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Barry Witherden

Barry hosts a jazz radio program in the UK and also reviews jazz for BBC Music Magazine and Jazz Journal.

My Jazz Story

Published on: 2017-07-25

I discovered jazz when I was about nine, through watching films like The Glenn Miller Story, The Benny Goodman Story and anything with Gene Krupa on drums. In my early teens I started to delve more into modern jazz: first Stan Getz, the MJQ and Dave Brubeck, then I soon began to understand and appreciate the likes of Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, Sonny Rollins, Jackie McLean and Ornette Coleman. I had a couple of alto sax lessons and then some on keyboard, but realised I couldn't afford either the lessons or an instrument ... and, besides, why spend time and money laboriously learning to make mediocre noises when I could be listening to the god-like genius of Bird, Newk, Trane and the others? However, I do play a little these days, mainly keyboards and electronics, in various Improv ensembles. When I was 15, disgusted by the general drubbing that my hero, Brubeck, got (from the critics, not the public) I submitted an article defending him to Jazz Journal. The legendary Sinclair Traill, founder and then-editor of JJ, disagreed with everything I said but enjoyed the article and published it, so I was off the starting-block. Soon after, I had pieces published in Jazz Monthly, International Times, Jazz and Blues and several fanzines. In my late teens I was, for a while, Secretary of the grandly-titled British Institute of Jazz Studies and was contributing editor of its magazine. Eventually I dropped out of the fanzine scene until, at a party on New Year’s Eve 1985, I met the late, much-missed Richard Cook, founder and editor of the UK magazine Jazz Review, co-author of The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD and author of definitive books on Miles Davis's recorded legacy and the Blue Note label. RDC, as he would style himself, had just been appointed editor of The Wire and, remembering some of my earlier writings, invited me to contribute to the magazine which, under his leadership, became arguably the most influential journal of exploratory contemporary music in the world. Thanks to him, I got back into the swing of writing, and subsequently contributed to various journals including Jazz on CD, Jazzwise, Music Week and The Wire as well as The Guinness Who's Who of Jazz (for which I wrote 45,000 words, sadly without the aid of free samples from the sponsor) and am currently a regular contributor to BBC Music and Jazz Journal. (Outside the jazz field I have written for Gramophone, Classic CD and The Rough Guide to Classical Music.) For over a decade I have been heavily involved with my local community radio station ( where I present a jazz show as well as a “leftfield” show that has been known to feature Hildegard von Bingen, Stockhausen, Annette Peacock and Skinny Puppy alongside Albert Ayler, Marilynn Crispell, Derek Bailey and Barry Guy.

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