the first time that you heard music that awakened something down in the core of your being? Of course you do…because it’s a moment in our lives that we never forget.
I was lucky. I grew up with jazz. My Dad played tenor sax and clarinet and used to take me to hear live music near our home on the outskirts of Chicago. I heard the Basie band, Stan Getz, and many other amazing groups. Dad played records of Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Coleman Hawkins, Bob Crosby, Jack Teagarden, Pee Wee Russell and many others.
This was all fabulous background to what happened one afternoon after school. One of the upperclassmen at my high school (New Trier), who happened to be a pretty good jazz pianist asked me if I wanted to check something out.[Aside] – I had been playing in the jazz band and doing my best to improvise but I didn’t totally get it and I didn’t know what to do to fix that. I was taking weekly lessons but there was little or no improvisation involved in what we were doing. So…[Back to our story]
My friend Tom had brought a portable record player to school (that’s right kids, it was a record player with a turntable and detachable speakers – not an iPod with 10,000 songs on it or a phone that could connect you with a million songs). And he’d brought one record with him…Maiden Voyage (Herbie Hancock, Freddie Hubbard, George Coleman, Ron Carter and Tony Williams). And it had artwork on the cover and liner notes to read and “hear” the voice of Herbie Hancock talking about his music…
But most importantly, it had music on that vinyl disk. And Tom played Maiden Voyage for me, more that a couple of times. And this was not Ella, or Duke, or the Count, or Art Tatum. This was NEW and exciting and it was music that I could make my own. This wasn’t my Dad’s generation. It was mine.
After a few listenings to the Maiden Voyage cut, Tom set about explaining the form of the song (AABA), the piano voicings (which sounded unusual to me – because there were chords in 4ths and pedal tones), the modes that helped create the sound of the chords for the soloists (but of course, they were reaching beyond the Dorian mode) and the rhythm (to my ear at the time, it didn’t swing and yet it had a magical kind of propulsion to it – later I would find out about Herbie, Ron and Tony…Oh yeah!)
Then Tom, with incredible patience and a growing sense of excitement as I began to “get it” taught me the melody, the modes and the form. It was one thing to hear him talk about it all…it was something quite different to be in the music, playing it!
It’s only in retrospect that I really appreciate (and I’m talking about REALLY appreciate the thought and effort that went into Tom’s idea to bring his record player and his copy of Maiden Voyage to school – and he did it for ME).
Yes…This experience awakened something in me that is a light that still burns bright.
And as we head into the 24th Interplay Summer Jazz Camp, I realize how important those thoughts and the follow through that comes with those thoughts is. Because I not only received an amazing experience in learning a tune (and how to learn a tune), but I was also excited to share what I was learning with others.
So when I look at my life now…playing music with great friends and teaching music to students of all ages, I feel an incredible amount of gratitude for the gift that Tom gave me. And it’s a gift that continues to be present in my life and one that I want to continue to share.