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Meet James Busby

Meet James Busby
Tessa Souter and Andrea Wolper By

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I am happy to travel wherever the music is being played. When I lived in Knoxville I remember going back-to-back to Atlanta to see Chick Corea's Origin band [and] Chicago to see Keith Jarrett's Standards Trio and The Brad Mehldau Trio. These days I'll go up to Seattle to see a show that is not coming the 175 miles south to Portland.
Our youngest Super Fan to date, and our first from the west coast, James Busby was weaned on the popular music of the '70s and '80s. His first jazz concert—Donald Brown at a local club in Knoxville, Tennesse for a $3 cover—was life-changing. He may not have discovered jazz until he was in college, but ever since then he's been in deep enough to go the extra mile—even when the extra mile means driving from Knoxville to Atlanta, or flying from Portland to Chicago. And as serious as he is about the music he loves, he's got a wry understanding of the jazz world we know you'll recognize and appreciate.

Tell us a little about yourself.
I'm originally from Massachusetts, grew up in southern New Hampshire, attended college in Tennessee, and have lived in Portland, OR for the last 12 years. I also did a four-year hitch in the Coast Guard in there somewhere. I'm a hotel concierge, and also work part time at the county library. In my spare time, I do a lot of volunteer work for PDX Jazz in Portland, which has given me the opportunity to meet and hear several musicians. My interests lie in all things music, watching too much sports (a habit since an early age), hiking, reading, and observing the workings of the world.

What's your earliest memory of music?
There were a few records around the house that I remember: the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack and the Hair cast album, and also a Donna Summer cassette, but they didn't mean much to me. The radio was playing in the background, but I really didn't notice it.

In the summer of 1978 my family moved to a new town and I acquired a new set of friends. I collected baseball cards, and one of my friends told me his brother wanted to trade cards with me. I was 7. I walked up the street with my shoebox full of cards and up to the brother's bedroom. He had covers of Rolling Stone and Sports Illustrated all over his walls. He put on a record and the sound—it was so loud and like nothing I had ever heard before. It took over my whole being and I was totally mesmerized. He said, "Do you like it?" and I mumbled something like, "Yeah, it's cool!" He said, "It's a new band called Van Halen. It's called 'Eruption.'" That was the time I found out music was more than background music.

How old were you when you got your first recording, and what was it?
The first cassette tape I remember owning was Face Dances by The Who. I loved "You Better You Bet." Still do. I think I got it for Christmas in 1981, when I was 10. But I also had a cassette of Zenyatta Mondata by The Police, which I may I have gotten the year before.

Was there one album or experience that was your doorway to jazz?
I attended The University of Tennessee in the 90's and spent a lot of time with an artist, Cynthia Markert. She was, and still is, the biggest jazz fan I have met. She played me so many albums during so many late nights. She said to me there are three pianists you need to listen to: Keith Jarrett, Marc Copland, and Steve Kuhn. I listened to all three and loved Marc and Steve, with whom I have been fortunate enough to forge friendships. I've been very fortunate that some of my favorite musicians have turned out to be great people as well.

I also took a history of jazz course my last semester, which exposed me to the whole genre. I was lucky enough to have a great instructor (also a great drummer) in Keith Brown.

What was the first jazz concert you ever attended?
One of the requirements of the jazz class was to attend a performance. The great pianist Donald Brown was also on faculty, and he played at the local club, Lucille's, three nights a week. The cover charge was $3. That was the first time I saw a jazz musician—and from three feet away. It was astounding because there was actual non-verbal communication between musicians, which I had not experienced at the hockey rink shows (outside of the Grateful Dead, of course). That, in turn, added a spontaneity to the show. When I had previously seen bands, they worked off a set list with zero improvisation.

What do you love about jazz, as opposed to other kinds of music?
I love music, so it's not that I love jazz opposed to other kinds of music. However, I love that jazz musicians play what they don't know in live settings, whereas musicians in other genres only play what they know.

How long have you been going out to hear live music?
Thirty-four years. First show I saw was Asia at The Cumberland County Civic Center in 1983. Carl Palmer playing drums is still a highlight.

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