Mike Capocci: Known as Norwich’s jazz king

PUBLISHED: 11:11 01 March 2011

One of the great entertainers in the world of jazz, Norwich-born Mike Capocci, died at the weekend, 
aged 81.

Known to an army of fans as Norwich’s king of jazz, he had started playing the piano at the age of three and went on to back some of the biggest stars in the world, such as Ella Fitzgerald. He also worked in cabaret with the late Tommy Cooper.

He was born in 1929 and his father ran a fish and chip shop in Ber Street. Self-taught, he became hooked by the exciting sounds brought over from America and was 12 years old when he started playing jazz.

He got a job making fireplaces with Gale & Galey, of Drayton Road, Norwich.

An accident with a broken blade almost ended his musical career, said a former workmate, Sid Bezants, in 1979. “We were cutting tiles and a blade broke. Mike cut his hands quite badly,” he said.

By the mid 1950s, Mike had turned professional and he toured abroad with the Johnny Hawkins Band, which took him to Casablanca in Morocco, where he played in a nightclub for six months.

Returning to England, he formed his own group, playing with Rosemary Squires and Ken Mackintosh.

As his reputation as a jazz pianist grew, he worked in Jersey for several years.

Then in the 1980s, he came back to Norfolk and ran two jazz clubs in the city. One was at the Jolly Butchers in Ber Street, which was home to the legendary queen of Norwich jazz, Black Anna. And at Santana’s, he played host to some of Britain’s best jazz musicians including Martin Taylor, Peter King, Bobby Orr and many others.

He had married one of his biggest fans, Barbara. From 1991, they ran the jazz nights at the Red Lion, Thorpe St Andrew, where the Tuesday evening sessions continued for the next 10 years. And in 1999, he celebrated his 70th birthday in style at the Red Lion, where he was musical director.

They moved to the Green Man, Rackheath, where Mike Capocci with his trio, Mike Harris and Brian McAllister, were a class act attracting fans from Norfolk and Norwich and further afield.

David Wakefield, who reviews jazz for the EDP, said: “I’ve been listening to him for the last 30-odd years and I’ve always admired his work.

“He was always inspired by the great pianist Bill Evans, who was his hero. He was always a pleasure to listen to, immensely versatile, and one of the most capable musicians you’d ever wish to find.”

Mr Wakefield added: “His main quality was his versatility. He’s been the mainstay of the Red Lion and the Green Man for more years than I care to remember. He was a very accomplished all-round pianist.”

His wife, Barbara, who had masterminded some of Norwich’s most successful live jazz events, died last September, aged 71. They had been married for 26 years.

Funeral arrangements to be announced.

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