Sax player Kathy dies at the age of 89

BIG SOUND ... South Shields-born tenor saxophonist Kathy Stobart.
BIG SOUND ... South Shields-born tenor saxophonist Kathy Stobart.

SHE has been described as one of the finest jazz soloists of her generation.

She was South Shields-born tenor saxophonist and band leader Kathy Stobart, who has died at the age of 89.

In her time, she played in the London haunt of stars such as Bing Crosby and Bob Hope, and with some of the greats of the jazz world, such as Humphrey Lyttelton, with whom she recorded.

All of which was a far cry from being a member of the Shields Gazette Smilers’ Club!

Her family lived in Mariners’ Cottages in the town, and the young Kathy, daughter of a police inspector, Matthew, and his wife, Jessie, attended Westoe Central School. She was also a member of Westoe Ladies’ Swimming Club.

She grew up with music. Her mother was a first-class pianist, and her brothers, Ralph and Billy, were saxophonists.

It was with a borrowed saxophone from one of her brothers that she had her first try-out, with Don Rico’s Ladies’ Swing Band, which toured Britain for a year early on during the Second World War, supporting entertainers such as the singer Gracie Fields.

After Rico’s band broke up, she returned to the North East and joined the Peter Fielding ballroom orchestra at the old Oxford Galleries in Newcastle. Thanks to coaching from distinguished saxophonists, such as Keith Bird, she went on to play legendary venues such as London’s Embassy Club, as well as broadcasting on the BBC’s Jazz Club.

At the end of the war she married her first husband, Canadian pianist Art Thompson.

After the war she played with the Vic Lewis Orchestra, with which she established her international reputation on records, radio and stage, as a saxophone soloist and vocalist.

She subsequently formed her own band, which included the trumpeter Bert Courtley, whom she married in 1951. They would go on to have three sons.

Further success followed including an album, Kath Meets Humph, with the legendary Humphrey Lyttelton. They would continue their association until Kathleen’s retirement 10 years ago, Kathleen rejoining Lyttelton permanently after Bert Courtley’s death in 1969.

He is reported to have described her as having a “huge, booming sound, imbued with total originality and commanding presence”.

Over the years she embraced other instruments, such as the clarinet, in her repertoire. She also taught at the City Literary Institute in London, and after settling eventually in Devon.

She is survived by her sons, David, Peter and Paul.