One does not set out to be a jazz writer like one would to be a doctor or a lawyer. It just seems to happen. I was born on October 4, 1954, in the Bronx, New York. From the time I was two until I was 11, I lived in Long Island, New York, and then I spent the next five years living in the wastelands of Thousand Oaks and Newbury Park, 30-40 miles outside of Los Angeles. I spent my junior high and high school years very interested in sports history (particularly baseball) and I loved memorizing baseball statistics.
My first significant memory of jazz was watching The Five Pennies, a 1959 movie starring Danny Kaye and Louis Armstrong that had Kaye playing the role of cornetist Red Nichols. The screenplay was mostly all fiction but there are some memorable scenes and plenty of music. The love and joy of the music is emphasized and difficult to resist. I knew that I wanted to play trumpet after seeing the film; pity I can't get a decent note out of the horn!
I really discovered jazz shortly before I turned 16. I saw in the Los Angeles Times that there was a Dixieland radio show (Strictly from Dixie, which was hosted by Benson Curtis) on Mondays through Fridays, 5-6 p.m. I figured it would be happy music, so I started listening to it on a regular basis, was quickly hooked, and was soon taping songs off the radio. A few months later I started listening to Chuck Cecil's Swinging Years on the radio, which introduced me to swing.
The next year when I started attending Cal State University at Northridge (as an accounting major), I was lucky enough to be placed in a wing of a dormitory that housed musicians. While they listened to Don Ellis and Buddy Rich, I was playing Dukes of Dixieland records; the musicians knew for sure that I was crazy! I was basically only into pre-1945 jazz (stylistically), essentially Dixieland and swing, but I had an open mind. I read about such musicians as Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and Thelonious Monk and was curious about how their music differed from the earlier forms of jazz.
One day while perusing a used record store, I ran across a $1.99 Charlie Parker LP that, among other songs, included "White Christmas." At least I knew that melody (even if I had not heard of "Groovin' High" and "'Round Midnight") so I bought the album and played it two or three times each day for a week. At first I could not appreciate the music, but by the end of the week the gates had opened and I became quite hungry to learn about and hear all eras of jazz, a desire that has still not been fully satisfied! Within a month I was listening to Miles Davis' Live Evil and John Coltrane's Live at the Village Vanguard Again (featuring the screaming tenor of Pharoah Sanders). My musician friends, whom I quickly passed evolution-wise, now knew for sure that I was nuts!
I started college in September 1971, moving to San Francisco to attend San Francisco State University from January 1974 to June 1975 and then returning to Los Angeles to finish up at Northridge, graduating in January 1977 with a B.S. degree in accounting. Although I did not take any significant jazz classes during this time, I was always learning more about the music, exploring all of the different eras on records and starting to go to concerts. One of the first events I went to was at the Hollywood Bowl in 1972 and it had quite a lineup: the Count Basie Orchestra, Ella Fitzgerald, Stan Getz, Cannonball Adderley, the Stan Kenton Orchestra, and Oscar Peterson (playing solo)! While in San Francisco I was a regular at Keystone Korner, where one could buy ten tickets (usable at different times) for $20! Seeing Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Woody Shaw, and Miles Davis' three-guitar fusion band were thrills.
I returned to Los Angeles in mid-1975 because a college friend of mine, Brian Ashley, had plans to start a music magazine called Record Review. The idea was for the publication to feature all kinds of music, particularly rock, jazz, classical, and country. I was to be the jazz editor (essentially starting at the top). Although I also worked most of the time full-time as an accountant (a career in which I had indifferent success due to my general lack of interest!), I was the jazz editor of Record Review during its entire life, which resulted in 33 issues between January 1977 and June 1984. Due to the classical section eventually folding and the rock department choosing to focus on heavy metal, by 1983 Record Review was the world's only heavy metal and jazz magazine!
I wrote exclusively for Record Review into 1983 and then, when it was obvious that the magazine (which rarely did better financially than breaking even) might expire eventually, I began sending clips out to other publications and started freelancing. I began writing for Cadence in 1983 (an association that is still strong) and made it on to the masthead of Jazziz by its sixth issue. By the time Record Review finally ceased operations, I was also writing for Downbeat and soon I would be contributing to Coda and Jazz Forum (out of Poland). For a long period I did a humorous jazz trivia quiz (called Syncopation) for Jazz Times along with occasional reviews and interviews.
From then on it was my philosophy to not only write for one magazine but to help jazz in any way I could. It has resulted in some jealousy between a few of the magazines (I ended up choosing Jazziz, where I write regular reissue and book columns, over Jazz Times and Downbeat), but the more secure editors have never had a problem with my prolific nature. Besides, none of the jazz magazines pay enough to have a writer be exclusive!
These days I'm a regular contributor to Jazziz, Cadence, the L.A. Jazz Scene, Coda, the Jazz Report, Jazz Now, Strictly Jazz, the Mississippi Rag, and two new publications: Planet Jazz and Bird. In addition, I've written over 150 liner notes, occasionally do special projects for labels (such as telling them what they own!), and write press biographies.
I first discovered the All Music Guide while (to drop a name) I was at Leonard Feather's townhouse one day. I was impressed by how large the jazz section was in the general guide and I wanted to become involved. Ron Wynn (the jazz editor at the time) and Michael Erlewine were enthusiastic about my participation and some of my reviews made into the first edition of the All Music Guide to Jazz. By the time the second edition came out in 1996, I was the jazz editor and helped organize the giant work. I believe that the third edition is the greatest jazz reference book ever or, at least (at over 1,400 pages), certainly the heaviest!
I was asked to submit a list of my specialty areas and my "desert island list." Basically I listen to all kinds of music, as long as it's jazz! My interests stretch very far within the idiom, from 1920s jazz, swing, Dixieland, and bebop to cool, hard bop, soul-jazz, all types of avant-garde and free jazz, fusion, and the many styles that exist today. Also bordering on jazz, I listen to blues of all eras, Western swing, and early R&B. If the music emphasizes improvisation, has creativity and originality as two of its main goals, and is colorful and full of chance-taking, it interests me!
When asked what records I would take to a desert island, I usually respond that I'd take a few dozen records that I'd never heard before! There'd be no point bringing along Miles Davis' Kind of Blue when one knows every note by heart, and there are few greater thrills than discovering exciting new jazz. But if forced to come up with a dream list of music that I've heard and really love, here's a few of the thousands of items that I cannot do without (limiting, in most cases, the choices to no more than one or two from any specific leader although cheating with a few boxed sets):
Desert Island Picks
Cannonball Adderley, Cannonball Adderley Quintet in San Francisco, Original Jazz Classics
Howard Alden/Dan Barrett Quintet, ABQ Salutes Buck Clayton, Concord Jazz
Henry "Red" Allen, World on a String, Bluebird
Gene Ammons/Sonny Stitt, Boss Tenors, Verve
Louis Armstrong, Vols. 1-4, Hot Fives & Sevens, Columbia
Louis Armstrong, Satch at Symphony Hall, Decca
Count Basie, Count Basie at Newport, Verve
Count Basie/Zoot Sims, Basie and Zoot, Original Jazz Classics
Bix Beiderbecke, The Complete, Joker (14-LPs)
Art Blakey, Moanin', Blue Note
Boswell Sisters, Vol. 1, Collector's Classics
Clifford Brown, The Beginning and the End, Columbia
Dave Brubeck, Jazz Goes to College, Columbia
Don Byron, Bug Music, Nonesuch
Charlie Christian, The Genius of the Electric Guitar, Columbia
Nat King Cole, The Complete Capitol Recordings of the Nat King Cole Trio, Mosaic (18 CDs)
Ornette Coleman, Free Jazz, Atlantic
John Coltrane, Live at Birdland, Impulse
Eddie Condon, Town Hall Concerts. Vols. 1-11, Jazzology
Miles Davis, Round Midnight, Columbia
Miles Davis, The Complete Concert: 1964 (Four & More/My Funny Valentine), Columbia
Wild Bill Davison, Showcase, Jazzology
Roy Eldridge, Montreux 1977, Original Jazz Classics
Duke Ellington, The Blanton-Webster Band, Bluebird
Duke Ellington, Seventieth Birthday Concert, Blue Note
Ella Fitzgerald, Ella in Hollywood, Verve
Stan Getz, The Bossa Nova Years, Verve
Dizzy Gillespie/Roy Eldridge, Verve
Tom Harrell, The Art of Rhythm, RCA
Fletcher Henderson -- A Study in Frustration, Columbia (3 CDs)
Earl Hines, Spontaneous Explorations, Contact
Billie Holiday, The Complete Decca Recordings (Decca)
Freddie Hubbard, Straight Life, CTI
Willis Jackson, Bar Wars, Muse
James P. Johnson, Snowy Morning Blues, GRP
Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Bright Moments, Rhino
Lambert, Hendricks & Ross, The Hottest New Group in Jazz, Columbia
Bobby McFerrin, The Voice, Elektra Musician
Jackie McLean, Dynasty, Triloka
Charles Mingus, The Great Concert Of, Prestige
Mingus Big Band, Nostalgia in Times Square, Dreyfus
Thelonious Monk, Big Band and Quartet in Concert, Columbia
Jelly Roll Morton, His Complete Victor Recordings, Bluebird
Fats Navarro and Tadd Dameron, Blue Note
Buell Neidlinger, Blue Chopsticks, I2B2
Kid Ory, Kid Ory's Creole Jazz Band, Good Time Jazz
Charlie Parker, And Stars of Modern Jazz at Carnegie Hall, Jass
Oscar Peterson/Clark Terry, Oscar Peterson Trio Plus One, Verve
Bud Powell, The Complete Blue Note and Roost Recordings (4 CDs), Blue Note
Sonny Rollins, Way Out West, Original Jazz Classics
Jimmy Smith/Wes Montgomery, The Dynamic Duo, Verve
Muggsy Spanier, The Ragtime Band Sessions, Bluebird
Sonny Stitt, Endgame Brilliance, 32 Jazz
Art Tatum, Piano Starts Here, Columbia/Legacy
Sarah Vaughan, Complete: Live in Japan, Mobile Fidelity
Fats Waller, Fats Waller and His Buddies, Bluebird
Clarence Williams, 1926-1927, Classics
World's Greatest Jazz Band, Live at Roosevelt Grill, Atlantic
Lester Young, The Complete Aladdin Sessions, Blue Note
And as a punch line:
The Complete Keynote Collection, Polygram, (21 LPs)
The Complete Commodore Jazz Recordings Vols. I-III, Mosaic (67 LPs!)
BLUES ARTIST BIRTHDAY:
Roy Book Binder (1943) - A student and friend of the Rev. Gary Davis, he is equally at home with blues and ragtime, he is known to shift from open tunings to slide arrangements to original compositions, with both traditional and self-styled licks. His storytelling emphasis is another characteristic that makes his style unique. Binder was born in Queens, New York, United States. Upon graduation from high school, he joined the Navy and undertook a tour of duty in Europe. He bought his first guitar at a military base in Italy. After his enlistment was up, he returned to New York where he met one of his lifelong friends, Dave Van Ronk. Impressed with his friend's playing, Binder sought out Davis who also lived in New York, and became first a student of Davis and later a chauffeur and tour companion. Much of Binder's original material was based on his time on the road with Davis. By the mid-to-late 1960s Binder was recording for both Kicking Mule and Blue Goose Records. In 1969, he toured England with Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup and Homesick James. After meeting another of his life's influences, the bluesman Pink Anderson, Binder released his first album, Travelin' Man, on Adelphi. The album was named after one of the songs that Binder learned from Anderson. In 1973 he began a partnership with fiddler Fats Kaplin, and they recorded the Git Fiddle Shuffle in 1973. Binder and Kaplin performed together for three years, playing numerous concerts and recording a second album, Ragtime Millionaire in 1977. After this partnership dissolved, Binder began touring the country, living in a motor home, and concentrating on live performances. During the 1980s, Binder released several albums, including Bookeroo in 1988. Binder has been described as a “guitar pickin' hillbilly bluesman”, and has released eleven albums. He has performed at most major blues and folk festivals in the United States and Europe, including Merlefest. Notables that have shared the stage with Binder include Bonnie Raitt, B.B. King, John Jackson, Sonny Terry, Doc Watson, Ray Charles, and Brownie McGhee. Binder has appeared regularly on Nashville Now, and has been included in Sheldon Harris' book, The Blues Who's Who. Binder is a veteran guitar instructor, and can often be found teaching at the Fur Peace Ranch with Jorma Kaukonen and others whose lives have been influenced by Davis. There he demonstrates songs, turnarounds, chord variations, right hand methods, and many of his own powerful adaptations and unique approaches to the blues. Binder's album, Hillbilly Blues Cats (Rounder), was named as one of the ten most essential acoustic guitar albums of 1992.
JAZZ ARTIST BIRTHDAY:
Jimmy Blanton (1918) - Born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Jimmy Blanton was an influential jazz double bassist. He is credited with being the originator of more complex pizzicato and bowed bass solos in a jazz context than previous bassists. Blanton originally learned to play the violin, but took up the bass while at Tennessee State University, performing with the Tennessee State Collegians from 1936 to 1937, and during the vacations with Fate Marable. After leaving university to play full time in St. Louis with the Jeter-Pillars Orchestra (with whom he made his first recordings), he joined Duke Ellington's band in 1939. Though he stayed with Ellington for only two years, Blanton made an incalculable contribution in changing the way the double bass was used in jazz. Previously the double bass was rarely used to play anything but quarter notes in ensemble or solos but by soloing on the bass more in a 'horn like' fashion, Blanton began sliding into eighth- and sixteenth-note runs, introducing melodic and harmonic ideas that were totally new to jazz bass playing. His virtuosity put him in a different class from his predecessors, making him the first true master of the jazz bass and demonstrating the instrument's unsuspected potential as a solo instrument. Such was his importance to Ellington's band at the time, together with the tenor saxophonist Ben Webster, that it became known as the Blanton–Webster band. Blanton also recorded a series of bass and piano duets with Ellington, In 1941, Blanton was diagnosed with tuberculosis, cutting short his tenure with Ellington. His last recording session was cut on September 26, 1941 in Hollywood. Blanton died the following year after retiring to a sanatorium in California, aged 23, on July 30, 1942.
JAZZ ALBUM RECORDED:
Donald Byrd – The Creeper (1967)
1. Samba Yantra
2. I Will Wait For You
3. Blues Medium Rare
4. The Creeper
6. Early Sunday Morning
7. Blues Well Done
Review by Scott Yanow at Allmusic:
This LP was trumpeter Donald Byrd's final album in the hard bop idiom and it went unissued until 1981. For the last time, Byrd was heard in prime form in an acoustic format. His notable sextet also included altoist Sonny Red, baritonist Pepper Adams, pianist Chick Corea, bassist Miroslav Vitous, and drummer Mickey Roker. With the exception of Michel Legrand's "I Will Wait for You," all of the songs were composed by either Byrd, Red, or Corea and, although none of the originals caught on as standards (or have been performed since), together as a whole they give one a lot of variety in the then-modern hard bop field. Pity that this album has been out of print since the mid-'80s.