The sound of bickering . . . some traditional, some modern

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The Independent Online
THE JAZZ world is in one way very like the Tory party, or Scotland, or the world of chess, or almost any minority you care to mention. It looks homogeneous from a distance, but the closer you get to it the more signs of internal feuding you find. Like all movements that suffer from a vision of perfection, there is great disagreement in the jazz world over what constitutes perfection, and the writers of different gospels within the movement tend not to talk to each other.

A parallel might be the steam railway world, where GWR people and LNER people still tend to be a bit sniffy about each other, even though both companies vanished in 1948. Jazz is not yet quite as dead as steam railways, though it is nearer to being a heritage industry than its proponents often realise. And yet what jazz fans do, given half a chance, is fight among themselves. Ask Geoffrey Smith.

Geoffrey Smith is a genial American who presents Jazz Record Requests every Saturday on Radio 3 at 5pm. Jazz Record Requests sounds like the kind of programme where listeners write in and request jazz records. Superficially it is. But it is also a programme where listeners write in and slag off each other's tastes in jazz.

The other day Geoffrey Smith's patience finally snapped, or at least stretched audibly, and he read out some of the comments that listeners made about the music requested on the programme which didn't fit in with their own image of jazz. It's rubbish . . . total claptrap . . . it's not jazz at all . . . there can be no such thing as British jazz, which is a contradiction in terms, as only the American article can be the real thing .

. . and so on.

All right, said Geoffrey Smith the other day, all right, for heaven's sake, if you don't like what other people consider to be jazz, let's hear what you think is the real thing. Why don't you all nominate one jazz record which to you represents what jazz is all about, and on 29 October I'll play your nominations and then you can all stop complaining, OK?

That must have shut them up. It's bad enough asking a jazz fan to narrow his record collection down to eight records for a desert island, but asking him to narrow it down to one is like asking a fantasy football man to name an all-time great one-man team.

(Mark you, even taking jazz records to a desert island has its risks. When the film-maker John Boorman was asked by Sue Lawley what his discs were, he named among others Bitches Brew by Miles Davis. Bitches Brew is a famous LP Davis recorded in 1969. What they actually played on the programme, masquerading as Bitches Brew, was some scratchy old live club date from the mid-Fifties, nothing like it at all, which suggests strongly to me that the staff of Desert Island Discs can't tell one jazz record from another, or at least that the subject of Desert Island Discs doesn't always get to hear his own records.) One of the reasons I switch on Jazz Record Requests, apart from enjoying what I like, is to endure what I don't like. I can't stand the old George Lewis/Ken Colyer vision of trad and I don't much enjoy long-winded John Coltrane pupils, but I grit my teeth through it as if it gives me the right to enjoy the stuff I do like. But this last week or two my mind has been wandering. One record to stand for my whole collection? One sound to symbolise the way jazz sounds? This is madness] Well, even madness has its advantages. The last time I made a request to the programme it was for a version of 'Tea For Two' played by Cassino Simpson, a pianist who was locked away for life after murdering the singer he was accompanying - in fact, he recorded 'Tea For Two' in an Illinois mental hospital during his life sentence - but the BBC turned out not to have a copy of the record. This time I hope they have a copy of . . .

Of what? I have narrowed my list down to about 100 nominees. By 29 October I fully expect to be down to 50. But I will predict one thing here and now.

After Geoffrey Smith has presented his peace-making 'And That's Jazz' special, he will receive a huge mailbag from all the listeners who hated all the other people's definitive nominations, and the sound of bickering will be heard loud in the land, and it will all start all over again.