Housman – jazzing it up

When I was putting together an article about Betjeman’s not-very-Housman piece ‘A Shropshire Lad’ and the setting by Jim Parker, I came in passing upon a reference to an album by Jacqui Dankworth and New Perspectives that includes five Housman settings.

In Housman Settings, which includes some settings of my own for Housman’s verse, I also referenced some settings by ‘real’ composers like Butterworth and Vaughan Williams, and mentioned that I was unaware of other ‘folkie’ versions. I’m still not, but I hadn’t even thought about the possibility of a jazz setting.


Roland Kirk gigging at Powis Castle*

The settings on the album are actually each by a different composer: John Williams (the Shropshire saxophonist, not the guitarist or the film composer), John Dankworth (the singer’s father), Patrick Gowers, Andrea Vicari, and Dick Walter. More like the sort of stuff her mother Cleo Laine has done from time to time, listening to some samples. It also includes some more ‘traditional’ jazz fare like On Green Dolphin Street and Creole Love Call, as well as a version of Villa-Lobos’ Bach-ish Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5.

I quite like it, but a post on the folkie forum mudcat.org refers to the album as ‘very difficult’ and compares it to the music of a jazz composer ‘who wrote music for T.S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland”‘. I’m not familiar with any such setting, and wonder whether he might actually have been thinking of Stan Tracey’s ‘Under Milk Wood’?  But I’m not a jazz buff, and the fact that I can’t find a reference to such an Eliot setting by no means proves that it never existed.

David Harley

*OK. You’re right. It isn’t.


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