Thursday, September 13, 2007

MY LIFE COVERING JAZZ

I love jazz music. Just let me get that out the way first. I’ve been this way ever since my mentor, playwright Bill Harris, loaned me his copy of Eric Dolphy’s album Live at the Five Spot Volume One, and Prince Lasha’s Firebirds. I was so smitten after listening to those albums that I wanted to borrow more. Harris allowed me to do so. In return, I had to mow his lawn every Saturday. He hated doing yard work. That was about fifteen years ago, and I’ve been a jazz fiend since. I’m particularly fond of jazz musicians. The way they dress, their language, their coolness, and the beautiful array of sounds they get from their instruments.

Unfortunately, I can’t play one damn musical note, although I have to admit that occasionally I’ve fantasize about being a jazz pianist with the same facility as my favorite pianists Gene Harris, Craig Taborn, Cyrus Chestnut, and Don Pullen who have me salivating whenever I listen to their playing.

Although I’m not a jazz musician by trade, I feel blessed. For ten years, I have been writing about this music for one of the most respected weekly newspaper in Michigan the Metrotimes. In 1996, The Monitor, a weekly newspaper published my first jazz article. That year Arts Midwest honored saxophonist Donald Walden with their Jazz Master’s award. I wrote about him receiving the distinction. The Arts editor at the Metrotimes got a hold of the story. He liked it, and he asked if I wanted to cover jazz for the paper.

I accepted without hesitation. In 1994, I began freelancing for a mom & pop newspaper based in Detroit. Back then, I wasn’t interested in becoming any sort of musician journalist. I was interested only in writing human interest pieces. My first published story for the paper was about a van club that offered food and shelter to the homeless. The Walden story caught my eye because I was just getting into jazz music, and I thought his playing was something special.

The invitation to write for the Metrotimes was a godsend. I never imagined that I’d get the to interview jazz icons such as Horace Silver, Richard Davis, Sonny Rollins, Branford Marsalis, Kenny Garrett, and many others. I never really thought that I was qualified or deserved to talk with those great artists. When I first called Horace Silver I was so nervous that when the pianist answered his telephone I hung up like a teenager afraid to ask a pretty girl for a date. When I finally got my nerves together, the interview was amazing although Silver had a tough time remembering key areas of his career. Anyway, I felt as if I was listening to one of the old-timers in the neighborhood tell a bunch of stories about the good old days of jazz.

I’ve gotten a lot inspiration from some local musicians that I’ve interviewed. I admire Vincent Chandler, Gerard Gibbs, and Penny Wells because of their determination to be successful musicians.

My favorite interviews were with Ravi Coltrane who I connected with like he had been by running budding for years, and Regina Carter who was warm and eloquent. She talked to me like I was her favorite sibling.

I’ve gotten loads of pleasure from covering jazz. I feel valued when people tell me they’ve been reading my articles for years, and when musicians that I have written about tells me that what I wrote about them helped them to secure gigs. That’s the best form of payment that I could ever receive.

What makes covering jazz worthwhile is the recognition that I get from readers and jazz musicians. Plus, the editors that I’ve worked for over the years trust me enough to allow me to run wild.

My life in jazz life gets better with every great jazz album that I listen to, every up and coming musician that I write about, and every mind blowing jazz concert that I attend.
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