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Legendary bandleader dies aged 87

PUBLISHED: 08:45 10 August 2010 | UPDATED: 09:49 16 September 2010

BANDLEADER Jack Parnell whose music brought television programmes to life and who drummed in front of audiences across Norfolk and Suffolk has died at his home in Southwold.

BANDLEADER Jack Parnell whose music brought television programmes to life and who drummed in front of audiences across Norfolk and Suffolk has died at his home in Southwold.

Famed for leading the music on The Muppet Show and playing with the Ted Heath Orchestra in the 1940s and 50s, he died on Sunday following a year-long battle with cancer, aged 87.

He had also suffered from the lung disorder chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

His distinguished career spanned nearly seven decades and saw him named best drummer in the annual Melody Maker awards for many years and working as musical director at the independent television company ATV for 26 years before moving to the Suffolk coast in 1982.

Mr Parnell, who was born into a musical family and studied piano before concentrating on the drums, made his performing debut on the seafront at Scarborough and joined a band while serving in the RAF.

He then went on to work in broadcasting and provided music for shows including Sunday Night at the London Palladium and The Golden Shot.

Mr Parnell died just two days after his 87th birthday, at which he raised a glass of champagne with his family at home.

His son Will, who is also a composer, said: “He was determined to make it to see his birthday.”

After 'retiring' to Southwold, he continued to perform locally until three years ago and played at the popular jazz nights at the Red Lion in Thorpe St Andrew and later at the Green Man in Rackheath.

Mike Capocci, who played piano in a jazz trio with Mr Parnell in Norwich, said he was proud to have played alongside him.

“I'm proud to have been a small part of his illustrious career. He was such a modest man, he knew all the big American stars from his time working on television, but he never bragged about it. We will miss him terribly,” he said.

Denise Griffiths, manager of the Green Man and landlord Derek Jennings, said: “We were really sad to hear the news, it is a big loss to the jazz industry.

“He was a wonderful and very talented gentleman with many a story to tell. It was a privilege to have him play here.

“He always had so many jokes and tales to tell. He would sometimes stand at the microphone and talk and the whole audience would be rocking with him, it was wonderful to see.”

His musical talent was enjoyed all over the region, as he supported the Southwold Jazz Festival when it started in 1998 and played at various locations including in Lowestoft, Great Yarmouth and at the Norwich Arts Centre.

Television and radio presenter Paul Barnes, who had met and interviewed Mr Parnell on numerous occasions, said: “The thing that struck me about him was his tremendous sense of humour, but at the same time there was always the sense that he wanted to be taken more seriously in terms of his music.

“He started out as a jazz drummer and then played in big bands and swing bands and was essentially a popular musician, as they were the star turns of their day, and he always said he was never cut out to be a pop star.

“The first time I met him was at his home in Southwold and I was surprised to see a harpsichord in one of the rooms and to learn that he played extremely serious pieces of music on it, and at one time he even conducted the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra - albeit for a programme of light music.”

He added: “He always had great stories to tell, he was a great man, fabulous fun to be with and he was extremely popular. He will be sadly missed.”

Mr Parnell, who was a keen golfer, leaves his widow Veronica, three sons and two daughters.

This Saturday's (August 14) edition of The Late Paul Barnes Show, which is broadcast on Radio Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex, Kent, Cambridgeshire, Northampton and 3CR at 11pm, will include highlights from Mr Parnell's career.


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