West Side Story”. Rita Moreno, a dancer from the original film cast, danced during the tour at the age of 76, when the orchestra was in San Francisco and Los Angeles . She remembered all the steps. Merton said that when he got back, it took him a week to get over the jetlag.


Dyed-in-the-wool New Orleans Clarinetist Eric Lister (who used to play a ‘simple system’ clarinet), and who many local musicians remember well, was in the Merchant Navy towards the end of WWII, so Merton tells me, and was actually on that famous troopship, the R.M.S. “Mauritania”, which finally brought the only remaining British troops back to Liverpool in 1945, from various parts of the world. In February 1946, she was back over the Atlantic to deliver “War Brides and War Children” of Canadian servicemen, to Halifax , Nova Scotia . In September 1946, the ship returned to Liverpool , for a refit back to her normal cruise-liner role, by Cammell-Laird’s, promptly going back into service with Cunard.


It was while the ship was on her troop-transporting run, that Eric Lister played and sang with several bands in the USA , especially in San Francisco and New York , which were regular ports of call for the “ Mauritania ”. It was there that he learnt how to sing Jazz in a totally American style, for which he became famous when back in Manchester . Merton said:


 “… This gave him the opportunity to hear a lot of live music and I remember him bringing Back loads of stuff on the old Commodore label. That started me listening and in those days there were not many places in     town where you could hear live Jazz …”  


One of the accompanying photographs shows Tony Bennett at the “Waldorf Astoria”, talking to two guests. The other photo, from the same venue, shows three friends from Tel Aviv from the reeds section of the orchestra. Left-to-right: “Gan Lev” (bass sax., alto sax.); “Merton Cahm” (tenor sax./clarinet) and Dror Ben-Gur (baritone sax./alto sax.) who lives and works in New York. Merton worked with him in Israel over ten years before. Merton said: “… for him, it was like a holiday getting together with his old mates …’ I seem to recall that Merton had taught this brilliant young musician, as well as playing in orchestras with him.


I have had the pleasure of hearing Merton Cahm on one or two recordings. His tenor-playing is magnificent, even now! It is not surprising that his former pupil has such a great future in New York . Merton is a great ‘modernist’ but can swap styles to perfect Dixieland with the greatest of ease. I believe he’s an excellent clarinettist too. He’s sending me a CD shortly (of the Dixieland group he plays with regularly).


Joe Silmon - 04/04/08


I see you mention Eric Lister clarinet. It may interest you to know that he sat in with Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie in the 1940's when he visited New York. Not having much repertoire in common they played Swing Low Sweet Chariot. I knew Eric and I think this was in his obituary in the Times. He also had Charlie Watts in his band until he went off and joined a R&B covers combo but I can't remember their name.


Also he ran a Friday night mainstream session in the Troubadour in Earls Court, London for many years I think from, the early 60's onwards. Many well known jazz musicians would have sat in or depped in his sessions.


Mark O'Connor - 16/03/11



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