"AT THE heart of jazz," says Alvin Roy, Jerusalem-born philanthropist, heart attack survivor and clarinet player extraordinaire, "is improvisation."

Appropriate sentiments for a man who, more than 15 years ago, quit his job and devoted himself to raising money for medical charities after 'dying' briefly at the John Radcliffe Hospital many years ago.

Born Alvin Ashroy in 1940, the son of a Palestine police officer, Mr Roy went to a Catholic convent kindergarten and today counts himself a "confirmed atheist bachelor".

The family left the country when the state of Israel came into being and settled in Wood Green, north London.

Mr Roy attended Glendale Grammar School but did not discover jazz until his late teens. He said: "I was very anti-jazz when I was at school. To me it was the devil's music.

"In sixth form friends pressed me to listen to their records. I reluctantly heard the Chris Barber Band, loved the sound of the clarinet and pestered my mother to buy me one.

"I had three lessons, then got thrown out for playing the blues, so I never learned to read music; I just taught myself to play."

It proved the start of a lifelong passion that would see Mr Roy tour the UK and Europe, play at leading jazz clubs including Pizza Express, The 100 club, The Marquee and The Cavern Club, and appear on ITV and BBC TV. Today his band 'Reeds Unlimited' regularly plays in Oxford.

It has also appeared in variety shows and for royalty at the Victoria Palace Theatre, and was the first jazz band to play a summer season at Butlins.

Surprisingly enough Mr Roy, who now lives in Carterton, said: "I can't imagine not being able to play jazz.

"The friends I have made and the musicians I have played with, the friendships I have forget, have been a huge part of my life.

"One of the joys is playing with other musicians you admire. It's like a musical orgasm. It's euphoric. I have always wanted to play music with musicians better than myself, because that's the way you get lifted up and inspired."

"You play a song differently every time. That is the beauty of jazz. It is the only music I know where you compose while you play."

A recent highlight for Mr Roy was playing in Rome at The Cotton Club: "I played with one of the regular Italian bands.

"Italian audiences are enthusiastic. Ask any jazz musician that has played in Italy. In this country unfortunately your audience seems to have a geriatric feel.

"Where are the youngsters? I have done a few jazz workshops in Oxfordshire schools and it has been very rewarding. We do a concert and they play a number with the band - and a lot of them say they have never even heard jazz before. Now everything is pop-oriented and youngsters aren't exposed in the same way.

Years ago while still living in North London, Mr Roy was fishing with an old classmate near Stanton Harcourt in Oxfordshire when he began to feel unwell.

He said: "As we reached the cars and unloaded our tackle, I remarked to my friend Derek that I felt light-headed and breathless and that I should probably stop smoking."

In the car back to London Mr Roy felt hot and flushed and was struggling to breathe, and by "instinct" made for the John Radcliffe Hospital.

On arrival, Mr Roy said, "I thought I was having a heart attack, which as far as I was concerned was something that happened to other people."

After 'dying' in effect before a defibrillator was deployed, Mr Roy discovered that he had "made history" by driving while actually having the heart attack.

He said: "Apparently if I’d left the fishery five minutes later than I did, my cardiac arrest and subsequent blackout could have proved fatal to me and others on the road."

The incident changed Mr Roy's life, seemingly for the better. He said: "I was unable to do a nine to five job because I have 'unstable angina' and am registered disabled.

"With jazz there are few musicians that can earn living so I started doing background artist work."

To boost his income he has appeared as an extra in myriad well-loved films and television programmes, playing a surgeon in Casualty and also cropping up as a doctor in Midsomer Murders and in Dr Who and Harry Potter. He is dismissive about who he played in the later, however: "Oh, a goblin or an elf or something.

"Blink and you'll miss me. A lot of people say they didn't see me and I say 'You probably blinked at the wrong moment'.

"I'm slowing down now but that has supplemented my life for the last 20 years. And it beats working for a living."

The heart attack also changed his priorities. On returning to London he gave up work as a recruitment consultant and organised a jazz concert for the British Heart Foundation - the first of many.

In 2000 he moved to Carterton "because Oxfordshire has some of the best fishing in the country" and came to know some of the local jazz musicians.

A group of them organised a charity concert for the JR at the now-defunct Lord Nuffield club, which in turn led to an ongoing series of annual events with the Oxfordshire Jazz Federation at Exeter Hall, Kidlington, for charities such as Parkinson's UK and the Multiple Sclerosis Society.

At each event established musicians from the Oxfordshire area are mixed and matched to create new, never-heard-before bands.

For the first time this year, however, the beneficiary was not a medical charity but Home-Start, a charity based in Blackbird Leys supporting families with young children because, Mr Roy said, they had the "gumption" to step forward and ask.

On Sunday (20/3) night just gone two bands, The Oxford All Stars - in which Mr Roy performed - and The Dream Team, left audiences spellbound on Sunday (20/3) night.

Now 75, Mr Roy's concerts are still going strong. He said: "All the jazz musicians who take part in this venture, amaze me with their generosity because without their cooperation, there would be no concert and no money raised and I’m grateful for that. They make the world a better place."