Fifty years ago, BBC2 show Jazz 625 captured the scene's biggest stars in their prime
Fifty years ago, give or take a few weeks, a series called Jazz 625 was launched on BBC Two. It was done on the cheap, which has turned out to be a blessing. The hoped-for interviews and profiles never materialised. Instead, over 36 episodes, great jazz acts were simply wheeled into various studios where they played, and the cameras rolled. And that was it.
The results were pure gold, as the BBC is clearly aware. Later this month it’s treating us to something special, an hour-long compilation of high-lights. It’s a riveting watch, and a reminder that the past really is a different country. We see trumpeter Art Farmer, who was raised in a segregated school and had to teach himself to read music. We see one of the great stride pianists Willy the Lion Smith, in his Derby hat. He chomps and puffs on a cigar, and tells us how his music brings gospel and blues and field “shouts” together. Nowadays he’d have to leave that cigar behind, just to get past BBC security. Pianist Marion McPartland’s lacquered hair-do and flowing ball gown are weirdly incongruous, seen in tandem with her horny blues sound. When the Brits arrive, it’s all slicked-down, brylcreemed hair, shining in the studio lights.