Nov 5, 2015
This is my 500th podcast. When I started this project as a creative outlet more than ten years ago, I never thought that it would go on so long, and become such an important part of my identity. Thanks to the many generous and welcoming people in the world of jazz, I have gained access to music, gone places I never thought I would go, and met people that I never dreamed I would meet,
The podcast is, to paraphrase a Bill Evans album title, a conversation with myself, as I share six songs that trace my jazz education.
Dave Brubeck Quartet - “Blue Rondo a la Turk”
I begin pretty early - jazz was something that I heard in my playpen. My father, Bert Siegel, was a jazz fan and persistent record collector. He played double bass and accordion as a teenager and college student, and was a huge fan of West Coast Cool Jazz, and “The Chairman of the Board”, Frank Sinatra. Although his bass stood in the living room as a decorative touch rather than a working instrument during most of my life, he stayed a jazz fan. Some of my earliest memories involve hearing the music he played on the Hi-Fi.
Steely Dan – “East St. Louis Toodle-oo”
By the time I was a teenager, I was into rock music and had inherited my father’s lust for purchasing vinyl, spending much of my spare money down at E.J. Korvette at the Trumbull Shopping Park. Very little of the rock music I bought and listened to appealed to my father. He liked anything that sounded like Simon & Garfunkel or the Moody Blues, so I’d be safe playing cassette tapes of Seals & Crofts or Cat Stevens or even Crosby Stills & Nash in the car when we drove together. He liked Chicago enough to take me and my friends David Speicher and Paul Freidman and I to see them at the New Haven Coliseum, our first rock concert..
Where our tastes started to come together, and where I had my first “a-ha” moment regarding jazz, came when I played my new copy of Steely Dan’s Pretzel Logic for him. He liked the band, and pointed out the jazz references – the cop of “Song for My Father”on “Rikki Don’t Lose that Number”, the name-checking of Charlie “Bird” Parker tunes on “Parker’s Band”:
You'll be riding by, bareback on your armadillo
You'll be grooving high or relaxing at Camarillo
There was also a wah-wah filled cover of Duke Ellington’s “East St. Louis Toodle-Oo” that closed the first side of the record. Pretty heady stuff for a 14 year old to digest.
Return to Forever – “Majestic Dance”
At the start of my junior year in high school, I was hipped to a band that had just played the area called Return to Forever. Apparently they had a 22 year old guitar player named Al DiMeola who put the rock gods of the day to shame.. Something to check out.
It was in the Trumbull Public Library, of all places, that I found Romantic Warrior. This music was something entirely new to me. The group played instrumental sounds on electric instruments, and they weren’t afraid to play them loud. I really liked it.
Stan Getz – “Captain Marvel”
I was listening to Romantic Warrior in my bedroom one evening when Dad came in to check out what the musical ruckus was about. He asked who – actually, I think he said “what” – it was, and I pointed to the borrowed record jacket on the floor. He picked it up and in a few words, changed my musical compass forever.
“Oh, sure. Chick Corea. I liked him when he played with Stan Getz. But not this stuff. Listen to it with your earphones, okay?’
I had to get this straight. My Dad – Frank Sinatra-listening, Steely Dan-tolerating Dad – listened to Chick Corea? Liked Chick Corea?
He came back into my bedroom a minute later and flipped an album onto my bed. It was a two record reissue on Verve called The Chick Corea/Bill Evans Sessions and had a record’s worth of Corea playing piano in a quartet that included Stan Getz. When I got around to listening to it, I had to admit that it was pretty good. What Chick Corea played then was a far cry from the wild electric sounds he made with Return to Forever, but hey, the record was recorded in 1967, before half of that equipment had been invented. In retrospect, what amazed me the most was that a jazz-rock hero who attracted high school fans like Chick Corea had come from a straight-ahead jazz band that attracted a previous generation. Rock musicians that I listened to and held in high esteem didn’t seem to come from other bands, much less completely other genres.
Jeff Beck – “Cause We’ve Ended as Lovers”
Soon after the Great Chick Corea Awakening, I was introduced to two other guitar albums that further changed my musical perspective. My main radio station was New Haven’s WPLR-FM, and their number one album of the year in 1975 (the year I turned 16) was “Blow by Blow” by veteran British guitarist Jeff Beck. Not only had I never heard of Jeff Beck at the time, but the album sounded nothing like anything else on the radio at the time. Completely instrumental, and produced by George Martin of Beatles fame, “Blow by Blow” featured all the toys that ‘70’s guitarists lived for, including the “talk box”. ‘PLR loved Beck’s talk box-infused version of the Beatles “She’s a Woman”, giving it heavy rotation. They played the two songs Stevie Wonder gave Beck as well, the ballad “’Cause We’ve Ended as Lovers” and the jittery “Thelonious”. Hearing these songs between Lynyrd Skynyrd, Led Zeppelin and Little Feat in a Stoneman set could be a startling experience. Clearly, electric guitar could go places and makes sounds that I hadn’t thought of before.
George Benson – “Breezin’”
The other guitar album that reshaped my way of thinking about music, and jazz in particular, I first heard at my friend Brian Tracey’s house. His younger brother was learning to play guitar and had become obsessed with an album by George Benson, called “Breezin’” Benson was a bona fide jazz player, a real guitar hero who had cut seminal soul-jazz albums for Prestige and Blue Note while still in his teens. Perusing my Dad’s record collection one day after being forced to listen to the album over and over at Brian’s house, I found he owned a copy of “White Rabbit”, a Benson album from 1971. “Breezin’” became the first album that I recommended to my Dad and he not only bought, but thought was great. Even today, when some parts of the album seem overly polished and smoothed out, I really enjoy the way Benson’s guitar slides through the strings on the title track, or the way he works through and around Phil Upchurch’s guitar and Ronny Foster’s keyboards.
By the time I began college at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, the seeds had been well watered, and jazz was germinating. College buddies turned me on to Pat Metheny (another guitar player), Keith Jarrett (my Dad turned out to already own a copy of “The Koln Concert”) and especially Miles Davis. I saw Grover Washington, Jr play on campus, along with the likes of Phil Woods, Ron Carter and yes, my Dad’s favorite guitar player, Joe Pass. There was a whole world of music to explore. Jazz was cool. I liked jazz. A lot.