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Jazz Stories: 2017

Michael Ricci By

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I was first exposed to jazz when I was 20 years old. Before that I only played rock and roll. I took a music course that summer at a local NYC college, and as part of the course they set up each student with a private teacher. As luck would have it I was matched with Jimmy Garrison, John Coltrane's bassist. Jimmy opened my eyes and ears to jazz. He taught me how to "walk" on the bass. He was an inspiration. When I decided to return to Boston in the fall he set me up with several musicians there, and my musical life took off from there.

I met Sonny Stitt, the great alto saxophonist, in the early 1970s at a famous club outside of Boston called Lennie's On The Turnpike. He was the headliner that evening and my band—Sagov—was the opener and backing band for Sonny. What made the night especially memorable is that when Sonny took the stand he was stone cold drunk. I mean he could hardly stand. But when the spotlight shone on him somehow he played, and played masterfully. No one in the audience had a clue that he was drunk. It must have been muscle memory.

The best show I ever attended was about 5 years ago when I saw Chick Corea together with Gary Burton at Tanglewood in Massachusetts. I have long adored both musicians. In fact, Sagov opened for Gary Burton in Boston in 1973. And Chick has been one of my idols for many years including his Return To Forever days. Hearing these two masters play together was just awe inspiring.

The first jazz record I bought was Miles Davis' Bitches Brew. This album was the start of the fusion era in jazz, which I loved. The record was unlike anything that I had ever heard. It didn't really consist of tunes. It was more like long tone poems, with an electric feel. Totally captivating.

My advice to new listeners is to keep an open mind. Jazz is an experimental form of music. So you must open your ears and accept the artistry.

From Danijela Milic/LeitmotivArts

For me jazz represents more than music—it is a form of dialogue that knows no boundaries and unites people of different cultures, religions and nationalities. To me jazz represents freedom of expression and tolerance, spontaneity and improvisation. Its beats are recognizable and yet, like the world around us, jazz is ever changing and evolving. Jazz draws on different national and local music cultures, it honors and respects the past while at the same time provides room for innovation and creativity.

From Kevin Davy

I love jazz because of the music itself, and how it has touched me over the years. I was first informed of jazz, through seeing and listening to Louis Armstrong in movies and hearing his trumpet and singing. I was also informed by listening to my dad's old records, which included a lot Jamaican ska, and rock-steady tracks, many of which had horn sections, and jazz soloing incorporated into the tracks. This took me into deeper interest later on, and from there, it actually inspired me to want to play jazz myself.

From Theo Pywowarczuk

The best show I ever attended was Pat Metheny during his "Secret Story" tour in the '90s. I was blown away at the synchronicity of this large bunch of fabulous musicians and vocalists. It was spellbinding, and remains in my top three ever concerts.

The first jazz record I bought was Weather Report's "Mysterious Traveller."

My advice to new listeners follow the trails: find an album you love, then listen to what the individual musicians have done elsewhere. It's an extremely rewarding journey!

From Nelson Gonzalez-Torres

I love jazz because it is spontaneous use of notes, and infectious rhythms, with split-second thought. It is like playing a sport at high speed. I first remember hearing it played in a public broadcast television station in Puerto Rico where they were playing post-bebop jazz with a bluesy style that surpassed what some rockers were trying to do in the late 60's. A friend also played "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf," Jimmy Smith's organ and big band album. It blew me away. I was hooked.

From Nat Seelen

So I remember being at the Regattabar Jazz Club, in Cambridge. I must have been fifteen years old, something like that, and my parents brought me to see Branford Marsalis and his quartet. That was when Branford was touring with Tain Watts, Joey Calderazzo, and Eric Revis, and they were playing "A Love Supreme." We had the original on LP back at the house (I know -this was in the early 2000s, but we still had it on LP!), and Branford's band was just killing it on stage. Anyway, Watts was doing his best Elvin impression in "Pursuance" when Branford gave his colleagues a sly look. Watts's eyes were closed! As the energy in the room pushed higher and higher, Marsalis, Revis, and Calderazzo quietly left through the side door. The Zildjians erupted with the touch of Watts' sticks and as we hit the climax of his solo, Watts' eyes blinked open to find himself alone, on stage, flipping lightly into time in front of two hundred lucky guests. Oh come on!

From Laura Ainsworth

I love jazz because...it's in my blood! My late father, Billy Ainsworth, was a musical prodigy who dropped out of school at 17 after he stunned the seasoned musicians of the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra with an in-off-the-street audition. He was on the band bus the next day as Dorsey's alto sax and clarinetist, and never looked back. He played with great bandleaders such as Freddie Martin, Tex Beneke and Ray McKinley, some before he was out of his teens (they had to lie about his age to get him into nightclubs). Many older musicians have told me he was the greatest alto saxophonist they ever worked with. He was equally great on clarinet and was clarinetist and harmony singer for cocktail jazz pioneers, the Ernie Felice Quartet.

He eventually left the road and settled down, and that's when I came in. By that time, he was, by day, vocal group session leader/player/arranger for classic jingles and commercial music produced in Dallas. At night, he played in society bands, jazz combos and elegant showrooms. Tuesdays were slow in the showrooms, so band members' families got in free, and my mom took me to see him backing such legends as Tony Bennett, Mel Torme, Steve and Eydie, and a very old Ella Fitzgerald. Between that, hearing his record collection, growing up around the legendary musicians and singers who were like aunts and uncles to me, and just listening to him practice around the house, filling the neighborhood with incredible jazz sax riffs, I couldn't help becoming that weird kid who was listening to Peggy Lee, Ella and Manhattan Transfer when my classmates were listening to rock, country and soul.

Even though he died before I ever sang professionally, he remains my inspiration and all my CDs are dedicated to him. I like to think that he'd like my music, since it's built on the foundation he handed down to me.

From Jules Travers

I became jazz fan after meeting Miles Davis at a café in Forest National (Belgium) in 1984.

From Christopher A Wade

Jazz is a different experience for everyone that hears it. It is never the same way twice and your experience... is your experience. Jazz is all about spontaneity, improvisation, not conforming to expectations....it's all about style.

I was first exposed to jazz as a child. My parents were avid jazz fans and by the time I was five years old I was listening to all types of Jazz—everything from Mose Allison, Nancy Wilson and Astrud Gilberto to Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Dave Brubeck.

I have met many musicians in my time, but my most memorable encounter happened when I was about 20 years old and I met Nancy Wilson—needless to say... I was mesmerized!

The best show I ever attended was the Pat Metheny Group at The Meadowbrook Amphitheater in Auburn Hills, Michigan. Pat and the Group performed cuts off of a new CD that wasn't out for release yet. It was called the "First Circle"! I was blown away! The first jazz record I bought was by John Tropea called "Tangerine." My advice to new listeners: "Jazz is not about hearing it, it's about feeling it. Take the time to listen and you will hear something new every time you do."

From Clemens Grassmann

I love jazz because it gives you the opportunity to express your deepest emotions and feelings without any words. Activating all senses, listening to your surroundings and being aware of who and what you are in the moment creates an environment that takes your mind and body to a different place for a while once you embrace and let go. It teaches you how to share, live in the present and become one with the people around you. You overcome your ego to become part of something greater.

I was first exposed to jazz in my High School Big Band. My first steps were tremendous fun and set me on the path I would eventually pursue to become a dedicated professional musician. It was through my former music teacher that I started listening to and learning jazz which led me to the reception of a scholarship to attend Berklee College of Music where I received the Armand Zildjian Percussion Award and met and studied with masters and mentors such as Terri Lyne Carrington, Ralph Peterson Jr., Billy Kilson, Kenwood Dennard, Danilo Pérèz and Joe Lovano, whose influence in shaping my art, craft and personality is deeply rooted in my mind and beliefs and reveals itself whenever I connect with music.

From Jeff Fitzgerald, Genius

I love jazz because it speaks to a place inside me that no other music can touch.

From Jeff Byrnes

I was first exposed to jazz by my buddy Tom Reaves, the drummer in our high school jazz band. He spun me Miles Davis' Milestones album, and as soon as that up-tempo "Dr. Jackle" (or "Dr. Jekyll," depending on your copy) kicked off, I was hooked.

From Steve Vermeulen

I like the freedom that jazz encompasses. You listen as the performer plays, but you also think about his direction and often puzzle out where it's all going. It's not passive, which is great.

And I like the personal element, in that it's relatively easy to find smaller scale jazz performances where you are both close to the music and the musician.

On a different tack, it's also easy to find great recordings, great venues and great company.

From Patrick Keyes

I love jazz because it is both challenging and exhilarating, and the endeavor of improvisation is the highest form of art.

I met so many great musicians—including my two earliest heroes, Maynard Ferguson and Dizzy Gillespie—by attending concerts and being willing to treat them with the respect they deserve.

The best show I ever attended was the Pat Metheny/Ornette Coleman Song X concert at Cornell University.

The first jazz record I bought was an RCA compilation by Dizzy Gillespie.

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