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 Erie (PA) Times-News, The Chautauquan Daily, Signal to Noise, CODA and Lake Erie LifeStyle magazines, and various online outlets. He blogs about music at johnchacona.com/letscallthis.
My Jazz Story
One afternoon when I was living in my parents' Rust Belt home I was listening to Duke Ellington's early 1950s Columbia sides (a seriously underrated edition of the Ork). I had just returned from college without a job and I had the appearance and habits of a 1970s-era slacker. My father, who was in his 70s at the time, asked me what I was listening to. When I told him, he dismissively asked me why I didn't listen to my usual noisy stuff. "Because Duke Ellington," I lectured him with the greatest condescension, "is America's greatest musician." "Yeah? I knew Ellington, you know. I brought him to Erie a couple of times. I have some photos
that he gave me." I was speechless. I couldn't believe he had never mentioned this (actually I could believe it; he was one of those Gary Cooper-type American doods, the type that gave the Silent Generation its name). When I asked him where these photos were, he said he hadn't seen them in 30 years. They were probably lost.
Fifteen years later, when I was cleaning out the house following my father's death, I grabbed an old box that had been in the rafters of the garage since his store closed 20 years earlier. When I muscled it out of its perch, the corner of a book poked out of the dry cardboard. It was bound in an intriguing Art Deco fabric and instead of heaving the box into the dumpster below, I stopped for a moment to see what it was. It was my father's 1930s scrapbook, and in it were autographed publicity eight-by-tens of Artie Shaw, Don Redman (Don Redman!) and yes, Ellington.
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.