IN PRAISE OF: John Fordham

John Fordham: “deep knowledge, constant freshness and undulled enthusiasm.”
Photo supplied

Sebastian writes (*):

John Fordham of the Guardian celebrated his 70th birthday early in 2018, but even without the excuse of a birthday this year, it feels like a good moment to be saluting the doyen of British jazz writers. He is the author of seven books about jazz, has been a magazine editor inside and outside the jazz world and won three Parliamentary Awards, but the main reason to celebrate his work is the deep knowledge, constant freshness and undulled enthusiasm that he brings to the writing about jazz, a task he has been doing consistently since the early 1970’s, and clearly still enjoys whole-heartedly.

Does he remember what started it all? For the music, it was hearing Wes Montgomery’s Boss Guitar as a guitar-toting sixteen year old. And the writing about jazz? He was inspired by a paperback collection The Sound of Surpise by Whitney Balliett. “The descriptions were so vivid, Balliett could make you feel you were right there listening.”

One noticeable theme running through those decades is that, compared to most UK jazz writers, he has always had more of an open ear towards music coming from continental Europe. It is something he gladly acknowledges. He remembers writing about the early ECM releases of Eberhard Weber and Jan Garbarek for Time Out in the 1970’s, and how their rather more “open and slow-moving” way of making jazz particularly appealed to him. “It seemed like a great way to go.”He also remembers the impact of hearing Esbjörn Svensson at London’s Pizza Express in 2001. Fordham’s review of that gig had impact at the time, and has been much-read since.

Fordham’s writing may be hugely influential, but a distinguishing feature is that he consciously strives and almost always succeeds in making himself invisible at gigs. People often describe how they see a wonderfully vivid review after a gig they have attended, and realise that they never saw him there. That detachment is not accidental. Fordham takes photographer Cartier-Bresson’s instructions as his maxim: to respect the subject and to stay out of the picture.

In recent times the Guardian has cut back its output of writing about non-mainstream music, so John Fordham is unsurprisingly in demand elsewhere. We are very pleased that he occasionally writes musician profiles for us at LondonJazz News. So to the man in the shadows making notes out of sight behind a pillar, and as ever writing the best and the freshest reviews, we salute you.

(*) This piece originally appeared in German as Sebastian’s regular “London Column in the May/June issue of the magazine JAZZTHETIK (TEXT HERE)

Categories: Features/Interviews

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