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John Gilbreath: Within Earshot

Lloyd N. Peterson Jr. By

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So I would listen to jazz records with these friends and I was also very lucky. There was a jazz club in the suburb of Minneapolis and even though I was only a teenager, I was still able to get in. I would sit for hours listening to the organic setting of the wood surfaces of the acoustic bass, the drums, the piano, the stage, and the feeling seemed so natural to me, of the planet that I was on.

LP: There seems to be a period of time that one needs to go through; a type of investment in order to fully appreciate this music. It's not in a work sense because it's a passion. Does it seem that way to you?

JG: It does and when you were just mentioning that, I also thought of the word commitment and how scary that that can be. We were making a commitment and we were in the middle of that commitment. But if someone would have said, "Boy, you have really made a commitment." We would have said, "Oh no, oh no." [laughter]

LP: If you don't go through this period it does seem as though you are going to miss out on something.

JG: Yes and it's interesting that you can listen to it for hours but other things will strike us as superficial and not compelling in that way. And back in those days; I use to think of the aspect of the word "soul." We used to say, "Oh, it has soul or that player has soul." The legend is that it was Ray Charles that brought the meaning of soul in music to the public consciousness.

I sometimes wonder how the music was satisfying us. I don't think it was really satisfying me on an intellectual level though I think I was engaged with it on that level. Rather, I was going after it with my whole spirit and it was satisfying me on a deeper level.

LP: Let's talk about jazz education.

JG: Jazz education is so popular these days and in some ways, it's almost too easy of a hook because it's become sanitized and squeaky clean. And it's become that way in an almost unfortunate way. I'm not saying that it doesn't have value because it has tremendous value and it's tremendously important.

LP: Did you receive formal music education?

JG: I started playing drums when I was 16 and I was incorrigible as a student. But I was also a messed up kid so my mother shipped me out to live with my father in Seattle to teach me some discipline. At 19, I moved back to Minneapolis and I quit playing and it was mainly because of Tony Williams. He just had so much phenomenal and exponential growth in what he was doing. I couldn't even understand what he was playing, let alone play it.

But while in Seattle, I attended a drum workshop and surprisingly, Floyd Standifer was one of the teachers. And with irony, I ended up working for 15 years with Floyd through Earshot. We designed a Roots of Jazz education program that was in place for over 10 years and it was presented to about 45,000 kids.

LP: Everything that I have heard about him was that he was such a wonderful human being and mentor.

JG: He was and he completely embodied the jazz musician. After touring Europe with Quincy Jones, he made a decision to come back to Seattle and start a house and raise a family. That tour was so ill fated. In Quincy's book, he mentions that that tour was the only time in his life that he considered suicide. It became such a train wreck over there. These guys were veterans of this kind of thing and they were marvelous musicians as well. They would come to Seattle and perform on Jackson Street up around the core of what this incredible music scene was back then.

LP: When was this time frame?

JG: The initial meeting for "Roots of Jazz" took place in 1992 in the basement of an office building off of Mountlake. I believe Clarence Acox was at the meeting but even then, he was always so busy that he didn't get to participate in the program. But essentially, we designed this piece of curriculum with members of the Local 493 Reunion Band. 493 was the Black Musicians Union and operated independently of the white's only musicians union here in Seattle until 1957, and then it joined the local 76493. Floyd, Buddy Catlett and Jabbo Ward had this band called the 493 Reunion Band and it was that band that performed at the elementary and middle Schools. The states Art Commission had a program called the Cultural Enrichment Program and they were one hour programs where we would go to one to two schools per day around the region and Floyd was at the helm.

Included were these marvelous players with tremendous chops. Jabbo Ward was an irascible character and Buddy Catlett was on bass. Billy Wallace was on piano, Paddy Patton was on drums and Clarence Thomas and Andre Thomas would rotate in on drums as well. But people would stand back when Floyd came around. I mean, he was a bad motherfucker and he was a very fiery trumpet player. So for me to be running Earshot and to be doing programs with him was so, so cool. There are so many things that are circular and how they come back around in that way. Those times were so wonderful.

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