Jay Rayner at the Petworth Festival.

Jay Rayner by Levon Biss
Jay Rayner by Levon Biss
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Songs of Food and Agony bring together two key strands in his life when Jay Rayner brings The Jay Rayner Quartet to the Petworth Festival.

Jay is probably best known as restaurant critic for The Observer, as chairman of BBC Radio 4’s The Kitchen Cabinet and as a regular judge on BBC’s Masterchef.

He is also the son of agony aunt, Claire Rayner.

And the two things converge in the show, part of a fast-rising musical career.

Jay will release his first live album in September. He will have an EP available for Petworth.

“On the one hand, I want to say it has taken me by surprise, but on the other hand I am certainly aware how much work it has been! I am very, very much not casual about my music.”

The concert is on Wednesday, July 26 in Leconfield Hall, Petworth at 6pm and then repeated at 8.15pm.

“I suppose it really started about five or six years ago, but I have played the piano on and off for many, many years – for decades, in fact. And I had always had an absolute interest in jazz. I am a member of a members’ club, and they have a music scene there.

“The guy that runs it has a jazz trio on Friday nights, and one Friday he insisted I sit in with the other musicians. It was five or six years ago, and I think he just thought it was time.

“And it was the most thrilling thing I had ever done. It’s terrifying to hold on with genuine musicians, with people that had been schooled in this for years. I suppose I am one of them now.

“But it was very different back then. The main thing is that you just feel so exposed. You are right in the moment.

“When you are writing a piece (for the paper), you can go back to it and get it right, right up to the point of publication.

“But when music flows past, you are in the river, and you have either got your head above the water or you haven’t. For me as a writer, someone who spends a lot of time thinking about things very broadly, to do music in this time format is something else entirely.

“And this is the music I grew up with. My parents had that thing. They used to make me watch the MGM musicals on a Saturday afternoon.

“The great American songbook, however hard I tried to be cool as a teenager, was something that always kept calling me back, and then once I started gigging, I thought I have got to find a way to justify what I am playing.

“So I draw on the food and drink songbook, and the more you think about it, the more you find.

“You look at certain songs like The Lady is a Tramp, and you don’t think of them as food and drink songs… and then you look at the verse, and you see it is very much about food. The lyrics are all there, and it is not surprising because a lot of the history of jazz is around food in restaurants and bars. That’s where jazz was born.

“And in the show, there is also a lot of chat. I have rarely talked about the fact that I am Claire Rayner’s son. I have never avoided it, but I haven’t sought it, partly because of irritation with that nepotism thing, people thinking that I am doing what I do because of it… as if I could possibly be doing Masterchef because my mother was an expert on cystitis!

“But this is a chance to talk a bit about her, and that’s why we are calling the evening Songs of Food and Agony.”

Jay is joined for the Petworth Festival by regular quartet partners Dave Lewis (sax), Robert Rickenberg (bass) and singer Pat Gordon-Smith. Tickets on www.petworthfestival.org.uk.

n Also coming up at the Petworth Festival is Comedy in The Stables on Friday, July 21 with The Rainer Hersch Orkestra, Hal Cruttenden, Kieran Hodgson and Mitch Benn, starting at 6pm in The Stables at Petworth.

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