Friday, March 29, 2013
all that easter jazz
I've been listening to more jazz than usual lately. I've a study-sheet too; musicians listed by their instrument. My theory is, if I look at it often enough, maybe things will stick for I still get them confused, especially those who play several horns.
My dad, my mentor, knew them all and by the beginning notes on most of his era's recordings, he could tell you who-was-playing-what-with-whom-and-where-and-when... He never bragged, they were for him just moments of music which had made him so very happy.
I wasn't aware until his last years, how much I'd picked up and come to love, and of course now I'm very aware of the incidental lessons I took for granted. That jazz guitarist Charlie Byrd was influenced by Django Reinhardt is easy, I can hear it, and I've listened to hours of Jazz Samba recorded with Getz, but it's guys like, say, Lester Young... not so much.
Jo Jones was the drummer on many of the American Recording Society Jazz Division albums. I read he was instrumental in advancing brushes, replacing the bass drum for them in fact. That's an example of common knowledge so buried in my dad's history with jazz that he wouldn't have thought to talk about it yet here I am, finally ready to know more, much more, and he's gone.
Gosh, it hurts.
My dad saw many of the greats in his time, documented for me in a small turquoise book, the scraps of paper he placed between blank pages were a second thought to the opera notes which were the original purpose of the journal I forced upon him. Most of his favorites, musicians and vocalists, needed no last names, his scratchy writing preserving his memories for me; Anita, Basie, Billie, Carmen, Christy, Chris, Dizzy, Django, (in a Paris bistro!) Ella, Ellington, Frank, Heywood, Kaye, Kenton, Krupa, Lockjaw, Mooney, Peggy, Prysock, Rosemary, Sweets, Teddy, and so many more...
I had the insight to hand my dad my voice recorder one afternoon, with instructions to tell me anything that crossed his mind which might not be in the journal. Once he got the hang of it, he left brief entries for several days about the more obscure musicians he saw and the ones he wished he'd seen.
It turned out to be much fun for both of us.
I listened to the recorder for a second time, too soon after his death. It was so painful hearing his voice, the familiar way he'd phrase things, his glee, that I put it away and just this week, with jazz on my mind and a heavy heart which two years has begun to heal, did I try again. Here's a sampling of his notes to me.
"Hey Becca, I told you before and I'll tell you again, I saw Stan Kenton in Raleigh and he was terrific. This was when he had June Christy with him."
"I first saw Ella when I was fifteen years old, with a friend, Max Jones who was sixteen and able to drive a car. We drove to Forest City, to Ashville when Ella was singing with a band called The Chick Webb, who had a real good orchestra back in those days and Ella wasn't much older than I was. It was her first gig and did I get knocked out. Ooooo-whee! That helped start me on the jazz scene."
"Good ones that I never did get to see and think there'd be plenty of 'em but I've got a few right now... I never got to see, oh hell, Artie Shaw, Mildred Bailey... would you believe Nat King Cole? Oh, and really sadly, Sarah Vaughan. Johnny Hartman's another one I missed and would love to have seen."
He'd throw out a few news alerts; "Washington cherries are at a good price," a hint for a homemade pie, before he continued, describing nights with "Billy Eckstine and his big band", "Joe Williams with Count Basie", and "Arthur Prysock and Eddie Heywood" at a new Nashville hotel nightclub.
On a track not halfway through the total of his messages, my dad surprised me with a bit of praise at the tail end of his musings of Sarah Vaughan. He said "I've read your latest blogs... You know, you're a hell of a writer. I love the way you write." A trusted critic, I'll remember this and find it encouraging any time my thoughts and words won't come together.
Tonight I'm going to hear the Mark McKenzie Quartet. It's been a personal struggle, whether to go or not, today being Good Friday but I've made peace with my decision. If live music on a solemn night like this helps even one person, then it's a good thing I say for I know how hard holidays can be for those missing loved ones. I never expected them to affect me, knowing we'd been through the worst already, but I was wrong. The holidays kicked my butt.
So, I'm heading to the wine bar in a few hours, seeing it as the blessing it is, content to fill my soul with music and share the evening with friends. As my dad said at the close of many of his recorded messages, "I'll talk to you later".