Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Larkin's Jazz

Philip Larkin's jazz box set will be pure poetry
Larkin was the jazz reviewer of the Daily Telegraph, and a brilliant one, writes Charles Spencer.

8:26PM BST
06 Aug 2010

For the past few days I have been revisiting the excitement of my childhood, when I awaited the arrival of each new single by the Beatles with an almost unbearable sense of expectation.

The new release that has had me pacing in the hall in anticipation of the postman's arrival with a parcel from Amazon is a new four-CD box set called Larkin's Jazz (Proper Records) that has been compiled to mark the 25th anniversary of the great poet's death.For a decade between 1961 and 1971, Larkin was the jazz reviewer of this newspaper and as Ivan Hewett reported in the Saturday Review section a few weeks ago, he was an exceptionally fine, funny and contentious critic.

Like many of us, Larkin loved best the music he grew up with – in his case Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller, the classic swing bands and the small groups led by Eddie Condon – and loathed the arrival of bebop and the further flights of modernism that followed. I had much the same feeling of disbelief and fury that Larkin experienced as he first encountered the likes of John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman when I got my first earful of rap 20 years ago, and nothing I have heard since has persuaded me to take it to my heart.Larkin expanded his thoughts and feelings about jazz to write a brilliant demolition of the fatuities of modernism, in painting and literature as well as music, in his introduction to his collected Telegraph pieces, All What Jazz (Faber, £14.99). The volume is a fine companion to the new CD collection that contains so much of the music Larkin wrote about so eloquently.

Personally, I think Larkin missed out on a great deal in his total aversion to the shock of the new, from the classic Blue Note recordings in jazz, to the paintings of Mark Rothko, which move me as much as anything in art. But his stern strictures about self-indulgence and work that has lost touch with its audience are a tonic in these days of glib, anything-goes culture, while his choice of music in this brilliantly annotated box set is an utter joy. The music ranges widely, with particularly choice cuts from Duke Ellington, Sidney Bechet, Fats Waller, Count Basie and his great singer Jimmy Rushing whose voice, in Larkin's delightful description, "pours down like sunshine". Many less familiar artists are featured too.

Larkin once said he could live a week without poetry but not a day without jazz. Listening to the music he revered, one readily understands why.

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