One year before Elvis Presley released his debut studio album, Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker died at the age of 34. An alto sax player and musical genius, innovator, virtuoso player, heroin addict and alcoholic.
Jazz, what is Jazz? How do we learn to love Jazz? Why should we want to? Jazz was off my radar when I started to buy records in 1967 but my Mum liked Big Bands and Swing so when I did finally hear Jazz music it wasn’t such a shock! My Dad’s taste for Holst and my Mums taste for Swing might have been responsible for me liking Prog but the equal presence of Frank Sinatra and The Beatles in our house made me destined to be eclectic, especially when you added the radio from those days, playing Motown and other sixties Pop. By the time I was 12 in 1970 Rock music had led me on my own path, away from my family’s tastes and into the contemporary sounds that existed between 1970-75, that included Glam and Pink Floyd, pre Punk. Although I can’t remember if I heard them when T.Rex and Pink Floyd put them out (1971), it didn’t occur to me that I should have to choose between Life’s A Gas and Echoes.
All these influences led me to that most despised of genres, Jazz Rock – Return to Forever, Isotope, Stomu Yamashta, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Weather Report, Brand X but when I think about it, it’s probably the beginnings of my investigation into Jazz proper in later years. Then, Miles Davis, Billie Holiday and Chet Baker were the doorway into the kind of Jazz that Bird played, something more complex and intellectual. Keith Jarrett got me into Bill Evans, you ease yourself into Jazz, you put your toe in the water and bravely immerse yourself, baby steps, because getting from Dave Brubeck to Ornette Coleman can be like breakfast in San Tropez and tea in Oldham. (We call dinner tea and lunch dinner up north).
My collection of records on the ECM label is rather deep. Desolate, landscapes on the cover art, and Nordic moods in the music. Wispy fog obscuring the bare branches of spiky stiff trees, frosty grass and distant calls from lost animals in the freezing forest. These records made you hungry, they made you stare out of the window at the colourless view and pull the sleeves of your jumper over your hands as you sink into the neck.
But what of John Coltrane and Thelonious Monk, Charlie Mingus, Dizzy Gillespie, what of Mose Allison, What of Ella Fitzgerald? I am no expert on Jazz or anything really, I just like all kinds of music, but if I hadn’t heard Billie Holiday sing Day In Day Out or Ella Fitzgerald sing Let’s Face The Music And Dance or Miles Davis’ Sketches of Spain, Chet Baker sing My Funny Valentine or Birds’ improvisations, Lester’s Young’s soothing sax, Stan Getz with Astrud Gilberto – then my life would be all the poorer.