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Tuesday, June 23, 1998 Published at 13:01 GMT 14:01 UK


Entertainment

Jazz musician Benny Green dies



The veteran jazz musician and broadcaster Benny Green has died at the age of 70. He had been suffering from cancer and died at the Royal Marsden Hospital in Surrey.

Green was an accomplished saxophonist and a successful author who wrote biographies of Fred Astaire and PG Wodehouse. In later life he presented a long-running Sunday afternoon programme on BBC Radio 2.

When the programme was removed from the schedules in the late 1980s, protesters picketed Broadcasting House and the show was swiftly reinstated. It finally came to an end only last month.

'Warm and thoughtful man'

Fellow jazz musician and friend John Dankworth, said Green was a "wonderful, very warm and thoughtful man".

Mr Dankworth said: "The last time I saw him speak publicly was at Ronnie Scott's funeral last year, and he spoke very wittily and very warmly. It's sad that someone else has to do that for him now."

He was born in Leeds in December 1927 but moved to north London with his parents as a baby in the middle of the Depression.

Green was taught the saxophone by his father and earned his living with it for 20 years, with bandleaders of the calibre of Ronnie Scott and Kenny Baker.

He had a comprehensive knowledge of the work of composers such as George Gershwin and Cole Porter.

Jazz critic at The Observer

Green did his National Service with the Army just after the war and in 1955 began writing a regular column for the New Musical Express. He later became jazz critic at The Observer, a position he held for 19 years, and was film critic for Punch magazine between 1972 and 1979.

He was also a successful writer on music and cricket and a devotee of and expert on George Bernard Shaw.

In 1967 he collaborated with Dankworth to produce a musical about Shaw called Boots With Strawberry Jam, which performed to full houses at the Nottingham Playhouse.

Fifteen years later he turned another Shavian story, The Admirable Bashville, into a musical which was performed by the New Shakespeare Company at the Open Air Theatre in Regent's Park. It was nominated for Best Musical of the Year.

In 1991 he turned Shaw's You Never Can Tell into Valentine's Day, which was put on at the Chichester Festival Theatre.

Radio presenter for 15 years

But Green was perhaps best known as presenter of a programme on BBC Radio Two for 15 years, which focused on a period between 1930 and 1960 when musicals, both on stage and screen, were great box office and jazz was king.

He reflected on this "golden age" in 1993 when he lamented the decline, as he saw it, of popular music.

Green said he had received around 30,000 letters from listeners to his radio show and he said most of them were along the lines of: "What has happened to the tunes of yesteryear, where did all the good songs go?"

He concluded: "New York and Hollywood have no more chance of nurturing a new Smoke Gets In Your Eyes than Vienna has of producing another Merry Widow."

Green said the golden age of popular song was brought about by a "cultural collision" between the musical genius of Russian, Irish and Central European immigrants to the US and the "black vitalising element".

He blamed the decline on television and the music industry's desire to cater for the tastes of younger fans who were "too immature to follow the entrancing labyrinth of The Song Is You and settled for Tutti Frutti and Jailhouse Rock".

He leaves a wife, Antoinette, and four children.





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