Letter: Chris Dagley obituary

Bill Ashton writes: Chris Dagley (obituary, 3 August) played the drums with the National Youth Jazz Orchestra (NYJO) for nine and a half years, which is a long time to be with a youth band. He did not want to leave us. On the way to a rehearsal one Saturday, Chris turned and said to me: "Can't you change the name of the orchestra, so that I can stay for ever?"

He was conscientious to a fault. Before he settled in London, he used to stay at my house. He listened to every album and watched every video that the band had ever made. During a two-week season at Ronnie Scott's club, he recorded every night on a DAT machine. He would not allow himself to go to sleep until he had listened to the full two-hour show. "You don't have to do that," I told him. "Yes, I do," he said. "It's the only way to learn."

Chris was amazingly quick. On a coach trip to Germany, the percussionist Bill Pamplin demonstrated how to beat four with one hand against five with the other. He asked Chris if he could do it. "I don't know, I've never tried," said Chris. He proceeded to do it immediately. It had taken Bill hours to perfect the skill.

But Chris was never anything but humble. He would approach me somewhat diffidently: "I know I'm only a drummer, but don't you think the tuning in the saxes could be better?"

During one of his final concerts with the NYJO in August 1996, we had with us two of his possible successors on percussion, Darren Ashford and Darren Altman. Chris played the best I have heard him play. Complex fills that always came out on one, and simple swinging time when that was all that was needed. During one or two of his more outrageous fills, I could see the two Darrens' lips moving. I didn't have to be a lip reader to know that the word "cheeky" was forming on their lips.

On the coach home, I commented to the trumpeter Henry Collins, a perceptive young man, that I had never heard Chris play so well. "Yes," he replied, "it was a master class, wasn't it?"


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