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Jazz Stories: 2017

Michael Ricci By

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My advice to new listeners is to not be afraid to listen to something because you're not familiar with the artists or the band or the genre or anything -this is music that is best experienced through discovery.

From Joseph La Barbera

I love jazz because it communicates so completely.

I was first exposed to jazz as a child by my parents on some wonderful 78 RPM recordings followed by Miles Davis LPs my brother Pat brought home.

I met McCoy Tyner with my brothers when we were teenagers. He played in Rochester with Coltrane and spent his entire break talking with us outside the club.

The best show I ever attended was Miles Davis sextet at Lennie's on the Turnpike in Boston. The band was Miles, Wayne Shorter, Joe Henderson, Herbie Hancock, Eddie Gomez and Tony Williams. Incredible!

The first jazz record I bought was Donald Byrd Pepper Adams Quintet on Brunswick with Herbie Hancock, Laymon Jackson and Jimmy Cobb.

My advice to new listeners... jazz is about feeling so don't try to be too analytical about it; just react as you feel.

From Peter Campbell

I was first exposed to jazz or what could be considered foundations of jazz through musicians not typically associated with it: Joni Mitchell and Stephen Sondheim. Both "pushed the envelope" when it came to musical genres and vocabulary. Both have explored the harmonic and structural possibilities of song. As a vocalist who works within traditional song structure, I look for those harmonic and rhythmic possibilities to inspire my work.

From Jana Nyberg

Growing up, jazz always filled our home. I played jazz as soon as I could in school bands and summer programs, on flute and piano. It wasn't until college that I happened into singing jazz when asked to step up from the piano and sing Ellington's "Prelude To A Kiss" with the big band. Jazz is such an exciting musical playground. Each time you play a tune, it's different—based on who you're playing with, the arrangement, and the improvisation. Jazz is America's true original art form, and it brings me great joy. As Louie Armstrong said, ..."you can even live your life by it."

From Lila Ammons

I love jazz because it's in my blood. Albert Ammons, boogie pianist, and Gene "Jug" Ammons, tenor saxophonist, were my grandfather and uncle.

I was first exposed to jazz, listening to my parents' records of Gene Ammons, Sarah Vaughan, George Shearing, Earl Garner, etc.

I've performed and worked with many wonderful artists, including Leonard Bernstein, Axel Zwingenberger, John Pizzarelli, Charlie Watts, Houston Person, Bennie Golson, Jon Faddis, etc.

Some of the best jazz shows I've ever attended were Lena Horn's "One Woman Show" in NYC, Sarah Vaughan in concert, Sippie Wallace, Count Basie Big Band in concert, and Cab Calloway at Carnegie Hall. I enjoy listening to a number of vocalists, such as Bessie Smith, Johnny Hartman, Billie Holiday, Betty Carter, and more.

The first jazz record I bought was Miles Davis's, "Kinda Blue."

My advice to new listeners is to listen to all styles and learn jazz and blues history. Above all, enjoy every minute learning about the jazz experience.

From Eddie Becton

I was first exposed to jazz as a baby. When I was a child, my parents regularly played classic jazz, i.e., Fitzgerald, Hawkins, Holiday, Davis, Coltrane, Monk, Montgomery, Silver, etc. I vividly remember sitting in front of the stereo as a kid, rocking back and forth to jazz, so the music is embedded in me. As a life-long jazz lover, I eventually became a jazz educator and producer/host of a very popular jazz radio program in Los Angeles, California.

I love jazz because it is so free. I can think, feel, and dream to jazz, and it allows my mind to flow and expand, musically and otherwise. I also love jazz because it, much like other forms of music, allows opportunities to bring people from all walks of life together. What makes jazz more significant to me, though, is its historical significance; that is, how jazz served, in part, as a method of bringing communities together, a cultural/social/spiritual conduit.

From Torben Westergaard

I love jazz because of it, to me, combines craft and creativity in a way that both challenges the soul and touches the heart.

From Jay Epstein

The best show I ever attended was: The John Coltrane Quartet with McCoy Tyner, Jimmie Garrison, Elvin Jones at the Guthrie Theater Minneapolis 1964. I was a high school jazz musician, but totally unprepared for the astounding, direct communication I received from the Quartet. It was as if Trane knew all of my life's feelings, joys, sorrows, angst, ecstasies, regrets, & spiritual searches and was saying to me,'Yes, I know you, Jay, we are alike as brothers.' I had an epiphany that night that has carried me through my life.

From Roy Prinz

I grew up in an environment filled with music. Our family owned a resort hotel in the Berkshires of Massachusetts. Music from the twentieth century played at home from New Orleans jazz, swing, big bands and the resort featured performers in the styles of the day ranging from Dixieland, swing, folk, blues and rock. Summertime in the Berkshires offered a plethora of live performances from modern jazz, rock and classical. As a small child I played piano but that eventually changed to guitar influenced by the popular era. While attending the University of Massachusetts I participated in the jazz program where my music/jazz education accelerated with classes and workshops taught by Dr. Frederick Tillis, Max Roach and Archie Shepp. The inspiration from those beginnings remains and I've been an enthusiastic student/player ever since.

From J. Robert Bragonier

I love jazz because I can still remember how it made me feel the first time I heard it. This love of mine dates back nearly 65 years. I can't remember exactly where I was, but a woman, accompanied by a pianist, was singing. I was like someone who had previously seen only in black-and-white, who suddenly saw the world in Technicolor. Having mostly only heard church music (with piano or organ accompaniment), I remember thinking, "Oh, my god! Listen! She's singing, but he's not playing what she's singing. He's not playing any of the melody! And, they're not even together; she's lagging way behind him! (Oh, wait; there, she just caught up.)"

"And, listen to those chords he's playing: they're gorgeous! Where have those chords been hiding on MY piano? And, the rhythms: how can he play such different rhythms with his two hands and not get mixed up? And, look: he doesn't even have any notes written on his music! Just notations, like, 'G-7,' 'F-7,' 'EbΔ,' 'A7b9,' 'GbΔ,' 'Fsus,' 'Eb-7,' 'Bbsus,' 'Bb7,' 'EbΔ.' (These are notations for the chord changes in the first ten measures of Wayne Shorter's "Infant Eyes.")

My parents both sang in college, and my mother continued to sing in church choir; she played the piano a little as a child, but neither parent listened to music in the home. They started me with piano lessons at age 4 and were supportive of my talent, but they actively discouraged my interest in jazz; I think my mother actually believed that jazz's influence was evil, in a religious sense. My piano teacher was rigidly classical in orientation, and the notion of jazz lessons was totally out of the question.

My first three LP records were jazz: I distinctly remember that they were Kurt Edelhagen's Jazz from Germany, The Four Freshmen and Five Trombones, and George Van Eps' Mellow Guitar. I was an exchange student to Sweden at age 17, and all the way over (10 days on the MS Seven Seas), I hung over the shoulder of Del Cummings, a student bound for Germany and the best young jazz pianist I had ever seen play, soaking up his every riff and nuance. During my senior year, after I returned, I played trombone in jazz big bands and combos whenever I could, but I remained frustrated at my inability to progress, untutored, in playing jazz piano.

In college I learned to play and improvise on the vibes, surreptitiously and entirely self-taught. My exposure to recorded jazz blossomed, however, when I got a job disc jockeying jazz and classical music at the college radio station. I worked my way through undergraduate school, and into medical school, in this manner, absorbing as much knowledge and appreciation of jazz as possible. At some point, I realized that my discrimination and taste had surpassed my talent; as a performer, I clearly did not meet my own standards. Since I questioned how good I could be, and since I had neither the time nor opportunity to practice and improve, I resolved to limit my playing to the record player, radio, and ultimately, the CD player. There are just too many people I'd rather listen to, and too little time, for me to waste it attempting to entertain myself.

Highlights of those early years include taking my wife of more than 50 years, Barbara, to hear the Dave Brubeck Quartet on one of our first dates in late 1956; meeting George Shearing when he came over to the fraternity house after a campus concert in the spring of 1957; listening and dancing to the big bands of Les Brown, Ted Heath, Stan Kenton, Woody Herman, and numerous others during those years; and spending many late evenings listening to our housemother's collection of jazz records, hour after hour...

What is it exactly that I love about jazz? It's hard to put into words, but its swing and blues tonalities resonate in my soul in a way that no other music does. Jazz is America's "classical music"; it is truly America's gift to the world. Its hypnotic rhythms, and its syncopation, with the melody falling just a smidge ahead or behind the beat, give a feeling of forward motion, a sense of tension and release, that never fail to enthrall me, to grab and hold my attention and never let it go. When a jazz master improvises on a common theme, I continue to hear that theme in my head during the presentation; together, the theme and the overlying improvisation create for me a beautiful and exciting internal counterpoint. Finally, a live jazz performance is truly a once-in-a-lifetime event; an improvised solo will never, ever be played in exactly that same manner again. This fact gives the jazz performance an immediacy, uniqueness, and evanescence (like a snowflake, bubble, or sunset) that totally composed music can never attain. For me, these qualities keep jazz ever fresh and new, and ever fascinating.

From Ginger Wireman

I have a son who plays bass, and I love watching him interact with the others when they play, the eye contact and nods that are a secret language only they understand... I love jazz because of the creativity and fluidity it allows musicians. I love when they pull quotes from other songs. Drummers and pianists, in particular blow my mind.

I was first exposed to jazz records in my home growing up, big band and swing. But I was a band kid in HS and college (well more like a band groupie in marching band color guard). I learned to like all styles.

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