Thursday, 3 January 2008

In praise of theJazz

As I sit here typing this first post of the New Year,  nervously awaiting the arrival of snow in our corner of eastern England, I'm working my way through some of the jazz CDs I was given as Christmas presents. They include The Quartet's Illuminated, The Triangle by Arild Andersen et al, and As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls by Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays.

Now the thing is, I wouldn't have known about any of these if it hadn't have been for theJazz, the UK's 24 hour national jazz radio station, which has just celebrated its first birthday. Not living in a major urban centre, and having a young family, means we don't get to hear much live music: which means we rely on the radio to find out about new stuff. And as any British jazz fan will tell you, trying to find jazz on UK radio has been a pretty thankless task until recently.

I first tuned into the station early last year. First impressions weren't entirely favourable: at the times I tuned in, there seemed to be no presenters and no information about track titles or performers, and the range of music played seemed very 'safe'. In fact, my impression was that theJazz was designed as an easy-listening soundtrack for restaurants trying to create a 'jazzy' atmosphere and I was tempted to snobbishly dismiss the new station as the jazz equivalent of the soporific Classic FM.  

But during the year things began to improve. Presenters were introduced, there were even one or two informative review programmes, and the range of music played increased - so that alongside the repeated plays of classic Miles Davis and Billie Holiday, newer and more experimental material could be heard. 

And so, at long last, Britain has a national radio station dedicated to jazz. The first attempt at creating one was Jazz FM, back in the 1990s, but that could only be heard in and around London, and under pressure from advertisers convinced that jazz was a minority interest, soon mutated into the bland Smooth FM (though it seems that a new internet station using the Jazz FM name has now started up). I once heard an interview with the original founder of Jazz FM. He described travelling to the States to do some research into jazz radio programming there. When he mentioned his plans for a British jazz station to a local DJ, he was asked what was wrong with the existing UK jazz stations. On being told that there weren't any, the DJ exclaimed 'But I thought you were supposed to be a civilised country?'

Now, thanks to the wonders of digital radio and the internet, perhaps we are.


Anonymous said...

If you are interested, here are two other Jazz stations online:

KCSM Jazz91
(S.F. Bay Area jazz station)

WBGO Jazz88
(NYC Metro jazz station)

Martin said...

Thanks! I've just tried both of these stations and discovered I can access them directly via iTunes. Perhaps it was retrograde of me to make so much fuss about needing our own national jazz stations in this age of global internet access!