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  • Duncan Lamont RIP

    Duncan Lamont, saxophonist who worked with Sinatra and other greats but became best known for composing the music for ‘Mr Benn’ – obituary



    Duncan Lamont in 2002
    CREDIT: PETER SYMES/REDFERNS

    Telegraph Obituaries

    30 JULY 2019 • 8:00PM
    Duncan Lamont, who has died two days short of his 88th birthday, was a saxophonist prominent among London’s elite body of studio musicians; he was also a jazz soloist, a composer and a successful songwriter, and was perhaps best known for the music for Mr Benn.

    Born in Greenock on July 4 1931 into a family of amateur musicians, Lamont took up the trumpet at age seven “because, at 30 shillings, it was the cheapest instrument in the second-hand shop”.

    At 13 he began playing in local dance bands and, although he claimed to have been sacked from every band in Greenock, in 1951 he gained an award at a contest staged by Melody Maker.

    One of the judges, the bandleader Kenny Graham, offered him a job and he played with Graham’s band in London for a few months before returning home. Lamont later admitted that the whole idea of London had frightened him.

    Back in Greenock, he made the radical change from trumpet to saxophone and, in a remarkably short time was playing in some of Britain’s most popular big bands, including those of Ken Mackintosh, Jack Parnell and Geraldo. In 1958 he toured in the US with the Vic Lewis orchestra.

    The rise of commercial television in the later 1950s brought a growing demand for recorded music. Like many musicians, Lamont found the intensity of studio
    work stressful at first.

    L
    Avoiding the hazards of drink and drugs, he took up yoga and claimed that his anxieties had vanished within a week. Certainly, those who encountered him in later years often commented on his relaxed and gently self-deprecating manner. He was once heard to observe, after improvising a particularly shapely tenor saxophone solo, that it would make a nice background to a seedy nightclub scene.

    Immersed in playing studio music, Lamont began composing it, too. Much of his work here consisted of what is known as library music – generic pieces to fit given moods, atmospheres and so on.

    However, probably his best-loved music for television is the theme and incidental music to the BBC children’s series Mr Benn (1970), a collaboration with the artist David McKie which has since gained its own innocent cult following among people of a certain age. Among his other works are A Young Person’s Guide To
    The Jazz Orchestra, The Soho Suite and The Sherlock Holmes Suite (with Spike Milligan).

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    Lamont, far left, at the Marquee Club in 1962, with his fellow tenor sax players, l-r, Bobby Wellins, Ronnie Scott and Don Rendell
    CREDIT: POPPERFOTO VIA GETTY IMAGES

    All this had to fit into the life of a performing musician, much of it now taken up by touring with stars such as Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee, Henry Mancini and Sammy Davis Jnr. “They were part of my working life. I didn’t know them on a personal level. The ones I got to know well were players and composers: George Shearing, Benny Carter, Gil Evans – and songwriters, of course.”

    Songwriting had been a parallel career for Lamont for several decades. With his background in jazz and experience of working with masters of American song, such as Sinatra, his style is rooted in that tradition. The melodies are catchy, the harmonies subtle, and Lamont’s lyrics have a wry understatement that recalls the man himself.

    He revealed in a recent interview that he tried to write a song every day. One could never tell, he said, when something promising might turn up.

    Unsurprisingly, his work has attracted some of the most discerning singers. Natalie Cole, Cleo Laine, Norma Winstone, Tina May and Blossom Dearie have all recorded Duncan Lamont songs, as well as his fellow composer Richard Rodney Bennett.

    Several of these, such as I Told You So, Not You Again, Manhattan in the Rain and An Empty Space, are now regarded as standards. Indeed in the US he was known as a songwriter. People there were often surprised to learn that he also played the saxophone.

    Duncan Lamont gave his final performance, with his band, and singers Tina May and Esther Bennett, at the 606 Club in Chelsea, on July 1. He is survived by his sons, Duncan Jnr and Ross, both musicians. His wife predeceased him.

    Duncan Lamont, born July 4 1931, died July 2 2019
    Last edited by Maurice; 31st July 2019, 11:08 PM.
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