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Jazz master dies at 83

A SOUTH Tyneside-born British jazz master – who once warned Frank Sinatra against making amorous advances towards his wife – has died at 83.

During a 70-year career, saxophonist Eddie Mordue played alongside some of the biggest names in the world of music and entertainment – from Sinatra to Judy Garland and Sammy Davis Junior to Gene Kelly.

His musical dexterity amazed ex-Beatle Sir Paul McCartney at a recording session, and during the 70s he was a featured musician on many of TV’s top-rated shows, including Morecambe and Wise, The Generation Game and The Two Ronnies.

But one of his most remarkable encounters came after World War Two, when Eddie and his glamorous wife at the time, talented singer Julie Dawn, were performing with Ol’ Blue Eyes.

His son, Lester, who lives in London, said: “Frank took a shine to Julie while rehearsing one day and, noticing she was with Eddie, sized him up during a break.

“Confronting Eddie in the bathroom, Frank looked at him and said ‘Julie Dawn?’.

“Not put off by a man who gets his own way, Eddie replied ‘She’s with me’ – and the matter never went any further.”

Today his niece, Angela Hawkes, from Durham, said her uncle enjoyed a “full and rewarding life right to the end”.

He had toured France with a big band tribute act just last month and then did a recording session at the BBC, in honour of band leader Jack Parnell, who died last year.

After the session he was taken ill with a chest infection and later suffered a heart attack.

Born in South Shields in January 1928, he was given his first saxophone by his father, Edwin, an amateur musician, who lived in Milton Street.

Eddie came to London at just 13 in 1941 and joined his first touring ensemble Archie’s Juvenile Band.

During the war years he perfected his style and technique, and played with various other big bands – on occasion appearing on the same bill as the world-famous Glenn Miller band.

Producing an irresistible sound on the tenor saxophone while with the Eric Winstone Band, he caught the attention of the lead female singer Julie Dawn, and they married after the war.

Joining the Jack Nathan Band in 1951, he became a regular at the London Palladium and as the West End jazz scene flourished, he soon went freelance, loaning his silky sounds to performances by Nat King Cole and Billie Holiday – with whom he played in her last-ever concert.

Lester said: “While performing at the Palladium he told of how one night the legendary Judy Garland sat on the edge of the stage, dangled her legs over the orchestra pit and wrapped them around his shoulders while singing Somewhere Over The Rainbow’.

“He later said that he felt her energy like ‘electricity’ running through him.”

With London in the colourful grip of the swinging 60s, more recordings followed, including tracks with Shirley Bassey, Dusty Springfield, and Alexis Korner.

Lester added: “Ever a cheeky chap, he once grabbed HRH Princess Margaret during a royal function, as nobody was dancing with her.

“After a couple of circuits he calmly rejoined the band, to the gasps of stunned onlookers.”

He remarried in 1967 to a German au pair girl, and he and wife Gudrun raised three sons.

During the 70s he played with the orchestras and bands on top British TV shows, including Roy Castle’s Record Breakers, on which he played the world’s smallest saxophone, a sopranino sax.

He even found the time to record with the Bee Gees and The Wombles, and once told how he “sweated like a pig” performing in a full-size costume as Orinocho while playing the tenor sax.

Eddie’s sight reading and timing abilities also saw him record for an increasing amount of movie soundtracks, including the Pink Panther with Henry Mancini and the James Bond films with John Barry, once touring Japan while promoting You Only Live Twice.

Recording for Paul McCartney on his solo album Give My Regards To Broad Street, Sir Paul asked: “Can you play that part again, only an octave higher?” but was amazed when Eddie did so with no pause.

Lester added: “Being the gentleman that he was, Eddie didn’t have the heart to tell him he only needed to press one key down to do it!”

Later touring Europe and Asia with Glenn Miller and Ted Heath tribute big bands, his love for the music never died, and his jazz roots were always close to his heart.

Lester added: “He was rarely unwell and on his final journey in the ambulance to hospital last week, his sense of humour never failed him.

“When he was asked ‘Are you allergic to anything?’he replied: ‘Yes, rock ‘n’ roll!’

Eddie is survived by his three sons Mark, Lester and Roland.

He still has family living in his hometown, including his sister, retired teacher Barbara Clark, of Central Avenue, and nephew Guy.

His funeral service is to be held at Golders Green Crematorium, in London, on Thursday, from 3pm, followed by a celebration concert in his memory at the city’s Hendon Hall.

paul.kelly@northeast-press.co.uk

 

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