The BBC is trying to kill its jazz listeners

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The Independent Online
I wish I had caught the edition of Desert Island Discs the other day on which Bruce Forsyth was the guest. From what little I have seen and heard of Bruce Forsyth, I think he probably has an interesting taste in music. I remember seeing him once in a TV programme about a top-flight piano tuner, who tuned the pianos of many po-faced classical performers.

(He paid a visit for example, to the pianist whose name I can never remember - the one who is the spitting image of Roy Hudd - Alfred Brendel, that's the one - and when he had finished with Brendel's piano, he asked him to play a chord of C. Brendel sat down as if he were about to start a Beethoven recital and almost prayed with his eyes closed as he plucked a majestic chord of C out of it. Perhaps it is impossible for classical pianists to play even a scale without putting on all that agony.)

Not so Bruce Forsyth, who rippled a few nifty chords on his retuned piano, said it was very nice and launched into a funny story about Erroll Garner. It was the one big bright spot in the programme.

That is not why I wish I had caught him on Desert Island Discs. The reason I wish I had heard him lies in a letter from Simon Woolf of London SE4, who says:

"Dear Miles Kington,

"In case you are looking for more ammunition in your campaign against the BBC's woeful neglect of jazz, you might like to check out the re-run of Bruce Forsyth's Desert Island Discs on Friday. It was something of a surprise that Brucie's first choice was Bill Evans playing "Emily", but even more of a surprise to hear (or, are my ears playing tricks on me?) the LP going round at 45 rpm ...!"

Well, I am afraid Mr Woolf's letter got to me too late for me to hear the Forsyth repeat, so I cannot verify his suspicions. I could of course have telephoned the Desert Island Discs office to check, but past experience has not encouraged me to expect satisfaction. I once rang to inquire why they had played the wrong record on John Boorman's Desert Island Discs (Boorman had requested one jazz record and they had played a different one) and to ask whether the guest actually heard the records he had requested, but they would answer neither question.

What is odd is that this seems only to happen to jazz records. Or at least it isn't odd if you subscribe to my theory that the BBC is doing it deliberately. The fact is, that jazz listeners are never satisfied. Faced with our complaints, the BBC has two options. To meet our complaints or get rid of us. My theory is that the BBC has adopted the latter strategy and is trying to kill off the troublesome jazz audience.

This is being done in two ways. One is to induce terminal fatigue by putting on Jazz Notes on Radio 3 at half an hour past midnight, so that anyone who wants to listen has to get up in the middle of the night and start ageing prematurely. The other is to induce sudden death in pedantic jazz listeners by making deliberate mistakes of a kind which they know will produce heart attacks.

I am not just thinking of playing records at the wrong speed. I have noticed several other strange examples recently. I am thinking of an announcement in the Radio Times the other day that saxophonist Lester Young had made his debut in 1956. (It was actually around 1936.)

I am thinking of Michael Rosen on Pick of the Week announcing with great delight that he was going to play a record of "Maple Leaf Rag" that Sidney Bechet had recorded with Louis Armstrong in 1924 and then playing a quite different record of the tune that Bechet recorded nearly 10 years later in 1932 with Louis Armstrong nowhere in sight.

I am thinking of the other day when I did for once sit up late enough to catch Jazz Notes and heard Digby Fairweather back-announce a Benny Goodman record by saying it was a marvellous version of "Rosetta". But it wasn't. It was a not particularly marvellous version of a tune called "Yardbird Suite". Yes, Goodman did refer to the tune of "Rosetta" in the first chorus, but the rest of the time everyone else played "Yardbird Suite", which has a quite different tune and a quite different middle eight, as Digby Fairweather would have known if he had listened to the record.

Or if it was not so late at night that he too was half asleep and mistake- prone.

Or if he had not been instructed, along with Michael Rosen and the rest, to slip in as many mistakes about jazz as possible to induce the sort of apoplexy that will kill off pedants like me.

I warn the BBC. I have instructed my solicitor to sue them for millions of pounds should I be found dead in front of a radio. And, if I should die with a radio nowhere near me, to drag one over and switch it on.