Alyn Shipton reflects on stepping up to the JRR plate ...
Taking over a programme that has had a knowledgeable and popular presenter for twenty-one years is no easy task. So when I slipped behind the microphone for my first Jazz Record Requests last Saturday, it was in the knowledge that many listeners would be tuning in unaware that Geoffrey Smith’s inimitable 'Hello would no longer be part of the Saturday afternoon aural landscape. Nevertheless, I hope that they will find the mix of music requested by fellow listeners to be as compulsive listening as it has been for the last 45 years or so.
Some time in 1982, I was having a drink with the programme’s old presenter Peter Clayton somewhere down the Fulham Road, and he bet me that one day I’d be following in his footsteps. I laughed it off at the time, but I’m sure he’d have had a wry smile to know he’d won the bet 30 years later. It’s an honour to be following in his footsteps and those of Humphrey Lyttelton, Steve Race, and Charles Fox, all of whom I knew, and all of whom relished the job. In their hands, Jazz Record Requests was a major part of my own jazz education as I was growing up. As a chorister I was often out singing at weddings when the programme was on air (it used to go out at around lunchtime on Saturday) so it was often recorded by my parents on to reel-to-reel tape, and listened to later. When I formed my own band at school, we’d cluster round the tape machine and learn the music from those recordings. So I have indelible memories of “The Blues” by Artie Shaw (stretched over two sides of a 78, and played by the studio manager of the day with the tiniest of pauses between the halves), Kid Ory’s 'Song of the Wanderer' with Darnell Howard’s mournful clarinet wailing around on no known system of tuning, and Billie Holiday’s wistful 'I Cover the Waterfront'. We transcribed the chords, worked out the solos and tried to play them ourselves. I’m sure we weren’t alone and that JRR has introduced jazz to several generations of players as well as listeners.
If I’ve learned one thing from the postbag in the last few weeks, it is that people’s choices are as surprising, insightful and unusual as ever, alongside requests for well-known evergreens. But there’s also frustration that opera has shunted the starting time around rather too much lately. I’m assured that - at least 'til the Proms begin - the teatime schedule will now be restored to normal, and at least we won’t be off the air every time England plays in a test match, as was the case when the Third Programme made way for Test Match Special back in the '60s!
Finally, it’s great to back on Radio 3 on Saturday afternoons, but not without a tinge of nostalgia for the last five years of Jazz Library. Thanks to all those who listened, and most of all to the team who worked hard with me to make the programme, who are shown in the photo below.
Farewell to the Jazz Library team, from left to right, engineers Charlie, James and Chris, Alyn, executive producer Frank, broadcast assistant Jon and podcast producer Anna.
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