“I’ll Remember April,” as the time last year that I embarked on “Making Life Swing.” I learned a lot more than I ever expected to learn, not just about the past and present of the jazz world.
I learned about the people who live and work in that world and the stories that feed their creation of music. Not only were they all consummate professionals in their respective fields – which were not only limited to musicians, composers, and arrangers – but they were passionate, driven, and humble human beings. They had committed themselves, usually early in life, to a type of music that to the average person has all the threadbare glamour of an old wooden tennis racket in its worn-out press, found in the inner recesses of Grandpa’s garage or worse yet, in a forgotten corner of a museum. You’ll ooh and aah over it, and marvel at how the game was played “back in the day.” But the average person wouldn’t pick the thing up and play a match with it.
Unlike an outdated piece of sports equipment, the jazz genre is very much as vibrant and valid today, not just musically, but socially. It still enjoys the strength of not only its practitioners but of the community of their fans, family, and friends that support it. The most popular post on MLS is an interview with Angela Levey, widow of the legendary drummer Stan Levey, and their son Chris, who generously shared their experiences as a Southern California family in the mid-20th Century. Their story is buoyed by Stan’s personal and professional drive as a musician, his place in history as a protégé of Dizzy Gillespie and one of the very few White artists who gave birth to bebop, the great love story of Angela and Stan, and the musical aspirations of Chris and his brother and half-brother – who were dissuaded from a musician’s life by their famous father, who wanted much more for his sons.
Listening to my transcripts, I found myself italicizing certain words that seemed to demand that treatment. I’ve been urged to video-record my interviews, but that would make the project something that is isn’t meant to be. The internet has a bounty of great interviews, visuals and the voices of this accomplished cadre of musicians, composers, and arrangers.
In my interview with drummer Peter Erskine, he spoke of how the great film composer John Williams once said to him regarding a film track, “That is going to look really nice.” That being said, I kept to prose here because I wanted the reader to really be able to listen through the printed page.
In these verbatim interviews, my subjects have revealed that to play jazz is to play music born of perseverance, patience, and of listening to your fellow musicians tell you how they are feeling musically. Other humanistic themes emerged as well. Erskine describes jazz as a genre where musicians pay it forward, sharing with and teaching their colleagues as equals, not as rivals. Teodross Avery, in the middle of his career both as a musician and an academic, talks about how young musicians learn from their elders, both formally or by subtle examples “on the job.” And record producer and jazz historian Jordi Pujol talks about learning to love West Coast jazz all the way over in sunny Spain. In addition, throughout these narratives are woven the threads of social justice, tradition, education, and quite simply, love.
Speaking of love, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the uber-swingin’ art that graces the homepage. The lovely and talented Shiho Nakaza has been my best friend for longer than either of us probably want to admit. Whether we are waiting for a table at a restaurant, watching the Cubbies win at Wrigley Field, or hearing a Latin jazz concert at LACMA, her beautiful expressions of the world around her magically appear at her fingertips. Her drawing of the band at a tribute to the late West Coast sax giant Dave Pell draws (no pun intended) great admiration from everyone I’ve handed my business card to or directed to this blog.
I am happy to report that “Making Life Swing” has been recognized by the Los Angeles Press Club this year with 2nd Place for an Individual Blog. My esteemed co-winners in this category are California Rocker and Today Past.
That we three have received these honors is immense. First off, it shows that the idea of citizen bloggers has achieved true legitimacy within today’s sphere of journalism. Being recognized on the same list of finalists with icons such as LA Weekly, The Los Angeles Times, and KCET, gives blogging a ton of street cred. But more importantly, two music blogs and a history blog being honored thusly shows that what we need right now is good news about people making the world a better place through their art and also that we need to look back in order to move forward.
I hope that with “Making Life Swing,” you dear reader, can experience both.