Jazz lovers will find delights aplenty on the BBC this May. BBC Four announces a season dedicated to jazz, featuring rare archive footage of some of jazz’s greatest performers and smoothest voices. And BBC Radio brings further jazz highlights both in its regular jazz programming and specials.
BBC Four broadcasts a fascinating documentary about the life of Nat King Cole which reveals a new, previously unheard track by the great performer; the BBC Young Jazz Musician final; a journey into the unique BBC archive to uncover long-forgotten performances and interviews with the biggest names from jazz including Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald and Dave Brubeck; and a celebration of Jazz 625, the legendary BBC Jazz concert show from the mid-60s.
Cassian Harrison, Channel Editor, BBC Four, says: “BBC Four is delighted to present the Jazz Music season, delivering a real treat for our audience who love to explore great music and artists. It will reveal some true gems - from a previously unheard Nat King Cole track to fantastic archive performances and interviews with some of the legends of jazz.”
Nat King Cole: Afraid Of The Dark – Friday 23 May
This documentary by producer/director Jon Brewer is a candid account of the actual happenings in and around Nat King Cole’s 'fairytale' life of fame and fortune, taken from his private journals, a series of interviews and with exclusive access to archive held by the estate. Additionally, the film reveals a previously unreleased and unheard Nat King Cole track. Nat was the only black television star in Hollywood at a time when the Ku Klux Klan were committing violence against the black community and America groaned under the weight of segregation and prejudice. But he had a natural talent so unique and disarming that these issues were seemingly swept to one side to allow him to perform and be acknowledged for this gift. The film features interviews with his widow Maria Cole - also a jazz singer - their children Natalie, Timolin and Casey, plus contemporaries and friends, to explore the life of a true cultural and musical icon. Some of their shocking stories have never been told before, speaking a wider truth of the national climate at the time. Contributors include Bruce Forsyth, Harry Belafonte, Johnny Mathis, Tony Bennett, Nancy Wilson, George Benson, and Buddy Greco.
BBC Young Musician Jazz Final – Friday 23 May
For the first time, BBC Young Musician - the UK’s leading contest for young musicians - has launched a Jazz Award. Following an extensive audition process, the final of the BBC Young Musician Jazz Award takes place at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, Cardiff. The five finalists include three saxophonists, a trumpeter and double bassist, aged between 13 and 18 years old. They perform alongside the Gwilym Simcock Trio and are judged by Django Bates, Trish Clowes, Julian Joseph and Jason Yarde. Presented by Soweto Kinch and Josie D’Arby, this programme follows the final and the crowning of the winner of the inaugural BBC Young Musician Jazz Award.
Jazz Musicians In Their Own Words – Saturday 24 May
This film unlocks the BBC archives to explore the words and music of some of the greatest names in jazz, particularly from the golden age of the 60s, 70s and 80s. The BBC soon moved on from Lord Reith’s proclamation that jazz was “a filthy product of modernity” and invited some of the greatest names in American jazz to perform and talk on British television – from Louis Armstrong to Duke Ellington, Count Basie to Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie to Dave Brubeck. Through long-forgotten archive and specially shot interviews, the programme traces the development of jazz from spontaneous 'folk art' through showbiz to 'art music' and beyond.
Jazz 625 At the BBC – Saturday 24 May
This hour-long programme celebrates the archive of this legendary BBC Jazz concert show from the mid-60s - so titled because the newly launched BBC Two was broadcasting on 625-UHF lines (the HD of the time) unlike the 405-VHF of BBC One and ITV. It features classic performances from legends such as Duke Ellington, Dave Brubeck, Dizzy Gillespie and The Julian ‘Cannonball’ Adderley Sextet alongside rarely seen sessions from the likes of Wes Montgomery, Marian McPartland, Chris Barber’s jazz band and Willie ‘The Lion’ Smith.
On BBC Radio, in addition to the regular jazz shows, there are some great highlights and specials.
BBC Radio 2 supports the Cheltenham Jazz Festival, broadcasting from the event since 2008. This year, the station returns for its seventh visit, where it hosts a very special Friday Night Is Music Night (Friday 2 May, 8-10pm); Hoods, Horns And Hooch takes prohibition jazz as its inspiration and features music from Curtis Stigers, Lianne Carroll and Kurt Elling, performed by the Guy Barker Big Band and the BBC Concert Orchestra. And Jamie Cullum will be sitting in for Dermot O'Leary live from Cheltenham Jazz Festival (Saturday 3 May, 3-6pm). The show will feature interviews and live performances from some of the artists appearing there, including Get The Blessing, Curtis Stigers and Melanie Di Biasio. Clare Teal will present her weekly show from the Festival for the first time (Sunday 4 May, 9-11pm). It will feature live performances from Clare herself plus artists performing at the festival. And, with a Cheltenham special, Jamie will be recording his weekly Radio 2 jazz show at the festival (broadcast on Tuesday 6 May, 7-8pm).
BBC Radio 3 will also be at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival, presenting in Jazz On 3 an international line-up of concert recordings including a new seven-piece band led by Norwegian drummer Thomas Stronen, acclaimed American trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, and German pianist Michael Wollny. Other forthcoming highlights on Radio 3 include a concert set from saxophonist Iain Ballamy recorded at Kings Place, London, marking his 50th birthday (broadcast in Jazz Line-Up), a commission from British big band Loose Tubes to celebrate their 30th anniversary reunion, and a rare UK performance from Barry Guy's New Orchestra and cult UK band Led Bib, who celebrate 10 years on the scene this year (all broadcast in Jazz On 3). The BBC Young Musician Jazz Award winner will also be featured on BBC Radio 3’s Jazz Line-Up on Saturday 24 May.
BBC Radio 4 will be broadcasting an eclectic mix of jazz speech programmes in the coming months. Blood Count (Monday 7 April, 2.15-3pm) is a drama about a day in the musical life of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn as they record Strayhorn’s final composition. It is based on research into the working relationship of these two well-known jazz musicians. Bombay Jazz (Monday 21 April, 4-4.30pm) hears presenter Sarfraz Manzoor chart the extraordinary story of jazz in India and how some of the world's most accomplished musicians, including Dave Brubeck and Louis Armstrong, brought their talents to the East, leaving behind an incredible legacy.
In The Cult Of Sun Ra (w/t, Mon 19 May, 4-4.30pm, a Somethin’ Else Production) Jez Nelson explores the life of Sun Ra - the renowned jazz composer, bandleader and pianist who was born 100 years ago - and examines why two decades after his death he continues to inspire an obsessive following. This will be followed by a studio session with the Sun Ra Arkestra under the direction of Marshall Allen with special guests, to be broadcast on Radio 3's Jazz On 3 (in July, 2014). These shows are part of the Sun Ra Centenary on the BBC this year.
BBC Radio 6 Music are broadcasting an Iggy Pop special in which he shares his love of the saxophone, taking listeners on a two-hour expedition into saxophone-sprinkled rock, pop and jazz from the smoke-filled back rooms of America’s music back catalogue (Sunday 18 May, 4-6pm). Gideon Coe will be delving into the BBC Archives to play some classic jazz sessions and concerts in his shows that week (Monday 19 to Thursday 22 May, 9pm-midnight). Lauren Laverne will host a People’s Playlist asking listeners to make their jazz recommendations (Thursday 22 May, 10am-1pm). And Craig Charles in his Saturday night Funk and Soul show (Saturdays, 6-9pm), Cerys Matthews (Sundays, 10am-1pm), and Gilles Peterson (Saturdays, 3-6pm) will be picking some of their favourite jazz tracks to share with listeners.
Beyond the Jazz season, the BBC aims to provide the broadest range and depth of music programmes across television and radio. BBC Four is the gold card channel for arts, and features the most music programming on television. The weekly Friday night music slot is becoming a popular destination for music fans and, in recent months, has featured documentaries covering artists from Neil Sedaka and the Everly Brothers to Elvis Costello and the critically acclaimed BB KING: The Life of Riley, produced and directed by Nat King Cole documentary-maker Jon Brewer. There have also been seasons on the blues, Sound Of Cinema, and United States Of Rock, and the channel is the home of classical music on television, where it features in the heart of the schedule.
Across BBC Radio there are 15 regular shows on the national networks, nations and local radio stations where jazz forms the main editorial of the programme, or plays a significant role. Jazz is a core part of BBC Radio 2’s commitment to broadcasting an unrivalled range of specialist music covering many genres from soul to big band, organ music to show tunes, folk to rhythm and blues and much more. Jamie Cullum’s weekly show on the network (Tuesdays, 7–8pm) is the place where he shares his love and genuine passion for music. And in her weekly Radio 2 show (Sundays, 9-11pm), Clare Teal focuses on the big band side of jazz and swing, where she features bands and related artists from the past 90 years.
BBC Radio 3’s commitment to jazz encompasses four weekly programmes devoted to the genre. On Saturday afternoons, Alyn Shipton presents listener’s requests from across the jazz spectrum in the station’s long-running Jazz Record Requests (Saturdays, 5-6pm); Jazz Line-Up (6-7.30pm) showcases performances from across the UK, alongside specially recorded sessions and interviews; and Geoffrey Smith’s Jazz (midnight-1am) explores the great writers, singers and players of the genre. In Jazz On 3 (Mondays, 11pm-midnight) Jez Nelson presents the pick of today's jazz, recorded live in concert, interviews, CD reviews and in-depth features. Radio 3 also features a jazz musician in its line-up of New Generation Artists - saxophonist Trish Clowes.