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ANOTHER VIEW : Woody's unenchanted evening

Woody Allen and his New Orleans Jazz Band will be playing a concert at the Royal Festival Hall on London's South Bank tonight.

During a concert with the same band at the Olympia Theatre in Paris earlier this month, Allen told the audience: "You'll have to decide for yourselves which is worse, my French or my clarinet." The packed house obviously approved of his attempts at both. The applause was deafening the entire evening. It is tempting to say that the applause came in "the wrong places" but then there were no right places.

While Allen makes no bones about being an amateur musician, shouldn't he be embarrassed about practising on our time? He's been doing it in New York every Monday night for years in Michael's Pub, but at least you can talk over it and get sloshed in a pub. Unless you are one of those people who go out of their way to be in the same room as a star, the evening was anything but enchanted.

The rest of Allen's seven-piece band are professionals. They approach the traditional New Orleans style like professionals playing Vivaldi. With respect for tradition. But by definition jazz is supposed to be different each time. Remember the Miles Davis axiom: "Don't play what you know, play what you don't know." Put it this way, the muse was not hovering over the Olympia Theatre that night.

He looked so serious, seated legs crossed, habitual horn-rim glasses, attacking ancient arpeggios. Has Woody Allen lost his sense of humour? Is he aware of how hilarious it was for Lenny Weinrib to be doing a Sidney Bechet impression with a white band? His liquorice shtick [sic!] sounded more klezmer than New Orleans - like the soundtrack of a Woody Allen movie about how jazz came up the Dnieper to Moscow from Odessa.

You wonder why he went to so much trouble to make a spectacle of himself in Europe's quality venues. He can't need the money or the glory. Maybe he just wants to play the role of a musician on the road. It's a classic male fantasy.

On the other hand, Allen understands the use of jazz to enhance mood better than most movie directors. In his recent film Mighty Aphrodite the use of Paul Desmond's song "Take 5" to hint at the artificial gloss of the wealthy Hamptons, on Long Island, might have made that fine jazz musician and great amateur humorist Desmond giggle. (After a woman left him for a Wall Street broker, Desmond said that the world "ends not with a whim but a banker".)

That said, whereas some jazz musicians have achieved a kind of perfect off-the-cuff humour, no humorist has yet achieved a perfect kind of off- the-cuff jazz. It seems doubtful that Allen ever will. Desmond the musician will remembered longer as a humorist than Woody Allen will ever be as a jazz musician.

The writer is the jazz critic of the `International Herald Tribune'.