Opera Week - and a bit of jazz on the side

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The Independent Online
This week, on Radio 3, has been Jazz Week. Hooray, I hear you all cry. Lots and lots of jolly jazz on Radio 3! Hours and hours of super syncopation. At last a sign that Nicholas Kenyon, the stern head of dear old Radio 3, has unbent to dear old jazz.

A sign, even, that he has learnt something about jazz, which did not seem to be the case last May. This was the time when I drew attention to a 15-minute programme on Radio 3 about Jelly Roll Morton which managed to make eight major errors about him. Not eight major errors in the programme. Eight major errors in one 133-word paragraph, which included the presenter announcing one record and playing another, without anyone noticing that this had happened.

Nobody from Radio 3 wrote to contradict me, least of all to say sorry, so I take it that my count of eight major errors was correct. And if Nicholas Kenyon's crew can make so many errors about one jazz musician in one paragraph, just imagine how many major errors they can make in a Jazz Week!

Imagine the scope for wonderful mistakes in a seven-day period of jazz broadcasts.

But hold on.

Let us look more closely at this "Jazz Week". Let us count up carefully the hours of broadcasting devoted to jazz on Radio 3 this week, the programme hours decorated by Radio 3 with the proud strapline JAZZ WEEK.

Hmmm. I make it a total of 940 minutes, which is to say about 16 hours. Sixteen hours of jazz. Well, that's not bad, considering that our usual ration consists of nothing but the occasional concert recorded by the tireless Derek Drescher, backed up by Jazz Record Requests on Saturday. Oh, and that programme that nobody listens to because it's far too late, Jazz Notes, at 00.30 hours (and which can be rather annoying waiting up for because they tend to change the announced contents).

Hold on a moment, though. They have marked Jazz Record Requests as part of JAZZ WEEK. What a cheek. The programme. would be there anyway - it is broadcast every week, year in, year out (except when, as recently, it is cancelled to make way for live Wagner). Nothing special about Jazz Record Requests. You can't call it part of JAZZ WEEK.

And they have earmarked Jazz Notes as part of JAZZ WEEK. Oh, come on, fellows! Jazz Notes goes out the whole time, even if all the listeners are asleep. Subtract Jazz Notes and Jazz Record Requests from the total, and we get a less impressive 13 hours or so.

Of that 13 hours, another hour and a quarter is given to Radio 3's daily O-level session, Music Machine, in which Wynton Marsalis is talking to Natalie Wheen about how to get started in jazz and how to busk on "Happy Birthday" - not exactly designed to attract the average jazz fan. Included in this 13-hour total also are a chat with conductor Andrew Litton on what jazz records he likes (big deal) and a 45-minute programme called Voices which is a rag-bag of records by jazz singers. Well, I am not going to haggle, but if you count the genuine concert jazz performances going out this week which would not otherwise go out were it not for Jazz Week, I make it between eight and nine hours of solid music. All the rest is somewhat pointless chat, repeats or programmes that would go out anyway. Make it 10 hours, to be generous.

During the same period no fewer than 14 hours of opera are broadcast. I know, because I have just gone through the Radio Times, tediously adding it up.

To put it another way, during the "special" Jazz Week, more opera than jazz is being put out on Radio 3. This is partly because this week's composers, Cherubini and Spontini, are opera composers, which does bump up the total, but mostly because every week on Radio 3 is Opera Week. You have to designate a week Jazz Week to get eight or nine hours of music (just over an hour a day!) but with no effort at all, you can get 14 hours of opera.

It's not a proper Jazz Week, even when you print JAZZ WEEK in capitals, and flexible slots like Music Machine and In Tune are lent to jazz for one week only in order to make the figures look better.

It still doesn't add up to a jazz week, Mr Kenyon.

You don't fool me, sir, even if you fool yourself.

And I won't feel much different until you have a real Jazz Week or, even better, give instructions for Jazz Notes to be broadcast at a time when people are awake. Or, better still, until you cancel some Wagner to make way for jazz.