Lew Davis, Al Bowlly home movie discovery

we are grateful to the family of Lew Davis for making this movie available

this page first published by John Wright, 16 March 2002
last updated 5 March 2012vintage@r2ok.co.uk
In January 2001 I received this mail:

Mr Wright,

My grandfather was Lew Davis, jazz trombonist of the twenties and thirties. I would love to know if you have any pictures of him with the bands or any info on him in general. Many thanks. Kate

Of course I had pictures of Lew Davis, with Ambrose on LP covers and one with Ray Noble’s band at an airport, so I scanned these and sent them to Kate. Kate’s mother is Lew’s daughter Babette. I asked the family if I could write a tribute webpage to Lew Davis, they were delighted especially Babs and I quickly published a few short paragraphs describing Lew’s career and some of the great recordings he was involved in e.g. with Bert Ambrose and also his own Trombone Trio. I also included short sound clips of Lew playing his beloved trombone. Kate had to fly off somewhere and another family member Ian took up the discussions. During the next month or so I advised the family on which CD’s to look out for featuring Lew Davis and we were able to confirm Lew’s presence in more photos and cartoons which I placed on the website. That seemed the end of it, we’d put together all we knew about Lew.
Then Ian’s dad, Tony, who is Kate’s step-brother, suddenly wrote to me:

Mr Wright,
I know you have been in touch with my step-sister Kate and also my son Ian. Has either of them mentioned the home movie of the Ray Noble band trip to Holland? It has been transferred to video tape and features the flight and also the band messing about on the beach in Holland.

I was astonished to read this. My mind began to imagine scenes of Lew Davis sitting around with Al Bowlly, Nat Gonella, Tiny Winters, my goodness I thought , what have we got? I wrote back to Tony explaining the importance of this movie and Tony wrote back:

Babs (Lew's daughter) tells me that Al Bowlly is on the tape. It is a typical home movie, no sound, with lots of family footage unrelated to the music business. I will try to make a copy of the relevant passages.

A couple of months went by and during that time I arranged a swop with Tony. With help from other collectors I’d supply the Polygon film of the Ray Noble band, also The Mayor’s Nest film (features Lew Davis and Al Bowlly) and some clips of the Ambrose orchestra, in exchange for a copy of the home movie. We spent time getting good copies made, the swop took place, and on October 10th I sat down and watched in amazement as familiar faces came to life on my TV.
For the first time I saw them, not singing or performing, but laughing, eating dinner, relaxing on the beach. Not only are members of Ray Noble’s band seen (1933) but there are later clips of a meeting of musicians from both Lew Stone and Bert Ambose bands. It was a strange and very emotional experience for me to be watching this over sixty years later. The clips featuring our great musicians are very short but the highlights include: the flight to Holland, eating dinner featuring Lew Davis, Al Bowlly with Marjie, Tiny Winters, Harry Berly. Yes, we see Al with his wife-to-be Marjie.
The surprise scene, possibly from 1937, shows the Ambrose drummer Max Bacon encouraging Al Bowlly to shake hands with Sam Browne. Yes, the two geat vocalists did meet and we have it on film. These scenes are of the Stone and Ambrose bands at a golfing party. There are several scenes on a beach presumably in Holland or Belgium in 1933 featuring Al Bowlly, Nat Gonella and Tiny Winters and there’s an exciting clip of the Ray Noble band in action playing music as only they could, but the movie is silent.
Much of the movie features Lew’s family and very touching those scenes are, a beautiful film record that the Davis family cherish. Lew Davis was a film hobbyist and filmed a lot of the movie, but Lew himself is often featured and we believe Tiny Winters shared the film-making duties.
Excerpts of the movie were recently seen on a BBC TV programme Legends: Al Bowlly

return to the

|| Lew Davis page || Al Bowlly page ||

|| Sam Browne page || Personalities page ||