Chasing Trane 3: For the Love of Jazz

Me left, Dan right, circa 1977

Me left, Dan right, circa 1977

By Al Perlman
Editor and Publisher, Jazz Collector

So last night I was in bed with The Lovely Mrs. JC and as is our usual custom we were listening to a random playlist of ballads as we went to sleep. The shuffle landed on Stan Getz playing “Body and Soul.” We were listening and it was just sheer beauty and at the end of the second verse Getz goes into this run that is absolute genius, and I don’t use that term loosely, but, with Getz, I know that it applies. I don’t have the language, either in words or music, to describe what it is that Getz does, but, to me, I think of a figure skater taking off in full flight, doing three turns and three axels with pure grace and beauty and then landing on her feet as if it were all perfectly natural. You can listen to it here and perhaps you will hear what I heard.

I listened to this passage and I started laughing because I hadn’t heard it in a long time and I was flabbergasted and in awe at what just came out of the speaker.

The Lovely Mrs. JC rose from a slumber and asked: “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” I replied.
“Why were you laughing?”
“Did you hear that?” I replied.
“Hear what.”
“That,” I said. “That thing Getz just played. It was unbelievable.”

But I knew that even though The Lovely Mrs. JC appreciates jazz after all these years of living with me, and that we were listening to the exact same thing, she did not hear what I heard. I knew that when I heard it, I heard it in a completely different way. Even though I can’t play jazz myself, even though I don’t have great musical ears or chops on any instrument, I know that I can listen to that passage by Getz and understand with deep passion and utter conviction the art and craftsmanship and brilliance that went into it and what it is about that particular passage in that particular moment in that particular song that brings a smile to my face and a chuckle to my soul. A bit later I was still laying there in bed, and by now The Lovely Mrs. JC had fallen asleep, and my mind was racing uncontrollably in a flash of stream of consciousness, sifting through other jazz moments that move me. And I got out of bed at 2 in the morning and I went to my computer and in a haze the following poured out of me onto the screen:

Oscar Peterson playing as if his hands are going to fly off his wrists in I Feel Pretty; Dexter Gordon playing obbligato behind Bobby Hutcherson on Who Can I Turn To; Benny Golson picking up Lee Morgan’s last phrase on Moanin’; anything by Clifford Brown; Vic Feldman’s piano solo on Sack o’ Woe; Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane trading choruses on Tenor Madness; Sonny Rollins playing Paul’s Pal on the same album where you could swear he has a huge smile on his face; Roland Kirk’s entire live performance on Volunteered Slavery; Joe Henderson’s entire sax solo on Song for My Father; Ella and Louis; Eric Dolphy’s bass clarinet vamp intro to On Green Dolphin Street; Mingus’ opening notes on Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting; Bird Lover Man; Bird doing three takes of Embraceable You, each one more beautiful than the one before it; Duke Ellington’s piano vamp on In a Sentimental Mood with Coltrane; Art Tatum; Lester Young’s sadness on almost any ballad in his later years; Lester Young’s joy on the Sound of Jazz with Billie Holiday; Wayne Shorter on Contemplation; Tal Farlow and Eddie Costa playing as if they were of a single mind on Taking a Chance on Love; Bill Evans My Foolish Heart; Monk, anything; Stan Getz on Getz/Gilberto playing Bossa Nova as if he had been playing it all his life; Paul Desmond, anything; Horace Silver Quintet, Filthy McNasty live, five men in perfect unison; Giant Steps, the song, the entire album; Sarah Vaughan, Jim Doesn’t Ever Bring Me Pretty Flowers; Herbie Hancock’s piano on Cristo Redentor.

I was sitting at the computer at 2 in the morning and I realized I could go on and on and on. Dozens, hundreds, thousands of jazz moments for me, writ large and small. I’m sure each of you has his or her own list that is entirely different than mine, and, of course, I would certainly encourage you to share yours on the comments section of this post.

As I was sitting there typing this I felt what I have known since the moment I realized that I loved and understood and appreciated this music we call jazz: That I have been blessed with a rare gift. For those of you, or us, who believe in God, say it comes from God. I don’t know myself where it comes from. I know it is not inherited, yet I also know that if it had not been for my father, playing jazz around the house from the time I was in my mother’s womb, I would not have this blessing. I also know that it has little to do with my musical ability or my capacity to actually play this music, because if it did I would not have this gift. In this aspect, I have always compared myself to my best friend Dan Axelrod, whom I have mentioned here often at Jazz Collector as my lifelong partner in sharing this passion for jazz and, at one point, the passion for collecting jazz records.

Dan grew up a block away from me in Bayside Queens and, while I had no obvious musical gifts, Dan was just the opposite. He was born with perfect pitch and from the time he was 3 or 4 years old, his parents would have him do these weird tricks. The phone would ring and they would ask him what key it was in. Stuff like that. I know he never felt like this gift was anything special, it was completely natural to him, and he often resented being treated like a trained monkey, as he called it.

Dan and I always shared a passion for music, starting with the Beatles. It was one of the things that bonded us together early. Dan could hear a Beatles song the first time it was on the radio and play it perfectly. He started studying guitar and it was obvious to his teachers that he was a prodigy. Eventually his teachers guided him to jazz and once he discovered that he had the gift to appreciate and play jazz there was no turning back. I remember in high school, we were all listening to Alvin Lee of Ten Years After, who was terrific, BTW, and Dan was also listening to Charlie Parker playing “Scrapple from the Apple.”

My house, with my Dad’s collection of great jazz records, became something of a haven for Dan and, of course, my Dad was thrilled to have one of his son’s friends share his passion for the music. For myself, I was into Cream and Ten Years After and other bands and, while I understood that jazz was a different and probably superior form of music, I didn’t get it. Until, one night, I did. I have told this story before in the memoir Song for My Father, but I will retell it here briefly. I was home alone with no music other than my father’s jazz collection. I smoked a joint and put on a record my father had always loved, The Cannonball Adderley Quintet Live at the Lighthouse. The first song “Sack o’ Woe.” Something stirred inside me. I got it. I don’t know how; I don’t know why. I just know I actually heard the music for the first time. I spent the rest of the night poring through my father’s records, putting one record after another on the turntable. I never looked back. I knew from that night on that jazz would be the only music that would ever touch my soul in that manner.

Dan and I explored our passion together. He did so musically, becoming a protégé of Tal Farlow, and he also did so with records, much more than me. He was already playing professionally at 16 so he had more money. But he also had a more obsessive personality, no offense, and he began amassing an amazing collection of records. I did the same, but on a smaller scale. We would drive out to Sam Goody’s in Valley Stream together and sift through the dollar bins, looking for that rare Lester Young or Stan Getz record that would occasionally be sitting there. We would go to Red Carraro’s house together. We would spend hours upon hours listening to jazz, talking about jazz, playing jazz, going to record stores, going to concerts.

When Sonny Rollins would play a week at the Half Note, we would go every single night. Dan doesn’t remember this story, but I do. One week at the Half Note the guitarist Attila Zoller was on the bill as an opening act. Dan brought his guitar one night. I don’t recall if he knew Attila or if he just talked his way into the backstage area. I just know that on this night, early in the gig, Dan and I were backstage and Attila had his axe and Dan had his. And Dan starting playing chords and Attila took a solo. Then Attila started playing chords and Dan took a solo. Dan was maybe one or two choruses into his solo when Attila abruptly stopped playing, looked directly into Dan’s eyes and shouted these two words: “TAL FARLOW!”

The very next set Dan was on stage with Attila. When the night was over, or the next night, and we said hello to Sonny, as we always tried to do because by now he knew we were regulars in the audience, Sonny turned to Dan and said in his typically modest and understated way. “I saw you up there. Very good.” I stood next to Dan beaming like a proud father. What could possibly be better than this, having your idol give you his blessing.

Through the years, this bond between Dan and myself has been one of the constants in both of our lives. I remember sitting in my little room in Bayside when we were still teenagers and we went into my father’s closet and pulled out the record Sarah Vaughan at the London House for the first time and when she started singing “Like Someone in Love” we both started cracking up, just the way I cracked up last night listening to Stan Getz playing “Body and Soul.” When Dan decided to sell his record collection, I bought it to keep it in the family, borrowing the money from my very generous father-in-law. When there would be a new discovery of missing tapes by Clifford Brown or Charlie Parker or John Coltrane, we would often sit together and listen for the first time, smiling at the same passages, chuckling at the same riffs. When I would have a record score, such as in Baltimore, I would call him on the way home. I still do.

It seems incongruous to me on some level that Dan, who can play this music in any setting with musicians of any caliber, who has studied this music his entire life and has a deep understanding of what the musicians are doing on a technical level, and me, who can’t follow chord changes and can’t even hear if I am playing in the right key, can listen to this music and hear it the same way, can laugh at the same passages, smile at the same flashes of brilliance, can hear it is if we are listening with a single set of ears. I don’t understand it, but I know it is true, because I’ve experienced it over the course of thousands of hours of listening to music with Dan.

And that is why I think of it as a blessing, this gift I have been given to understand and appreciate jazz. I truly don’t understand it, I truly do not know where it comes from, but I do know it that it is in etched somewhere in my DNA and has been such an integral part of my life. Among many other things, it has led me on this wonderful journey here at Jazz Collector, where I have been able to share my passion for jazz with all of you other lucky men and women who have been blessed with the same gift.

I was reminded of all this several times over the past few weeks, as I attempted to share my personal essay triggered by the documentary Chasing Trane with people outside the jazz world, people who don’t share this same appreciation for jazz and who don’t hear the music as we do, who aren’t among the .0000001 percent of the population who can really understand the nuance and brilliance of Stan Getz playing a particular passage in “Body and Soul.”

First there was my 25-year-niece Ariel, whom I love and adore in part because she is always so genuine and enthusiastic. She read the Coltrane article and one of the first things she said was. “I can’t wait to listen to Coltrane now!” Then there was my 50-something-year-old cousin Caroline in England, who decided to listen to A Love Supreme before reading my article. She loved the article and said the next time she sees me I will have to explain why A Love Supreme is considered great. She listened to it, but didn’t get it, not in the same way we get it. And there were many other friends and family members who said they needed to go listen to Coltrane after reading my article.

I don’t know what to tell these friends and family. Can you really listen to Giant Steps and understand what it’s about without understanding the context? If you don’t hear the music the way we hear it, those of us who have been given the gift, can you relate in any to Coltrane’s pain and anguish in “Alabama,” or the beauty of “I Wish I Knew,” or the passion and fury of “Afro Blue?” In my experience, it is very hard, nearly impossible, for people who don’t have the gift, who don’t know the history, who haven’t followed Coltrane’s path, to really, really get what is different about him versus any other jazz musician. The same could be said for Charlie Parker or Sonny Rollins or Monk or any of the musicians we all know to be geniuses of this music. With Trane it is particularly difficult because, on tenor, before Trane nobody played like him; after Trane everyone played like him. Before Trane there was no such thing as a soprano sax in modern jazz; after Trane a guy like Kenny G is known all around the world.

My answer to these friends and family is to listen to John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman or Ballads. With these records, they may not get the nuance, but they will clearly hear the beauty. And, perhaps one day up in The Berkshires, when we are all sitting around a fire, I will put on a Coltrane record and someone will hear something that will set off a spark and he or she will be set off on a path of discovery and exploration that will turn into a blessing like the one shared by each of us here in the Jazz Collector community.

And I thought I was done with that line of thinking and had kind of figured things out and wrote this essay as yet another stream of consciousness as soon as I got out of bed this morning. And then I recalled this beautiful comment by Brian Anderson on my previous post Chasing Trane 2: A Love Supreme Trumps Hate, which I will repeat in part here:

“It is so wonderful to be able to feel connected to a network of Jazz lovers. I have lost every dear friend I had who could share Jazz with me, and most of my listening these days is done in solitary. But with great people like you, Al, and all the wonderful folks who are part of this super network you have brought to us all, I do not feel alone.”

Thank you Brian for saying so eloquently in a few simple words what it has taken me more than 2,500 words to say here. And thank you all, once again, for being part of this very fortunate community of the blessed people who are able to love and appreciate this music that is so special to us all.

Amen.

 

Download the PDF of this article:

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24 comments

  • Al,
    Another beautifully written essay. I must say that perhaps ‘essay’ doesn’t do justice to the depth of feeling and clarity of description you achieve here.
    I hope there are many more to follow.
    thx,
    Steve

  • Another thoughtful piece with great insight. I too, was deep into Cream, the Stones, Steppenwolf et al. My jazz smack was listening to Les McCann Live At Montreux, towards the end, Rashann Kirk joins in the song Get Yourself Together. That was it.Bang! Thanks as always for your writings-ks

  • This is lovely, Al. I don’t necessarily think of my ability to appreciate jazz as a blessing, or even a rare trait. I played some Horace Silver (6 Pieces of Silver) in my office recently, and both of my office mates, who are decidedly not musicians, enjoyed it and made some very interesting observations. They just aren’t going to go and seek it all out voraciously like me. And that’s okay.

    I just think of my ability to appreciate jazz as heightened compared to most other people, the same way some people can draw exactly what they see and I can only draw nonsense.

    As for great moments? Off the top of my head:

    “the BAH-DOOOOOooooooooooouuuuuuu” smack and slide down that salvos the bass after the first thematic pass in Ayler’s “Spiritual Unity”
    Pepper Adams and George Mraz at light speed without piano or drums on “Reflectory”
    the twelve-key refrain in “a love supreme”
    the opening bass solo for “Better Git Hit in Yo’ Soul”
    The glorious harmonies in the Blakey band’s arrangement of “3 blind mice”
    the breakaway spanish guitar in “black saint and the sinner lady”
    yelling OOOMMMMMMMMMMM in, …., well… “Om”
    the opening arrangement on art farmer/benny golson’s “here and now”

  • The Bill Evans piano solo on “flamenco sketches”…like stopping time.

  • Of all my favorite jazz moments, there is one solo that stands out above the rest and the artist is John Coltrane. On Miles Davis’ great “Kind Of Blue” album, there is a ballad entitled “Blue In Green”. All artists perform beautifully on this tune, but the highlight is the short but breathtaking solo by Coltrane. The solo is only about 35 seconds long, but I’ve always thought that the entire world came together in perfect harmony for those 35 seconds on 3/2/59.

    Al, thanks for posting the Getz tune. I haven’t heard it for a while and I forgot how beautiful he sounds on this. Also, count me in as another fan of Cream. When I first heard them, I thought it was a perfect pairing of rock and jazz.

  • Dear Al: I want to give you a long, big, warm hug for that post. As long as The Lovely Mrs. JC doesn’t object, of course… x Caroline

  • Top Chops Al…
    I actually never feel alone with my music. It embraces me, not the other way round.
    I feel safe and at peace and although I listen alone, I never feel alone. When it hits the spot, a moment, a phrase, a moan from a pianist (Jarrett), a lick, even the quirky… that bottle toppling over in the Grant Green set (which I always call out to Mrs Adamski to come listen to, she does with a sigh, but she does, for me!).
    I always feel secure and I suppose, not a word I associate with as I don’t really know what it actually means, but quite… ‘content’. Wayne Shorter ‘Infant Eyes’ kills me EVERY time.

  • Nice piece, Al. I share some of your enthusiasms, but sometimes prefer more traditional jazz. As to soprano sax- I used to regularly listen live to Bob Wilbur, who just made me feel joyful. As to piano- Dave McKenna ! All round favorite jazz musician–Zoot Simms. Then again the wonder of jazz is how personal the connection can be.
    Since reading your Coltrane piece, I have been listening to Coltrane while exercising. Loving it.
    See you soon.

  • Al–Wonderful piece! I wish more collectors would share what captures their love and imagination where recorded jazz is concerned.

    My jazz epiphany occurred when I was about three. This would be 1939. My mother took me to pick up my older brother who was at the ballroom Nuttings on the Charles that extended over part of the Charles River in Waltham, Mass. I got out of the car and walked along a boardwalk that ran along the right side of the building. When I came to a pair of swinging saloon doors I got on my hands and knees and crawled the rest of the way. Looking under the doors, I could hear the music loud and clear, see dancers feet and legs, and see part of the musicians’ music stands. I was enthralled. I had heard records but this was the first time I had ever heard live music. That was it! I wanted to live within that experience for the rest of my life! To some degree, I have.

    My record collection extends from the ODJB (78s) up to the current time (CDs). I pretty much like it all except for the Dixieland revival and repertory bands. I heard Coltrane live many times. As a result, I have relatively few LPs or tapes. I have one tape with a brief bit from both Coltrane and Miles that is truly awful. I have no idea what recording session this may have come from, but I can’t imagine it was ever issued! Over the decades, I have asked many jazz lovers what there is about jazz that caught their interest and captured their dedication. Purpose is to figure out why other people do not like or understand jazz and how the brain may work when it comes to music. I am still awaiting the answer!

  • I read this article while I was listening The Thompson Fields by The Maria Schneider Orchestra. I was touched by her wonderful music and your love declaration for jazz and the people who share this passion with you, Al. Thank you, I deeply appreciate your beautiful piece

  • Thanks to all for the comments so far. I hope there are more, because I loved writing down those moments, big and small, that really resonate on some of the albums in my collection. Just curious, since I don’t often play clips on this site: Did anyone listen to the Getz clip, and did anyone also awe at that passage I referenced in the article? This is not a pop quiz. Just curious.

  • I have only one Getz album in my collection (captain marvel). I did listen to the entire clip and thought it was really beautiful! Thanks for posting it…

  • Al, I can’t say I was in “awe” at the Getz clip, but can totally understanding how you imagined the figure skating analogy as the rhythm and voicing has that pushing and gliding sort of feel. I think what this piece really speaks to is the intensely personal, individual nature of listening to music for sensitive people. My better half is not a jazz lover and I therefore have my stereo and record collection in a separate studio building behind our house. What is interesting to me is the way one person can connect so deeply with particular music, while another person might be left cold or even repulsed by it. I think this again comes back to the subjective, personal nature of the listening experience. Thanks for all the nice writing. It seems you have tapped into something with the more personal, sensitive posts. It just goes to prove that oftentimes beauty is born out of difficult circumstances.
    I am with you in bemoaning the future state of our wonderful country.

  • The Getz recording was beautiful and totally different from the famous one on Bluebird 78 by Coleman Hawkins. I have many recordings by Getz on 78, LP, CD, and unissued material on cassette tape. I believe him to be the consummate player! I know nothing about rock, hip-hop. fusion, etc. My interests are now and always have been jazz, classical, and a bit of opera. I am also interested in Portuguese Fado, both the Lisbon and Coimbra styles, and occasionally listen to Greek folk music.

  • Thanks Al! Reminds me a few years back I was listening to a Coltrane piece on a recorded cassette from just purchase collection. What occurred was nirvana since I experience a brain freezing paralysis. I could only sit and listen in awe. What was it, I think “Blue Train” but I do not know since I have lost/misplace this gem of a cassette find. But I have this one joyful memory!

  • Al, I had a similar experience but with the music of the Grateful Dead (who were like a jazz ensemble in many regards). I never really “got” what the fuss was about. One night it hit me and I’ve never been the same since. It’s an easy transition between the Dead and jazz….

  • I listened to the Getz clip, it is haunting.

  • Abrasive_Beautiful

    Al, thanks for another personal and powerful essay. Also appreciate the shout out in a previous post.

    Listening to music is mostly a solitary experience for me, my SO enjoys jazz and loves that I have a passion for listening to it, but does not always want to sit and listen. Fortunately, I have met so many great people online, here, and especially on instagram(same handle) that I can share my thoughts and chat with. The social aspect really has helped deepen my connection to the music, as well as recently starting to learn and understand the influences and history of jazz and improvised expression.

    I started out with records as a rock listener about 5 years ago, and started finding some jazz here and there, which I enjoyed, but one day it really clicked.

    The recording was Satch Plays Fats, which starts with the one-two emotional punch of Honeysuckle Rose(with Velma Middleton) and Blue Turning Grey Over You. The first track deeply affected me, and I was moved to tears by Louis’ trumpet playing on the second. From that moment I was hooked on jazz, because I have never felt such an emotional connection to any other type of music.

    Since then, the rock sections have shrunk to bare minimums and the jazz sections are ever growing and expanding.

    Some of my favorite and most deeply affecting moments in jazz are:

    The aforementioned Louis Armstrong tracks

    Sonny Rollins’ sax lead into to “Why Don’t I” and his launch into solo on “Night in Tunisia” Live at VV

    Resolution—goosebumps every time

    The whole of Ascension.

    Roland Kirk’s extended circular breathing solo on Many Blessings

    McLean’s scream into solo on title track “Fickle Sonance”

    Bud Powell title track “Time Waits”

    Tina Brooks solo on “Good Old Soul” complete with the SKRONK at the end

    Eric Dolphy’s perfectly angular and eccentric solo on “Clarence’s Place” shortly followed by a intensely logical Wayne Shorter solo

    In more recent music, there are a few moments on Kamasi Washington’s The Epic that affect me almost as much as the older recordings. I also saw him and his band play last year on my 23rd birthday, front row, and I left the concert feeling emotionally wrought and refreshed. Extremely powerful experience.

    On that last note, I also feel immense sadness that I can never experience a live performance of so many of my heroes, and I suppose the collecting and curation of their albums is as close as I can get.

    P.S. the Stan Getz clip was as Rudolf said: Haunting. That solo passage builds to a point where I expected an emotional release, but it did not give. Very powerful moment.

  • Abrasive_Beautiful–Glad one of your first jazz-on-record experiences was Louis Armstrong. His playing sends a chill down my spine. His 1947 Boston Symphony Hall concert issued on Decca was the first jazz concert I went to and was enthralled with his playing and that of Sidney Catlett. I was born in ’36, so I was 11 at the time. I went by myself. When I listen to Parker, I fall into a semi-revery I admire his playing so much. Coltrane has a unique and beautiful sound. For swing and soul, my man is Zoot Sims. At his best, he is out of this world!

  • What a lovely piece, Al. Your love of jazz and its unexplainable nature shines through it. I don’t think I’m there with you but I played the Stan Getz and at the end my heart did a somersault and tears came to my eyes.

  • Another wonderful post. I think the first time I really deeply connected was listening to a version of Mingus’ Gunslinger on a record I got from the library in 9th or 10th grade. It felt like a freight train about to careen off the tracks, but just under control enough to keep running. It still gives me goosebumps from time to time.

  • Al , thanks for putting into words how so many of us feel ….love your blog , please keep writing and of course listening . In the words of the magical Rashaan “Bright Moments

  • Hi Al, I doubt there is anyone else writing about jazz who has given his/her readers such a direct path to his or her heart. That is as much as a gift to them as your gift of getting, being in, feeling the music in an extraordinary way is a gift that was given to you. Don’t forget that we un-gifted can still take something very special – though different – and personal from a piece of music, a work of art, a live stage drama. Can’t wait to see you in the new year! xo Barbara

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