Dudley Moore articles
I have written several articles about Dudley Moore over the years, in particular his jazz work. My most recent was a piece for The Guardian, which you can find here...
However, many years ago, in 2000, I wrote this scrappy but enthusiastic column for Time Out London, to coincide with a series of CD reissues of his old albums on Harkit Records. It ran about 18 months before Dudley died.
The hilarious beauty of Dudley Moore’s music
John Lewis, Time Out London, August 2000
The comedian Jerry Sadowitz once likened ‘Derek And Clive’ to Lennon and McCartney, saying that the beauty of the pairing was hearing Dudley Moore playing ‘rhythm’ to Peter Cook’s ‘lead’. I’d raise the stakes here. Peter Cook’s abusive, surreal, stream-of-consciousness rants were more like a Sonny Rollins tenor sax solo -- garrulous, beautifully textured and gleefully modulated narratives. But they’d be meaningless without Dudley Moore’s accompaniment.
Every time Dudley crumples into hysterical giggles, every time he barks out ‘YEAH!’ or ‘RIGHT!’ or ‘FUCKERS!’ or ‘How DARE they!’ or ‘What a facking CUNT!’, he performs like a jazz pianist: ‘comping’ out jagged, arrhythmic, staccato bursts of tonal colour, intercepting in all the right places, harmonising around Cook’s riffs and reinforcing his punchlines. Comedy as rock ‘n’ roll? Pah. ‘Derek And Clive’ was heavy-duty modern jazz for laughs.
And, as we know, Dudley is also a very fine jazz pianist. Snooty critics have always regarded him, like Andre Previn, as another classically trained conservatoire kid slumming it, playing mannered, ever-so-knowing pastiches of Errol Garner. All of which is true. Yet I still find myself listening to my old Dudley Moore Trio albums as much as anything by, say, Thelonious Monk, or Bill Evans, or Cecil Taylor.
Partly it’s because I find everything about Dudley Moore’s music funny -- every right-hand trill, every lazy blues riff, every rippling chromatic elision, every stomp of his left foot. But mainly it’s because Dudley’s records display a profound love of all music, from Bach to Bacharach; from Prokofiev to Bud Powell; from Ravel to Ray Charles.
Yes, Dudley Moore is a master of pastiche. Many comedians, from Victor Borge to Bill Bailey, have done musical parodies from the piano. But Dudley -- a Guildhall graduate and an organ scholar at Magdalene College, Oxford -- had the chops, the education and the pop-cultural savvy to refine these gags into high art. Hence his memorable reading of ‘Colonel Bogey’s March’ on ‘Beyond The Fringe’, done in the style of a Beethoven sonata (with that hilarious, interminable ending); or his ‘Not Only But Also’ shtick, where Mozart plays the songs of Tom Jones; or his ‘Cockney Chopin’ routine, where Dudley reworks Chopin’s ‘Fantasie Impromptu’ to the tune of ‘Daisy, Daisy’. And who can forget those two priceless pop parodies on the ‘Bedazzled’ soundtrack -- especially the title track, where the satanic Peter Cook deadpans over a swirling, trippy psych-pop backing (‘I’m not available/You fill me with inertia,’ drawls Cook, his misanthropic protopunk insouciance predating the Sex Pistols by a decade).
Such explicit pastiches litter Dudley’s soundtrack albums -- listen to the deep funk, loungecore, Gregorian chants and cantatas on ‘30 Is A Dangerous Age, Cynthia’ -- but they were throwaway confection for him. His jazz trio albums -- recorded with bassist Pete McGurk and drummer Chris Karan -- capture such magpie indulgence in miniature. Every 32-bar solo sparkles with the wit of a sophisticated musical parodist, every riff bristles with his frenzied Imagination. Grungy, fist-shaped left-hand chord clusters are set against his slurring lead lines, which tail off into the distance, rather like Lester Young’s breathy, sighing tenor. Long before Brits could buy bebop transcriptions or jazz ‘fake’ books, Dagenham-born Dudley had reworked the music of his heroes in his own image. There’s plenty of Oscar Peterson and his beloved Errol Garner, obviously, but his playing is also drenched in bossa nova, strip-club blues, music hall surrealism, ‘60s beat bop and baroque whimsy.
He’s written some fine original tunes, although his classical concelts often lead to tricksy and overwritten original material -- too many chord changes often get in the way of his themes. Yet his standards always swing like the clappers. Check out his readings of ‘The More I See You’, or ‘My Blue Heaven’, or ‘Exactly Like You’, some of which turn up on ‘Authentic Dud’, a (mysteriously rechristened) repackage of 1967’s ‘Genuine Dud’, now rereleased by Harkit Records. It isn’t his best -- there’s a few other Decca sides from the ‘60s which are begging for rerelease -- but it’s a start.
It seems a little glib and tasteless to issue a cheery ‘Get well soon!’ to Dudley -- we know that he’s suffering from progressive supranuclear palsy, a horrible, degenerative paralysis which has prevented him from walking and talking, leave alone playing the piano. But we know how good you can be.
Harkit Records have rereleased ‘Authentic Dud’, ‘30 Is A Dangerous Age, Cynthia!’ and ‘Bedazzled’.