Sounds Like Jazz

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Sounds Like Jazz




Jazz is like a camel: almost impossible to define or describe, but unmistakeable when you see it; or hear it. No one really knows where the name comes from, though one popular theory is that it derives from the French verb "jaser" - - to chatter. Other theories are rather more risqué, so we'll let those pass as this is a family website.

It is generally accepted that the cradle of jazz was New Orleans. There, Anglophone whites and Francophone Creoles mixed with Afro-Americans, many of whom remembered the days of slavery, and with sailors of all nations who would visit the red-light district, Storyville, when their ships docked and they got a few hours of shore-leave. Received wisdom says that jazz grew from the melding of European melody and harmony and African rhythms. The instrumentation of typical jazz bands was probably determined by the types of instruments left behind by the Confederate army after the Civil War, and this also helps account for the fact that many early jazz ensembles were marching bands that would play in street parades at carnivals and during the procession to and from the cemetery at funerals. Pianists, who were not much good at marching whilst playing, got most of their employment in brothels and bars.

The first recording of jazz (or jass) was made in January 1917 by the Original Dixieland Jass Band, but this was a white band whose style, even that early, was shaped by commercial considerations. Some authentic pioneers either never recorded (e.g. Buddy Bolden) or recorded many years later when they were past their best and had been left behind by new developments (e.g Freddy Keppard) but luckily we have recordings of King Oliver and his protégé, Louis Armstrong, who, along with Sidney Bechet, transformed jazz from collective improvisation to a format centred on virtuoso soloists. Over the next six decades jazz mirrored, in essence and in microcosm, the development of European music over 900 years: indeed, it has been called Black America's classical music.

Since the late 1970s-early 80s jazz, like classical music and pop/rock, has fragmented dramatically. A multiplicity of new sub-genres joined the old categories, so we now have (just for a few examples) traditional, mainstream, swing, territory bands, bebop, hardbop, neobop, cool, third stream, cocktail, acid, dinnerjazz, free, fire music, harmolodics, splatter, improv, electro-acoustic, fusion and nu-jazz. Between them, your venerable hosts on Sounds Like Jazz (Sue Steward, Mike Whittaker, Richard Oliver and Barry Witherden) will cover all these genres over the coming months, and give their own individual views on "the true jazz".

Requests, suggestions for programme themes, and feedback on what you enjoy (or don't enjoy) about Sounds Like Jazz will be welcome: E-mail your ideas or comments to and put "Sounds Like Jazz" as the Subject.

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What types of jazz do they like ... and why??

Phil Kent - Click Here for more

Phil Kent comes from Cheltenham, in Gloucestershire UK. He became interested in jazz in the early ‘60’s after having seen the Dudley Moore/Roy Budd trios. He moved up to London where he studied jazz music and improvisation, with eminent jazz virtuoso bass player Peter Ind. After two years, he decided to go professional, and went on to play with most of Britain’s top jazz musicians, including, saxophonist Tubby Hayes, Acker Bilk, Brian Lemon, Sandy Brown, and drummer Phil Seaman. He was, for many years, the regular bass player with the famous Bob Wallis and his Storyville Jazzmen. His main early influences were Pete McGurk, Ron Matthewson, and latterly the superb American bass player Brian Bromberg. Having toured Europe for almost 15 years, Phil decided to slow the pace down a bit, and so he bought a cottage in a small village in Somerset. These days, he is still very much involved with music by running a fan club for Rolling Stones guitarist Brian Jones, as a result of which he is mentioned in several books about The Rolling Stones. He also runs several jazz websites such as, and He still plays double bass, and is now concentrating on solo acoustic bass, and multi-tracking, as well as being part of the team that presents Sounds Like Jazz.

 Mike Whitaker - Click Here for more

A convert to jazz round about the age of ten – I jumped straight from Children’s Favourites ( The Laughing Policeman, The Runaway Train) to Ellington and Basie, inspired by the wonderful crackly sounds wafting across to ruralCornwallfrom AFN inGermany. Earliest joyful memories include sitting on a hill above the river at Bude with a friend and a wind-up gramophone, playing Goodman, Krupa and Herman 78s (remember the Super Rhythm series with blue and white labels?) and discovering, with another Bude Grammar School pal, the joys of Fats Waller. Live music was limited to the Red Aces band from Holsworthy, playing for the Saturday hop at the Headland Pavilion.

The sordid necessity of making a living dragged me and my Dansette record player (remember them?) up to London and life in a Balham bedsit. But I could not believe the cornucopia of music; this was the time when the Londonmodern jazz scene was at its best with people like Johnny Dankworth, Ronnie Scott and Tubby Hayes, Joe Harriott, Tony Kinsey, Tommy Whittle, Don Rendell about – all the guys that learned about bop from sailing the Atlanticwith Geraldo’s Navy. On Sunday nights the big cinemas like the Granada Tooting Broadway put on big band concerts with Ted Heath, Vic Lewis and Jack Parnell. Who, I wonder, remembers the annual Jazz Jamboree at the enormous Gaumont State Cinema in Kilburn? Many suburban pubs had smoky upstairs rooms with trad bands like Freddy Randall’s enthusiastically belting out Canal Street Blues.  There was 100 Oxford Streetwith Lyttelton and Barber in residence and the Flamingo where you’d find Tony Crombie. Wet Saturday afternoons were spent in Doug Dobell’s or Micky Asman’s record shops, going through boxes of secondhand 78s; half a crown to five bob – relatively quite a lot of money. But you could take them to a booth and listen before you bought, so that was an impecunious Saturday afternoon sorted! And, on 11th March 1956 the silly spat between our Musicians’Union and the Americans ended. I was in the audience in the Albert Hall to hear the Stan Kenton band. Wow ! Even in that cavernous space, the impact of those opening chords was – is – unforgettable. It wasn’t Phil Spector who invented the Wall of Sound – it was Kenton.

I was never a member of a tribe. Indeed, I think that fundamentalist tribalism disfigures jazz. I could not sympathise with the ‘Go home dirty bopper’ banner that greeted Bruce Turner’s appearance with Humph atBirmingham. Even now, I meet people who tell me that jazz died in 1940!  With apologies to the memories of (and devotees of) both Syd Lawrence and Ken Colyer, I am firmly of the view that we cannot go on endlessly replicating the music of the past. Jazz is an art form that is barely 100 years old, yet its variety is amazing. New Orleans and big band swing, R ‘n’ B, gospel and spirituals, jazz-rock fusion and jazz-classic crossover ( Günter Schuller’s ‘third stream’), Cuban and Brazilian music, even Western Swing; all are part of it and contribute to it.

Although I come from a long line of professional musicians (my grandmother was a church organist who moonlighted as a silent movie pianist, grandfather was the leader of the Lay Choir in St Paul’s Cathedral and my father was business manager of the Black-and-White Minstrel Show), my musical talent never developed beyond the tea-chest bass stage. But now that I am relieved of the sordid necessity of making a living, I can indulge my love of the music. I am the national jazz adviser for U3A (University of the Third Age). So if you are a member of a U3A that does not have a jazz appreciation group, then get in touch with me – my main function is helping people get groups off the ground. And I get to do fun things like organising a national study day with Scott Stroman, professor of jazz at Guildhall School of music, and the school’s splendid jazz orchestra.

That’s me – try to listen and share my enjoyment in the enormous variety of music that that little word encompasses. 

Richard Oliver - Click Here for more

Richard OliverI first developed an interest in jazz in my early teens in the Fifties. My brother who was six years older than me was a traditional jazz fan. When Humphrey Lyttelton introduced an alto sax into his band in the shape of Bruce Turner he thought it was the end of the world as we know it! The first jazz record I heard was "The Onions" by the aforementioned Humph. I spent my formative years in Bromley, about ten miles south of London Bridge. I visited many of the local jazz clubs, usually in smoke filled upstairs rooms in pubs although Chislehurst Caves was an interesting if bloody cold venue.Chris Barber and Terry Lightfoot were regular visitors but we had to go to the 100 Club in Oxford St to see Humph. I saw Chris Barber when Lonnie Donegan was his banjo man. Later I saw Johnny Dankworth when Dudley Moore was his pianist. By this time of course I had moved on and discovered big bands and more specifically American bands.

Louis Armstrong was the first of these bands that I saw and it was quite an eye opener, to see in person this legend. Around this time I also saw Jack Teagarden and Earl Hines.  I also saw Bill Haley as too - but we won't talk about that!

In 1956 an older friend introduced me to big band jazz. My first record of this genre was April in Paris by Count Basie. I had never heard anything like it and I played it over and over again. Dad was not impressed but I was hooked. Basie, Ellington, Kenton and yes Johnny Dankworth and Ted Heath. There was great music being played this side of the pond as well. A visit to Ronnie Scott's proved that. Oscar Peterson introduced me to a different kind of jazz yet again. What a show he would put on.

Over the years my tastes obviously have broadened. Miles Davis and Charlie Parker are about as far as I go down the Bop road. Ornette Coleman is, for want of a better expression, too far out for me. You won't hear him on my programme but you will on Barry's. This of course is what is great about jazz and music in general. There is such an incredible range of styles to suit all but the most narrow minded of people and who wants to appeal to the narrow minded anyway?

So listen in on Tuesday evenings for some great music and chat. And by the way, I must say this; I did enjoy Bill Haley.

Sue Steward - Click Here for more

Fans of Sue's Bits & Bobs (alternate Wednesday evenings at 7.00 pm and Sunday afternoons at 2.00 pm) will know, as well as regular listeners to SLJ, that Sue's musical taste is panoramic. From Louis Armstrong to Pinski Zoo, you can rely on lots of great music when Sue is on air.

Barry Witherden - Click Here for more

I first started to enjoy jazz when I was about nine, through watching films like The Glenn Miller Story, The Benny Goodman Story and anything with Gene Krupa on drums. In my early teens I started to delve more into modern jazz: first Stan Getz, the MJQ and Dave Brubeck, then I soon began to understand and appreciate the likes of Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, Sonny Rollins, Jackie McLean and Ornette Coleman. I had a couple of alto sax lessons and then some on keyboard,  but realised I couldn't afford either the lessons or an instrument ... and, besides, why spend time and money laboriously learning to make mediocre noises when I could be listening to the god-like genius of Bird, Miles, Trane and the others?

I guess I'm a classic example of the adage, "Them that can, do, them that can't, write about it." When I was 15, disgusted by the general drubbing that my hero, Brubeck, got (from the critics, not the public) I submitted an article defending him to Jazz Journal. The legendary Sinclair Traill, founder and then-editor of JJ, disagreed with everything I said but enjoyed the article and published it, so I was off the starting-block. Soon after, I had pieces published in Jazz Monthly, International Times, Jazz and Blues and several fanzines. In my late teens I was, for a while, Secretary of the grandly-titled British Institute of Jazz Studies and was contributing editor of its magazine. Then I dropped out of the fanzine scene for a while until, at a Christmas party in 1985, I met the late, much-missed Richard Cook, founder and editor of Jazz Review, co-author of The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD and author of definitive books on Miles Davis's recorded legacy and the Blue Note label. RDC, as he would style himself, had just been appointed editor of The Wire and, remembering some of my earlier writings, invited me to contribute to the magazine which, under his leadership, became arguably the most influential journal of exploratory contemporary music in the world. Thanks to him, I got back into the swing of writing, and have subsequently contributed to Jazz on CD, Jazzwise, Gramophone, Music Week, Classic CD, Avant, The Rough Guide to Classical Music and The Guinness Who's Who of Jazz (for which I wrote 45,000 words without the aid of free samples from the sponsor) and am currently a regular contributor to The Wire, BBC Music, and Jazz Journal... which is how 10 Radio is often able to be amongst the first to feature new releases before they've been reviewed elsewhere.

I'm proud to be part of the Leavisite (or Puritan, or Stalinist) wing of jazz fandom: it makes me squirm that anything with the least bit of simplistic syncopation or smidgen of improvisation gets labelled as jazz, and I resent the fact that jazz is still patronisingly defined in many dictionaries as "syncopated dance-music of negro origin" or words to that effect. If it ever was merely that (which I would dispute, since even in the early 20s it was technically innovative and had a strong political undercurrent) it soon became, in the hands of musicians like Louis Armstrong, Coleman Hawkins, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus, Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor and Albert Ayler, one of the most challenging art-forms of the 20th century, and, in the 1940s, 50s, 60s & 70s, a significant factor in the struggle for civil rights for black Americans. It has spawned related but now quite separate genres, such as free improv in Europe, and has influenced virtually all modern popular music, since Rock & Roll grew out of the Territory and Jump bands, and most pop music developed from Rock & Roll. Real jazz requires, deserves and rewards the closest attention, and is one of the few genres in any art that can totally engage the emotions whilst challenging the mind. Here endeth the first sermon!

The first programme of every month (and sometimes an extra) is presented by Barry Witherden, and will usually feature mainly modern jazz without neglecting the pioneer giants like Armstrong and Bechet. Some programmes will offer a survey of new releases, others may focus on a particular style or musician, but all will showcase the best in jazz.

Bev Blackmore

As a child of ten or so I was fascinated by our "accumulator"driven radio and my ability to roam the dial.Between 7pm, Dick Barton time, and bed time or when I was dragged away from the radio, I discovered the Long Wave, as it was called then. I soon found AFN, the American Forces Network, and my life changed forever, listening to Woody Herman, Stan Kenton, Count Basie, Jimmie Lunceford and many others.

My first record purchase was Alexander's Ragtime Band by Bunk Johnson, played until the grooves were tired out; my next was Groovin' High and Hot House by Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, quite a leap in musical styles.

As a teenager I hung around with the other jazzers in our group listening to English bands: Ted Heath, Eric Delaney, Sid Phillips and others long forgotten.  We used to hang around a club for adults called the Cranleigh Club: 16 was the minimum joining age but the sight of us leaning through the open windows to hear the jazz coming out of the enormous record player softened their hearts and they let us join at 14.

After many happy years at the Cranleigh Club it was suggested that I go to art college, another revelation: jazz, girls. alcohol and dancing. When I entered the common room for the first time they were playing Chris Barber and Ken Colyer records. I had moved by then and was a conceited modern jazz fan: Mulligan, Charlie Parker and then the West coast sounds of Shorty Rogers. I spent 3 very happy years, until forcibly ejected, trying to turn trad jazz fans into Modern jazz fans. I failed miserably but had great fun trying.

Over the last 50 years my musical taste has widened and now include the dreaded folk music and even country music; at the end of the day however, my greatest loves are modern jazz, up to Eric Dolphy and others and a big helping of early blues. There is no bad music only music badly played, as Basie (or was it Ellington?) said. And as the Ellington number had it: "It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing" - Happy Listening!

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