Luckily for UK jazz-lovers, my friend and north London neighbour Brian Blain, who has died aged 92, was the very best and most influential kind of fan – a fervently eager listener, but also for decades a campaigner for the music, a promoter, and a shrewd jazz journalist.
He was born in Salford, Greater Manchester, the only child of Norman Blain, an engineer and newsagent, and Beatrice (nee Johnson), who co-ran their shop. In his teens at Stretford grammar school, Brian became fascinated by both jazz and socialist politics – passions that would last for life.
After national service and teacher-training, he became a primary school teacher in Manchester, and his jazz tastes widened from early New Orleans jazz and blues, to the cutting-edge sounds of bebop. Culture wars were rife between traditionalists and modernists then, but the autodidactic Brian became convinced – notably through the writings of the American Marxist theoretician Sidney Finkelstein, and the jazz-loving British historian Eric Hobsbawm – that the music’s diversities all sprang from the same roots. He began contributing reviews to the Daily Worker, later the Morning Star.
In 1963, after moving to London and becoming a PE teacher, he met and married Maureen, who was then acting in a children’s theatre company. Leaving teaching, he became a promotions officer at the Musicians’ Union, and was often on the UK’s roads for the MU’s Keep Music Live campaign, with the writer/photographer Val Wilmer taking the pictures. In the 1970s, he also edited the union’s house magazine, and reviewed for the Melody Maker under the alias Christopher Bird.
From his 50s to his 80s, Brian chaired and invaluably advised a variety of jazz organisations, including the Jazz Centre Society (until 1982) and Jazz Services. He wrote for the London Jazz News website, and for Jazz UK magazine in the 90s and 2000s, was a popular compere at the annual Swanage jazz festival, and until his last months continued to showcase contemporary jazz’s leading figures in his much-loved weekly gigs at Lauderdale House in Highgate, north London.
I always suspected Brian believed that jazz and his lifelong politics were bonded through the music’s camaraderie, internationalism, conversation-like improvisation, and virtuosity offered without grandiloquence or snobbishness. He was the warm, open-minded, indefatigably garrulous architect of innumerable musical encounters that would never have happened without him.
He is survived by Maureen, their children, Sarah and Matthew, and four grandchildren.