Why I Love: Blue notes

Dame Cleo Laine, jazz singer
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The Independent Online

I've been in love with jazz since I was tiny. Because my father was black I was drawn to black artists like Nina, Ella and Louis. To me, jazz musicians are the most beautiful and creative in the world. They compose on the hoof. To play jazz is to open your heart.

I had a depressed moment when Jazz FM closed. It was playing so many wonderful British jazzers. I look at some of them today – Soweto Kinch, Guy Barker, Julian Marc Stringle – and I think, if I were 40 years younger, I'd be cocking my hat at you.

I don't like the terms avant garde, lowbrow or highbrow. I enjoy Schoenberg and I enjoy Acker Bilk. Some things you have to work at, of course. Albert Ayler took me a while but I admire him; certainly liking, if not love.

Dame Cleo Laine is to receive the Special Gold Award at this year's BBC Jazz Awards tomorrow (to be broadcast on BBC Radio 2, 10.30pm-12pm on Tuesday).

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