Jazz and Me

I did not appreciate Jazz music until 1978 when I met George Cook, a wonderful African American from Ohio who was the head of the Opportunities Industrialization Centre (OIC) in Maseru, Lesotho.

George, a retired US army officer who had been among the last people out of Saigon, infected me with the Jazz bug without uttering a word. He simply played the music, passed the LP jacket to me, tapped his foot, gently nodded to the rhythm, with a smile of a man at peace.

It was through George that I first made the acquaintance of Miles Davis Jr., a man whose music that he recorded between 1948 and 1968 has brought me great joy over the years. No record of his has sold more copies than Kind of Blue which he recorded in the Spring of 1959. The connoisseur is very familiar with this, of course. The newcomer has a great treat in store. Take a listen to Miles and his team:

 
Flo and I soon discovered that Maseru had a live jazz life. Among those who cemented our appreciation of jazz was Monty Weber, a South African from Cape Town who headed a resident band at Maseru’s Hotel Victoria. Monty had been a drummer in Dollar Brand’s (Abdullah Ibrahim’s) group. The passion for Jazz was born. Abdullah Ibrahim became a passion nearing obsession. His music, his observations, his journey – as Africa’s best musical ambassador. His reed player by the name of Carlos Ward was in the top rank of Jazz musicians.


My kind of Jazz music includes Ragtime, through Swing and Bebop to Hard Bop and Post-Bop until about 1970. In short, classic Jazz.

Big bands, small groups, solo pianists and the great vocalists enjoy a place of honor on my turntable and shelves. Too many great Jazz musicians to choose from, but Count Basie, Art Blakey, Clifford Brown, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Dexter Gordon, Earl Fatha Hines, Johnny Hodges, Abdullah Ibrahim, Thad Jones, Charles Mingus, Hank Mobley, Theloneous Sphere Monk … dominate my listening sessions. Pity that, of these, I only saw and heard Abdullah, Art and Miles play live.

When I listen to Coltrane, I want him playing real nice and lyrical, sometime between 1956 and 1964. Here is one that never fails to please me:


Thad Jones was the middle of the Brothers Jones (Hank, Thad and Elvin) from Detroit. Hank was a great Jazz pianist. Elvin was a drummer whose work was a rhythmic volcanic eruption every time he held the sticks. He was part of John Coltrane’s Great Quartet. Thad Jones was a trumpeter/flugelhornist/composer/arranger. Take a listen:


One non-negotiable: my kind of Jazz must be played on acoustic instruments and must have rhythm and swing. This is what Dexter Gordon never failed to do. Listen to him in Paris:


My kind of music includes the Blues, the foundation of great Jazz. Jimmy Rushing, Big Joe Turner, Jimmy Witherspoon – these are my main men. Flo and I first heard Jimmy Witherspoon in 1979 at the Hilton Hotel in Maseru, Lesotho, on the recommendation of George Cook and our friend Connie Lundy from Philadelphia who was also working for OIC in Maseru.
But now, listen to the Blues by a Master of Jazz, Big Joe Turner himself:

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