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Meet John Reilly

Meet John Reilly
Tessa Souter and Andrea Wolper By

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One night I was there when Slide Hampton really went over the top. That really taught me that sometimes these things can happen. Everybody has those nights and I’ve heard them and they are special. If you go out a lot you encounter these things. —John Reilly
John Reilly—yet another of our Super Fans who works for the city of New York—was born on Staten Island, where he still lives. We don't know if it's something to do with working for the city, or just a function of growing up in the capital of jazz, but John is the real thing. The son of a Frank Sinatra bobby soxer, he got into jazz in his teens, and the first live performance he attended was one of the most famous come-back concerts in jazz history. No wonder he got hooked. Oh, one more thing about John: like any true jazz Super Fan, he has opinions!

What is your earliest memory of music?
When I was about three I had a kid's record about firemen. The words were, "Fire, fire, fire, raging all about, here come the firemen to put the fire out." That's the earliest thing I remember. Beyond that, I remember hearing country music at my aunt's house. And my mother was big on Frank Sinatra; she was one of those girls who would go to the Paramount Theater early in the morning and get on the line to watch his show over and over again. And my father, I know he went for Bing Crosby.

How old were you when you got your first record?
There was a farmer's market in a former airplane hanger on Staten Island, and one day, when I was about 14 or 15, I went in and this vendor was playing the same record over and over again. I remember saying, "What's that music? What's that playing?" It was the Smokey Robinson record, "Shop Around," with the The Funk Brothers, and I bought it. It really lit me up what that rhythm section was able to do, which was not what was going on in any other music at that time. I bought it out of my allowance. It was probably about 35 cents for a single in those days. I played it as much as I could when I got home. I don't think my parents went for it.

The first real jazz records I had were Miles Davis, Steamin', a Coleman Hawkins record just called Coleman Hawkins, Sonny Rollins' St. Thomas, and John Coltrane's Traneing In. I bought them at Sam Goody's, where they sold cheap records in the discount bin. They were probably two or three dollars. A little later, Riverside Records was in receivership, not very long after they started, really, and they had that great catalogue which they'd recorded in a very short time frame. So what they did to make money was they went to a cheap presser and dumped hundreds, maybe thousands of them on a record store around 42nd and Seventh Avenue, where they were on sale for $1.77. I remember that price tag. I got quite a few of those.

How did you get into jazz?
First, all those TV variety shows. The Ed Sullivan Show, which was every Sunday, had the Count Basie Orchestra. He used to open up his numbers with a little solo before the band would come in, and I was entranced. I also remember Louis Armstrong. I wasn't passionate back then, but I knew I was paying attention when [jazz] people came on. That led to me to turning on the radio, and one of the first jazz shows I got into was on WLIB with Billy Taylor. That's how it goes. Now it's very rich. You have WBGO. I don't know if it's rich in the rest of the country, but around here BGO gives everybody an education. And it's going 24 hours a day. It wasn't like that then. You had to work at it. There were magazines, too. The Metropole and Downbeat, and that would lead you to books. There always were the books. You'd get some of them in the library.

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