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ALYN SHIPTON INTERVIEW: Tuesday, May 13th, 2008

Can you remember what piece of music it was that first ignited your enthusiasm for jazz ?

Yes, Fats Waller playing Your Feet's Too Big on a 78 my Dad brought back from Hong Kong at the end of the war, and which was played to me when I was a toddler in the 50s. I loved the fun vocals, and then realised that the piano playing was rather special!

It's taken me longer to appreciate the role and possibilities of the bass in jazz than virtually any other instrument. What was it that drew you to it ?

I always wanted to play bass - even when I was too small to play one, and had to start out on the cello. But at 12 I began. I think it's the power of the instrument in the rhythm section that attracted me. Also it had parallels to the bass in the baroque orchestra and I spent a lot of time listening to great bassists like Francis Baines (and also, interestingly, Barry Guy) playing early music when I was a boy, at the Tilford Bach society in Surrey.

Do you discern any parallels between playing bass and interviewing muicians ?

You have to listen, and interact!

Ian Burnside on Radio 3 sometimes asks his guests if there was any piece of music that they would like to drop into Room 101, never to be heard again. Is there a piece ( or indeed,…. let's be indiscreet….a musician ) that you regard in that way ?

Anything by Kenny G.

You have an unusually broad appreciation of jazz styles across the generations. Are there any limits , any areas where you dare not tread ?

Once there were. I came from a strict traditional and mainstream background, but I realised that I liked a lot of other styles, and that I needed to work a bit at them to find out what they were about. I'm not a great fan of the noise based improv of people like Peter Brotzmann, although I've heard him play some storming sets at the Knitting Factory in NY, and I am generally sceptical about fusion.

Given the constrictions of Corporation strategy, how do you see the future of jazz broadcasting and your place in it ?

Two questions - I think the BBC will continue to offer jazz a place in its specialist music output, and to promote selection and advice (as Jazz Library does at present) somewhat over simply playing music that is ever more widely available by other means, and I hope I continue to be there to help in this.

Are you happy with ( and interested in ) the way jazz is developing ?

Whenever I get depressed about the state of jazz, I go out and hear something that really excites me. Recently it's been Finn Peters and Fraud at Gateshead and Bill Frisell and Enrico Rava at Cheltenham, showing that young Brits have plenty to offer on the one hand, and more established talents still have much to do that's new and fresh on the other.

Which jazz writers do you particularly respect ?

Gary Giddins, Howard Mandel (see the Howard Mandel Interview), and Terry Teachout of the current US critics. I am still a huge fan of Ian Carr although his illness means he has probably written his last.

The Two-Part Desert Island question, cobwebbed but necessary. If you had but 6 tracks to put on your I-Pod, what would they be ?

Louis Armstrong: Hotter Than That

Sidney Bechet / Muggsy Spanier: That's A Plenty

Dizzy Gillespie / Charlie Parker (on Groovin High

Duke Ellington at Newport 56: Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue

Miles Davis: Blue In Green

John Coltrane (on Chasin the Trane

Secondly, is there a record that you really, really love that doesn't appear on any of the standard "Best" Lists but you feel should ?

The 3CD Buck Clayton Jam Sessions on Definitive/Lonehill.

The H.G.Wells question. If you could travel back in time and space to catch a performance or even an era, when and where would it be ?

Dizzy Gillespie Big Band: Salle Pleyel 1948

Do you feel that your jazz sensibility has affected your extra-musical life at all ?

It has made my entire life more of an improvisation!


For more on and by Alyn Shipton go to his website