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Jymie Merritt: Dedication Personified

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What keeps him going

AAJ: Now, how old did you say you were?

JM: I'm 83, if I'm not mistaken.

AAJ: It's hard to keep track after a while. [Laughter.] To me, you seem ageless, perennially young in spirit. What's your secret?

JM: I have a friend who just underwent a serious operation, and he said that the only thing that kept him going was the music, and I agree. This music, going all the way back to Louis Armstrong—it gives you something wonderful, and I'm hopeful we can bring it forward to a new generation to experience.

AAJ: Jazz is so full of life.

JM: It's revitalizing—I "take one" every day [Laughter].

AAJ: It's your medication, so to speak. So, what have you got in line for the near future?

JM: Well, my group is rehearsing twice a week now, getting ready to perform, and to engage and bring in some younger people. And I expect to continue to stay in touch with the Creative Arts High School in Camden—and the young people generating some of that musical energy that we used to have in our neighborhoods back then.

AAJ: That was a sort of Renaissance period in Philly jazz. Nowadays, we have some fantastic musicians, but the atmosphere and passion aren't quite the same.

JM: We had a great leader then in the form of Charlie Parker, who was a hero despite the adversity from his drug addiction. Guys like him helped all the younger guys pull it all together. I remember going up to New York, and there was a restaurant at 52nd and Broadway, and after the gigs, everyone would gather there. Like, I remember Thelonious Monk

Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk
1917 - 1982
piano
sitting over there in a corner. Benny Golson, Gigi Gryce
Gigi Gryce
Gigi Gryce
1927 - 1983
saxophone
, Paul Gonsalves
Paul Gonsalves
Paul Gonsalves
1920 - 1974
sax, tenor
, everyone you could think of would be in there. It was right down the street from Roseland and the musician's union, right around the corner from Birdland. There was tremendous energy, even after you got through playing. A little bit later, Monk came out with "Brilliant Corners"—I like to think it came from him musing that night.


Selected Discography

Art Blakey, Moanin'(Blue Note, 1958)

Art Blakey, A Night in Tunisia (Blue Note, 1960)

Art Blakey, Mosaic (Blue Note, 1961)

Art Blakey, The Freedom Rider (Blue Note, 1961)

Art Blakey, Three Blind Mice (United Artists, 1962)

Max Roach, Drums Unlimited (Atlantic, 1965)

Max Roach, Members, Don't Git Weary (Atlantic, 1968)

Lee Morgan

Lee Morgan
Lee Morgan
1938 - 1972
trumpet
, Live at the Lighthouse (Blue Note, 1970)

Photo Credit

Page 1: Francis Wolfe/Mosaic Images

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