Tuesday, June 18, 2019
Blue Note At Sea
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Dave Gelly

Dave Gelly
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I was born at the height of the swing era, in the month when Billie Holiday and Lester Young recorded "Back in Your Own Backyard". I grew up in south London and won a scholarship to Downing College, Cambridge, where I read English under F.R. Leavis and, later, anthropology under Edmund Leach. I was nuts about jazz, before I even knew what it was. Anything swingy that came on the radio had me spellbound. When I was 14 I got hold of a decrepit clarinet and that was it. On leaving school I acquired an equally decrepit alto (couldn't afford a tenor) and spent a year playing in a shambolic rock 'n' rollish band, rank incompetence being no bar to earning a living as a musician in those happy times. I've heard it said that the first thing you learn at university is that, however good you think you are, you're bound to encounter someone there who's better. On my first evening at Cambridge I met my nemesis and dear friend, Art Themen, but pressed on regardless. How I managed to get a respectable degree I shall never know. And how I managed to hold down a teaching job for some years, followed by another period in publishing, while playing with bands ranging from Blues By Six to the New Jazz Orchestra, with broadcasts and occasional pop sessions thrown in, would seem impossible, were it not for the pile of little MU diaries that tell the tale in shameful detail. I began writing about music in the early 1970s. I joined The Observer as a freelance critic in 1974 and I'm still there. I've had work published all over the place, in papers, magazines, part-works and so on. I was voted first Jazz Writer of the Year in the 1999 British Jazz Awards. The following year it was John Chilton, and the category was then dropped. Make of that what you will. Throughout the 1980s, I hosted Night Owls, a weekly late-night show on BBC Radio 2, and wrote and presented scores of feature programmes and series for that and other BBC networks. In the 1990s, in partnership with the late Malcolm Laycock, I launched and ran Encore Radio, a moderately successful production company specialising in vintage popular music. Not long after Malcolm's death in 2009, I gave up broadcasting because the whole atmosphere at the BBC had grown coarse and unwelcoming. No-one can produce good work in such circumstances. I don't miss it. I've written a number of books, including Stan Getz: Nobody Else but Me (Backbeat 2002), Being Prez: the Life and Music of Lester Young (Equinox [UK] and OUP [USA] 2007) and An Unholy Row: Jazz in Britain and Its Audience 1945-60 (Equinox 2014). I was appointed MBE in the 2005 New Year Honours (my wife says it was for long service and good behaviour).