A PERSONAL MEMOIR BY MILES KINGTON
There was a time when I was a part of the British jazz scene. I reviewed jazz for many years for The Times. I presented jazz programmes on BBC radio. I even did the first interview with Andre Previn when he came to live in London, and I asked him all about jazz, and he said “I have come here to get away from jazz, 1et's talk about classical music ", so it was a challenging though ultimately fruitless interview.
But I never did sleeve notes,
Reviewing was what I did most. Musicians used to came up to me after I had written a review and say, " Hey, I read your review in The Times. Amazing! As a matter of interest, did you actually go to the concert?". Yes, I was part of the scene, all right. Another time I wrote the programme notes for a Lol Coxhill concert, and Lol Coxhill read them out to the audience during the first half, and than shook his head and said, " Who wrote this, I wonder?", but he was just kidding, he knew who had written it. One other occasion I was in a restaurant in Covent Garden, and I said hello to Mike Westbrook who was sitting at another table, and his wife Kate came over and poured a bowl of brown sugar over my head, than left.
“What was that for? " I said. "For starters," he said, mysteriously. Yes, it certainly made you feel part of the jazz scene, things like that.
But I never did sleeve notes. It didn't pay, and you needed to do research, and you had to sound authoritative. It wasn't my scene.
Then Pat Crumly rang me up and asked me to do the sleeve notes for this excellent record, and I said, " I don’t think they call them sleeve notes in CDs, Pat, like they did with LPs;
nowadays they're called inlay cards or fall-out sheets, or something," and he said, "Don’t come the silly ass with me, Miles, will you write them or not ?” And I said, "I don't do sleeve notes, never have", and he said, "Then I shall start putting it around just how you got started in music and what kind of a bass player you were back in 1961". That suddenly made me see things from a. different angle.
He's right, of course. I wasn’t a very good bass player in 1961. But them, I had only been playing the instrument for three months. I had been at Oxford University for a year,
playing jazz on the trombone, which taught me that a) it is the hardest of all instruments to play convincingly and b) nobody really wants a trombonist in the group unless they have to.
Many years later I was talking to Chris Pyne about this, and he said he was actually once invited to join a group which didn’t want a trombonist. It was the group led by Tony Coe and Kenny Wheeler, called Coe, Wheeler and Go, and Pyne finally worked out that everyone in the band was either so shy and reserved, like Coe and Wheeler, or incomprehensible in a regional sort of way, like Ron Mathewson, that he had been asked to join the group just to make the announcements.
Anyway, at the end of my first year at Oxford I heard someone say, "There are no bass players in the University - if someone took it up, he would make a fortune," so during the summer vacation I bought a bass and taught myself to play basic jazz bass. When I got back in the autumn term I started getting jobs immediately. It was the only bright commercial move I have ever made. And than it was announced that they were holding auditions for a play called “The Connection" which the university drama group were putting on, and one of the parts was for a jazz double bass player, so I auditioned for that, and got it, because nobody else applied for the part. Another role was for that of a jazz saxophonist, and Pat Crumly got that. He didn’t audition for it - he was just given the part. He was that good, even then.
And he wasn’t even an undergraduate. God, how we envied him. He didn't have to pretend to study German or ancient Greek or maths or anything to get to play jazz. He actually lived in Oxford. Jazz was one of the few areas in which there actually was a meeting of minds between undergraduates and natives, and we mixed on equal terms. Well, not equal exactly, because the best town players were much better than us, and Pat was the best of the lot, but we found ourselves playing with each other often enough for anyone who knew about jazz to look up to the townspeople.
“The Connection" was all about jazz and drugs. It centered on some people in a room who were waiting for the fix, or the connection, and for some reason which the playwright never bothered to explain there was a jazz quartet in the room as well, playing from time to time. I had one line to say, several times, which was: " My wife thinks I'm crazy doing this,” and I used to practise the line endlessly trying to find at least one interesting way of saying it, but the only thing I really remember about the play was listening to Pat Crumly playing and thinking, "I'l1 never, ever play with anyone this good again, better make the most of it“. And I never did.
I can’t remember what dialogue Pat had to say in the play. But I do remember that at that time he was working in Blackwell’s Bookshop in Oxford, and a darned fine bookseller he was too. One of the finest bookshop assistants of my generation, I'd say. You would go in that bookshop and ask him for a book, and he would find it, and then he would say, "Do you want to pay for it? ", and you would say “Yes”, and he would shrug his shoulders and say, "Suit yourself ", and then take your money off you. Great bookselling. I still have, in my possession, books that Pat Crumly sold me personally. Of course, I should have had the foresight to get him to sign them for me at the time. “This book is from Pat Crumly to Miles Kington, that will be 13/6, please, no, we'd prefer cash, please, after what happened to the cheque last time ... "
They'd be worth a fortune now. But of course I didn't, more's the pity. And now, all these years later, Pat Crumly is a wonderful jazz musician, and Braham Murray, who produced that version of The Connection”, is the big chief of the Manchester Exchange theatre, and me? Well, at least I don't do sleev notes.
At least, I didn't until Pat Crumly rang me up and blackmailed me into this. Looking back, I now see that what I should have said to him was, “Well, Pat, OK, I don't mind doing
the sleeve notes as long as you don't mind me revealing to the world just what standard of acting you managed to achieve in 'The Connection' all those years ago ”, but I never thought of that, and now it's too late.