THE SMALL WORLD OF SAMMY LEE
Cat. Number JBH051
Aah yes, The Small World Of Sammy Lee. A classic London film. With a superb, but missing London jazz score – not that anyone really cares that much. Well I certainly do. A few viewers come across the film following the trail of Anthony Newley, who I think is incredibly important to anyone into the history of London, theatre, film, TV, Joan Collins, music and of course classic songwriting in the East End / Lionel Bart style. The Small World Of Sammy Lee was a coming of age film for the young but already prodigious acting star. Those who have seen the film will know it’s quite a brilliant movie, with Newley’s natural born Hackney hussling style finding the perfect match in Sammy “Lee” Leeman, a nightclub compére who has to find impossible amounts of cash (£300 in 1963) in just one day to fend off the bookies he’s dangerously in debt too.
It was a racy “X Certificate” film of its day – and is perfectly set in the sleazy Soho of the early 1960s. Pimps, strippers, brasses, queers and thugs decorate the film with alarming regularity. And as the movie begins there’s a long, slow title sequence shot as the sun is coming up in W1. We follow a dustcart through the empty first-light streets – Old Compton Street, Dean Street, Wardour Street, Greek Street and all to the perfect soft, dawn jazz of Kenny Graham.
My first encounter with the film was thanks to Ben Horner, a great record collector and enthusiast about all thing 1960s and London. He put me onto the film and that opening sequence was, for me anyway, to die for. Naturally I wanted the music, wanted the soundtrack, but of course no score had been issued and after some investigation it seemed like no master tapes existed either. And Kenny was dead. I’d already spoken to his son about archives and he knew nothing. So I put the idea of it all to bed. But it was only a few years later when I’d issued the classic Moondog And Suncat Suites album by Kenny Graham (JBH036CD / LP) that I discovered that Kenny also had a daughter. I paid her a visit to talk about Kenny’s life and work and to my delight she’d found a box in her attic full of Kenny’s old quarter-inch reels. One had the word “Sammy” written on a tiny sticker on the front. It just had to be the lost score – and indeed once I’d got it transferred, confirmed it was.
The next step was to license the recording. This should really be a simple task, with yeses and noes making it quite straightforward. But even that still took a year. And so here we are now, about five years on with this, the first ever issue of The Small World OF Sammy Lee music.
I wish there was a list of musicians performing on the recording but there are none. Some of you jazz masters out there may well be able to discern who plays what where once you’ve heard it– and please get in touch if you have suspicions. To others I suggest you sit back and let the music take you on a little trip through Soho fifty years ago.