Robert De Kers (pseudonym of Robert Pierre De Keersmaeker, Antwerp 1906 – Brussels 1987) came from a family of classical musicians, sat at the piano from an early age and started playing jazz with local musicians in as a teenager. In 1924-25 he was the pianist of the Bing Boys and, under the influence of Louis Armstrong, he also began to play the trumpet. He nevertheless chose to study medicine.
In order to finance his studies, he worked on weekends as a pianist for dance orchestras. He notably played with the Bing Boys in the dancing Saint-Saveur (1924-1926, Warmoesberg). In this circuit, he comes into contact with jazz and takes a liking to it; he abandoned his studies after two years.
He joined an amateur group as a trumpeter, the Berkeleys. From 1926, they toured Italy, where the group was dissolved. He immediately got another job in one of the best Italian jazz orchestras, under the direction of Carlo Benzi. At the same time, he studied jazz orchestration, which enabled him to write his first arrangements for the Benzi orchestra.
In 1930 he joined the Flemming Blue Birds, a Euro-American band of entertainment music under the direction of Harry Flemming, with tours in Germany, Switzerland, Italy and Spain. It is in this group that he comes into contact with black American musicians for the first time and that he learns to know “the true meaning of jazz”. This orchestra was also disbanded. At the request of the Franco-American star Joséphine Baker, he founded an orchestra of 16 musicians to accompany her: The Baker Boys. After a tour with Joséphine Baker, Robert De Kers returned to Brussels and founded a 100% Belgian group: Robert De Kers and his Cabaret Kings. His wife, singer Jane Miller (“Lady Crooner”), was in his band for a while. For the Universal Exhibition of 1935, they returned to Brussels to entertain the public every evening in the Devil in Love. In 1936 they went to La Scala in Ostend, where they returned in 1937 to play with the world famous tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins. They have also worked together with Jack Kruger, Gus Clark, Eddie Tower and Toots Thielemans. In 1937, the Melody Maker elected him the best jazz trumpet player on the European continent.
In 1949, Robert de Kers put an end to his career as a conductor for health reasons, but continued to work as an arranger and composer. He also published the textbook Harmony and Orchestration for Dance Orchestra (1945). From 1964 he was for a time director of the Belgian branch of Wurlitzer, supplier of (domestic) organs. Most of his works have remained in manuscript form. Swing So or Tell ‘em To Swing It is an exception. It takes us to the beginnings of swing jazz, it is one of his hit songs, and it was also recorded by the NIR jazz orchestra.
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