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Keith Howell – Journalist/broadcaster on popular music and jazz

Sunday 14th February 2016

The journalist, broadcaster and critic Keith Howell died in June last year at the age of 77.  He generously left a large collection of CDs and LPs to be sold for the benefit of the National Jazz Archive, along with many books, and recordings of interviews with famous jazz artists that he had conducted. As a result, Rabbit Records has given the Archive a cheque for £2500. The Archive is very grateful for this wonderful donation.

Keith HowellKeith was born on 12 July 1938. He developed an interest in popular music and jazz in his early teens, and began broadcasting on the subject while serving in armed forces between 1958 and 1960. He worked for Decca Record Company for five years from 1960, in charge of its album sleeve department, supervising production of artwork and the preparation of finished LP sleeves. He contributed a number of sleeve notes for a variety of popular and jazz releases, and also supplied numerous articles to a company-produced consumer magazine relating to its products.

In 1965, he accepted an invitation from Brian Epstein to join his entertainment organisation, Nems Enterprises Ltd, as press and public relations officer. He worked in close contact with the Beatles, CilIa Black, and other pop groups and artistes represented by company, as well as being responsible for press and public relations activity for Epstein’s theatrical interests.

He transferred into the film industry in 1966, working on press and public relations for a group of film production and distribution companies and editing the group’s quarterly magazine. In 1968 he became senior press and public relations executive with CBS Records, then approaching its zenith as the most successful British record company, with an outstanding roster of artists and groups in the rock music field, including Bob Dylan, Simon and Garfunkel, the Byrds, Santana and Miles Davis.

Subsequently, he established himself as an independent press, PR and music journalist, representing a number of artists visiting the UK from America including Johnny Cash, Buddy de Franco and the Glenn Miller Orchestra. Subsequently he was engaged by the Rank Organisation as press and PR consultant for its Sundown chain of rock music venues in London. He was also retained as London correspondent for the American weekly trade music magazine Cashbox, and as popular and jazz music critic for the monthly British consumer publication, Cassettes & Cartridges, a subsidiary of the influential Gramophone publishing group.

In 1974-5, he was employed in a freelance capacity as scriptwriter for Independent Radio News. He then accepted a full-time post with IRN, later transferring to the programme division of LBC Radio, producing and presenting radio programmes with substantial content related to the arts and music. Appointed the station’s jazz correspondent in 1977, he compiled and presented a weekly one-hour programme throughout the remaining period, as well as advising on coverage of news and programme items relating to popular and recorded music.

After he left LBC in 1989, Keith’s career split. Whilst he still wrote and broadcast on jazz he took assignments on a broader canvas as diverse as assembling jazz programmes for a number of airlines, working on the Wimbledon Tennis radio channel and editing a jazz magazine.

But as well as his beloved jazz, Keith discovered a talent for travel journalism. He took particular pride in the work he did for the D-Day anniversaries, interviewing many survivors from generals to Bill Millin, Lord Lovat’s piper, who played the troops across Pegasus Bridge. He put together tapes and guidebooks for Brittany Ferries passengers and subsequently lodged the tapes with the Imperial War Museum.

A freelance never retires but Keith found a haven in rural Wiltshire, creating a library for his thousands of LPs and CDs – his house was never silent and, whether listening to Sister Rosetta Tharpe or Sir John Dankworth, Keith and jazz remained inseparable to the very end. In his last days in the Prospect Hospice in Swindon he asked that new recordings he had received of Eddie ‘Cleanhead’ Vinson, Cannonball Adderley, Ruby Braff and Irma Curry be put on his iPad.

He was a founder-member of the Jazz Committee of the Worshipful Company of Musicians – now known as Musicians’ Company Jazz – and remained an active member of their Jazz Programme until his death.

Thanks to Joe Partridge for preparing this fascinating record of Keith’s life.

February 2016