All that jazz in smoky cellars

"PEOPLE are frightened of jazz," says John Dankworth CBE. "They think you have to be intellectual to listen to it, that it's not the kind of music that can be enjoyed but has to be studied. That's just not true. Someone needs to make that clear."

This is why Mr Dankworth, now 70 and widely regarded as one of Britain's greatest jazz musicians, was in a dimly lit basement at Pizza on the Park in London last week, to launch a new venture to raise the profile of jazz. For once his long-standing partner and wife, Dame Cleo Laine, wasn't with him for which he apologised: "Cleo is in California, not so much sun-drenched but drenched. She's helping put out the sandbags... She says she's working on a musical version of Noah's Ark," he told the gathering, which included the former Beatles producer Sir George Martin, the Earl of Winchelsea and members of the Parliamentary All-Party Jazz Group.

The Jazz Development Trust has been launched with five aims: to increase jazz in education, bring together jazz archives around the UK, form a national jazz orchestra, set up a number of jazz centres of excellence and increase the amount of jazz on television and radio. The work of the trust has been made possible thanks to a grant from the Foundation for Sports and Arts.

It is something Mr Dankworth is tremendously excited about. But then it was his idea - something he first suggested in 1991 when he called for an initiative to promote jazz in Britain.

On one level he thinks it is ridiculous that jazz does not have a higher profile. "There's a perfume named after it, an American baseball team named after it and countless adverts use it. Yet no one, not even the Americans sell the music properly. We need to sell jazz better.

"We've got to ask why some people feel uncomfortable with jazz. We have to put our house in order. Jazz has this enormous animal appeal, it's got a great rhythmic quality. You don't have to be intellectual to enjoy it.

"I think jazz attracts people with a slightly above-average musical IQ. That's why I did it. My parents preferred classical music but I found jazz a better way. What they really would have liked was for me to go and work in a bank. Luckily I was quite successful early on and parents like success - they get corrupted by it.

"I think jazz has got one of the most complete ranges of musical life. It requires improvisation which is instant composition really - the greatest skill of all.

"But we have to think about education. We have to make sure jazz goes into schools so the next generation knows about jazz and doesn't think it's some po-faced serious thing studied by intellectuals.

"There are so many things that we're hoping to achieve by this launch." One of which, he admits, is more funding. "Any art form ends up being based on money changing hands," he concedes. "A great art form has to be successful these days, it has to be run like a business."

To any businessman who might be somewhat sceptical about investing in struggling jazz musicians he has this answer: "If you'd said invest in three loud middle-aged men unknown outside the world of opera you would have said don't. Or Irish dancers who move nothing above their hips? Or you would have said it was not good business to invest in a musical based on a set of poems by that arch-intellectual T S Eliot about cats."

AT A dinner given by the Royal Television Society at the Bafta last Tuesday the great and the good of the small screen gathered. Particularly heartening words for the assembled company then came from Geoffrey Perkins, head of comedy at the BBC and formerly of the successful independent production company Hat Trick.

Mr Perkins delivered a much appreciated 30-minute speech about writers and how important they were, how valued by the BBC and how they should get more control, more money and respect.

The first person to rise when the question and answer session began was Caroline Aherne, creator of the smash-hit show Mrs Merton. She sweetly pointed out that when one of her four writers had left, no replacement was made. So the remaining three asked for the money allocated to the fourth as they were still going to have to churn out the same amount of television comedy. The BBC refused and had already whisked the money off elsewhere. What was Mr Perkins going to do about it?

"Er..." said Mr Perkins who launched into a waffle about looking into it and seeing what could be done, it was a bad thing and he didn't know why it had happened. Evidently it cut no ice with Ms Aherne. "Oh well," she said sitting down with a sigh, "at least the dinner was nice."

No tackiness intended, Harry

THE Prime Minister, Tony Blair, thundered last week about "tacky and inappropriate" Diana memorabilia where photographs of the late queen of hearts and her sons are being used to sell anything from ashtrays to T- shirts to Internet computer games.

Quite right, all high-minded people replied. Then on to my desk fell an invitation to a private view at the Sadie Coles HQ gallery in London. It featured the work of Elizabeth Peyton, an American painter who reproduces likenesses of Britpop's stars. Although a tasteful plain silver on the outside, inside was a photograph of Prince Harry looking at the flowers left after his mother's death at Kensington Palace. A bit much, I thought.

For its part the gallery said there was no question of trying to jump on the memorabilia bandwagon. Rather the image had been chosen "because Elizabeth Peyton has done some paintings of Prince Harry... It was the editor's choice, it was like the subject she'd been working on for the exhibition. It was planned a long time ago so it has nothing to do with what Tony Blair said. Honestly, it was just unfortunate that it happened in the same week." Any other week it would have been all right then, I suppose.

ANOTHER tasteful invitation to an art gallery falls on my desk. The picture of six naked men kneeling in a pyramid and pictured from behind is not for the prudish, leaving little as it does to the imagination. Certainly a cursory first glance shows that the gallery lives up to its name of Well Hung. There are no prizes for guessing this is a flyer for the gallery belonging to the less than self-effacing DJ Chris Evans, who is not averse to shock tactics to make his point. "Chris didn't choose the picture himself," says a spokeswoman, "but he thinks it's tremendous fun. It's actually in the new collection 'Well Shot'. No, we haven't had any complaints at all, people love it. It's one of the photos in the sale - the original is 4ft by 4ft so it makes quite an impression."

Chauffeur forced to get on his bike

OVER at Express Newspapers, Lord Stevens has been accustomed to having a Bentley for his use. In the good old days his chauffeur would use one of the company's BMW 5-series cars to arrive chez Stevens and then drive the noble lord in the Bentley from Kensington to work in Blackfriars. Alas, times have changed since the cost-cutting Lord Hollick has taken charge, determined to push the Express into the black. Lord Hollick now drives the BMW to work and the poor chauffeur has to travel to Lord Stevens' home by bike.

LAST week the Impotence Association announced that 14 February - Valentine's Day - was officially National Impotence Day. It seems that you cannot move for different causes bagging days when you are urged to care (Make a Difference Day), stick out your chest (National Wonderbra Week), and wheeze (National Asthma Week). But perhaps the most bizarre one to date is Chivers Hartley's latest idea: National Marmalade Day on 6 March. What on earth does one do on that? Answers on a postcard please.

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