John Chacona is a freelance journalist, content writer and producer in Cleveland.
John Chacona is a freelance journalist, content writer and producer in Cleveland. He has been a contributor to the USA Today Network, The Chautauquan Daily, Signal to Noise, CODA and Lake Erie LifeStyle magazines, and various online outlets. He blogs about music at johnchacona.com/lets-call-this.
My Jazz Story
One afternoon at my parents' Rust Belt home, I was playing a record of early-'50s Ellington's. I had just dropped out of college without a job or a direction, a '70s-era slacker. My 75-year-old father asked me why I wasn't listening to my usual noisy stuff. "Because Duke Ellington," I lectured him with the greatest condescension, "is America's greatest musician."
"Yeah," he said, "I knew Ellington. Brought him to town a couple of times. He gave me couple of photos."
I couldn't believe he had never brought this up (actually I could; he was the type of American male who gave the Silent Generation its name). When I asked him where these photos were, he said he hadn't seen them in 30 years and they were probably lost.
Fifteen years later, while cleaning out the house following my father's death, I grabbed an old box that had been forgotten in the rafters of the garage for 25 years. Instead of dropping it into the dumpster below, something impelled me to look inside. It was my father's 1930s scrapbook, full of newspaper clippings and autographed publicity photos of Artie Shaw, Don Redman (Don Redman!) and yes, Ellington, one of which photos bore a personalized note to my dad from the Great Man.
My father and I had never been close. It wasn't in either of our natures, but at that moment I wept. I wept for all the things that went unsaid and for the immense pride I felt in confirming—much too late—that my father did indeed know America's greatest musician. That photograph is the most valuable thing I own, and I am looking at it as I type this.