William Michael Allingham Ashton was born in Central Nursing Home Blackpool on 6th December 1936. He attended Miss Tustin’s Kindergarten School, Red House School near York and Rossall School, Fleetwood.
He did his National Service in the RAF from 1955-57, where he learned Russian and the saxophone.
Going up to St Peter’s Hall, Oxford in 1957 he immediately co-founded The Ambassadors Dance Band with Andrew Hayman. He took a degree in Modern Languages and during vacations worked as a fair-ground attendant, vacuum cleaner salesman, barman, sous-chef, baker, wholesale grocer’s warehouseman and tri-lingual tour guide in Switzerland.
His third year was spent in France as an English Assistant. During that time he played in The Stardust Combo in the Caveau des Fouleurs, Chateaudun and worked in Paris as a street photographer, office worker and gardien de nuit des Bateaux Mouches.
Returning to Oxford he co-founded the Oxford University Big Band in1960. He stayed on at Oxford to do a Post-graduate Diploma in Education and after university worked as a musician on the American bases in France.
In 1963 he came to London, where he played in Red Bludd’s Bluesicians with organist Jon Lord, whilst working first as a supply teacher and then as a French teacher in London Schools for 10 years.
In 1965 he founded the London Schools Jazz Orchestra with Pat Evans, Mike Kershaw and others. This rapidly became the London then National Youth Jazz Orchestra which for five years ran Easter Jazz Courses in London as well as rehearsing every week. Bill has missed no more than half a dozen weekly rehearsals in nearly 45 years.
To date, NYJO has made about 50 albums and Bill has taken the orchestra all around the world: notably to USA twice, USSR, Australia, New Zealand, Turkey, Bulgaria, Poland, Malta three times, Portugal five times, France and Germany several times each, Sicily, Madeira and Spain. NYJO has performed many times on television and in front of the Royal family, notably at The Royal Variety Performance and the Royal Celebration of Youth.
In 1978 Bill was awarded the MBE, the first time the word “jazz” had ever appeared in the Honours List. Bill has subsequently received the Silver Medal of The Worshipful Company of Musicians, the Radio 2 Award and the Parliamentary Special Jazz Award. He was made a Fellow of the City of Leeds College of Music.
He has written over 70 songs in whole or part, including notably Much Too Much, Wait and See, It’s Over, Looking Forward, Looking Back, New in London, Don’t Try Argue With Me, Let’s Settle Down, A Step Too Far, A Way With Words, Paris is for Lovers, London, No Flowers By Request, and several instrumental themes.
He served on the committee of The International Year of the Child, and the Association of British Jazz Musicians.
He married Kay (nee Watkins) in 1966 and has three children, Grant b.1967, Miles b.1968 and Helen b.1983. He has one grandson and three grand-daughters. He lived in Harrow since 1968.
Likes: Big Band Jazz (the supreme art form), snorkelling, songwriting, science fiction, English television, and real ale. Dislikes: football, opera, fizzy beer and mayonnaise.
Bill became Life President in 2009 and continues as Founding Musical Director of NYJO. He was awarded the OBE for Services to Music in 2010.