Jeff Goldblum is a coup for Radio 2 – so why has he been dumped in a middle-of-the-night slot?

Jeff Goldblum's Power of Jazz show is on in the middle of the night
Jeff Goldblum curates a special jazz playlist as part of BBC Radio 2 Loves Jazz season - Frank Hoensch

“I am your host, Jeff Goldblum,” said our host, Jeff Goldblum. “Gee Oh Ell Dee Bee Ell You Em.” He didn’t need to spell his name for us, but it felt apt. After all, Jeff Goldblum’s Power of Jazz (Radio 2) is a programme that painstakingly spells out everything else.

When he’s not pooh-poohing paleontological theme parks or turning into a fly, Jeff G-o-l-d-b-l-u-m has an improbable sideline as a jazz musician. (He is the Mildred Snitzer Orchestra’s pianist, a word he insists on pronouncing “pi-YAN-ist”.) Which makes bagging him a minor coup for Radio 2. Here’s a jazz nut who also happens to be a movie star, singing the praises of this most-maligned genre across four episodes. It’s part of a season called “Radio 2 Loves Jazz”. And how have they expressed their love? By dumping Goldblum in the darkest hour of the schedules, when almost nobody will tune in.

If you missed the first episode – it ended at 1am on Monday – don’t worry, there’s a repeat. Almost a month later. At 3am. Future episodes, already on Sounds (the streaming service increasingly prioritised over actual broadcasts), will tackle jazz’s influence on hip-hop, pop, and film and television. But first came an hour on jazz and rock, seemingly pitched at listeners who have never heard of either.

I don’t want to sound snobbish. I did genuinely enjoy the programme, but I might have enjoyed it even more if I’d just crawled out from under a rock.

We learnt that jazz, “the popular music of its day”, has influenced everyone from “’70s glam-–rock superstar Elton John” (oh, that Elton John) to “an experimental rock band from today, Radiohead” (ah, that Radiohead).

There were a few nice surprises. For instance, back-to-back clips showed how Humphrey Lyttelton’s Bad Penny Blues was lovingly ripped off by Paul McCartney’s Lady Madonna. (Did you know Ronnie Scott played with The Beatles on that track? I didn’t.) And it’s always good to hear the godlike genius of Charlie Christian, however briefly.

Humphrey Lyttelton in 1948
Humphrey Lyttelton in 1948 - Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone

We heard from perhaps two dozen voices – some fresh interviews, some archive clips, though it was often unclear which was which. I love jazz – for proof, consult your yellowing copy of the April 3 Daily Telegraph, and my rave for Radio 3’s Round Midnight. But is it possible to have too much eager cheerleading for it? Paul McCartney, Patti Smith, Charlie Watts, Chrissie Hynde, Bryan Ferry, Joni Mitchell, Robert Plant, Sting, Flea and even ’70s glam-rock superstar Elton John all popped up for just long enough to agree that yeah, man, jazz is great.

Sometimes evangelism is more effective when it takes a slant approach. I’d never read anything by Mary Wollstonecraft, but I was convinced to dive into her A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Linda Marshall Griffiths’s gripping, twisty, clever drama A Vindication of Frankenstein’s Monster (Radio 4, Sunday), which mashes together Wollstonecraft’s story with a sci-fi riff on her daughter’s famous Gothic novel. It really shouldn’t work, but somehow does.

The first episode began like a docu-drama. We heard a narrator walking across Putney Bridge today – footsteps, distant traffic – before travelling back in time to imagine how the bridge would have looked two centuries ago, when the philosopher jumped from it in a failed suicide attempt. But around 10 minutes in, the real premise became clear: this wasn’t a flight of fancy, but an AI/VR simulation created by Lizzy (Lydia Wilson), a computer programmer obsessed with Wollstonecraft, who’s meticulously recreating every detail of her life in a virtual world.

Heavily pregnant, with a brain aneurysm and a fraying sense of reality, Lizzy is alarmed to discover that her AI Wollstonecraft is just as independent-minded as the flesh-and-blood one was, and unwilling to be pushed around.

Mother and daughter Mary Wollstoncraft and Mary Shelley
Mother and daughter Mary Wollstoncraft and Mary Shelley - AP

Has she created a monster? One last tip: Natalie Haynes Stands Up for the Classics (Radio 4, Monday) is back for a 10th series. I’d somehow missed the first nine, and wish I hadn’t: it’s a thoroughly Reithian treat. Funnier than Mary Beard, more educational than Carry on Cleo, it’s essentially a Class Civ lecture with jokes – good jokes! – from a Perrier-nominated comedian and classicist.

Each episode explores a different figure from classical history or myth, from the famous (Cicero, Pandora) to the obscure (Penthesilea, anyone?). Monday’s instalment was a myth-busting look at Cleopatra; the asp was an invention, Marc Antony was ideal boyfriend material, etc. The whole decade-long back catalogue is available on Sounds. Gaudete!

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