What is your musical background? I joined the marching band at 12, playing the baritone horn. I learned trombone, and played in the Jazz band in high school. I later studied euphonium and trombone at Mars Hill College and Virginia Commonwealth University. I took up guitar at the age of 21 just for the jolly hell of it. I've been writing for as long as I've known how to write and, somewhere in my Twenties, finally came to the realization that I would always be a better writer than a musician.
What was the first record you bought that you would still listen to today? The first Jazz record was Wynton Marsalis
's Think of One, and I do still listen to it to this day. For all the criticisms of him, he did bring a lot of peoplemyself includedto Our Music.
What type of jazz do you enjoy listening to the most? Other than most Fusion, which just leaves me cold, and the more self-indulgent of the later Free Jazz, there's not much I don't enjoy.
Aside from jazz, what styles of music do you enjoy? I like vintage alternative and modern rock, mostly. Some punk, some metal. I've never been able to make a blanket statement about what I don't like. I can't say I don't like country, because I like Dwight Yoakam. And I can't say I don't like all Fusion, because I like some of Weather Report's stuff with Jaco and a good bit of Miles Davis's Bitches Brew and later stuff. I try to stay open, as much as is possible, to the good in music rather than making uninformed decisions about what is bad in music.
What are you listening to right now? Right now, I'm listening to Coltrane. The Complete Live at the Village Vanguard recordings. God bless the five-disc CD changer.
Which five recent releases would you recommend to readers who share your musical taste? The way I consume music has changed, as I suspect it has for a lot of people. I'm less likely to buy CDs now, and more likely to listen to music streaming on the Internet. So I don't really follow the new releases, or listen to whole CDs except for the ones already in my collection. That's a tough question in today's world.
What inspired you to write about jazz? I will never be a great musician. I will never be a novelist, my straight prose is godawful; and I will never be a journalist, because I have no patience for lifeless facts. My allotment of the writer's portion is humor, and I don't take that gift lightly. Dorothy Parker said, "Humor, to me, is encapsulated in criticism." Being a humorist allows me to say things I couldn't say with a straight face, to gently poke the air out of something overblown without necessarily attacking it.
What do you like to do in your free time? Any hobbies? I enjoy watching movies, watching sports, and cooking. I enjoy going to the ballpark in the summer and watching my Salem Red Sox play in the single-A Carolina League. And I spend a considerable amount of time in the kitchen, playing around with new recipes and trying to be the best amateur cook I can.
(L to R: the Commander and the Genius)
What role does jazz music play in your life? Jazz, the sense of freedom and improvisation, fills my life. It is in my cooking, in the way I try to live each day, in almost everything I do. I love trying to make a recipe that might be beyond my skill level, the exhilaration of teetering on the brink of failure, in the same sense Coltrane often pushed himself beyond his abilities in search of something he felt in himself. Jazz is literally in everything I do.
How does writing about jazz contribute to the music itself? In my opinion, the worst thing we can do to something we care about is to take it too seriously. When we lose the ability to laugh about something we love, or to tolerate others having fun at its expense, we begin to kill it. The gift I have been given, the sense of humor that gives life to my writing, allows me to loosen the stranglehold of the zealot and let the music breathe. At least, that's what I tell myself when I'm sitting here making up silly little gags about potato chips that look like Milt Jackson
What do you like most about All About Jazz? It is consistently the sharpest, most well-composed site out there. No pretense, no pedantry, no stilted prose or sniffy, officious polemics. To assemble the staggering amount of brains and talent that AAJ has, without it turning into little more than an intellectual circle jerk, is one of the most astonishing feats of the Internet era.