Appreciating jazz with Will Jones
Last week my wife and I and a small group of friends went to see and hear Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra play at the Cal Poly San Luis Obispo Performing Arts Center. Fifteen virtuoso jazz musicians played a variety of arrangements, from Duke Ellington to James Moody, with a spectacular combination of precision and improvisation. Combined with Marsalis’s knowledge, humor and reverence for the genre, it was one of the best jazz concerts I’ve ever attended.
My sister gave me the gift of jazz when I was only twelve years old. She was eighteen, dating a guy a few years older who listened to jazz and got her into it. One day in 1960 she suggested that I start listening to an FM radio station, WHAT, in our hometown, Philadelphia. It was the first all jazz station in America, and the first FM station I ever listened to. Up to then I listened to top 40 AM stations like WIBG (pronounced “wibbage”). Hearing the jazz on WHAT was like visiting another galaxy. It was both otherworldly and intensely exciting, and I was hooked from the start.
It was around the same time that my parents bought a Stromberg-Carlson stereo console, a cabinet on four legs meant to look like a piece of furniture. We joined the Columbia record club, and my parents allowed me to order “Jazz Poll Winners of 1959,” award winning performances by the winners of the annual “Downbeat Magazine” poll.
If my appreciation for jazz needed any further boost, it came from listening to this record. I can still hear virtually every one of the songs on that LP. Beginning with “All Blues,” an absolute classic by Miles Davis, it also included “Blue Rondo a la Turk” by Dave Brubeck, “Better Get It in Your Soul” by Charles Mingus, “Cloudburst” by Lambert, Hendricks and Ross, and “Just You, Just Me” by J.J. Johnson, among others. My sister also took me to my first jazz concert, the incomparable Nina Simone.
In high school I started a jazz club and I was a regular at the Barn Arts Center in Riverside, New Jersey. There I saw greats like Dizzy Gillespie, Les McCann and Jimmy Smith. My first solo road trip was in the summer of 1966 when my parents allowed me to drive to Rhode Island for the Newport Jazz Festival. I’ve been attending jazz concerts for over fifty years.
For my sister’s 70th birthday I took her to the Allen Room in Manhattan to hear the Piano Kings of New Orleans, featuring Ellis Marsalis and Jonathan Batiste. It was the least I could do for the gift of jazz she gave me so many years ago, one that has enriched my life ever since.
photos by edenpictures and alexkerhead
So this story was music to your ears. You can hear future BOBB tales via your email inbox by –> Subscribe