Larkin’s Jazz

Alyn Shipton and Ian Smith

An all star band led by trumpeter Ian Smith and bassist Alyn Shipton explores the connections between the poet Philip Larkin and jazz. Larkin graduated from Oxford in 1943, and went on to become one of the best known writers of the 20th century. This musical show, devised by Ian Smith, is built around his jazz settings of Larkin’s words originally commissioned for BBC Radio 3’s “The Verb”. Ian has also selected texts and music covered in Larkin’s writings about jazz during his long career as a critic for the “Daily Telegraph” in the 1960s and 70s, including his passions for Sidney Bechet and Eddie Condon, as well as what he called the “lean, unhesitant, surprising tenor sax” of Lester Young.

Cast in the role of Young is the well known broadcaster and author Dave Gelly, playing clarinet and tenor sax. On piano is Colin Good, well known to jazz audiences for his long tenure with the big band Vile Bodies, and now keyboard player and musical director for Bryan Ferry in both Roxy Music and his big band. Alyn Shipton is the presenter of BBC Radio’s long-running Jazz Record Requests, Ewan Stewart is one of London’s finest drummers, and Ian Smith is both a well-known trumpeter, and a recognized authority on English poetry of the last century.

Dave Gelly is the biographer of Lester Young, Alyn Shipton’s latest book is on bandleader Cab Calloway and Ian Smith is the author of Pinter In the Theatre. All three authors will be happy to sign copies of their books.

From the “London Jazz” review of the premiere of the “Larkin’s Jazz” show in Oxford in April 2012:
Jazz gave meaning to Philip Larkin’s life and work, and the afternoon was a musical commentary on this: his favourite tunes by Bix Beiderbecke, Count Basie, Billie Holiday, Lester Young, Duke Ellington, Johnny Hodges and Teddy Wilson, plus Louis Armstrong, and more from the pre-bebop era. But the real star of the afternoon was the late poet himself. There were extracts from Larkin’s jazz criticism, interspersed with poems read by David Thurston over specially composed jazz themes. Ian Smith’s fine muted trumpet arpeggios soared over Dave Gelly’s Lester Young-like tenor sax, Colin Good’s sparkling stride piano and Alyn Shipton and Ewan Stewart’s swinging bass and drums. Ian Smith is also an academic and he led us through Larkin’s life from early days in Oxford, keeping the audience entertained with fascinating stories.