Bernard Stanley "Acker" Bilk was born
January 28, 1929, in Pensford, Somerset, England. He is known for his
trademark goatee, bowler hat, striped waistcoat and his breathy,
vibrato-rich, lower-register clarinet style. Bilk earned the nickname
Acker from the Somerset slang for 'friend' or 'mate'. He lost two front
teeth in a school fight and half a finger in a sledging accident, both
of which Bilk has claimed to have affected his eventual clarinet style.
He learned the clarinet while serving in the Royal Engineers in the Suez
Canal Zone after his sapper friend John A. Britten gave him a clarinet
that he had bought at a bazaar and had no use for. The clarinet had no
reed and Britten fashioned a makeshift reed for the instrument out of
some scrap wood, and by the mid-1950s he was playing professionally.
Bilk had been described as the "Great Master of the Clarinet" "Stranger
on the Shore" which he was once quoted as calling "my old age pension"
remains a standard of jazz and popular music alike. In 1997 Bilk was
diagnosed with throat cancer, he passed away on November 2, 2004 at the
age of 85.
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