Growing up in the Sixties, a child of the pop age, jazz barely grazed me. There was Acker Bilk, who had a number one hit in the US with “Stranger on the Shore”. Kenny Ball’s “Midnight in Moscow” was a two-way family favourite on the Light Programme, and in the background Chris Barber and Humph Lyttelton parped away, for the pleasure of people in cardigans who seemed terribly old.
In the late Sixties there was something called jazz rock, a skirmish of contrasting styles that pitched Nucleus and Soft Machine in England against Miles Davis and friends in the US. There was also, I recall painfully from the autumn of 1971, a fleeting liaison of jazzers and prog rockers called Centipede, whose “Septober Energy” was not nearly fleeting enough. In an adolescence of flawed choices, that was the worst record I ever bought, by the length of the Great North Road.
Those groups went on to claim riches beyond the dreams of the old guard. Joe Zawinul and Wayne Shorter assembled Weather Report in 1971, a year which brought the first stirrings of the Mahavishnu Orchestra, led by John McLaughlin from Whitley Bay. Chick Corea put together Return To Forever, and Herbie Hancock hit the jackpot with Head Hunters. I caught Weather Report and the Mahavishnu “second XI” in Manchester, though I wouldn’t want to revisit their recordings, which display the kind of empty virtuosity that impresses unschooled ears. Steely Dan, whose caustic songs were flavoured by distinguished sidemen like