Jazz and CricketMartin Chandler |
Author: Wright, Matthew
Rating: 4 stars
The sub-title of this splendidly offbeat and quirky book immediately set me thinking. Are jazz and cricket an unlikely combination? I can see that cricket, particularly in days gone by, was almost hide bound by convention and orthodoxy. But then there have always been, at least on the field, cricketers who have shunned convention and have improvised whenever the opportunity arose.
So what is the mission statement behind Matthew Wright’s intriguing title? He himself, from the brief blurb on the rear cover, seems to be a jazz man who loves cricket, and that is perhaps why the book works so well. Were he a cricket writer who loved jazz then his perspective would be very different and, I would suggest, perhaps rather less interesting.
As it should be the book is essentially an entertainment, and one which collects together a number of stories from incidents and episodes where the two dominant themes in the author’s life have coincided. That said there is an important and particularly thought provoking nod towards apartheid South Africa, and a good deal of other useful explanatory material for those of us whose knowledge of jazz does not extend beyond a few fond if now ageing memories of the Dave Brubeck quartet.
The highlight of the book is, as I hoped and expected, an extended look at the Ravers Cricket Club, an eleven centred around the world of jazz whose star turn was for many years the some time Lancashire wicketkeeper and trombonist Frank Parr. It is Parr who ultimately illustrates the book’s sub-title best as, sadly, his unconventional ways brought him into conflict with his second skipper at Old Trafford, Cyril Washbrook, and there was only ever going to be one winner there and a cricketer who might eventually have a long career with Test caps was out of the game at 26.
Most of Parr’s story I knew, but I have only ever heard it before when it has been told by cricket people, and to read about him from the pen of a jazz man, and as importantly someone who knew him, is refreshing to say the least. Another prominent cricketer whose story is told is that of Surrey’s amateur fast bowler Maurice Allom. A generation older than Parr and a man who notably performed the hat trick in the first of his five Tests Allom was also an accomplished saxophonist.
Two other men I learnt a good deal about are Vic Lewis and Spike Hughes. Lewis was a bandleader and cricket lover who I know of because he wrote a book on, of all things, cricketing ties, by which I mean the decorative items that go round a person’s neck. Hughes was primarily a musician who wrote extensively on musical subjects, but also a cricket book. The Art of Coarse Cricket was published in 1954, and it was interesting to learn a little more about who Hughes was.
Like all good the best cricket books Jazz and Cricket wraps up with a few statistics and a decent index. The stats, entirely appropriately (even if he does feature in only one of the book’s eight chapters) belong to the career of Frank Parr, who is also to be seen in a few of the excellent selection of photographs that appear in the book.
The fact that Jazz and Cricket comprises just 75 pages means that it, to use an expression beloved of Archie Mac, does not outstay its welcome and, sadly, I can advise that however much praise it is given it does not return to centre stage for its reader. It remains however an excellent read and, perhaps, if enough people go out and buy it Matthew Wright will be persuaded to venture into print again and we will get that encore. It is certainly deserved