Harmon Mute… But Not for Long

It’s been a wild ride with “Making Life Swing,” and a long time since I posted anything, but I’m getting back to the grindstone and hope to share more great interviews here soon. Life happens and apparently, a whole year can go by without a post. Fortunately, it is not for lack of material.

At first I didn’t know A) where I would find anyone to interview for “Making Life Swing” and B) if they would let me ask them questions for this project. Amazingly, my subjects would graciously agree to be interviewed, and as I predicted, had quite a lot to say about creating music for television. At first I had lofty ambitions (and still do) for a book. But the blog took on a life of its own as an organic and easily shared sketchbook for an eventual tome.

Numerous individuals – along with those who have graciously shared their experiences here – have been generous with their time, expertise, and knowledge. The list is only going to get longer by the time I’m done with this project, but for now, I particularly want to thank Doug McCarthy, whose misspent youth led him to experience glory days of the real – not the “La La Land” version – Lighthouse Cafe in Hermosa Beach and thereby inspire my work here; Ken Poston, director of the Los Angeles Jazz Institute and an authority on West Coast Jazz; Kirk Silsbee, jazz scholar and journalist extraordinaire; and the members of Kentonia and West Coast Jazz, two Yahoo discussion groups who yielded a wealth of information and contacts.

While working on a book proposal recently, I had to state my qualifications for writing a work like “Making Life Swing.” As I had to admit in the proposal, I have none. Most books on jazz appear to be written by White males between the ages of 35- 75, who are academics or are musicians, deejays, composers, or offspring of the above.

But when I was about 13, I received a rejection slip – a very polite one at that – from no less than Seventeen Magazine, letting me know that my submission, the topic of which I cannot recall, did not meet their current editorial needs and that the editors wished me luck in my future writing endeavors. Armed with that backhanded benediction from a national magazine and my stubborn nature, I held my nose and dove into the writing life, all through middle school and high school, in college, and then into a late-blooming career in higher ed communications. I am using those skills and my lifelong love of music that tells a story, to write “Making Life Swing.”

In 2018, “Making Life Swing” was recognized with 2nd Place for an Individual Independent Blog by the Los Angeles Press Club at its Southern California Journalism Awards, and with 1st Place for an Individual Independent Blog at LAPC’s sister competition, the National Arts and Entertainment Journalism Awards.

Because I work in education and because the artists I have interviewed are also teachers at heart, whether formally or informally, the last two people I really should thank for now are my teachers, the late Jolene Combs and Kevin Post. Ms. Combs taught me old-school journalism ethics and a reporter’s determination at Redondo Union High School and El Camino College. Mr. Post, my 8th grade homeroom teacher at Adams Middle School showed me that a thesaurus could be my best friend. Both saw a light go on in my young mind and worked to keep it burning brighter all the time.

Terry Gibbs, the 94-year-old vibraphonist and former musical director of “The Steve Allen Show,” told me that when he played with younger musicians, “After a few bars [they were all together] the same age.” The best teachers treat their students with that kind of respect – as if they already can do the work, but just need a little help.

One of the most significant things I’ve learned so far from “Making Life Swing” is that jazz in particular, is one art form where artists from all walks of life work together to create music that seeks to portray with bold strokes the joy, pain, and wonder that is life. In the process, they all share and learn from one another, regardless of age or experience. If that model could be adapted to other human endeavors, our experiences would be that much richer, harmonious, and productive.

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