Jack Parnell, the drummer, bandleader and entertainer, has died at his home in Suffolk aged 87 following a year-long battle with cancer.
Parnell’s musical career lasted almost seven decades. He was named Best Drummer in the annual Melody Maker awards for seven years in succession and enjoyed a long and distinguished stint in the renowned Ted Heath Band. He continued to perform until 2007.
Parnell’s father was a music-hall artist while his uncle Val ran a string of theatres including the London Palladium. He began to study piano as a child but found his niche on the drums, making his debut as a teenager on the seafront at Scarborough. While serving in the RAF he became part of a band performing at the RAF Bomber Command HQ in High Wycombe. He went on to join Ted Heath, playing on dozens of recordings and Forces broadcasts, and occasionally adding his vocals. Others among the line-ups included eminent jazz players such as Kenny Ball and Ronnie Scott. Parnell also led his own band during this time and from 1951 left Heath to lead his own 16-piece band.
When ITV launched, he landed the role of musical director for ATV for which Parnell’s uncle Val was by now managing director. During his decades at the broadcaster, he worked with legends such as Ella Fitzgerald, Sammy Davis Jr, Lena Horne and Nat King Cole. He also made series with Tom Jones and Engelbert Humperdinck, acted as a panellist on TV talent show ‘New Faces’ and was musical director for ‘The Benny Hill Show‘ and a production of ‘Peter Pan’ starring Mia Farrow, Sir John Gielgud and Danny Kaye. He also composed signature tunes for programmes such as ‘Family Fortunes‘.
In the late 1970s he began his association with ‘The Muppet Show‘, for which he conducted the orchestra and frequently appeared on screen. He was instrumental in getting the jazz great Buddy Rich on the show. Parnell retired from ATV in 1982 when it became Central Television, and continued to perform with the all-star veterans group Best Of British Jazzwith trumpeter Kenny Baker and trombonist Don Lusher.
Parnell is survived by his wife Veronica, three sons and two daughters.
John Russell “Jack” Parnell, 6 August 1923 – 8 August 2010