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Kay Whittaker



Paintings by Kay Whittaker are on Display at The Jazz Centre UK. She is a professional artist specialising in portraits and figurative paintings. 


Between 2019 and 2020 Whittaker had a large portrait exhibition within our art gallery. When the exhibition came to a close The Jazz Centre UK purchased a selection of Whittaker painting which remain on display at the Centre.


Clarinettist Bernard ‘Acker’ Bilk was, with Kenny Ball and Chris Barber, one of the three longest-surviving stars of the Trad Boom. Acker’s 1961 hit ‘Stranger on the Shore’ stayed on the British charts for fifty-five weeks and is still often heard today, as well as a later hit ‘Aria’  which charted in Britain in 1976 long after rock music had conquered popular culture. With his Paramount Jazz Band from 1957, Acker played the 100 Club on countless occasions and also toured internationally until very shortly before his death in 2014.


We invite you to visit our heritage museum and art gallery to see this painting in person along with more of Kay’s paintings that are on exhibition. Paintings and prints by Kay Whittaker are also on-sale within our in-Centre shop whilst stocks last.

Acker Bilk Cropped.jpg


Excerpts from an article written by playwright Steve Newman.

Kay Whittaker is a professional artist with a passion for life— and a talent to match—with a constant need to travel. Since their return from a recent trip abroad, I’ve had long chats with Kay. This is her story.


Kay was born in Southport Lancashire in the 1950s, where her parents, Stanley and Jessie, had moved to from Rochdale. They bought a large, and rather a ramshackle seafront hotel called ‘The Franklin’; it was a bit like the Adams family house, complete with a tower.


“My father had been in the RAF Band playing the saxophone along with his friend Sid Lawrence. After the war they created their own Jazz bands, Sid Lawrence became a tad more famous! Probably because Stanley concentrated on his hotel, and a travel agency, organising coach tours here and in Ireland.”

Stan Whittaker

Stan Whittaker’s Band. Photo: Kay
Whittaker Collection

“My parents worked hard running the hotel and the travel agency, plus my father was out most evenings playing at different U.K. venues.


“The hotel was something of a madhouse at times, but we loved it. As soon as my younger sister and I were tall enough, we helped out as best we could: standing on wooden boxes to wash dishes, I expect we got in the way really. Best of all was when we played in the creaky old rooms, along the spooky corridors and out onto the miles of beach just across the road.


Kay’s interest in art came about through her mother.


“Mum loved art and poetry, and we spent hours painting with her. She was a good artist, and a brilliant poet and storyteller. She always had time for us.”


With her parents’ businesses doing well, Kay and Faye were sent to one of Southport’s best schools, St. Wyburns.


I had some great classmates, not least the actress Miranda Richardson, Barbara Pierpoint, the hangman’s niece, and Libby Kerensky, the granddaughter of the Russian revolutionary, Alexander Kerensky. All a bit St Trinians really. We had some great laughs though.


“Unfortunately the teachers were a bit old and doddery and had the attitude that their girls weren’t suited to academia. Instead, we had to concentrate on good manners, deportment and elocution. Our grades were not good, but at least I was top in art! “


In the 1960s Stanley, my dad, not only opened a couple of jazz clubs, but he also bought a small villa near Cannes, in the south of France. We spent many wonderful summer holidays there. Our neighbour was the famous French sculptor, Francois Thevenin, whose work was extraordinary. He, and his partner ‘Sido’, were friends with Picasso, who became their son’s godfather. We often had dinner with them. Their house was full of wonderful paintings by Picasso.


Francois Thevenin and his partner ‘Sido’ “After leaving school both Faye and I went off to art college for 3 years, after which I went to work in my father’s travel agency doing the artwork for brochures and promotions. He would have liked me to have been a singer or musician. I was the only one in the family that had an ear for music! He taught me to play the saxophone but I was too shy to go on stage. The travel agency suited me, and I did get to see an awful lot of the world.”


“ Father took me to many jazz concerts where, after the show, we often went backstage to meet the performers he knew. Ronnie Scott, Johnny Dankworth, Humphrey Lyttelton, Chris Barber, plus the brilliant American drummer, Art Blakey, and trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie. So many, all so talented and so charming. Source: Amazon “ He knew many musicians and performers of all kinds back then, and if they were performing locally he’d invite them back to his night club for a drink after their show. Then he’d put a billboard outside saying that ‘so and so’ was HERE TONIGHT! He had queues around the block! Good old dad." 


“I remember one night The Beatles were playing at the Odeon, along with Helen Shapiro and Dave Allen. He invited them all back to his club after the show, but was persuaded by an old friend, who’d taught Ringo to play the drums, that the Beatles were all a bunch of ruffians, and that he shouldn’t have them anywhere near the club. So dad withdrew the invitation. John Lennon was very disappointed, and pleaded with dad to let them come, but dad said no. It was a decision he would live to regret.”


In the Late eighties, Kay moved to Brighton to live and work with her sister who owned two art galleries, one in the Lanes and one on the Pier.


“It was then I became a full time, professional artist, specialising in musicians and performers of all kinds: either in performance or sitting for me in the studio. It was at this point that I was commissioned, by his manager, to paint Pavarotti in performance. The painting was presented to the great tenor for his birthday. What a privilege that was.”


Kay then met her partner actor Steve Devey and they eventually moved to Stratford upon Avon. Here they set up an art gallery and antiques business in Sheep Street. Located n a big, beautiful 15th-century building called, The Shrieves House. The rear of The Shrieves House.


“It was a good life, although it was hard work. Steve still found time for his acting and I had a wonderful studio to continue my art, travelling to jazz festivals and exhibiting, at the same time working as a book illustrator for Minerva Press." 


After 10 years there we moved to Spain for a while. The Mediterranean light is a haven for artists and from our lovely finca, surrounded by an almond orchard, we set up a gallery and I painted portraits and caricatures at nearby Moraira.


We spent three wonderful years there, before returning to Britain, due to our parents failing health, settling back in Southport with our little cocker spaniel we’d rescued in Spain.


“I started an Art Therapy class for the elderly at my older sister’s nursing home, and it ‘s so heartwarming to see people enjoying art, and the contentment and happiness it brings them.


During Kay and Steve’s recent travels in Southern France, they were joined by Kay’s sister Faye. It’s a part of the world they became familiar with, and still love, and may certainly end up living there.


Kay has recently finished large commissions in oils of two totally different icons, Mohamed Ali and Winston Churchill. As a professional Portrait artist, she is prepared to undertake any subject.


However Jazz is first love and that’s how she came to meet the famous U.K. trumpeter Digby Fairweather, by presenting a portrait of him after a gig in Southport.


And it’s that colourfulness of character that is at at the heart of Kays work, art that is so full of life, energy and movement that it becomes an extension of the subject. Her work is not just a representation, it’s a breathing moment in passing that, thankfully, stays with us.


Kay’s work is not just accomplished; it has a reason to exist that is as important as our desire to live a life.

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