Keith Shadwick: Critic, broadcaster and musician

Sunday 23 October 2011 06:02

The writer, broadcaster and musician Keith Shadwick, who was a music critic for The Independent and a leading contributor to Jazzwise magazine, was a rarity among jazz journalists. In addition to numerous jazz books and magazine features, he was an authority on classical music who also wrote in-depth biographies of Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix. He was a jazzer who rocked and championed Górecki.

Born in Hampstead in 1951, Shadwick emigrated to Australia with his parents in 1961, attending Wollongong High School in New South Wales before reading English Literature at Sydney University. He graduated in 1973 and swiftly developed as a forward-thinking saxophonist playing in jazz and rock groups, influenced by John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Eric Dolphy and Jimi Hendrix.

He also began writing pieces for music magazines, presenting a regular music programme on Melbourne FM radio and writing poetry. His jazz-rock group Sun released a self-titled album in 1972, after which he joined the Melbourne rock group Bleeding Hearts, recording the album What Happened! in 1976. Around this time he started laying down ideas for what he hoped one day would become a solo album.

He returned to London in 1978 and landed the job of editor at Music Trades International magazine. After deciding to move to record retail, he became the main classical music buyer for the WH Smith chain in 1984. He arrived just as CDs were beginning to have an impact on the classical market and with a firm belief in quality, authenticity and availability – values inbred as a life-long record collector – set about renewing the retailer's relationship with the classical labels. He also undertook freelance commissions, becoming series consultant and writer for the Marshall Cavendish part-work The Great Composers.

In 1985 he was appointed head of marketing for RCA Classics as the company looked to re-establish its classical department. He revitalised the company's back catalogue as well as promoting the careers of RCA's main UK signings, the guitarist Julian Bream and the cellist Julian Lloyd Webber. In the late 1980s he helped RCA refocus its interest in jazz, reviving its core catalogue and signing the saxophonist Dave O'Higgins' Roadside Picnic and setting up the deal for the pianist Jason Rebello.

His growing experience in both classical and jazz marketing led to the position of general manager in 1989 for Koch International. But the increasingly profit-hungry demands of record labels sat uneasily with Shadwick, whose concern was to serve the music first, and the accountants second.

By 1992, with the support of his wife Alison Cole, he went freelance – not the easiest of steps in the resource-strapped jazz world. He became the jazz section editor of Gramophone, began presenting the Classic Verdict CD review programme on Classic FM and joined me as jazz reviewer on TOP magazine, where we later collaborated on The Tower Jazz Guide (1999). A huge fan of the saxophonist Eric Dolphy, he was inspired by Dolphy's quote: "When you hear music, after it's over it's gone in the air. You can never capture it again." In his reviews, and books, Shadwick strove hard to summon this fleeting magic and arcane power of the music he cared so deeply about.

Further radio shows followed for Classic FM and the BBC World Service, as well as two editions of The Gramophone Jazz Good CD Guide (1995, 1997) and a number of reference books, including The Guinness Guide to Classical Composers (1998) and Jazz: legends of style (1998). Shadwick came on board with me again when he began contributing to Jazzwise magazine from 1997. He was a passionate, highly articulate colleague and the guy most other jazz writers turned to when they needed to check discographical details.

Acclaimed biographies of Bill Evans (2002), Jimi Hendrix (2003) and Led Zeppelin (2005) attracted wider audiences: the last took an in-depth analytical look at the musicians and their music, rather than the typical Zep read of drugs, demons and debauchery. Shadwick's special ability to reach deep inside the music, reawaken its spirit and discover hidden delights sent readers scurrying off to locate the requisite albums with his firm directive, "run, don't walk to the record store", still ringing in their ears.

He had been fighting a rare and aggressive form of asbestos-induced cancer, mesothelioma, for the past three years. He wrote about the disease in the national press, addressed a House of Commons select committee and campaigned tirelessly to raise awareness. In the past few months he had finished the final edits to his sixth and seventh books of poetry, Before I Left and Just Here, and at last managed to finish his solo album, Free Time, to be released by Candid records. Finished copies of the CD were delivered on the day he died.

Jon Newey

Keith Shadwick, writer, broadcaster, musician and poet: born London 24 July 1951; married 1986 Alison Cole (two sons); died London 28 July 2008.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments