Not enough jazz on Jazz FM

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The Independent Culture

What would you expect to hear on a radio station named Jazz FM? Jazz, perhaps? No, no, don't be so naive! The way of the world - of commercial radio, of marketing, audience shares and remits - is much more complex than that.

Although jazz is used to sell everything from perfume to coffee to cars, the music is far too difficult to inflict on an unsuspecting public. Who knows what delicate soul reared on the comforting pap of chart music might accidentally turn the dial and be assaulted by a few bars of Charlie Parker or Bud Powell? How could the poor dears stand the shock?

Those who don't subscribe to this view have long been infuriated by the programming policy of Jazz FM, which since it started has filled its airwaves with a diet of musical junk-food. Plenty of hackneyed blues and soul and a mind-numbing stream of commercial fusion artists, all of whom have learned the same "funky" piano parts and copied the worst aspects of the Sanborn school of "impassioned" sax playing. Apart from the excellent evening shows like Dinner Jazz, the chances of actually hearing any jazz on the station - any Miles, Dexter or Trane - have been as great as Louis Armstrong rising from the dead to perform a rap version of "What a Wonderful World" with Busta Rhymes.

Three months ago the Radio Authority began an investigation into whether Jazz FM was breaching the terms of its licence by playing too much soul and R&B (the question of whether that aural excrescence, smooth jazz, should be played is one that nobody expects will ever be addressed). The authority has now concluded that the station has not breached its remit that "at least half the music during daytime must sit well with the label 'jazz'."

Martin Campbell, the authority's director of programming, admits that he might not follow the same policy if he were running Jazz FM. I suspect that he sympathises with the complainers, but feels that a stricter definition of the remit would be difficult to enforce. The station would certainly argue against it: this is a station, let's not forget, that so lacked confidence in the ability of jazz to attract an audience a few years ago (under a different owner) that it changed its name to JFM.

So just what do they play? I conducted my own survey one morning and recorded every track played between 8.30 and 9.30am - prime time on any station. They were, with my rating out of 10 for their jazz content: Robbie Williams, "Have You Met Miss Jones?" (4); Average White Band, "Put It Where You Want It" (4); Nellie Furtado, "I'm Like a Bird" (0); Ben E King, "Stand By Me" (0); Ronny Jordan, "So What" (7); some generic Motown tune (0); a sampling of Nina Simone's "Feeling Good" (1); Sade, "Smooth Operator" (2); and Aretha Franklin, "Freedom" (2).

Only one of those could unequivocally be called a jazz number. Half of them "sitting well with the label 'jazz'"? Don't make me laugh. No wonder nobody I know in the jazz world listens to Jazz FM. But that, of course, is because we actually like jazz.