A Piano Prodigy from the age of three, Jazz was Roy Budd’s first love. From that age, when he was already tapping Knees Up Mother Brown with one finger, the piano effortlessly remained his favourite instrument.
“I have no idea of how the music comes. When I hear the a tune I just sit down at the piano and the music flows from my fingers.” Roy, aged 10 (1957)
Self taught, Roy had already won several contests. In 1952 he met one of his favourite pianists, Winifred Atwell, who was staggered as she listened to him playing on one of her own pianos in her own inimitable style. She said, “I’ve never seen anything like it, his sense of rhythm is superb. There’s a real genius here all right”. Atwell tried to persuade his parents to send him to New York, offering to prepare a very special reception with her Fan Club after having made him an Honorary Member. She kept in touch writing letters to Roy and his parents from time to time.
His Official Debut
A few months later in 1953 he made his official debut, performing at the renowned London Coliseum, on the same bill as Bernard Braden & Barbara Kelly, Elaine Delmar and Roy Castle.
In the early 50’s, the great entertainer Liberace came to hear of a young piano player in London, who, according to Winnie Atwell, was playing the piano in his distinctive style. Winnie was of course talking about Roy, and Liberace decided that he had to meet him, so sent tickets to Roy and his parents so they could meet after his next show in the UK. Roy and his parents went along, but were unable to get beyond Liberace’s bodyguard, who did not believe that Roy really did have an appointment with the great entertainer! On learning of this, Liberace wrote again to Roy, this time including a personal note on a photo, so that next time Roy could prove he had an appointment.
“To Roy, I am sorry we did not meet on my last visit to your lovely country. It is my hope that we may become acquainted on my next visit. Keep happy and busy and always enjoy your music. May God bless you, from your friend and fellow Pianist, Liberace, 12.2.53”
TV And Radio Star
At fifteen, his passion for Jazz was such that he started to perform professionally. Being regularly nominated and winning at Classical Venues, Jazz Pools and Contests as Best Pianist (for five consecutive years). Those performances took him around the world and on to some of the world’s best known stages. By this time he was a star attraction on both Television and Radio and had started to write his first Jazz compositions.
When he turned sixteen, Roy started to form a quartet with musicians ten years his senior – with David May on Drums, Pete Smith on Guitar, either Graham Jones or Steve Clark on Bass – they played at the ‘Green Man’ and at the ‘Lillipop Hall’ at Tower Bridge.
David May recollected that “people used to come from all over to see him; no-one gave me the drive and the sense of swing that he did”. He also remembers that Roy was obsessed with old Horror Movies and that he had crossed over London to go two or three times a week to the Edgware Cinema to see them. “His mind was always working at a hundred miles an hour”, said David, “He was only relaxing when he was going fishing”.
In 1967, he produced his first LP, Roy Budd at Newport.
He appeared on stage with such Artists as Mel Torme, Jack Benny, Bob Hope, Sarah Vaughan, Oscar Peterson, Ray Brown, Woody Herman, Vic Damone, Tony Bennett, Sammy Davis Jnr, Leo Sayer, Dick Morrissey, Shirley Bassey and Aretha Franklin.
One of his favourite pastimes was to arrange with his friends, Howard Keil, Antônio Carlos Jobim and Dudley Moore, playing and singing along with them in the privacy of their own homes.
Antônio Carlos Jobim
Roy’s attraction for Brazilian Rhythms took him to Rio de Janiero where he met Antônio Carlos Jobim “Tom”. They became very close friends and Roy always arranged to visit Tom every year or two for the rest of his life. He helped to organise a concert for Tom, Venicius de Moraes and Toquinho at the London Palladium, where Roy himself used to perform as a very young boy when Sunday Nights were hosted by Bruce Forsyth.
His Definitive Trio
Roy created his definitive Trio together at the age of 16, with Chris Karan on Drums and Pete Morgan on Bass. As Roy was so fond of Brazilian Rhythms, his percussionist Chris, researched Brazilian musical instruments and became something of a specialist on the Berimbau.
The Roy Budd Trio continued to play together at thousands of events around the world for over 40 years.
Pete Morgan – His Bassist
Peter Morgan recollects meeting Roy in 1965 at the ‘Cool Elephant’ a venue on Regent Street. Dudley Moore, also a lifetime friend of Roy’s, was already performing there and they used the same musicians for a few years and shared them when they formed their own respective Trios.
Peter remembers, “the connection between Roy and I was such that we were able to play any song in any key – for example – How High Is The Moon in the key of G, would be played in the key of B or G Flat. Never any practice, it was a marvellous challenge with Roy, always pushing us to the limit, most musicians play in written original key, but not Roy, the flexibility with him was total.”
Chris Karan – His Drummer
In 1965, Chris Karan was also playing Drums with either Dudley Moore or John Dankworth, and still vividly remembers the day he met Roy at the ‘Cool Elephant’, a very smart London Society place. “I came early that day, around 6pm, and noticed that a private reception was taking place in a lower part of the venue. I heard this incredible pianist, with a sound that no-one had ever heard in England. I thought it was an American Star and I rushed downstairs to be struck and amazed. He was so young, virtually adolescent, but so talented with an incredible technique. He had everything; the feeling, the music, the style – something unique was really there. When he stopped playing I introduced myself. He said he liked Oscar Peterson and asked, “so when can we play?” – and two days later, Roy asked me to join him at the ‘Bulls Head’ in Barnes, with Tony Archer, his usual Bass player at the time, then everything came along so fast. Five times a week, a regular rhythm session, then TV spots on the David Frost Show – Tony Hatch was so impressed, he asked Roy to sign for eight LPs.”
Every time Roy had to perform, they were there like brothers right up until his last gig which was a 24 hour show for Roy’s Foundation.
Roy and Bob Hope met briefly when, at the age of 19, Roy performed in LA at a screening of his first film score for Soldier Blue. Bob was very impressed with Roy’s talents at such a young age, and Soldier Blue became one of his favourite films. A year later, Bob discovered that Roy was also a jazz pianist, and became a lifelong fan of his work, asking him to perform at many of the Bob Hope charity events over the next 30 years (1990 was their last performance together).