Such Sweet Thunder - Benny Green On Jazz (2001)foreword

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Such Sweet Thunder - Benny Green On Jazz


Foreword by Elvis Costello

One Sunday afternoon in the early 1980s, I was making a guest appearance on a Radio One music show. We were playing an ‘exclusive preview’ of tracks from my latest album. My attitude to the media in those days was not famously co-operative. Nevertheless, the DJ was attempting some matey small talk. He had willingly played one or two of my records in the past, so we were not actually enemies or anything.

The programme stumbled on through another of our new, not very Radio One-friendly cuts. As the music faded away, my host began a new line of enquiry in his still youthful and confidential Canadian delivery, ‘So, Elvis,’ . . . always an unlikely opening for a conversation . . . ‘If this were a regular Sunday afternoon at home, what would you be doing?’ Without hesitation, I answered truthfully if with careless disregard for his feelings. `Listening to Benny Green.’

Benny, I should remind you, was broadcasting on Radio Two at the very same moment. I was just being honest. At that time, I hardly ever turned on the radio to hear the pop music of the day. I had a shelf full of records to play and I could talk rubbish all by myself. However, Sunday afternoon was completely different.

Over on Radio Two, Benny might take one song and present us with its history, tales of the writers and performers, then play several recorded versions that would turn the tune inside out and reveal all its charm and beauty. He seemed to revel in playing the Ella Fitzgerald version of ‘Bewitched, Bothered And Bewildered’, the one with all of the vaguely risque verses. Perhaps it was also here that I first heard Louis Armstrong’s rendition of ‘Let’s Do It’ — a nine-minute virtuoso lesson in delivering a punch line. It was the kind of show that took the time and had the pace to appreiate riches. When it came to the art of Coleman Hawkins or the debt that the Benny Goodman Orchestra owed to the genius of Fletcher Henderson, Benny Green could take a theme, sustain it and embellish it delightfully.

The result of these Sunday masterclasses in jazz and vocal music appreciation was that I could nearly always be found in Potter’s Music Shop at the foot of Richmond Hill on a Monday afternoon hunting for something played on the Benny Green show the day before. I had bought my first serious guitar in this shop when I was thirteen; my mother had worked there for a while in the 1960s, so I had been as regular a customer as pocket money allowed. Now, the owner, Gerry Southard and his wife Ann must have wondered about me coming with my new pop star cash to burn, seeking rare Lee Wiley records. Gerry and I would discuss the merits of Benny’s selections and I would sometimes be directed to yet another valuable interpretation of the tune in question. More often than not I went home with a selection of titles first heard on Sunday afternoon. I should have a Benny Green shelf for all those discs. It’s either that or we’ll have to burn some of the furniture to make room for all this music.

This book is a wonderful collection of Benny Green’s writings. The musical appreciation and anecdotes are sometimes founded in the experience of a working musician. Other times, obscure quotations, pieces of background detail or the vivid descriptions of people and places are teased out until the glorious main point emerges. That dry and laconic radio manner can also be detected in print.

You may find compassionate estimation more than combative criticism in these pages. Everybody has an opinion but when it is surrounded and supported by history, humour and she telling of a wonderful tale you are more gently persuaded. Most of all, this is a voice that likes to celebrate more than to break down. There is nothing quite like it in the brittle and trite cacophony of modern critical posturing. At the risk of sounding like an old fool who longs for days that I can barely remember, I shall be diving into these writings from time to time to remind myself of a voice, in every sense, to which I shall always be grateful. In the end, it all leads back to the music.


Tags: David JensenBBC 1 FMBBC Radio 2Ella FitzgeraldLouis Armstrong

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Such Sweet Thunder - Benny Green On Jazz foreword (2001)


Elvis Costello wrote the foreword for Such Sweet Thunder - Benny Green On Jazz.

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