My time “growing up” in jazz was in the late 90s and early 2000s in Kansas City. Those were the days of the “young lions” of the postbop scene, with Branford Marsalis leading the Tonight Show band, Christian McBride and Joshua Redman breaking barriers, and a general revival of jazz after the stagnation of the late 70s and early 80s. So much great music was being played. Being from Kansas City, the musicians like Bobby Watson and Pat Metheny had a special place in my heart.
Like any kind of music, jazz has songs that are pretty quirky. One of my favorite jazz composers is Dave Frishberg. His songs are hilarious with layered narratives and lyrics that make you feel like you’re on the inside of an inside joke. Many of you already know one of his songs. He’s best known as the composer of I’m Just a Bill from Schoolhouse Rock. Recently my daughter was deciding which songs she should sing for a showcase in her vocal jazz class.
During college I played music professionally. It was a wonderful experience and I loved getting to know and work with some pretty crazy people. Jazz musicians in particular can be neurotic at times. (That’s why I fit in so well, haha!) Take sax players. Some sax players never take their horn off. Wherever they go they have their horn in their hand and they are always noodling on a riff or a solo idea.
On Saturdays I get to do one of my favorite things in the world: play and teach jazz at the Kansas City Jazz Academy. Saturday posts will be about jazz and music. Music is much more than just notes. We spend a lot of time focusing on notes, especially the “right notes,” but notes are really just a small part of the whole picture of making music. Equinox by John Coltrane is a beautiful song.
As I write this I’m listening to three student jazz groups playing. (I have one child in each group so I sit in between the three rehearsal rooms so I can catch snatches of each group as they play.) Last week these groups held auditions. One of the students who auditioned got his placement today and wasn’t willing to accept it. He is the oldest bass player that tried out but was placed in the lowest of the three groups.
Today I watched an amazing jazz pianist play in a way that filled me with joy. Yes, he was teaching a class full of young vocalists who don’t always hit the right notes or come in at the right time. This wasn’t a gala performance at the Kennedy Center. But his playing was both superb and infectious. It made me want to get out an instrument and practice! Seeing mastery in action is amazing and awe inspiring.
As a gawky high school freshman I was invited to do something really cool and join the high school jazz band. Our school district put freshmen at the junior high, so it was pretty neat to go to the high school a couple of times a week and play music with the upperclassmen. I was the only bass player in the high school system so it didn’t matter that I wasn’t any good; if they wanted a bass player they were stuck with me.