In Love With Voices: A Jazz Memoir

Ken Dryden By

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In Love With Voices: A Jazz Memoir
Brian Torff
Softcover; 236 pages
ISBN: 1440112851

Brian Torff is a widely experienced jazz bassist who has recorded and played with numerous greats, including violinist Stephane Grappelli, clarinetist Benny Goodman, singers Frank Sinatra and Mel Torme, and pianists George Shearing, Marian McPartland, Mary Lou Williams and Erroll Garner. He has also recorded as a leader and is active in jazz education. His divorce from his wife of 26 years led him in 2008 to move to Paris to focus upon writing his memoir. He has now returned to the US.

First enamored with rock, Torff caught the jazz bug after attending a Jamey Aebersold workshop (his instructors included Clark Terry and McPartland), then headed off to Berklee. In the 1970s, bored with their curriculum, he moved to New York City and immediately started landing work, often being at the right place and right time.

From his view as a sideman, he praises the musicians who helped him: the demanding Williams (who prodded him to learn a wider scope of standards and was frank in her assessment of his playing, as he admits he failed badly in his first two attempts to accompany her); the congenial bassist Milt Hinton (who was known for befriending newly arrived bassists, inviting them to dinner in his home and recommending them for jobs) and saxophonist Oliver Nelson, who hired him on the spot after his initial bassist unexpectedly left a rehearsal for a gig. This was Torff's recording debut as a sideman. In addition, the professionalism of Shearing and Torme left its mark on the bassist, as did his stints with Grappelli and McPartland.

Torff's writing style makes his memoir a fast read, buoyed by his dry, often self-deprecating humor. His anecdotes range from poignant (his father died when the bassist was 15, though he learned more about him decades later) to hilarious (especially an odd rehearsal with Goodman and Shearing). A sense of loneliness is present throughout much of his story, as he never mentions his ex-wife by name or details much of his family life. The valuable advice that Torff shares about performing as a career should make In Love With Voices required reading in any jazz curriculum.

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