Saturday, 22 June 2013

How I got interested in jazz

I was teenager in the 1960s, towards the end of the trad boom and the rise of Rhythm & Blues in the UK. My older brother and sister started buying records which we played on a Dansette or similar- things like Fats Domino's Blueberry Hill, and a little later mind-blowing albums like Coltrane Plays the Blues, which I'm sure I loved as much for the cover as the contents.

I had no idea about jazz styles, and just absorbed whatever I could find; the first live jazz I heard was at the Bell Inn on Oxford Road in Reading, whose back room hosted a weekly trad club - Steve Lane, Keith Smith, Ken Colyer. I must have already been reading about the music a little because I won a year's free admission in a quiz by knowing Bix's full name. (Pedants' corner- the one I gave- Leon Bismark Beiderbecke- is now known to be incorrect!)

A paper-round and Christmas earnings as a Post Office casual meant I could start buying records from Hickeys and some of the other record shops (remember them?) in the town. I listened to the BBC radio jazz programmes hosted by Peter Clayton and Charles Fox and whenever I had enough money I'd buy an album or two. Once, having heard Peter Clayton describe Coleman Hawkins' Body & Soul as 'the hottest jazz single ever' I asked the record shop if they could get me a copy as a single-  nearly 30 years too late. I did buy some new releases- one was Mingus's Black Saint & the Sinner Lady as soon as it was available here. My father- a Fats Waller fan- described it as 'like the music you'd hear in hell' which just encouraged me to play it louder.

I was also listening regularly to the Voice of America's Music USA programme introduced by the great Willis Conover- the broadcasts were aimed at Eastern Europe but the reception was ok on our valve radio- I remember well the night he played a whole side of John Handy at the Monterey Jazz Festival. I saved up for that record straight away. (And incidentally had the pleasure of hearing Handy play one of the pieces just a few years ago at Dizzy's Club Coca Cola in NYC).

A modern jazz club opened in town with a good local trio and star guests; I started attending regularly on Sunday nights, travelling on the trolley bus and nursing an illegal pint throughout the evening. When the club lost its licence the musicians moved to Pangbourne 10 miles or so along the A4; this now involved hitch-hiking to the club and begging one of the musicians to give me a lift home. usually successfully. One particularly memorable night saw Tubby Hayes in an unforgiving mood- a very good drummer (an American GI) asked to sit in; Hayes agreed then counted off a ridiculous tempo just as the drummer was moving towards the kit. He had no chance to play a beat for 2 choruses.

The story of me hitch-hiking to London to hear Coleman Hawkins at Wembley town hall can wait; this post is designed as a pump-primer to get you writing- we hope to hear from you soon.
Alan Ross

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