Jazz Stories: 2017

Michael Ricci By

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"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.

The best show I ever attended was Gordon Goodwin's Big Phat Band, just last fall. Those guys are just amazing players, so much fun. My advice to new listeners is to try different periods and types of jazz. There's jazz for everyone. If you find someone you like, do a little research to see who they were influenced by and follow that path.

Also, sign up for Jazz at Lincoln Center on Livestream, especially if you're not in a big city and don't have access to live shows.

From Nina Beck

I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran "Kappy's" Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really "clicked" and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already. SOOOO... he started me off LP's by Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, Bud Powell, Errol Garner, Bill Evans, Monty Alexander, Charlie Byrd, and Dave Brubeck... does it get any better than that? ...No, it doesn't. I was hooked!!

I met and had a master class with the late music giant John Lewis, leader of the Modern Jazz Quartet! This was at CCNY in 1977. I was blessed! It was an incredible class... how could it have been anything else?!?!

The first jazz record I bought was...I bought numerous records from my friend at the record store, as mentioned above. He introduced me to nothing but music giants/legends! I think The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Greatest Hits, was actually the first one.


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