In defence of…Jazz Record Requests

April 11, 2009 at 7:49 pm (BBC, Guardian, jazz, Jim D)

Bloody hell! Twice in one week I’m quoting the Graun with approval! They’ll be thinking I’m grovelling in an attempt to get myself released from “premoderation” at CIF… well I’m not. So bollocks to ’em.

However, I have to applaud the Graun leader page for taking up cudgels in defence of BBC Radio 3’s long-running Jazz Record Requests. For years this excellent programme has had its nominally “regular” 5.00 pm Saturday slot shifted about to make way for cricket, opera and crown green bowling from Australia (OK: I made up that last one). But in recent months it’s become ridiculous. I’ve more or less stopped bothering to tune in on Saturday, because it’s never on – least ways, never on at 5.00 pm. And that is the death-knell of a long-running BBC programme. Tonight it’s been cancelled altogether to make way for Wagner from the New York Met.

It wouldn’t be so bad if the beeb was giving  jazz a decent airing elswhere in its schedules. But it isn’t. The late Humph’s Radio 2 programme has not been properly replaced, and when the Beeb does put out something called “jazz”, all too often it’s Scandinavian bagpipe explorations introduced by some pseud, or the likes of Jamie Cullen or Jools Holland trying to persuade us that pop music and jazz are one and the same thing. Actually, the Beeb seems to be obsessed by a “cult of the personality” when it comes to jazz, which now must be introduced by Cullen, Holland, Caire Martin, Julian Joseph, Courtney Pine, or…(gawd help us)…Ken Clarke.

Which is why JRR, introduced (“Hell-ooo!) by the decidedly non-celeb Geoffery Smith, carrying his in-depth knowledge of all aspects of the music, lightly and without condescention, is now unique on the airwaves. And also why the programme is probably doomed. Now that Humph’s gone, where else can someone interested in jazz get to hear Jelly Roll Morton, Lester Young, Betty Carter and Archie Shepp all in one sitting?

Over the years a number of predictable (eg: Armstrong’s ‘West End Blues’, Ellington’s ‘A Train’ and Parker’s ‘Ko Ko’), and not so predictable records have topped the listeners’ choices. Amongst the latter have been John Handy’s ‘Dancy Dancy’, Maxine Sullivan’s ‘If I Had A Ribbon Bow’ and The Mound City Blue Blowers’ ‘Hello Lola’. The one below lies somewhere in between, but always conjurs up, for me, the youthful joy of listening to jazz on record for the first time:

17 Comments

  1. peter ellway said,

    I agree that JRR is too good ever to drop off the day’s listening, but I don’t mind the occasional later slot – sometimes it is easier to listen at 6 rather than 5, and the so-so-soothing voice of GS is always worth waiting for.

    What about “Junk Man” in your list of frequently requested tunes over the long years? Come to think of it I have not heard it for a bit – maybe I’ll ask for it!

  2. Jim Denham said,

    “Junk Man”! Great number ( I presume you mean the Jack Teagarden version, with Casper Reorden on harp; Mildred Bailey also did a vocal version with Benny Goodman and Teagarden at about the same time). I didn’t know that it was a JRR favourite – but it should be!

  3. peter ellway said,

    Hi – yes indeed, I don’t know the Mildred Bailey version, must check it out. Another one is The Train and the River – from the wonderful film Jazz on a Summer’s Day, I think. I’ve listened to JRR since the mid-60s (when the compere was the late great Steve Race) and there is a unique feel about it, never more so than at present. It was referred to indirectly in a novel I read the other week (I think by Tom Sharpe) so it’s some sort of beacon to many people, I imagine. There was a sad passage just before Geoffrey took over, when Peter Clayton, who had done the honours for many years, was ill and Charles Fox stood in for one or two shows – then Peter came back and announced that Charles had died; he himself died very soon after. Judging by the ages of the listeners who have birthday requests read out, we regulars are an ageing lot!

  4. Bruce said,

    Both Charles Fox and Peter Clayton played a part in my jazz education. Charles Fox managed to combine general jazz erudition with a weakness for the avant-garde on ‘Jazz in Britain’, which was why I was surprised to see him in the flesh at a festival not merely wearing a tie but a BBC cricket club tie while looking as if he’d just appeared on the panel of the Brains Trust (explanation for the under 50s on request).

    Doesn’t the woman who does the opera introductions from the New York Met have an irritating voice? Mind you, I think Geoffrey Smith sometimes does too.

    BTW Jim, you may be surprised to hear a modernist like me has a soft spot for the Mound City Blue Blowers.

  5. peter ellway said,

    Hi Bruce (possibly, addressing particular bloggers is non grata, I have no idea or concern) – anyway, your mention of Charles Fox – yes, he was so erudite/donnish-sounding, and was part of my own jazz initiation in the early/mid 60s; apparently cricket was his other obsession, so that explains the tie. One of his comments on musicians was about Don Cherry – to the effect that he always sounded “lopped off” – and I suppose that is true – what do you think? “Fleeting” is another term which sounds much the same as “lopped off”, and I have heard this term applied to another trumpeter – Red Rodney. Moving on in a random way, have you heard the trumpeter Bill Hardman much? His style was described in the Grove Jazz Dictionary as simply “straightforward hard bop”, but to me it is quite distinctive – I think because of certain repeated phrases. Moving on again – from repeated phrases – Eddie Lockjaw Davis is one of the few musicians I instinctively dislike – I think because of his repeated notes, played in an excessivley roughed up tone.

  6. Jim Denham said,

    Peter: I suspect that you and I may have similar tastes / prejudices. I feel the same way, for instance, about “Lockjaw” Davis. Although you can always be proved wrong. For instance I always regarded Illinois Jaquet as a rather vulgar and unpleasant player – then Norm interviewed me for his blog, and illustrated the interview with Illinois Jacquet playing “Ghost of a Chance” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4yM_bHb1cDg) – it was beautiful! I’ve been searching for a cd of it ever since.

    Bruce: you may be surprised to hear that the Mound City Blue Blowers can be seen and heard “live” on Youtube, from 1929, playing “I Ain’t Got Nobody” and “My Gal Sal.”. Unfortunately, the band does not feature the stars of “Hello Lola”/”One Hour” – Pee Wee Russell, Gene Krupa and Coleman Hawkins – but it does feature Red McKenzie (“blue blowing” with comb, and vocals), Ben Selvin (kazoo), Eddie Condon (banjo), Carl Kress (guitar) and “Josh” Billings (whisk brooms on suitcase)…amazing:

  7. peter ellway said,

    thanks Jim, yes I liked that. Going back to JRR, I suppose that one of its virtues has been the serendipity aspect (in the 1960s jazz labels were rife, so that anything to open listener to new areas must be good). I had never heard of Annette Hanshaw, but since hearing her singing on a recent JRR I have been playing lots of her records on YouTube – some good tunes, and I liked her “I Cover the Waterfront” much better than versions by the likes of Lady Day and Pops (yes!) because they imposed too much of their styles on the tune; she has a simple but jazzy style. What do you think?

  8. peter ellway said,

    Re earlier comments, did anyone hear Junk Man on JRR a week ago? It was immediately followed by another harp record (by a woman)!

  9. Jim Denham said,

    Yes Peter: I heard Junk Man and the other harp thing on JRR. Apparently the harp is becoming fashionable again, especially on the folk scene. Whether it will ever make much of an impact in jazz seems unlikely to me. Casper Reardan (the guy on “Junk Man”) died young as is only remembered for that one record. The “Jazz Oracle” label. however, recently issued some fascinating 1939 live air-shots from the Hickory House in New York, featuring “The Three T’s” (Jack and Charlie Teagarden and Frank Trumbauer, all on leave from Paul Whiteman’s band) with Casper R again on harp. He was replaced on the last broadcast by an equally fine jazz harpist, Adele Girard (who later became Mrs Joe Marsala).

    I like Annette Hanshaw too, but will tactfully pretend I didn’t notice your sacrilegious remarks about Lady Day… (though, strangely, I seem to recall the late Miles Kington admitting that he, too, secretly preferred Annette Hanshaw to Billie Holiday, but had never been able to admit to it as it would have destroyed his jazz credibility!)

  10. Jim Denham said,

    I have just heard that Bruce, who contributed to this particular thread last year, and has commented upon jazz and other matters on “Shiraz” ever since we started is presently recovering from a serious operation. If you read this, Bruce: very best wishes and solidarity from me and many others, comrade!

  11. Jit Davies said,

    I’m bloody pissed off about JRR being bolloxed about. I’ve been listening imtermittently (which ios why I need to be able to rely on the time it is being broadcast) since I comforted my lonley girl-friendless Saturday nights at University in 1966. Occasionally I would get a date, inundate myself in Old Spice and not need to tune in. The following week I’d be on my Jack again and grateful to hear Eddie Boyd singing Five Long Years. In later life JRR would would be my brief moment of sanity in a dismal week – providing my wife was not screamimg over it, or I wasn’t required to go somewhere shopping or mow lawns.
    They can squander so much bloody cash on the bloody Archers which seems to be on every day, or the interminable whinging of You and Bloody Yours. There are hours of cretinous “country” music, seeming aeons of classical music (or does time just seem to stand still), why can’t a few harmless jazz fans be granted a safe haven somewhere in the radio spectrum?

  12. nicky said,

    I’m not surprised that Jazz Records Requests (what a misnomer) is being messed about. Until the producers deign to restrict requests to bona fide jazz rather than the caterwauling rubbish of Monk , Davis and the like…….however brilliant instrumentalists they are, real jazz will always lose out. I have long advocated a separate programme of traditional jazz but the answer has always been that “we play what is requested”.
    One day I will request “Nymphs and Shepherds” sung by the Manchester Children’s Choir in 1927 and see what sort of response I get.

  13. Dave Brown said,

    You must all understand that the BBC is populated by thousands of staff terrified of losing extremely well paid jobs. None of them dare upset the lower middle class boat of paying homage to “the countryside”, ” savings and pensions”, “national heritage”, “antiques road journeys” , “doing up your house”, and of course ratings with consequent abasement to celebrities. Jazz came from the working classes and so is tainted. Pity it ever came into the realm of music colleges. We can only hope that G. Smith is eternal in his own small way. The intellectual “classical” stuff is either moribond or unintelligible for most and slowly withering on the vine despite the efforts of Brit Broadcasting Crap.

  14. Jim Denham said,

  15. Robin Carmody said,

    I think “Dave Brown” is a touch paranoid here.

    Happily, in its other outlets the BBC represents the innovations of the British working class *today* far better than any legal commercial radio does, even if it did not in the past.

    • David Brown said,

      Robin Carmody had better restrain comments labelling me as “paranoid”-suffering from delusions of persecution and possibly mentally unbalanced- how condescending and impolite. Must be a supporter of the growing BBC habit of mispronunciation and inexact application of words – latest example was the “extrapolation” of troops from the Middle East.
      I hardly put up my objections to BBC policy when three days later I find our hero is to “step down” from JJR and the programme is to seek a wider audience with hoped-
      for intake of “younger listeners”.
      Farewell G. Smith and hope all goes well for your “Geoffrey’s Jazz”. I wonder what day and time you will be allotted.
      I will not be reassured by the usual oleaginous spokesperson who will
      pronounce it “all for the best”.
      Dave Brown

  16. Jim Denham said,

    Bloody hell! I hadn’t heard about Geoffrey Smith “stepping down” from JRR until reading David Brown’s comment. The appeal to “younger listeners” though in itself unobjectionable (desirable, even) is almost certainly BBC-speak for “Jamie Cullenisation.”

    Sounds very much like another setback for real jazz on the Beeb.

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