A LIFETIME in music has been crowned with a top national award for a leading Sunderland bandleader.
Ray Chester, from Roker, has been a musician for 60 years - but his accolade is not in recognition of his long career.
The 73-year-old trombonist has beaten all comers - young and old - to the title of most outstanding musician in this year's BBC Big Band Competition.
Thousands of listeners heard the announcement at an all-winners' concert broadcast on Radio Two.
"The awards are usually won by the young whizzkids, so I felt I was striking a blow for the older generation," says Ray.
He added: "I was particularly pleased since three of the five judges, Don Lusher, Mark Nightingale and Barry Forgie, are themselves trombonists."
Monday night's radio show featured Ray playing a trombone showcase with the Midland Youth Jazz Orchestra, the winner in the band section of the competition.
It was a double celebration for the musician, since his own band finished second in the contest, which attracted entries from across the country.
Ray started playing in dance bands when he was a teenager and has led his big band since 1966.
He and his players submitted a tape of them playing two pieces to the competition - Alone Together and You Don't Know What Love Is.
Ray was then invited to play at the prestigious concert in Birmingham.
The drummer with the big band on its competition entry was Dave Fox, who died recently. Ray is hoping to stage a concert in his memory.
The band's next performance is at Monkwearmouth School on Friday, July 5, when it can be heard with guest star Bruce Adams on trumpet. The show starts at 7pm and tickets are 4 (2 concessions). To book, tel: 553 5555.