'Tales From The Woods' raises a glass and says farewell to British Dixieland jazz clarinettist and bandleader Cy Laurie who died aged 75 on the 22nd April. Born in London on 20th April 1926 to Latvian immigrant parents, on completing his education he trained to become a draughtsman although his love was for jazz - the early variety traditional jazz. Despite a the sounds of swing and later be-bop being dominant in his youth, his hero was the New Orleans clarinet master Johnny Dodds.  

As a youth he discovered a beaten up old soprano saxophone in a near-hidden corner of his father's pawnbroker shop. The boy began to blow, helped his father to clean it up along with minor repairs and soon it was good enough to swap for a clarinet which, of course, would become Cy’s lifelong chosen instrument. The late 1940s would see a considerable revival of interest in the early jazz sounds, no doubt a reaction to the hard-edged be-bop, which would soon be discovering its peak. The same period would find the young Cy Laurie playing in the bands of Charlie Galbraith, Mike Daniels and Owen Bryce before eventually forming his own outfit, the Cy Laurie Four and running his own small weekly jazz club at the Seven Stars in Bow, East London. He later moved to Central London, taking over the ground floor of Mac's Rehearsal Rooms in Great Windmill Street, a side street off Piccadilly. On the upper floor was a boxing gym where many of the British Boxing aces of the day trained, such as Don Cockell and Freddie Mills. A dance floor was created along with a small bandstand and the walls were lined with second-hand sofas, creating a deliberately bohemian atmosphere in the dark dilapidated surroundings. The Cy Laurie jazz club was born.  

As the 1950s passed, during which he developed a second passion for Eastern religions, 1960 would see Cy turning his club over to his trombonist Terry Pills while Cy took off for India to study under Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Returning only spasmodically over the next eight years, 1968 finally found him permanently back in London performing as part of the Black Bottom Stompers, later co-leading a quintet with Eggy Lay before joining the legendary trombonist Max Collie in his touring shows ‘New Orleans Mardi Gras’ and ‘High Society’. During the early 1980s he worked with singer and actress Helen Gould which involved a long nationwide touring revue which, later in the decade, would result in him, along with his wife Rose, devising a touring revue of his own ‘That Rhythm Man’, which ran to the end of the decade. The 1990s would see Cy back working with virtually everyone involved in the British traditional jazz scene. A four CD box set was released, containing virtually his entire career output. In 1997 Cy Laurie reformed his original band for a one-off gig at the 100 Club to celebrate his 70th birthday. Sadly ill-health would soon force the British jazz legend off the road and into retirement.