Jazz has been one of the great loves of my life. I know, I get it. Jazz is not popular music. Jazz appeals to musicians and people with unusual tastes. It can’t be forced on anyone. It’s pointless (as I learned painfully) to throw it into the mix at a party. It’s a good way to get thrown out of a party.
It’s possible that you know nothing about Jazz. You might have seen films like “Bird” or “Round Midnight”. In spite of its relative obscurity, Jazz has nonetheless crept into our Pop Culture like the ink from a cephalopod. That is…an octopus or a squid.
Jazz has been for me a lifelong experience. I first heard Louis Armstrong when I was twelve. I was in the sixth grade! I had joined the Capitol Records Club, and ticked Jazz as my favorite category. I don’t know why. I had been listening to classical music, especially that of Richard Wagner, and I was getting a bit bored. Thank you, Capitol Records Club, for sending me this LP in the mail. I eagerly withdrew the vinyl record from its sleeve and put it on my blue and white Zenith Portable Stereo Record Player. This rig was built like a suitcase. There were snap-locks on each side and those opened up to become speakers that deployed to the left and the right. For a kid in the early sixties it wasn’t a bad place to start with regard to sound systems. The MacIntosh and Dynaco amps and pre-amps were cool as hell, but I could wait. In a couple of years I would be all over amps and pre-amps until my basement began to look like a used electronics warehouse.
I put on the Louis Armstrong record and held my breath. The music began with a blare of brass. At first it sounded like some kind of Asiatic music, it was alien and incomprehensible. I heard charging rhythm and thickets of notes. My confusion lasted about half a minute. Then, as if someone had rotated my brain, I started to hear that shining trumpet of Satchmo and it started making sense. I’d been playing trumpet in the school band since I was in the fifth grade. Okay, that’s only a year. I hated practicing and did as little work as possible. I was a Natural and I could coast on my good ear. I could play a little bit.
The next album I acquired was recorded by Count Basie And His Orchestra. The album cover was a photo of a mushroom cloud, all scarlet shades and orange flame. It was called, of course, Count Basie Explodes! I put that on the record player. I oh so carefully lowered the tone arm with its precious cartridge transducer until the needle hit and the speakers went “hissssssss” for a second or two before the wildest most confusing outburst of twenty two instruments raged forth and I thought, “Aww shit. Asiatic music only bigger.” Again, it took a little while for the music to come around and reach my precocious ears.
The mail man drives down the street in his little cart. He’s bringing another record from Capitol Records Club. Miles Davis’ “Birth Of The Cool”. This is one of the most important jazz records ever recorded. Miles had organized a curious group, an eight piece band otherwise known as an octet.
I didn’t have many friends in the fifth and sixth grades. I had Jay, who was a fellow musician and jazz fan. His mother was a jazz fan. This was in suburban St. Louis in 1962. It was rare but it happened.
My mom, on the other hand, wasn’t gonna support this shit at all! If I had to play the goddam trumpet, she often screamed; at least I would play respectable music like Mantovani or Andy Williams.
No mom. No. Not happening. I’m going my merry way and you can screw yourself.
My bedroom was at the far end of the house. I had some distance. Some. I could play what I wanted while my mom popped Seconal and slept away her life.
By this time I’m fourteen and I’ve moved into Charlie Parker, Cannonball Adderly and…ultimately…John Coltrane. If there is a magnificent Ganesh-Guru Hindu Monster Elephant Deity of Jazz Music it is John Coltrane. He was doing the impossible. His ideas were so deep and complex that they became equal to the founding of a neo-Buddhist philosophy. A School. A dynastic lineage of Consciousness.
Coltrane became my teacher. He became thousands of musicians’ teacher and remains so to this day. Get on Youtube and join the session. It’s alive and well. The young musicians, the ones who are serious, want to study and learn. And music’s everywhere. It’s in the air. Then it’s gone. That’s what Eric Dolphy, one of the unsung monsters of Jazz, said at the end of one of his precious recordings. Both Trane and Dolphy passed in the sixties. They were young. We don’t really know what happened. How did these magnificent musicians leave the scene so suddenly? It was shocking and it knocked me off my feet. I had yet to understand how dangerous was the jazz life, how stressful it was to make a living play Jazz.
Fortunately, we were left with other dynamic musicians. We had Charles Mingus and his epochal release of the album “The Black Saint And The Sinner Lady.” This is some of the most sensual music ever recorded. It outrages church goers, it shocks listeners who aren’t prepared for music so graphic as to be well….erotic.
I developed new Jazz heroes. Ornette Coleman was sawing his way through musical tradition and his ideas caused fights on the Lower East Side. Imagine that: ideological fistfights over varying philosophies of Jazz. Strange but true. Jackie McLean kept the tonal orthodoxy but added intensity and adventure. I was pushing sixteen at this time and my world was filled with all this musical color, all these vibrant creative characters who courted addiction and death to get through the pressures of the jazz life.
By the age of sixteen I had acquired a set of drums and my instrumental voyages took on the nature of a student: a dedicated student of a peculiar art form. That was my jazz. That was my passion and I was about to leave home in the summer of ’65. I was determined to meet the by-now world famous Ornette Coleman. And so I did…but that’s another story. It’s in another book.
You can find a fictionalized story which mirrors many of Art’s young life in Confessions of an Honest Man: https://www.amazon.com/Confessions-Honest-Man-Arthur-Rosch-ebook/dp/B01C3J0NK2/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=Confessions+of+an+Honest+Man&qid=1601086887&s=digital-text&sr=1-1
A Midwesterner by birth, Arthur Rosch migrated to the West Coast just in time to be a hippie but discovered that he was more connected to the Beatnik generation. He harkened back to an Old School world of jazz, poetry, painting and photography. In the Eighties he received Playboy Magazine’s Best Short Story Award for a comic view of a planet where there are six genders. The timing was not good. His life was falling apart as he struggled with addiction and depression. He experienced the reality of the streets for more than a decade. Putting himself back together was the defining experience of his life. It wasn’t easy. It did, however, nurture his literary soul. He has a passion for astronomy, photography, history, psychology and the weird puzzle of human experience. He is currently a certified Seniors Peer Counselor in Sonoma County, California. Come visit his blogs and photo sites. www.artrosch.com and http://bit.ly/2uyxZbv.
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