Talking Jazz

This week, Channel 4 carried off a major prize at the Banff World Television Festival for Not Only But Always, Terry Johnson's dramatisation of the lives of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. The film, which showed here earlier in the year, was almost painful in its exploration of the vicissitudes of the relationship between the pair, and lovingly reproduced some of their most celebrated sketches.

You could, however, have come away with the impression that Moore's ability as a pianist was reflected in Cook's cruel description of his comedy partner as "a club-footed dwarf whose only talent is to play chopsticks in the manner of Debussy". The music was incidental, with the pair either hamming it up round the piano while they sang "Goodbye" at the end of their TV shows, or "Cuddly" Dudley using his musical skills to attract women.

But the truth is that Moore was a considerable musician and a fine jazz pianist who could have made a very good living without ever opening his mouth on stage. As a student, Moore was the organ scholar at Magdalen College, Oxford, and his credentials in classical music were already well established. He had a stack of Errol Garner albums, but his musical activities were largely confined to the organ loft and the composition of string quartets.

All that changed, however, when he met the trumpeter John Bassett, a fellow student. "I was asked to play some of Dudley's music with him in the college chapel," he tells me. Bassett was a jazzer, though, whose sight reading was not up to much. Understanding his difficulty, Moore asked Bassett to start playing "anything", saying that he'd follow on. So impressed was the trumpeter that he invited Moore to sit in with his jazz group.

According to Bassett, Moore had never played jazz in public before. "He picked it up in 30 seconds," he recalls, "and soon he was putting in substitute chords and playing great solos. I am certain that it was the first time he was applauded as a musician, because you don't get applause in chapel, and even if you do a recital, as an organist you're two floors above everyone else."

Bassett, who was later responsible for bringing Moore, Cook, Jonathan Miller and Alan Bennett together to form the Beyond the Fringe team, thinks that Moore's later career was built on those foundations. "After he'd do a solo he'd get applause. Then he started to do little jokes and he'd get applause. And I'm convinced that it was jazz that sparked off in him this ability to perform and interact with an audience."

It is debatable whether recordings of the Dudley Moore Trio confirm Bassett's assessment of Moore's pianistic abilities - that he "wasn't far off" the standard of the great Oscar Peterson - but they certainly reveal a first-rate player who sounds uncannily similar, at times, to Peterson. He shares Peterson's lyricism in ballads and his penchant for bluesy licks in uptempo numbers. Listen to Peterson on "We Take Requests", for instance, and then to one of Moore's recordings, and Bassett's claim doesn't appear too far-fetched.

Moore's music is not easy to find (the Martine label recently released Jazz Jubilee, a compilation of live performances, and two volumes of Authentic Dud were reissued on Harkit Records), but it's well worth the search. Some of his compositions are of their time; others are perfectly good set-fillers that wouldn't shame much bigger names. The occasional arrangement is truly original, as in his Latinised version of "Autumn Leaves", which removes all traces of sugar. And then there are some outstanding tunes, such as his hilarious "Strictly for the Birds", in which his falsetto harmonises with the piano.

By the time Moore appeared in Beyond the Fringe in 1960, he had already been performing regularly with his own trio, in the US with Vic Lewis's group, and as part of Johnny Dankworth's big band. He wasn't bothered about trying to break new ground harmonically, but he was concerned with perfecting his time and rhythm, and later went on to perform with musicians such as the saxophonist Tony Coe, and in venues including the Village Vanguard in New York.

"My ideal of jazz," he said in a 1966 interview, "is a very heavy beat going on, with very relaxed, melodic work on top. Which makes the beat both heavy and light at the same time. When you get that kind of combination of tremendous heaviness and tremendous lightness, I think you get real swing. Stomping - but not in the sense that it's just banging your foot through the floorboards. It's a sort of incredible floating feeling."

If Moore had stuck to music, there's no reason to assume he wouldn't be as familiar a name as Humphrey Lyttleton, and perhaps even garlanded with a knighthood. What Cook's reaction would have been to that, one dreads to think.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury

music

Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas

film

Arts and Entertainment

music

Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7

film

Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary

TV

Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige

TV

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
    Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

    Confessions of a former PR man

    The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

    Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

    Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions