As we go through life we all have memories of both delicious and dreadful moments. We have fond thoughts when we hear the music that was playing when you first danced with that amazing but unapproachable girl. Then we are reminded of the kick that knocked a tooth out and the taste of eating Spam day after day during the war. I can’t get rid of the memory of the smell when the van engine gave out at the most remote place on our family vacation.
We live our lives surrounded by sounds and sights, background stuff that is always there. There are times when the sounds and sights are worth taking note. We stop and listen. If it is interesting, we continue to listen. Sometimes we get so deeply into the sounds that we get lost in the music. What usually draws us in is a familiar story that draws an emotional response. We get comfort from the familiar and the memorable.
Research shows us that people’s earliest memories are typically formed around 3 to 3.5 years of age. Before that we only think we remember.
It doesn’t take long but soon we are all chocked full of memories. Our memory plays tricks on us and we play tricks on our memory. We cherry pick the good things, enhance the not so good things and try to recapture the brilliant things.
MY MEMORIES OF JAZZ
I grew up before television was our primary information center. Before dinner our family huddled around the radio for the news and after dinner we were entertained by a record going round and round on the Victrola. All kinds of music surrounded us with all its imagery. Those were magical moments. Sometimes we accompanied our parents to a concert or an opera but never to a jazz joint. Jazz and popular music were only on the radio and records. It did get into our heads and we learned to move and sway when nobody was watching. I did catch my dad once practicing his moves. It has remained part of the rhythm of my life. Thankfully it has also leaked into my children’s lives.
ELLA FITZGERALD AND NORMAN GRANZ
JAZZ AT THE PHILHARMONIC
One of my first chances to see live jazz played was when I ventured down to the Greystone Ballroom in downtown Detroit on Woodward Avenue. Looking back at that evening, it may have set me up as a sucker for jazz music for the rest of my life. The ballroom was packed with bodies that swayed to music that was really loud and different. I, by chance, had happened on one of jazz’s greatest events: Norman Granz’s Jazz At the Philharmonic. Norman Grannz was beloved by musicians around the world. Granz and has had few equals in the history of popular music. He was the Gretchen Valade of his time.
I left the Greystone Ballroom with the image of Illinois Jacquet soaring over every other artist. I had never seen energy like that before.
Pianist Charles Boles at the Dirty Dog
You never know where inspiration will come from. Charles Boles has great memories.
One of the advantages of getting a chance to hang out with jazz musicians is to hear them tell stories of how they first heard the music. As a child Charles Boles was introduced to jazz by a pianist in an apartment above his room. Charles would lie on his bed and listen to “Nubs” play to the crowd gathered for his “rent parties”. Nubs played great piano despite missing some fingers. Charles was moved by the music he was alone with. Now when you see him play every Tuesday at the Dirty Dog you can watch him go back to that state – lost in the music.
RECALLING A SUMMER DAY WITH RON CARTER & RUSSELL MALONE
It was a beautiful summer day and I had a lot of outdoor projects lined up. In the morning of this near perfect day I learned that the jazz legend Ron Carter was going to be at the Dirty dog Jazz Café. He was in town and offered to spend some time with fortunate local high school students from the Detroit Jazz Festival program. Reluctantly I said goodbye to the warm sun filled backyard. I packed up my camera, I headed over to the Dog, and I went out of the sunshine into one of my most soul enriching experiences of 2016.
The students had arrived and set up to play some music. There was some youthful jabbering until Ron Carter arrived. Ron Carter looks as good in person as he does on his CD covers, only taller and even more elegant. He introduced himself to a suddenly very quiet group of young jazz musicians. He asked them to play and soon with some gentle nudges a relaxed band entered into a shared learning experience. Here was a player of jazz music who has had an entire lifetime at the top of his craft listening carefully to some Detroit kids starting out. His taking the time didn’t go unnoticed.
The next day I returned to the Dirty Dog knowing that Ron Carter was setting up for an evening gig. He was scheduled to join his pal the great guitarist Russell Malone for a special evening honoring the supporters of the Detroit Jazz Festival. I figured that they would do a quick sound check and leave. The staff was busy setting up for the guests. Tables were being arranged and covered. In the middle of this activity were two artists making music for themselves. I set my camera down as I knew that it was too loud for the occasion. Imagine being in the room with these two great artists who were spending some time quietly facing each other for almost an hour, musically surprising each other and grinning just like a couple of kids, a couple of really talented kids. It seemed like they were happily transferring a lot of knowledge. I will carry this experience with me for some time.
I have had two favorite jazz vocal groups, The Hi-los and the Four Freshman. This week is memory week at the Dirty Dog Jazz Café for many jazz fans. The Four Freshmen have had a seamless sound since they first got young lovers to listen to jazz.
LOOKING BACK BEFORE GOING FORWARD
As I am getting a little older, I find myself contemplating more and planning tasks less.
I am getting more comfortable bringing back good memories than looking at what lies ahead. This reminder of how good life can be will carry me for a while.
COMING THIS WEEK TO THE DIRTY DOG Memories will be served this week following dinner.
THE FOUR FRESHMEN
For just being Freshmen they seem to have some history.
These undergraduates are perennial overachievers, especially in making us feel good. Corners of mouths start to turn up when they get in a groove. Even those who are smile challenged find themselves grinning. It’s the perfect group for lovers with memories
67 years ago The Freshman were formed and began replacing barbershop quartets with their new sound. I was a fan of Stan Kenton, and he heavily influenced the young group. It was Stan Kenton who eventually gave the Freshmen a lift up.
Their sound is secure in the hands of the current group who might be the best set of musicians to date. More than just another vocal group, these are jazz musicians who sing. Though out their history most members of the Four Freshmen have played more than one instrument.
Pack up your gloom and bring your memories to the Dog this week. Help us celebrate with some good food, great jazz and a lot of smiles.
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