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Episode 177 : Val Wilmer on free jazz + photography + Lesley Gore audio

28 May 2024

In this episode — our first-ever "field recording" — we travel up to North London to interview the legendary writer-photographer Val Wilmer.

Val takes us back to her earliest musical memories in Streatham, South London, and her immersion in the capital's '60s jazz and blues scenes. We hear about her first pieces for Jazz Journal and her experiences of interviewing (and photographing) the likes of blues singer Jesse Fuller. We also hear about her remarkable DownBeat interview with Jimi Hendrix from early 1968.

Val's classic 1977 book As Serious As Your Life — reissued in 2018 — provides the pretext for asking about her passionate championing of the "free jazz" of John ColtraneOrnette Coleman and others. We focus on her 1966 Melody Maker encounter with the extraordinary Albert Ayler and the unsolved mystery of his death in 1970.

A discussion of Val's deep involvement in the women's movement leads us to clips from Ira Robbins 1994 audio interview with the late Lesley ('It's My Party') Gore — and in particular her startling photo-feminist classic 'You Don't Own Me', six decades young this year. Jasper talks us out with his thoughts on Alan Light's 1991 Rolling Stone interview with Queen Latifah.

Many thanks to special guest Val WilmerAs Serious As Your Life is published by Serpent's Tail and available from all good bookshops.