By the time I finally convinced my inner musical vibrations to accept jazz as a potential thing of beauty – around 1994 or so* – the genre had been evolving for well over a century. It turns out I had missed a lot, and my obsessive nature made it very slow for me to catch up. Heck, once I got into Zappa I had to hear all of his albums, which took half of forever (it’s an endeavour I am still casually occupied with), once I got into Oscar Peterson I had ears for little else for about two years, and when I happened upon Lenny Breau I essentially locked myself into a little sonic isolation chamber and let his seven-string harmonic glory wash over me to the exclusion of all other music. Same with Bird, same with Joe Pass, plus a few more etceteras too.
But that century of jazz had consumed and elevated the lives of hundreds, nay: thousands of musicians along the way. However many it was way too many for me to catch up on. And lots of them were still alive too, but for every Herbie Hancock I was busy trying to discover, a new player like Joshua Redman would show up on my radar. So there I’d be trying to get eaten up by someone long-established like John McLaughlin and then I’d bump into a newbie like Brian Blade who would gobble up all my listening hours.
Which is all just filler to admit that when the Ottawa jazz festival announced Charlie Haden would be headlining on June 27th, 2008 I nodded knowingly at the famous name with raised eyebrows and immediately googled him. For despite the fact that Charlie Haden had been at the forefront of melodic jazz doublebass playing since debuting with the Ornette Coleman Quartet in 1959, his name was only in my mind’s jazz library as peripheral graffiti. Truth be told, I knew Charlie Haden mostly for being the father of Petra Haden, whom I’d discovered through her novelty record covering the entirety of The Who’s album Sell Out using just her voice tracked seven times to mimic all of the instruments and vocals. I bought the cd and the liner notes told me that she was the daughter of jazz great Charlie Haden, so there you go. (The first time I saw The Foo Fighters I was happily surprised that Petra was in the band playing the fiddle. Girl gets around.)
That said, I had more than just heard of his sax player Ernie Watts. I had him on videocassette, for he was the sax player on The Rolling Stones’ 1981 tour that was released as the concert film Let’s Spend the Night Together, a tape that I watched regularly during my Rolling Stones phase.
And so I went to the show of course and it was great, also of course. It was a quartet so there was lots of Ernie (who didn’t sound at all Stones-y) and lots of Charlie, and lots of the other two fellah’s too, whoever they happened to be.
As I’ve been saying, it’s not like I have time to know about everyone. Heck, I’ve just emerged from a long and heavily engaging dive into Kamasi Washington that’s kept me busy for years, and he’s still basically a kid. But man, have you listened to King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard? They’re unbelievable, and they have so many albums out…
Ah, obsession! It’s why this is here for you to read.
*My personal entry into jazz was falling in love with the great Oscar Peterson, an inside-leaning Canadian genius speed-demon piano player who electrified my EVH-steeped soul while remaining gentle on my young, tender ears. My exposure to Oscah (as we called him) came through my longtime roommate and musical partner JP, but I think it was Ryan Giroux who actually got my brain’s foot in the jazz door in the very first place.
Ryan was my roommate during my first year of university – precisely when my ears were about to explode wide open – and he showed up to our dorm room with a keyboard, a soprano sax, a bag full of clean laundry, and two teddy bears that he slept with every night. He told me that the bears were named Parker and Thelonius to which I responded, “Theloni-who-is?” It’s not that Ryan was a total jazz head – he was certainly on his way – but he definitely taught me a thing or three, including who Charlie Parker and Thelonius Monk were. Sometime early in the year he played me a videotape of an acting troupe putting on a performance with Bobby McFerrin supplying live, improvised music from sidestage. I’m pretty sure that was the first time I was ever enthralled by music that could be labelled as “jazz”.
Thanks Ryan, for that and for so much else. I still have the buddha, but I lost the Red Sox jersey.
A melancholy postscript to this postscript: Though I’ve never truly lost touch with Ryan, since the mid-90’s our contact has been reduced to one brief visit every decade or so. That’s very unfortunate but life does that. Anyway, during one of our tiny visits Ryan was surprised to learn that my main enterprise was to play jazz music. Actually, I recall him being aghast. He reminded me of a conversation we’d had late in our first year, after we had endured a dozen of Dr. Cardy’s theory assignments and so much more together and had become nothing short of music school trench-brothers – when he sought my advice on whether he should pursue jazz or not. The way he put it to me was that he was really getting into jazz but he felt he had a better chance making a living by playing pop stuff. What did I know? I suggested he drop the jazz. I was so young and stupid.
Now that I’m old and stupid I would suggest the opposite.
I’m sorry for that Ryan, but a) you mightn’t have listened to advice from someone so young and stupid, and b) though you never made any money off the pop stuff you think jazz guys are sitting around with wonderful wives and two amazing children right now? Doubt it. You’re welcome.