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Having been awarded the General Service Medal following my time in the Suez Canal Zone, I am proud to have served Queen and Country. As organiser of the Cambridgeshire Canal Zoners, a group of military veterans who meet every two months; as well as manager of ‘Freddie and Friends New Orleans Jazzmen’, and jazz bango player, my hearing is extremely important to me.
My hearing deterioration was first noticed a few years’ ago and is probably attributed to firing the Lee Enfield 303 Rifle – the standard rifle of the British army until the 1970s. When it came to looking for help, I needed a personal service and hearing aids that were suited to my lifestyle.
I never play a gig without my hearing aids. I have them set to the specialist ‘music mode’, so I can hear everyone else in the band and what they are doing. We play without sheet music simply by listening to each other and we always have a three speaker set up: two going out to the audience and one behind so that we can hear clearly. That always works.”
– Freddie Whipp, Founder-Manager, Freddie & Friends New Orleans Jazzmen.
The television was on too loud and sometimes Freddie didn’t answer when his wife Jan asked him a question. In 2006, about seven years after Freddie retired, it was clear to Jan that Freddie’s hearing was deteriorating. That’s not an easy conversation to have with someone who has built their retirement on founding and managing – as well as playing tenor banjo in – a jazz band; and who takes pride and immense joy from playing gigs up and down the country, from christenings to funerals and every special occasion in between.
“As a member of the rhythm section of the band, I was having trouble hearing what the frontline section of the band was doing,” said Freddie. “It was a worry.”
Jan persisted, or to use Freddie’s words, “she nagged me” – and it’s easy to see why; Freddie’s music has become his lifeblood. Now 78 years young, an ex-racing roller-speed skater and cycle road racer, Freddie’s a sociable fellow and remains an active member of the Royal British Legion. He organises bi-monthly socials for the Cambridgeshire Canal Zoners, military veterans who served in the Suez Canal Zone 1940’s to 1956 (Freddie was there 1954-1956) – and occasionally of course, the band takes them back in time, with some jazz favourites from days gone by.
Freddie’s also a life-long dog lover and funnily enough it was this love of dogs that put Freddie in touch with hearing specialist Chris Carr from the Hearing Healthcare Centre in Chesterton – also a fellow dog-walker from Freddie’s village. It was a fortunate meeting.
Freddie has described the service he has received from Chris over more than seven years, as “very personal” and “nothing short of superb”.
A real character himself, Freddie has discovered that hearing aids are as individual as those who wear them. For every patient there’s significant work to be done to fine tune a device to provide the optimum level of hearing, tailored to a particular lifestyle and listening requirement – whether that’s filtering out specific background noises or identifying which sounds are most important.
In Freddie’s case it was imperative that he had a hearing aid that would allow him to continue with his music.
In the mid 1990’s Freddie told his wife Jan, that his ‘one regret’ was never having learnt to play banjo. The response is a Whipp legend, “Well don’t go on about it, go and buy one,” she said.
When Freddie first visited Chris Carr in 2006, Chris guided him through a series of tests. They also talked through his hearing issues to identify any important historical details and find out what was truly important to him now. In fact, as part of the in-depth assessment Chris Carr suggested that that the most likely cause of Freddie’s current hearing impediment was from firing the Lee Enfield 303 Rifle and the rapid fire Bren Gun – the standard rifle and machine gun of the British army in WW2. Born and bred in Solihull in Warwickshire, Freddie began his national service in 1954, carrying out his basic training in Honiton in Devon.
“The basic training was all about stamping and marching feet,” says Freddie and immediately there’s a sense that sounds are an important part of Freddie’s make-up.
Freddie is proud to have served Queen and Country. Fifty years after his service, he was awarded the General Service Medal with the Suez Canal Zone bar and now wears it with pride every 11th November.
He’s also proud of the moment in 1956 when, as the only member of the roller skating race team who had a suit, he was given the job of escorting Louis Armstrong onto the stage at the Birmingham Embassy Sportsdrome. It was a defining moment.
What advice could a great jazz legend give to a young band leader?
“Never perform for nothing” – and to this day, Freddie never has.
Whilst jazz is foremost a passion for Freddie, there’s no denying his professionalism – and the combination takes Freddie to gigs all over the country. So, after the initial hearing assessment, taking into account both Freddie’s requirements and practical considerations, such as budget, Chris recommended a set of hearing aids that could be tuned up for Freddie and that would allow Freddie to tune up his banjo!
Freddie’s first hearing aids were fitted in December 2006 and he used them comfortably and successfully until December 2010, when the usefulness of the aids wore off and he had a second set fitted by Chris, which he still uses currently.
“Chris is always helpful and responds quickly to any queries.”
Freddie visits Chris for an annual check up, but also contacts him between times when the need arises for a technical adjustment, or for example, the time when Freddie felt he was not achieving the best battery life from the hearing aids. Whatever the issue and whether or not it can be handled there and then at Hearing Healthcare Centre, Freddie is never without a hearing device.
“If there’s an issue that Chris can’t deal with immediately, he loans me a set of aids there and then, so I don’t go without.”
And all that Jazz…
Freddie’s is an unusual story. It shows the advances that have been made in hearing technology today and the really positive and useable solutions that can be employed by specialist hearing technicians like Chris Carr.
It’s clear that Freddie continues to live life to the full and follow his dreams; dreams that began in the 1950s when he witnessed his heroes, musical inspirations such as Lonnie Donegan, Chris Barber, Terry Lightfoot and Kenny Ball, at the Embassy Sportsdrome in Birmingham. Freddie went to see and hear the great Louis Armstrong and His Ambassador All Stars who played, amongst others, for all the musicians in the house, Royal Garden Blues, with which Freddie & Friends New Orleans Jazzmen now end most of their concerts.
Freddie played his first ever gig at the Hare and Hounds pub in High Garrett in June 1998 and has been building on his musical capability ever since. Practicing every day for two hours a day has honed Freddie’s talent and he’s added vocal performances to his repertoire, regularly performing favourites such as Old Shep and When I Grow Too Old to Dream. Now in its fifteenth year, the band, Freddie & Friends New Orleans Jazzmen, continues to play around fifty or sixty gigs a year from weddings, anniversaries, or for any special occasion or corporate event. To find out more about Freddie & Friends New Orleans Jazzmen or to book them for a special occasion, take a look at their website http://www.freddiesjazzmen.co.uk/
If you or anyone in your life has hearing difficulties or is a hearing aid wearer and wants to find out more about how Chris Carr and his team could help, why not pop into the Hearing Healthcare Centre at 140 High Street, Chesterton in Cambridge; give them a call on 01223 360700 or email them – whichever’s easiest for you! They would be happy to give you some sound advice.
To find out more about Freddie’s Band visit: www.freddiesjazzmen.co.uk