Reconstructing my jazz influences...

In my commitment to cutting back on blog postings - mostly to focus my
thinking and create more time for practicing the upright bass and guitar - I want to focus today's reflection on my earliest encounters with jazz. It was not a musical style that was honored or celebrated in my parents' home. My dad loved show tunes, traditional romantic classical compositions in addition to Protestant choir music and the occasional country and western tune. My mother's tastes were less eclectic centering on both Elvis Presley and the jump band songs of the 1940s that drove her love of jitter-bugging. 

As a young child, I can recall coming home from the grocery store with my father who was thrilled at scoring a fresh vinyl copy of Tchaikovsky "1813 Overture" backed by Rossini's "The William Tell Overture." Back in the late 50s and early 60s suburban retail merchants were giving away "free" things, from dinner ware and cocktail glasses to stereophonic classical 33 1/3 long playing albums, and my dad regularly scarped up whatever was being handed out on that Saturday. There was the ubiquitous Mitch Miller, too whom I later learned had been the head of the A & R division of Columbia Records during this era.We sang folk songs and Christmas carols in the car, we sang hymns coming home from church and all three little Lumsdens took music lessons at a young age. My brother claimed the trumpet, my sister the violin and I bounced around trying both the accordion and the cello (early foreshadowing of my penchant for genre-bending?)

The music I recall hearing first - which still makes me bop - was early rock and roll. My Aunt Donna, just five years older than me, turned me on to Little Richard's "Long Tall Sally" at a tender age - and I was hooked. Later we would watch "American Bandstand" together in the late afternoon so that before I was even in first grade I knew how to do "the Stroll" along with Dion and the Belmonts. When American pop took a nose dive towards schlock (e.g. Bobby Rydell et al) I found myself grooving to the sounds of Saint Saens and his "Danse Macabre." For some unknown reason, my fourth grade class started a music appreciation contest and I jumped in with abandon and stayed a classical geek until the Beatles broke on to the scene.
So where's the jazz, you ask? Like many kids of that time the first jazz I knew about was a cover of Vince Guaraldi's "Cast Your Fate to the Wind." It had been popularized in 1965 by Sounds Orchestral and based on a 1963 recording. It seems that when the producer of the "Peanuts" TV special, "A Charlie Brown Christmas," was searching for a soundtrack he heard the original tune in a taxi cab while crossing the Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco. He phoned SF Examiner jazz critic, Ralph J. Gleason, who put him in touch with North Beach jazz man Guaraldi and the rest is history. Since that time, I have loved the haunting and evocative melody of this song as well as subsequent renditions by both George Winston and David Benoit. 

The next year Cannonball Adderley had a huge crossover hit with Joe Zawinal's "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy" and that groove knocked me on my young ass. Little did I know at the time that Adderley had been sax man with Miles and that Zawinal would later go on to partner with Miles in fusion before forming Weather Report with Jaco Pastorius and Wayne Shorter (another Miles protegee.) All I knew in 1966 is that I wanted to make music that was that phat and funky!
Six other early influences are also important to note after the Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper" blew everyone out of the water and opened hitherto locked doors wide open:

+ Pentangle: I loved everything these cats did between 1967-1970. They were brilliant at weaving English/Celtic folk melodies into jazz/blues compositions. And their bass man, Danny Thompson, was the first upright bass player that I gave serious attention both because he was so cool and his sound resonated in my heart. I still love the way this man plays.

+ Joni Mitchell: I'm reading a new book length interview by Ms. Mitchell and it is clear that from her earliest recordings, she was moving into a jazz groove. She states it clearly when she confesses, "Miles taught me to sing." The rock band, The Byrds, felt that way about Coltrane (as the intro to "Eight Miles High" makes clear.) But Joni Mitchell was more inventive and creative and as her music matured, she found that only jazz players could give expression to her compositions.

+ Paul Winter: I heard an early incarnation of what became the Paul Winter Consort one night at the Fillmore East in 1968. A member of the Kinks had contracted hepatitis and the band cancelled their performance. So, being the business man extraordinaire that he was, Bill Graham shifted the line up and opened the show with Paul Winter.  His sax playing got into my soul in that old rock and roll emporium and I've ached to work his wisdom and passion into my music ever since that night.

+ Herbie Mann: to me brother Mann IS the man - he is just so funky and fun. When I first heard "Comin' Home Baby" I was hooked, but it was a few of his later albums like "Push, Push" and "Muscle Shoals Nitty Gritty" that pushed my bass playing into a new feel in the early 70s.

+ Grover Washington: For many jazz purists, his "smooth jazz" thing is anathema - and mostly I agree. But there have been times, especially in the 1980s, when I loved to hear his tender and sweet saxophone - especially his 1988 "Then and Now" - an album I still find comforting and just right. There were many a night in Cleveland when I took comfort in this album.

+ Oregon: these cats took the Pentangle angle and pushed it towards world music with Paul Winter insights. I discovered their album, "Distant Hills" , in the St. Louis public library in 1973 and I couldn't stop playing it. I find that this whole album still shapes how my mind works when constructing a gig.

Have you ever reconstructed a musical history of your earliest musical influences? Or literary or artistic influences?  Give it a try...


ddl said…
Oh, what a wonderful idea-- to do a kind of timeline of influences (literary, artistic, spiritual...). Most times, people (in workshops, etc) ask for a chronological timeline...this is a thoughtful idea and a different spin...

And that song by Joni Mitchell-- Amelia-- I've never heard that before-- it talks about flying, like Amelia Earhart(sp?) and Icarus (like climbing too high, or reaching too high...) and love/false alarms too.

Your posting evokes much reflection. Alas, I am going to have to re-return at a later point...time for tucking in the children...Grandparents are here too...and there is a rally at Union Station tomorrow night and I hope to go.
RJ said…
I hope you will share your reflections, ok? I am really curious to see how this shakes out. Rest well.

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