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Dudley Moore Bio
Moore was born Dudley Stuart John Moore on April 19th, 1935. Despite his working-class origins in Dagenham, East London, his diminutive stature and a deformed left foot, his determination to succeed overcame all barriers.
His musical career began as a chorister and organist in his church, and he went on to become a talented pianist, with degrees in music and composition from Oxford. He worked with Johnny Dankworth before forming his own trio with Pete McGurk (bass) and Chris Karan (drums), and recorded several sessions for Decca Records.
Moore cited Erroll Garner and Oscar Peterson as two of his main musical influences. His jazz playing was notable for his lightness of touch and deft right-hand filigrees although his eclecticism, allied to his absorption with other interests, inhibited the development of a truly identifiable personal style.
For a while he successfully performed jazz while concurrently appearing in the groundbreaking comedy revue Beyond The Fringe in London and New York with Peter Cook, Jonathan Miller and Alan Bennett. The revue played for two years in London, then Broadway, and was probably the greatest assembly of young comic talent to emerge in Britain in the late 20th century.
Moore's whimsical sense of humour fitted oddly with the more savage satirical style of his partners. "Apart from his musical contributions to the show," Cook wrote in Esquire in 1974, "Dudley's suggestions were treated with benign contempt by the rest of us."
In 1961, Cook bought a strip joint in Soho and started The Establishment Club featuring Lenny Bruce, Frankie Howerd and a young Australian called Barry Humphries. In the cellar, Moore played jazz and The Dudley Moore Trio was born.
Music was central to Moore's life. An exceptionally gifted pianist who could sight-read and extemporise with remarkable ease, he had an amazing ability to change from jazz to classical. Classical pianists praised his performances of Bach fugues; the jazz fraternity dug his free-flowing, lissom style.
if I'd been able to hit somebody in the nose, I wouldn't have been a comic...
In 1966 the BBC booked Cook and Moore for seven shows called Not Only ... But Also . They did new series annually until 1970. It was as anarchic - and successful - as Beyond the Fringe.
Moore went on to form a double-act with Cook, enjoying popular success with their stage shows and making movie appearances in The Wrong Box (1966) and Bedazzled (1967). Dudley also composed the scores for several films including 30 Is a Dangerous Age, Cynthia (1967), Inadmissible Evidence (1968) and Staircase (1969).
By the late-60s Moore's acting career began to eclipse his jazz work. His big break in films came after he settled in California and met director Blake Edwards in a therapy group. (Blake decided to give him a screen test when George Segal walked out of his production of 10, and Moore soon became a Hollywood player.) In later years, Moore returned to recording and performing and resurrected the Dudley Moore Trio.
In a biography published in 1997 Moore emerged as a troubled soul who, though he had seemingly succeeded at everything, remained deeply unfulfilled. He confessed to being driven by feelings of inferiority about his working-class origins and because of his height of five feet, two-and-a-half inches (156 centimetres). In later life he also spoke of the pain of being rejected by his mother because he was born with a deformed left foot.
Comedians, he said in an interview with Newsday in 1980, are often driven by such feelings: "I certainly did feel inferior. Because of class. Because of strength. Because of height. ... I guess if I'd been able to hit somebody in the nose, I wouldn't have been a comic."
His brilliance as both jazz and classical pianist was constantly undermined by his personal life. He married four times (each marriage lasted only a couple of years) - in 1968 to Suzy Kendall, in 1975 to Tuesday Weld, in 1988 Brogan Lane and in 1994 Nicole Rothschild.
the funniest and the saddest man I ever knew...
Moore and Cook teamed again in 1971 for a "Beyond the Fridge" which was a success in London and a smash on Broadway in the 1973-74 season, with the pair winning a special Tony award for their "unique contribution to the theatre of comedy".
Cook returned to England but Moore settled in Southern California, where he met the director Blake Edwards in a therapy group. When George Segal walked out of Edwards' production of 10, the director turned to Moore. The 1979 film, co-starring Bo Derek, established Moore as a Hollywood star. Two years later, he had another: Arthur, playing a rich drunk who falls for Liza Minnelli.
In 1990 he achieved something of the recognition his musical talents deserved when he co-starred on Channel 4's series about the orchestra with Sir Georg Solti. He followed this in 1993 with his Concerto with the conductor Michael Tilson Thomas.
He also made several concert tours playing piano duets with Rena Fruchter. It was during one of these that she noticed Moore was playing somewhat erratically; in May 1999 he was diagnosed with the rare degenerative brain disease, progressive supranuclear palsy.
Moore always returned to music in times of stress. "I can't imagine not having music in my life, playing for myself or for other people. If I was asked, 'Which would you give up,' I'd have to say acting," he said in an interview with The Associated Press in 1988.
Riddled with self-doubt and insecurities from an early age he was undoubtedly anxious to be accepted as a musician; yet he often seemed vulnerable, and rather lost. Whether in Beyond the Fringe, the movie business, London, LA or New York, Moore never quite fitted. A colleague speaking on the BBC's Omnibus arts show described him as: "the funniest and the saddest man I ever knew."
Moore died on 27 March, 2002, in New Jersey, aged 66. He is survived by sons from his second and fourth marriages.
Dudley Moore Trio
(excerpted from Les Tomkins' 1966 interview with Dudley Moore: Jazz Professional)
"I find Dave Brubeck a little self-conscious about 'stretching the frontiers of time'... Bill Evans I'm afraid I'm not mad about because there's a feeling of constant death in his playing at the moment. There's something about a lot of modern jazz today that is so negative. I get the impression of a great deal of cruelty... jazz musicians are often very shy, retiring people. Quite often inhibited, which makes them sometimes aggressive - unfortunately. Like Miles Davis, who does rather despise his audiences... a terrible sort of egocentric behaviour. You know, that's the worst side of shyness, that show of hostility... I don't listen to a lot of music, anyway, nowadays. When I get the time, I don't always have the inclination. I've not followed the trends of jazz at all for a long time." (Dudley Moore, 1966)
I did a couple of jobs for a man who owned a rather seedy record shop...
"I was taught the piano when I was eight, having been persuaded by my parents to play that first, rather than what I wanted to learn the violin. It was not until I was about eleven that I started the violin, and I went in for what was called a Junior Exhibition at the Guildhall School Of Music. Between the ages of twelve and eighteen I went there every Saturday morning, learning the history and appreciation of music, aural training and having lessons on the violin.
I got the scholarship-to Magdalen College in Oxford. It lasted for three years, and was for my B.A. degree in Music. Then it was extended another year while I did a Bachelor of Music degree in composition. I left Oxford when I was twenty-two and I've had no further tuition since then.
I'd started getting interested in jazz at the age of fifteen or sixteen, or even earlier. I remember there was one club in Chadwell Heath where I was allowed to play. I did a couple of jobs there for a man who owned a rather seedy record shop. Very nice bloke, I must admit.
The first jazz that really knocked me potty was Erroll Garner... one day a friend of mine played me a record of Garner playing The Way You Look Tonight. And ever after that I chased Garner records all over the place, and spent hours and hours trying to play like him copying his style quite slavishly, because I just feel, as I felt then, that his sense of time is so unique and so extraordinary that it was a very good basis to start from.
A lot of modern jazz today is so negative. I get the impression of a great deal of cruelty...
My ideal of jazz is a very heavy beat going on, with very relaxed, melodic work on top. Which makes the beat both heavy and light at the same time. It seems to sort of froth over. When you get that kind of combination of tremendous heaviness and tremendous lightness, I think you get real swing. Stomping-but not in the sense that it's just banging your foot through the floorboards. It's a sort of incredible floating feeling that one gets...
I find myself disapproving of so many people - not in a prudish way. But I get rather embarrassed at the number of musicians who don't really excite me. I find Dave Brubeck a little self-conscious about 'stretching the frontiers of time', as he seems to imagine it is-by playing in 5/4. As he was the first one to play in that time, he can certainly take credit for it.
Bill Evans I'm afraid I'm not mad about - because there's a feeling of constant death in his playing at the moment. There's something about a lot of modern jazz today that is so negative. I get the impression of a great deal of cruelty. I don't mind ugliness in music-if it's done artistically. A lot of jazz being played now is purely coarse without having, I feel, any artistic merit.
I suppose the fact is that, having had a classical education, I always take the harmonic side of things for granted. I've never tried to do anything outlandish harmonically. I was drawn to jazz by the particular qualities that it is supreme for-time and rhythm.
I found myself in a bit of a cleft stick, and very unhappy...
My obsession with time and rhythm has been brought about because I was particularly poor at that in the early days. It's a side of jazz that I'm glad to have solidified in myself. Now I can do the more adventurous things-and feel happier about it.
By the time I joined Johnny Dankworth I'd got off the Garner kick. The Vic Lewis thing had really been a bit of a schooling for me, in jazz and in the accepted ways of going about playing. I mean, my rhythm was very bad indeed. I've only been able to listen to myself on tape in recent years, really.
Again I wasn't really suitable for the band. Mainly because my sort of accompaniment-for some reason didn't please many of the band. I think they felt I got in the way too much. So I used to lean back and not play much-and then they complained that there was no support. The result was: I found myself in a bit of a cleft stick, and very unhappy. Well, I know John felt that I wasn't doing enough for the band, in the sense that I wasn't contributing the right sort of background for the soloists.
We had tremendous times down the Establishment - unforgettable, I still dream about them...
For a period of about nine months before I went to the States with Beyond The Fringe, the Trio was playing down in the Establishment every night after the show.
It's really been Pete McGurk and Chris Karan pretty well all along. Originally, I had a bass player called Hugo Boyd, who was killed in a car crash about six years ago. Pete joined me soon after that. Chris is a fantastic timekeeper. In fact, for my money he's one of the best timekeepers I know. He doesn't do a great deal of fooling about and filling in.
But there's a crispness to his playing, plus the actual rhythmic instinct and sensitivity to the beat that he has. It's not only a good, solid beat, but also it's one that's buoyant. And combined with Pete, who's a very driving bass player - well, I think they're marvellous.
We had some tremendous times down the Establishment - really unforgettable for me. I still dream about them, rather nostalgically. It was unbelievable down there some nights. We used to just take off, and everybody was, as it were, egging us on. Absolutely marvellous fun, the sort of real excitement that one doesn't often get. I do miss that kind of thing terribly.
Of course, the scope of the Trio's playing is limited at the moment. In the first series of Not Only, But Also, for instance, I used to do a number each show. But then Peter and I shortened the show to half an hour so I found myself doing pieces of about one minute, fifteen seconds' duration, which is sort of like a flash in the pan. But I like plugging the Trio by doing guest spots on television fairly often.
Miles Davis does rather despise his audiences, on the whole...
Now, luckily, I'm in the position to make films. And I'm bringing jazz into films a bit more on film, actually not just as sound tracks. Which isn't done a great deal, except in sort of cheap budget beach party films. You know, where you get a few jazz items thrown in, like the Jimmy Smith Trio every now and again-which is nice.
As well as writing the score, I'm going to have the Trio on film as part of the story. I've done nothing like that before, but this film I'm working on now is going to be exactly like that. Not involving the Trio entirely, but certainly featuring them. I'm looking forward to it.
The whole thing of taking good jazz to a wider public means a lot to me. I'm very honoured and flattered if those are the right words to be able to put jazz across. It seems that many jazz musicians have been very against exposing themselves in any way.
I mean, they are often very shy, retiring people. Quite often inhibited, which makes them sometimes aggressive unfortunately. Like Miles Davis, who does rather despise his audiences, on the whole. Whenever I've seen him in England or America, it's a question of him turning his back on people all the time, and wandering on and off the stage as if he's God.
I find this really despicable, even though I think his playing is marvellous. It's just a nasty, stupid thing to do, a terrible sort of egocentric behaviour. You know, that's the worst side of shyness, that show of hostility. And, of course, people like Davis probably despise anybody who would make any outgoing sort of performance.
God knows I feel a lot of very violent things against lots of musicians in their work...
I don't go out and listen to jazz, because I dislike the listening atmosphere that I find. So often there's a peculiar air of supreme dedication. Either that or they're unbearably blasé. There's so many cruel things said all the time about jazz.
I mean, God knows I feel a lot of very violent things against lots of musicians in their work. But there's an attitude of devaluing everything that's pretty prevalent, not only in music, but in people's minds, affecting their activities generally. It's a sort of nihilism - a negative approach to things - which I can't take at all.
I don't listen to a lot of music, anyway, nowadays. When I get the time, I don't always have the inclination. I've not followed the trends of jazz at all for a long time. I sort of get echoes of them every now and again when I turn on the wireless or hear records... "
full Dudley Moore/Les Tomkins interview at Jazz
Blindfold test session conducted by Les Tomkins 1966. Track: Exactly Like You by Dudley Moore Trio (Dudley Moore-piano, Pete McGurk-bass, Chris Karan-drums) from 'Genuine Dud', Decca. Testees: Blossom Dearie, Alan Haven and Tony Crombie.
Haven (after first four bars): Already I like it.
Dearie (snapping fingers): Yeah!
Crombie: I like plenty of air-plenty of space. Erroll, is it?
Dearie: Is that Oscar? Yes, that's Oscar Peterson. With Ray Brown?
Haven: He doesn't have the drums too far forward-he puts them up there somewhere.
Crombie: Oh yes-it's Peterson.
Haven: I'm not so sure about it now.
Dearie: No I'm not so sure it's Oscar yet.
Crombie: It might be that geezer Les McCann.
Haven: It's not punchy enough for him.
Dearie: No, it isn't. Not Phineas Newborn? No?
Haven: Billy Taylor? I seem to get an idea it's not even American. I think it's Dudley Moore.
Dearie: Oh, it might be. It's good, anyway. I bet it is Dudley. I thought it was Oscar at first, because the bass came right out like Ray. Wonderful bass player, whoever it is.
Haven: And they've hit such a nice tempo with this. It's so light-you can just lean back and play.
Dearie: This is real good. Is that Peter McGurk on bass? He's great. And Chris Karan?
Tomkins: Yes-it's the Dudley Moore Trio.
Dearie: I'll buy that. It's swinging! Peter lays it right down, doesn't he?
Haven: The only reason I knew it wasn't Peterson-not as anything against Dudley, far from it but I knew that towards the end of the first chorus, certainly by the beginning of the second, Peterson would have been using a lot more dazzling technique. Because he gets off very, very fast, with the full technique going. He'd have been well away. But this is nice - I like Dudley's economical approach very much. If the rest of it is as good, I'd like the album. We worked with him at the Cool Elephant for two or three months. We had a lot of giggles there, because we used to do some things together on organ and piano.
Dearie: I heard you together one night at Annie's Room. I thought it was great!
Haven: Yes, it's a lot of fun with Dudley. Well I think we work together. It's one of those things we just feel things pretty much the same way. He's got a very quick mind, you know. If I plonk him a chord that isn't quite the one that's expected, he doesn't need half an hour to figure it. He's immediately there. Dudley's no fool, musically. Of course, he's doing very well with his comedy work, but I'm surprised he doesn't do more music.
Crombie: I thought the record was very pleasant, but a little bit too unadventurous and straightforward for my taste, seeing as he's got nothing to contend with except the bass and drums. He could have spread out a bit more than that. With his technique and knowledge, it could be a little more spiced.
Haven: Well, I accept that as an overall pleasing track, understating everything rather than overstating. Dudley can be dazzling, if he wants to be, but I don't think he was trying to dazzle on it.
Crombie: It's not that he doesn't have to dazzle. I just like that element of reaching out. Sure, he was out to please. Which is all right in itself on that level. But knowing that there is more available, I felt a little cheated by it.
(Les Tomkins: From
- Review of Dudley Moore Trio: Bedazzled
- Review of Dudley Moore Trio: 30 Is A Dangerous Age, Cynthia
- Review of Dudley Moore Trio: Authentic Dud
- Bio of Pete n' Dud
- Peter Cook Website
- Info on Not Only ... But Also
- Dudley Moore BBC tribute pages
- Info on Beyond the Fringe
- Dudley Moore: foot & hand prints in Hollywood