Jazz treasury

Radio - Louis Barfe tunes in to the former chancellor

Many politicians like to suggest that they have a rich "hinterland" - a portfolio of interests outside of politics, thus making them seem almost human. Ted Heath has yachting and music, Michael Heseltine has his arboretum, almost everyone knows about Ken Livingstone's amphibian chums and quite a few people must be aware that Kenneth Clarke likes jazz.

Indeed, the former chancellor has just presented a series on Radio 4 called Jazz Greats. The first programme was, neatly enough, about Kenny "Klook" Clarke, the pioneering bebop drummer. Trombonist Nat Peck - who played in the multinational orchestra that Klook co-led with the Belgian pianist Francy Boland - was on hand to supply the historical substance.

Unfortunately, after dealing with the drummer's early years in America and his migration to Paris in the 1950s, the programme lost sight of its subject a little. Perhaps the lack of direction was just down to the presenter's enthusiasm. Clarke seemed uneasy reading from a slightly forced script, making much of the shared name, and only really came alive in conversation with Peck, particularly when discussing the occasion he saw the Clarke-Boland Big Band at Birmingham Town Hall in the 1960s. It is a shame, then, that there was no attempt to explain why that orchestra was so remarkable: first, because it was a United Nations of jazz; and second, that each musician was a legend in his own right, but all were happy to sublimate their egos for the good of the ensemble, a quality too rare in all-star groups.

Fortunately, the second programme - in which Clarke quizzed John Chilton, the biographer and long-time associate of George Melly, about the singer Billie Holiday - was much more satisfactory in biographical terms.

Both Clarkes apart, Kenny is an exceptionally popular name in the jazz fraternity - Dorham, Wheeler, Ball and Baker between them just about covering the run of jazz trumpet styles. The last of these, a British great who died two years ago, was recently the subject of an hour-long tribute in Radio 3's Jazz Line-Up series (Saturdays, 4pm).

In it, the BBC Big Band - one of the best things bearing that organisation's initials - recreated moments of glory from Baker's long and illustrious career. His working life took in stints with bandleaders such as Ambrose and Ted Heath (no, the other one). Baker also famously supplied the trumpet sounds for The Muppet Show, but it should be pointed out that his puppet amanuensis was the Great Gonzo rather than Kermit the Frog. However, it was his leadership of Baker's Dozen - a versatile combo that played everything from Dixieland to hard-swinging modern jazz on its own late-night Light Programme show, Let's Settle for Music, throughout the 1950s - that supplied most of the inspiration for this tribute.

This delightful and shamelessly nostalgic programme, impeccably assembled and produced by Keith Loxam, almost made one long for those far-off nights on the Light. Just occasionally, perhaps, Radio 2, its modern successor, could give Richard Allinson and his collection of adult- oriented rock records a night off and allow us, once again, to settle for music, Kenny Baker-style.

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