Thanks you for your letter about my pieces on your playing in the Independent, receiving which was the most pleasant and unexpected thing to happen to me all year. I know it is only January 16th, and that if it turns out to be the highpoint of my year I shall have had a fairly low key 2007, but it’s a good way to start.
Many years ago I used to be the regular jazz reviewer for the London Times, but I gave up in 1980 when I ran out of adjectives. The final straw was when I went, in some trepidation, to review a Cecil Taylor concert and fell asleep in the middle. I knew than that I had been doing it too long and it was time to get back to real life.
But I do remember that when you give people good reviews, they very rarely write and say thanks (but why should they?) so your letter was like a ray of sunshine.
The odd thing was that my real writing job has always been as a humorous writer. I worked on the staff of Punch for a long time, where I once met Paul Desmond and persuaded him to write a piece for the magazine which, I believe, is the only chapter of his projected autobiography that he ever got down on paper. My only claim to fame in jazz history.
I also once got a letter from Norman Granz, but not about my jazz stuff – it was about my humorous columns which he liked very much. Amazing. I sent him back a friendly letter, and the next time he was in Britain, he invited me to come round and see him at the Festival Hall. I found him in a huge dressing room all alone with Oscar Peterson. We shook hands all round, I asked Oscar Peterson if he still got nervous before the big event and a little later I left. I can’t remember anything Granz said – I was only very conscious that not too long before I had written a rather sniffy review of Oscar, saying that an evening’s exposure to his non-stop piano playing was rather like getting in the ring for ten rounds with some relentless heavyweight. If he had read it, and harboured a grudge, I was half prepared for him to get up and take a swing at me. If he had I would have fallen like a log, come round and said: “See what I mean?”.
I tell a lie. I have just remembered one story Granz told me. It was about Andre Previn. He was making an album with Previn, I think, backing Dinah Shore singing. Anyway, he said that Previn was playing very restrained and tasteful backings, somewhat out of character, when suddenly on one tune he started getting very florid and rococo. Granz looked round, startled, and realised that some famous pianist (it may have been Peterson himself) had just come in the studio and Previn was going into show-off mode.
This letter has been all about me. It should have been about you. But you know what I think about you from those pieces. We did meet, once, when you were at Blackpool. I was with my Scottish cousin, a big chap in kilt and huge grey beard. We sat at the same dinner table one night, and I couldn’t think of a single intelligent question to ask you. So you were spared. Thanks so much for writing. Don’t ever stop. Playing, I mean.