8. Aristo titles in music

Posted on 18/01/2017

Though there are lots of Kings and Princes in the names of musicians/bands, I like the ‘Sir Douglas Quintet best. They were a band from Texas whose distinctive sound came from the Vox Contintal organ (played by Augie Myers), a competitor of the Hammond in the 60’s 70’s. Their main hits were ‘she’s about a mover’ and ‘Mendocino’. There is no clear reason for the band name: the leader (Doug Hahm) apparently thought that with the Beatles and the Stones British invasion he should adopt an English title. The result was absurd, since a quintet could not be knighted. But it has a certain charm.

Use of titles as a means of praising stars has a long history in Jazz: coming from New Orleans King Oliver preceded Louis Armstrong in the 1920’s. Those who nicknamed jazz musicians had a certain point. Duke Ellington was indeed the master of jazz as a bandleader/pianist. He was one rank above Count Basie. Earl Hines was a jazz piano pioneer, who invented a trumpet style for the right hand, revolutionising how the instrument was played in jazz.

There are hundreds of Kings and Queens in music: it just means they are good rather than unique except in the case of Elvis, who was indeed unique. He is somebody typically referred to as the King without any need for explanation. Lady day for Billie Holiday was also a title resulting from universal acclaim, as was ‘Prez’ (President) the nickname of Lester Young.

Going back to Sir Douglas, there are a few jazz knight: Sir Charles Thompson, whose title was ‘granted’ by Lester Young, who was famous enough to make it stick. Another is ‘Sir’ Roland Hanna who freakishly was actually granted the title by President Tubman of Liberia (I did not know that before doing a Google check on the title ‘Sir’.

There are not many titles about now, although the late Prince is an exception (it was his given name). Lady Gaga on the other hand was a successful marketing idea from a singer who had otherwise failed to make and impact. So proving that titles, even self applied, can still have power.

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