Category Archives: Features

Jazz on UK Radio

With Jazz FM’s relaunch there’s a little more jazz on the radio. Most of it is smooth rather than cosmic but worth listening to are Mike Chadwick’s weekend programmes – Latin Party (Friday 19-00 to 21-00), Saturday Night Experience (Saturday 20.00 – 23.00) and Cutting Edge (Sunday 22.00 – 00.00).

Check out Jazz FM at

For more jazz on radio try BBC R3 and Jez Nelson’s excellent Jazz on 3 programme.
More details here.

What is Jazz?

You want to find out more about jazz but you’re not really sure where to start.

You’re not even sure what jazz actually is.

Here’s where Cosmic Jazz can help.

We think the best thing you can do is just listen and explore.


We didn’t choose the word cosmic by accident. Jazz is all kinds of music not one; it’s everywhere around us and yet often completely hidden; it doesn’t have much of a presence on the radio, on television or in the music stores – and yet it’s one of music’s greatest inventions.


So what is jazz? There are no good definitions – just good music.
But try this for size:

Jazz is. The most vibrant, kick-ass creative music to emerge in the 20th century. It is the musical soul of America, if America possesses such a thing, and is every bit as radical, funky, deeply venal and cut-throat, yet ethereal, roots-obsessed, flashy, hip (it’s practitioners invented every bit of the language the whole English-speaking world now regards as it’s very own of-the-minute slang) and outrageously larger than the country itself.
Jazz is. The source, the mother-lode, for all popular strands of music which have emerged since the late 1940s. If you think something in the world of rock, rap, dance or even further afield is new, then dig a little deeper than its high-gloss finish and you’ll find someone listening very closely to an innovation made in the jazz field of another decade. As Leroi Jones once wrote of John Coltrane: “If you can hear, this music will make you think a lot of weird and wonderful things. You might even become one of them.”

Jazz is. The ultimate hybrid, the outcast mongrel of music which, in the beginning decades of the last century, was recognised as music only fit to be played for whores, gamblers, cocaine addicts, drunks and criminals. …No wonder so much of this music was loud, full of buzz and nervous energy, busting with the search for personal and creative freedom.

Jazz isn’t. Some sad bunch of middle aged men wearily negotiating ‘tough’ chord changes with all the enthusiasm of a knitting circle in Milton Keynes. Equally, it’s not some smart-ass rinky-dink pianist playing juked-up cocktail music with a smile on his face and a heart the size of a pea.

Jazz matters. It matters so much it hurts when the music really connects with you. Just listen to what the greats of the genre can do with a single phrase, with one single gut-wrenching note: they can grab your attention like a smack around the face, then turn your heart and your soul inside out while you’re trying to catch your breath. This is startlingly honest music which opens you up inside, sizzles through your nervous system and gives you a second chance at life.
[from Tower Jazzguide – Keith Shadwick – 1999]
So now’s the time. Let your journey begin here.
Tune into Cosmic Jazz every Thursday between 8 and 10pm on

Writing about Jazz

Jazz has inspired some great writing. Whitney Balliett, who died in 2007, wrote on jazz for the New Yorker magazine for many years and bought real style to his writing. Here’s a couple of examples – the first on tenor sax player Ben Webster and the second some thoughts about pianist Thelonious Monk.

Ben Webster:

He would start a medium-slow blues solo very softly with a weaving five-note phrase, pause, play a high, barely audible blue note, and duck back to his opening phrase, still as soft as first sunlight. He would harden his tone slightly at the start of his next chorus, issue an annunciatory phrase, repeat it, insert a defiant tremolo. His tone would grow hard, he would growl and crowd his notes, he would shake his phrases as if he had them clamped in his teeth. As the years went by he would close certain phrase endings by allowing his vibrato to melt into pure undulating breath—dramatically offering, before the breath expired, the ghost of his sound.

Thelonious Monk:

His improvisations were attempts to disguise his love of melody. He clothed whatever he played with spindly runs, flatted notes, flatted chords, repeated single notes, yawning silences and zigzag rhythms. Sometimes he pounded the keyboard with his right elbow. His style protected him not only from his love of melody but from the love of the older pianists he grew out of – Duke Ellington and the stride pianists. All peered out from inside his solos, but he let them escape only as parody.

You can get more of Balliett’s brilliant writing in his book The Sound of Surprise. Amazingly, it now seems to be out of print – there’s a photo of the Pelican paperback version published in the 1960s below. Imagine this as a coffee table book with great black and white photos of jazz musicians…


To hear this writing in action, listen to Ben Webster’s Soulville or Thelonius Monk’s Brilliant Corners.


As always, just listen and explore.

Now’s the time. Let your journey begin here.

Tune into Cosmic Jazz every Thursday between 8.30 and 10pm on