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John Ephland

A lover of music finds the words to express it. Once in a while.

About Me

Having grown up in a family that loved music--just outside of Chicago, my dad an amateur piano player when he wasn't straightening teeth--my parents made sure I got drum lessons, got me to the local music store to be among all those shiny and amazing instruments, and took me to all manner of concert and club dates, leaving my siblings with the baby sitter.

And this before I was even out of grade school.

In addition, there was the expanded record collection my dad had, those records (mostly jazz, big band, some classical, a dash or two of folk and ethnic) were regularly played on what seemed like a recurring theme of always replacing the stereos (once it became ”stereo”). My dad's interest in equipment, incidentally, later surfaced in my own interest in ”components,” components I would later end up selling as part of a unique hybrid music store I co-owned during the mid-to-late 1970s in Eugene, Oregon. That arsenal also included musical instruments and recorded music (not to mention certain under-the- glass-counter paraphernalia), no doubt a reincarnation of that first music store I loved so much back in the day.

Little did I realize that my love of music and love of writing would one day collide years later as I entered the world of music publishing, at DownBeat Magazine in 1987. A few published pieces here and there combined with my awareness of the Chicago-based magazine (it was my first subscription as a young lad) and my experiences as a music retailer, I later realized, were my calling cards.

From there, it was diving into other people's writing as I got familiar with the way magazine publishing worked and what the music industry looked like from yet another “inside” position. In time I would begin writing in earnest and go after musicians I cherry-picked (I was the editor, after all) to interview that I had usually enjoyed from a distance before. Now, I was sitting across from Miles Davis, Tony Williams, Joni Mitchell, Dr. John, Woody Allen, even.

After roughly 11 years at the magazine and witnessing (and participating in) the massive changes that were sweeping across the industry, from tape and vinyl to CDs, DVDs, bean- counting, downsizing, digitizing, mesmerizing is about the only word that can sum up the net affect of all that change. Along the way, and certainly after leaving the magazine, I learned more of what so many of my colleagues had been doing for years: I joined the ranks of the freelance writer, first for DownBeat, but then for a string of other, sometimes shooting-star publications, both print and online. TimeOut Chicago, Schwann Inside, Relix and first Traps and then Drum! magazines, to name a few.

And now, having logged millions of words here and there and not a few miles in different parts of the world, I come to All About Jazz.

The rest is history, and what is now remains to be seen. I am honored and look forward to being a contributor along with all the other great writers who add so much to this world- class enterprise. AAJ is clearly a major web and virtual presence that makes its mark every day in the real world of music, music lovers and musicians, emphasizing and celebrating (when we aren't wondering or scratching our heads) this wonderful, miraculous music we all continue to love. We call it jazz.

Off to the races.

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My Jazz Story

Why do I love jazz? Well, depending on what you mean by "jazz," I can send an answer in any number of directions. Briefly, I was exposed to this crazy music as a little boy, my dad good friends with the local music store, where he bought sheet music to play from his baby grand. Their massive record collection, my parents taking me to concerts and clubs (only one of five kids to do so), the Magnavox furniture stereo/radio ... it all added up. It was complex, emotional music. And it had rhythm! I drummed and followed the music through the '60s even as I enjoyed the new musics of my generation. Along with side-trips to other musicians and music, it's been one hell of a pony ride ever since. The first time I heard the Billy Eckstine standard “I Want To Talk About You” was after someone had turned me onto John Coltrane’s Live At Birdland album, probably around the same time I saw The Graduate in a local movie theater. (I was already a fan, having listened to other recordings when he was a leader, and, especially, as a sideman with trumpeter Miles Davis.) Written as a ballad, and originally recorded by Coltrane in 1958 for his album Soultrane, this slightly shorter live version from 1963 begins as such, but then heads off in another direction as his quartet (with pianist McCoy Tyner and bassist Jimmy Garrison supplying impeccable support) eventually becomes a duo, almost a face-off between Coltrane on tenor and drummer Elvin Jones as they swing the fuck out of this song, eventually leading to what was the signature element of Coltrane’s version: an exhaustive solo exploration of the song and all it’s key intervals by the saxophonist, tempo disbarred, chord changes upended, the song’s melodic contours limned and turned inside-out, all within the framework of the original, the feeling and mood maintained but somehow radically altered in this cadenza to beat all cadenzas. By the time the others return to help finish the song, one might just get the impression they’ve been through a summer thunderstorm without an umbrella, and loving every moment of it. Call it a cleansing, but for me this was tantamount to some kind of religious experience.

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