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Today, let's stroll down my own lane of memories of America's greatest invention.

It was 1947. I was in eighth grade. I wandered into a record store on the main street of Manhattan, Kan., happened upon an album of Dixieland jazz, and was immediately hooked in the listening booth. I played trombone in the school band, but had never heard anything like this free-wheeling energy: spontaneous, brash, yet intelligent, complex, contrapuntal. I soon bought jazz records of all sorts, from "traditional" through swing, bebop, and Stan Kenton's screaming brass, and tried to copy their riffs.

I aspired to a jazz career throughout high school, a college music degree from North Texas State in Denton, two years as a draftee playing in Army bands, and six months in 1957 trying to break into the New York jazz scene. I managed to land a tryout with Benny Goodman's band, but didn't make the cut. Long story short, I had passion for this music, but musical talent is a special gift and I wasn't that special. In 1958 I switched to physics, something I'm better at and which, as I soon discovered, is like music in its ability to deliver beautiful surprises.

I've loved good music, especially jazz and classical, all my life, and have had the great good fortune to experience a lot of it in person. All the arts are wonderful and essential to our human development, but music seems special because the sounds speak directly to our brain and heart without the intervention of a written story, a painting, or other representation of the external world.

Many are the times I've pressed against the stage of a packed hall listening to swing bands: Duke Ellington, Tommy Dorsey, Jimmy Dorsey, Les Brown, Ray Anthony, Count Basie, Stan Kenton, Maynard Ferguson, Woody Herman, Harry James, Gene Krupa, Billy May, Buddy Rich and Artie Shaw. It's America's music: energetic, full of movement, improvisational, brassy, sometimes too loud. It was born the only place it could have been born, the USA, and it was mostly bred here. Our hearts should swell with pride whenever it's played. To hear the real thing, Google "https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SJPyOwQNIvo" target="_blank">Benny Goodman - One O'Clock Jump - Live at Carnegie Hall 1938." If the last seven blues choruses (beginning with Harry James' trumpet) don't light your hair on fire, you've got to be dead to the world. The police couldn't keep the kids in their seats that night--they were jitterbugging in the aisles. Is this America at its best or what?

Small group jazz, usually one or more instrumentalists plus piano, bass and drums, is often more creative, more improvised and closer to roots than the big bands. I shall never forget the magical night I heard Oscar Peterson play solo piano in a packed auditorium in Brooklyn; an evening in a small San Francisco club six feet from saxophone genius Stan Getz; nights at New York City's Birdland where I heard Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck with Paul Desmond, and Gerry Mulligan's big band; an evening of Dizzy Gillespie's fantastic trumpet in a small Atlantic City bar; the expressive trumpet and voice of Chet Baker in Stockholm (check out "https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UOEIQKczRPY" target="_blank">https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UOEIQKczRPY); an outdoor concert with both Oscar Peterson and Ella Fitzgerald; two of the world's most swinging tenor saxophonists, Zoot Sims and Al Cohn, together in a small Chicago bar; saxophonist Dexter Gordon in a smoky cellar in Paris. For jazz's unstoppable momentum, Google on "https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NTJhHn-TuDY" target="_blank">Oscar Peterson - C Jam Blues - live in Denmark 1964." Yes, two of my selections happen to be the blues.

A few more names: I was fortunate to hear live performances by the George Shearing Quintet, Milt Jackson with the Modern Jazz Quartet, Louis Armstrong, the Nat King Cole trio, Sara Vaughan, Chick Corea, Bill Evans (in Fayetteville), drummer Max Roach, and clarinetist Buddy DeFranco.

There's lots of good jazz in Northwest Arkansas. Check out the Northwest Arkansas Jazz Society at "http://www.digjazz.com" target="_blank">digjazz.com, where you can sign up to receive regular information. The society's organizer, Robert Ginsburg, has a genius for bringing great talent to the stage at the Walton Arts Center and elsewhere. I've heard inspiring jazz performances in Fayetteville by Dave Brubeck, Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, Kevin Mahogany, and Bobby Watson, not to mention the fine local talent of the Claudia Burson Trio and the Fayetteville Jazz Collective.

As Bob Hope put it following each of his 1940s radio shows: Thanks for the memories.

Commentary on 06/27/2017

Print Headline: And all that jazz

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