Richard Cook.

I learnt this morning that Richard Cook died last week. Cook was a jazz writer, and I have been reading articles and books that he wrote for more than 25 years.

He started off on the NME – not writing about jazz, then, but rock music. But at the jazzier end of rock. By the time I started getting interested in jazz, he had set up The Wire, a magazine dedicated to jazz and improvisation (though they did cover rather more popular music, too – I remember a long article on the importance of Michael Jackson).

I was exploring jazz, and The Wire a good guide to have along: it was always interesting, and it introduced me to lots of things I doubt I would otherwise have come across.

When I moved to London, I listened to Cook’s Saturday evening jazz show, too. I would lie in the bath, whisky in hand, and listen to the music before venturing out to find some of my own.

In the mid or late 1990s, The Wire became a bit more “out there”, and started covering things I wasn’t so interested in; Cook left, and I stopped my subscription.

He became a record producer, tasked by Verve (I think…) to find young British jazz: he championed trumpeter Guy Barker, for instance. I think he may have managed Barker for a while, too.

A few years ago, he launched a new jazz magazine, Jazz Review, which did exactly what it says on the cover – most of each issue reviews jazz CDs (of which there are a confusing volume released each month – for a minority music, there are an awful lot of CDs, and it is really hard to keep track).

Cook is most well-known, perhaps, as being the co-author of the many editions of the Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD. Together with Brian Morton, this huge volume tries to cover the world of jazz as available on disc; it is invaluable. It lives on my coffee table, and I frequently find myself reading it – picking it up to check who was playing on a CD, or when it was recorded or … and then one enquiry leads to another, and I am flicking backwards and forwards through the music.

I met Cook a few times at jazz clubs in London; he was a common face at live gigs, and he did a lot to keep an interest in British jazz alive – long before Gilles Peterson. Indeed, Cook must have started at least two British jazz renaissances himself. (Don’t worry; every few years, jazz is suddenly the new thing again. They’ll be another along shortly.)

So I feel rather sad at his death. I had heard he was ill a few weeks ago, from a friend that knew him well. He was three years older than me, and his death makes me feel more mortal, too.

He has been a feature of the music world – the world of the music I listen too – most of my adult life, and I think I am going to miss his influence over it.


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