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Listening for the third time to "Another Blue," the new album from T.K. Blue, also known as Talib Kibwe, a question popped into my head.
Of course, I know that while jazz in its myriad forms doesn't attract more than a fraction of listeners. A "bestseller" CD in the jazz bins would attract no more than a fraction drawn to the latest from Britney Spears, the Back Street Boys, or Bare Naked Ladies.
In fact, one of the prime selling points in pulling in a following is that of being hip. Jazz draws a somewhat exclusionary audience of smart, sophisticated, well-educated people who like feeling above the rabble-rousing crowd of the unwashed who turn out by the tens of thousands to cheer on the latest hit by another tired teenage sensation.
Listen to jazz on a regular basis, even if you think you don't like it because it sounds foreign to your ears, its rhythms and its weird emphasis on instrumental music. Eventually, I believe, you will come to recognize that jazz, be it New Orleans, straight-ahead, swing, bop, or big band, can be a transfixing moment in your life.
I credit two people for introducing me to the world of jazz more than a half-century ago. Both were musicians and fellow classmates. Lyle Blackwell, a class ahead of me, was one of those special people in the high school community. He could play a very fine piano, even composed an original tune now and then.
His cousin Luther "Kooch" Bolen was practically a next door neighbor and he became my best friend. Kooch could do it all. He played drums with a sharp sense of rhythm and a feel for the tempos of jazz, so different from "regular" music. He also was accomplished on the accordion, then as now considered not a serious musical instrument. But in Kooch's hands, the music poured forth. Not content with playing two instruments well, he also performed with confidence on the cornet, that somewhat neglected cousin of the trumpet.
When the Gauley Bridge High School marching band struck the notes of the venerable march "Across the Field," Lyle would be leading the way in his guise as drum major. I suspect that lots of teenage hearts were broken by this red-haired high stepper. Kooch would march several rows ahead of me playing the cornet.
And I'd be there somewhere toward the rear, my sophomore year playing the bass drum which required no musical knowledge beyond the ability to keep steady time. The next year, I graduated to carrying a snare drum. Marching along with a drum bouncing against ones left upper thigh kept me with a constant bruised leg during football season.
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Back then, between 1949 and 1951, records still came in those 10-inch, 78 rpm, highly fragile versions, although 45 rpm records were introduced around that time, along with the revolutionary 33 1/3 rpm albums, which could pack almost 40 minutes of music on a single disc and was far more durable than the 78s had been.
I heard my first jazz sitting in the living room of Lyle's house. It was love at first note, as I heard such amazing tunes from the likes of Woody Herman ("Lemon Drop" absolutely stunned me with its power and heat).
Kooch also purchased his share of new jazz sounds. I remember first hearing George Shearing, the blind English pianist, in Kooch's living room. And the first album from Miles Davis, just coming into national acclaim, was played for me at Kooch's house. We both were amazed at how this artist could do impossible things on the trumpet. But Kooch held a special spot in his heart for the phenomenal master of the high notes, trumpet player extraordinaire Maynard Ferguson.
I would have loved to become accomplished on some musical instrument. My work on drums was mediocre at best. I did make some money during college by performing with a band of friends, deemed the Hot Shots. We played often at the Eagles lodge in a dark basement in a commercial building in downtown Montgomery, W.Va. Its population of 3,000 seemed huge compared with the 800 or so residents who lived in nearby Gauley Bridge.
After college, I had a brief and extremely unsuccessful venture as a record distributor, a move that was so disastrous that I've mostly buried the details in the far recesses of my aging mind. Eventually, after a brief period as a laboratory analyst in a DuPont plant near Charleston, W. Va. (Jeez, I despised that job!) I finally got a break and was invited to join the staff of The Northern Kentucky Newsin Florence, which then had all of 1,100 residents.
I soon found out that I was not joining the staff, but rather was the staff. But it was a foot in the door of journalism, bottom ladder, and it eventually led to much bigger things.
Through it all, I collected new records by favored artists such as Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Sonny Stitt, and hundreds more.
Jazz has changed over the past 50 years. It has broadened its horizons, in the past few years introducing a sterling group of young lions who are carrying the torch into Year 2000 with a fierce pride and a determination that assures that jazz, often ignored and more often maligned, will contact to make an intellectual impact over the next half century. I hope I'm going to be around to listen to as much of it as possible.
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