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Wessel Ilcken


01-12-1923 - 13-07-1957


bebop, drums, jazz

Wessel Ilcken

In his short life drummer Wessel Ilcken (Hilversum, 1 December 1923 – Utrecht, 13 July 1957) has been of vital importance to Dutch jazz. With his light, personal style of drumming he is an important pioneer of modern jazz in the Netherlands. Initially the American drummer Jo Jones is one ...
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Mentioned in the biography of

1924   Rita Reys
1945   Lex van Spall
1946   Piet van Dijk (1)
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Biography Wessel Ilcken

In his short life drummer Wessel Ilcken (Hilversum, 1 December 1923 – Utrecht, 13 July 1957) has been of vital importance to Dutch jazz. With his light, personal style of drumming he is an important pioneer of modern jazz in the Netherlands. Initially the American drummer Jo Jones is one of his examples. Later Miles Davis' Birth Of The Cool will be a major influence on his music. But however cool he plays, swing will always remain a key element in his style. Apart from a few lessons by The Ramblers' drummer Kees Kranenburg as a boy, Ilcken is self-taught. After the war he joins tenor saxophonist Piet van Dijk's band, in which his wife, Rita Reys, is the singer. With Piet van Dijk they tour Spain and Northern Africa. In 1950 they start the Rita Reys Sextet, which performs highly successfully in Great Britain and at American military bases in Europe and Northern Africa. In January 1953 Wessel Ilcken and Rita Reys leave for Sweden, where they do many club dates and record with saxophonist Lars Gullin. Back in the Netherlands he makes the Amsterdam club Sheherazade the regular haunt of the Wessel Ilcken Combo. Ilcken also plays a major role on the Jazz Behind The Dikes LPs, with which Dutch modern jazz puts itself on the map from 1955 onwards.

1923 - 1940

Wessel Ilcken grows up as an only child with his mother in Hilversum (his father having died before his birth). As a child he has easy access to the studios of the VARA broadcasting company, since his mother works in the cafeteria there. He often goes to see The Ramblers rehearse and thus meets drummer Kees Kranenburg, who teaches him the basics of drumming. He learns more by listening to American records. One of his first heroes is Jo Jones (the drummer of the Count Basie Band), whose innovative, light style is a great inspiration to him. Later the cool jazz by the Miles Davis Nonet will have a great influence on him.

1940 - 1945

At the start of the WW II Ilcken attempts to get to England by way of Switzerland, but doesn't succeed. This journey may have given him his lifelong kidney and bladder problems. In1942 he starts earning his living as a drummer. His first employer is saxophonist Lex van Spall. In Hilversum he meets singer Rita Reys, who performs with various bands in the area. After the war Ilcken performs with Lex van Spall in a Hilversum club and he asks Rita Reys to join. On 2 November 1945 they marry.

Rita Reys

1945 - 1950

In 1948 Wessel Ilcken tours Northern Africa with Piet van Dijk's band, of which Rita Reys has been the singer since 1947. Initially he accompanies his wife only as her husband, but when drummer Martin Scherpenhuizen gets ill during an engagement in Tanger and has to return to the Netherlands, Ilcken takes over the drum chair.


Wessel Ilcken and his wife decide to form their own band. On 1 April 1950 the Rita Reys Sextet starts in bar-dancing Palace at the Amsterdam Thorbeckeplein. The line-up is: Rita Reys (vocals), her brother Karel Reys (alto saxophone), B. Lauw (electric guitar and clarinet), Harry de Groot (piano, accordion and vibraphone), Dub Dubois (double bass) and Wessel Ilcken (drums). Later that year they undertake a successful tour of Great Britain and American military bases in Germany, Austria, Italy and Northern Africa. The sextet's personnel changes: Harry de Groot is replaced by pianist Arie Roos, Dub Dubois is succeeded by Henk Jongeleen and later by Hans van Rossem, and guitarist B. Lauw's place is taken by a tenor saxophonist - initially Joop Ayal and later Toon van Vliet.


Wessel Ilcken and Rita Reys disband the sextet and leave for Sweden, where they do many club dates. It is here that Ilcken makes his first recordings, as accompanist for Rita Reys, featuring the prominent Swedish saxophonist Lars Gullin. In Sweden they also get to meet American jazz musicians like Quincy Jones, Art Farmer, Clifford Brown, Stan Kenton and Zoot Sims.


Wessel Ilcken Wessel Ilcken and Rita Reys return to the Netherlands in late 1953. On 18 April 1954 their daughter Leila is born. They make the Amsterdam Sheherazade the regular haunt for Wessel Ilcken Combo, as their group is now called, making the club the center of modern jazz in the Netherlands. Many international jazz artists are able to find their way to the club and frequent it after their own performances, to listen or to jam. Newspaper critic Rudy Koopmans remembers the scene two decades later in the Volkskrant as follows: 'Amsterdam became the capital of the modernists, and Wessel Ilcken was the heart of the movement. In 1955 Philips started the album series Jazz Behind The Dikes with some recordings by the Wessel Ilcken Combo, making Dutch jazz's own identity a fact.'


January sees the nearly simultaneous launch of two record projects with Dutch modern jazz: Jazz From Holland for the Dutch Columbia label and Jazz Behind The Dikes for Philips. On both compilations Wessel Ilcken plays an important role. On Jazz From Holland he is the drummer of the Rob Pronk Trio, the Rob Madna Quartet and the Dutch All Stars. The first of the Jazz Behind The Dikes LP includes two tracks by the Wessel Ilcken Combo, one featuring Rita Reys; Ilcken can also be heard on drums in the Rob Madna Trio. Jazz Behind The Dikes is such a success that a second and third LP are soon to follow, again with a high visibility for Ilcken, including the Wessel Ilcken All Stars on Part 3.

Rob Madna Rob Pronk (1)


In April Rita Reys leaves for New York, having received an invitation from producer George Avakian to record for the major American label Columbia. Wessel Ilcken desperately wants to join her, but is unable to obtain a visa for the States because of previous drug-related problems with the Dutch law. In November he does record with American flutist-saxophonist Herbie Mann in the Netherlands. In September he takes part in the recording of the LP Jazz On The Left Bank in Paris, as part of an international group featuring the French pianist Martial Solal and the American trombonist Billy Byers. In the readers' poll of the Dutch jazz magazine Rhythme Ilcken tops the chart on drums.


Wessel Ilcken In March Ilcken makes live recordings in Koog aan de Zaan with the American tenorist-oboist Bob Cooper. In June he records four tunes from the Louis Jordan book, in which he not only plays the drums, but also sings. The music of this EP will later be added to reissues (on LP and CD) of the Jazz Behind The Dikes albums. On 13 July 1957 Wessel Ilcken dies of a cerebral hemorrhage.


In homage to the drummer and jazz ambassador the newly instituted major Dutch jazz award is named after Wessel Ilcken (in 1980 the name changes to Boy Edgar Prijs).

Discography Wessel Ilcken

In the discography you will find all recordings that have been released listed chronologically. We restrict ourselves to the title, the type of audio, year of publication or recording, label, list of guest musicians, plus any comments on the issue.

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