Fifteen Years, Chasing a Sound

I suppose it’s well past time I told this story.

Imagine a bar in Baltimore, in the heart of the city, with a Monday night open-mic Jazz jam.

Suppose that most of the musicians who showed up to play there likely had parents who listened to a lot of Motown (where mine listened to Glen Campbell and Neil Diamond). Suppose that they heard The Temptations and Parliament Funkadelic on their radios while growing up (where I heard “Don’t Stop Believin'” and “More Than a Feeling”).

And they knew their Jazz, which these days takes a serious amount of diligent study to really know well enough to play. And they seriously knew their Jazz.

People see things through the lens of their previous experiences. So, suppose these real Jazz musicians brought some reflection of their Motown/P-Funk foundation to their Jazz playing. Not falling into the trap that “backbeat Jazz” eventually fell into. (Author Michael Chabon wrote an interesting story on what he called “backbeat Jazz” for Rolling Stone magazine: more info.) But where much Jazz swings, some of it grooves.

Suppose that the drummers explored the creativity that is possible within the context of rock-solid beats. Suppose the bassists admired the likes of Rocco Prestia.

Suppose that a much-younger me finds such a place, quite by chance. A vocalist who had listened to a lot of Queen, Rush, and Prince years before he got anything of a Jazz education, and whose Jazz education was very recent and not yet “integrated” with his other musical experiences. A guy starting an on-again, off-again exploration of the vast history of Jazz, looking for the pieces that feel like they fit.

A guy who already had a deep appreciation of Bluesy vocal inflection, but had not yet done a 5-year stint in a mostly-SRV-inspired Blues band. One who had not yet discovered the Organ Jazz sub-sub-genre. Ready, but green.

Can you imagine it? Harmonic structures and rhythmic complexities that move the intellect. Beats that move the body. Melodies that move the heart and soul. (I don’t mean to imply that the drumming wasn’t heart-movingly soulful, nor the singing non-rhythmic. Just painting a story.)

Suppose a guitarist showed up every once and a while who was juuuuust a little bit on the prog-rock side of the jazz-fusion equation. Just a pinch. For seasoning.

I’m not saying that this is where my current musical sensibilities are. I’ve since had 15 years of experiences to inform and shape the musician that I am today. I have a fuller appreciation of straight Blues, and of straight Jazz, than I did then. Improvisation—or at least, an improviser’s approach to making music—is a very present force in my musical life right now. And I might be in the throes of trying to re-integrate “acappella” (in quotation marks because it would be like “acappella plus instruments”).

I’m just saying: is it any wonder that I gravitated toward the funky and the jazzy in my Blues band? Is it any wonder that I gravitated toward the funky and the bluesy in my Jazz bands? Can you imagine the impression that this experience must have had on an impressionable early-career musician?

Can you imagine what such a thing would sound like 15 years later, now that it has been exposed to so much more stuff and has perhaps matured a bit?

I can. And I really, really want to play it for you.

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