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Bebop Spoken There

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Joe Temperley"I was on the bus as Carney's replacement. I said to Harold Ashby 'Where are we going?' He answered 'What difference does it make?' " - (Jazz UK January 2013.)

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Today Tuesday January 24

Afternoon.
?????
Evening.
Charles Gordon (solo piano) - Redwood Bar, Vermont Hotel, Newcastle. 10pm - midnight. Free.
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To the best of our knowledge, details of the above events are correct but may be subject to alteration.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Russell cross examines Alyn Shipton

Broadcaster, lecturer, writer, musician. Just four of many things you are known for.
If you appeared as a contestant on Mastermind how would you reply to the question ‘Occupation?’ And what would be your specialist subject?

Actually, nowadays the majority of my time is taken up as a producer for BBC Radio 3, so I’d have to say “Radio Producer” as I am Executive Producer for both Jazz Now and Sunday Morning (a classical music programme).
I think my specialist subject would be based on one of my books, so probably the “Life and Work of Harry Nilsson”.
In the 1980s you worked at Fox FM, an independent radio station in Oxford. Did you consider it to be a ‘foot in the door’ to the world of broadcasting?

Although I began on Radio 3 the same year – 1989 – it was Fox that taught me a lot of the basics: how to operate a studio, how to edit tape (no digital editing back then!); how to “backtime” programmes – in other words to work out how many minutes and second are still to elapse so everything finishes on time. And also to be constantly alert to change – sometimes the duration of the advertising that had been sold for my show would change after I’d gone on air, so I had to retime everything on the spur of the moment. Also, because local radio encourages a lot of feedback, I learned a lot about listeners as they phoned the show, faxed (again this was the 80s!) and wrote in.

All these years later, is Fox FM still on air?

Sadly not – the frequency is now Heart FM, and they closed the Oxford studios six years ago, and broadcast over a wider Thames Valley area from Reading.

You have since gone on to present and produce many jazz programmes for BBC Radio. Readers will fondly recall Jazz Notes on Radio 3, the noir-ish Jazz at the Movies series presented by Guy Barker, and currently you are in the presenter’s chair on Jazz Record Requests. Did you have a career plan, or has it been a case of ‘right place, right time’?

I was a publisher for 25 years, doing educational and academic books, mainly, but I escaped from that in 1995 and decided to try and make a living from music in whatever ways were possible: playing it, reviewing it, broadcasting about it and writing books about it. I started on Radio 3 in 1989 and so went from being a very occasional freelance to a much more regular part of the station, doing Impressions, Jazz File and my personal favourite Jazz Library, series as well as the ones listed in the question. There was also a six year stint on the BBC World Service, which meant I was lucky enough to travel to hear jazz in many different places! So the plan was to make on big move out of the world of books, and into the world of music, and the rest has been more “right place, right time”.

JRR is, perhaps, the jazz world’s The Archers – change it and all hell will break loose! Are you aware of the onerous responsibility upon your shoulders?

Yes, and it’s something I’ve talked about with almost all the previous presenters, but particularly the late Peter Clayton who was a good friend, and who bet me once that I would end up presenting JRR. I am sorry he did not live to collect his £5….

Occasionally Jazz Record Requests goes ‘on the road’. The programme visited Tyneside during the Gateshead International Jazz Festival. It was fascinating to observe how you and your Radio 3 colleagues worked in the gaze of the jazz public. Does an OB present technical challenges compared to a regular studio-produced edition of the programme?

I love travelling about with the show, and meeting listeners, and asking them to join me on air with their requests. That is also a challenge, and I do recall the rising sense of panic on a show from the Royal Festival Hall in 2014 when it was clear my guest had forgotten what record he had requested! It’s also important to sound relaxed even when you're watching the second hand sweep round the clock, working out exactly when the next disc has to start, but without cutting short the conversation with the guest. I think the biggest challenge was at Stratford this April for Shakespeare 400 when I decided to play with the band that opened and closed the show as well as presenting and interviewing. Just for good measure, Lord Hall, the BBC Director General dropped in for a chat while we were on air! So no pressure there, then…

You have written extensively about jazz in newspapers, including The Times, and many magazines. In addition, you are a biographer; subjects have included Fats Waller, Dizzy Gillespie and Bud Powell. Do you choose your subject? Is it a labour of love or are you working to a commission?   

I’ve always chosen the subjects of my biographies. I have to feel passionately about the music or the person’s life to be motivated to spend months writing a book. But I’ve only once written most of a book without having had a publisher lined up, and that was my life of the songwriter Jimmy McHugh (I Feel a Song Coming On, finally published by Illinois University Press in 2009) where I was given the biographer’s dream, which was access to an incredible archive of letters and documents, and knew I had to write the book, irrespective of who published it. But when Illinois came on board, they did a fantastic production job, and it remains one of the books of which I am most proud, because it has such an incredible musical sweep, from Boston Opera with Caruso, to Irving Berlin, to the dawn of the Cotton Club, to Broadway and Hollywood musicals, and ending up in the rock and roll era by way of Sinatra!

You were consultant editor to The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz. This must have been a major undertaking. Similarly, your splendid book A New History of Jazz (all 965 pages!) would be a lifetime’s work for a mere mortal. How do you find the time?

The Grove job was my day job for some years, and I was responsible for Dictionaries of American Music and Instruments as well as jazz, plus a series of composer biographies. But when I left Macmillan, I continued to work on Jazz so I was given the title of Consultant Editor. This meant discussing everything with Barry Kernfeld the editor, from the number of entries on certain topics, to how we’d tackle discographies, what we’d do with narrative histories of things like jazz on film, or festivals…it was constant intellectual stimulation about a subject we were both passionate about.

How do you find time to play gigs? After all, you are a musician!

I have much less time for playing now than when I was younger, and somehow managed to fit around my day job some quite long stints with Sammy Rimington, Ken Colyer, and the London Ragtime Orchestra. Today, the Buck Clayton Legacy Band plays often enough to keep my hand in, but infrequently enough for everyone to continue their independent musical careers. But some friendships were formed many years ago, such as with the late Lol Coxhill, with whom I played in 1973, and it’s true that you make a very different sort of connection with fellow musicians when you have shared a bandstand. I was interviewing Bobby Wellins for Radio 3 a couple of years ago and he reminded me we’d played together in the 70s. I’d assumed he’d forgotten a few obscure gigs in Hampshire pubs, but no, he remembered, as did drummer Dave Wickens, and that memory had stayed intact over forty years!

Next week you will be at the first Ushaw Durham Jazz Festival to present What is Jazz? Should we consider it to be a lecture or a talk?

It’ll be an interactive conversation. Alan and I will interact, and we’ll interact with the audience as well.

Your What is Jazz? co-presenter, Alan Barnes, is known for his great wit. Much hilarity is bound to ensue. Will you work to a script or with Barnesy alongside could it go where you least expect it to?   

We know roughly where we’re going because we have done this before, but it is never the same twice and it’ll have all the best features of a jazz improvisation (and probably more jokes)!

Thank you Alyn, we’ll see you at Ushaw College on Saturday 27 August.    
Russell.   

1 comment :

  1. Great interview, Russell.

    Looking forward to the improvisation...

    ... (and the jokes!)

    ReplyDelete

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Bebop Spoken Here -- Here, being the north-east of England -- centred in the blues heartland of Newcastle and reaching down to the Tees Delta and looking upwards to the Land of the Kilt.
Not a very original title, I know; not even an accurate one as my taste, whilst centred around the music of Bird and Diz, extends in many directions and I listen to everything from King Oliver to Chick Corea and beyond. Not forgetting the Great American Songbook the contents of which has provided the inspiration for much great jazz and quality popular singing for round about a century.
The idea of this blog is for you to share your thoughts and pass on your comments on discs, gigs, jazz - music in general. If you've been to a gig/concert or heard a CD that knocked you sideways please share your views with us. Tell us about your favourites, your memories, your dislikes.
Lance (Who wishes it to be known that he is not responsible for postings other than his own and that he's not always responsible for them.)
Contact: lanceliddle@gmail.com I look forward to hearing from you.

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