The Harry South Songbook

Harry South is virtually unknown in the States today, but in the U.K. and throughout much of Europe, he was a highly regarded English jazz pianist, composer and arranger. South began his recording career in Britain the early 1950s and remained active until 1990, when he died in March of that year. Interestingly, he never seems to have toured or recorded in the U.S.

Now, the U.K.’s RnB Records has released Harry South: The Songbook, a compilation of South’s work over four different decades. At the moment, the four-CD box set is available only in Europe, with a single CD version available in the States. The full box will be available in the U.S. on Aug. 25.

South was an interesting player and leader. In the 1950s, the ensembles he played with were packed with aggressive British jazz superstars. Recordings such as Bandbox (with a band led by drummer Basil Kirchin) and Dance of the Aerophragytes and Ode to Ernie (with saxophonist Tubby Hayes) remain powerhouse examples of British jazz at its very best. By 1960, South led one of the finest modern big bands in England, on par with ones led by Hayes and Vic Lewis. The band’s arrangements had a Quincy Jones jazz-meets-TV feel, especially on songs such as The Goblin, Afterthought and Closing Time. In fact, by the 1970s, South wrote and recorded extensively for British television. Today, South is perhaps best known for his theme to the ITV police drama The Sweeney.


As South says on a short, undated clip at the end of the box, “I’ve been asked to give a cross-section of the music I’ve been asked to write…. The only thing I can say is it’s all my music.” Indeed it was.

JazzWax tracks: For now, in the States, you’ll find the single album here. It’s also available on Spotify. If you want the box, listen on Spotify until it’s out in late August. I have the box and it’s worth waiting for.

The 36-page booklet of liner notes that comes with the four-CD set features a biographical essay by Mark Baxter and an analysis of South’s music by Simon Spillett.

JazzWax clips: Here’s South’s big band on Last Orders in 1965…

Here’s a bunch of songs from the album…