The windows are open 24-7, and the oscillating fan’s in overdrive. My arms feel like heated pads. My legs burn slowly under that grill we call the sun. Summer’s almost here, which means it’s time to revive the Wrazz from its unintended slumber.
I wish I could say I was too busy to maintain my orphaned blog, but that’s not entirely true. Work is steady, but not so overwhelming I couldn’t drop the occasional line. Instead I watched my hits grow cold, tumbling into the Tall Man‘s embrace. Not that I didn’t quietly monitor its dwindling activity. For the most part, my “audience,” such as it is, continued flocking to outdated wrestling summaries. Here, John Cena is forever WWE champion, Chris Jericho a petulant bridesmaid. I still catch Raw most Mondays and visit Jim Ross’ blog whenever his dinner bell clangs through my in-box, but, hell, man, I don’t feel like staying up ’til two in the morning hyperlinking the same damn names every week and trying to find new ways to describe the pint-sized Rey Mysterio‘s latest impossible flight.
Which makes me feel kinda bad, really. The Daily Wrazz was, for one, supposed to be daily. But that wasn’t a pace I felt like maintaining. I like the written word too much to just barf whatever for the sake of exposure. The Wrazz was also supposed to be a fusion of “wrestling” and “jazz,” two seemingly unrelated passions. Well, I flogged the Wr but left the azz weeping dockside. I’m trying to rectify this. God knows, I get so many hours of music delivered to my door each week as Under the Radar‘s jazz editor, I have no shortage of material.
Y’know, I don’t think I’ve ever written about how I came to jazz. My affection for it still comes as a shock to a lot of my friends, but it’s been part of my diet for, lessee, almost 20 years now. That said, I ain’t giving Nat Hentoff a run for his money. Francis Davis has nothing to fear. Bill Milkowski, roll over and go back to sleep. I doubt I’ll ever be able to examine jazz with a scholar’s breadth; I just love to listen. The relationship between the instruments and their manipulators. The vibe of a good quartet. The elasticity of an improv boomeranging back into a structured arrangement, and why I respond with joy.
My initial interest was historical, almost clinical. In 1991 I was writing a short story involving teenagers set in 1921, and I spent a lot of time interviewing what few firsthand survivors remained (much to their bemusement, I think) or at the local library shoveling through microfilm and searching for music. Most of what I unearthed were scratchy Follies-type recordings transferred to cassette, which I then committed to my own mixtapes that I’d play while writing. I also bought a handful of Dixieland collections, and holy shit, was that ever an eye-opener. After I finished my story, which had evolved into a nostalgic fantasy, I listened to those songs again and again, marveling over stuff like “Basin Street Blues.” It all sounded so long ago, yet so alive and sad and happy and urgent and lonesome, dirty, and dreamy. (Dixieland was also the first time I ever heard the banjo used strictly to keep rhythm — no effusive breakdowns.)
A few years later, of course, jazz was briefly back in vogue thanks to a dalliance with hip-hop, a union that worked to varying degrees. I was smitten with Digable Planets’ Reachin’ (A New Refutation of Time and Space) (though I was more into their much-ignored follow-up, Blowout Comb), but when I picked up Guru’s original Jazzmatazz, which featured not borrowed samples but the flesh ‘n’ blood Donald Byrd honking in real-time, I was in love. “Loungin’,” Guru bobbed, “I’m mellowed out and just loungin’.” That’s how I planned to cruise through the ’90s too: melting into couches, cold beer in grip, basement walls expanding to thumped-out grooves.
The first real jazz album I ever bought was John Coltrane’s Blue Train, 1994. Ten bucks at Fred Meyer. Sweet cover. Couldn’t pass it up. Got it home and chilled as September 15, 1957, romped through my living room. That title cut, man. Wuhnuhnuhnuhnuhhhhh UNGK! UNGK! Wuhnuhnuhnuhnuhhhhh UNGK! UNGK! The sound of my gateway drug. I still recommend that and Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue to anyone curious enough to toe-dip. Willful drowning is guaranteed.
Right now I’m absorbing Sonny Rollins’ Saxophone Colossus. That came in the mail too (along with some Red Garland and Art Tatum sessions). Max Roach on drums, knocking shit out of the way. It’s so damn pleasurable I want to stop writing, roll onto my back, and watch patterns dance across the ceiling. Tomorrow I’ll check out Dave Douglas’ Brass Ecstasy, first for fun, then for scrutiny. But, really, how could anyone not love this stuff?