The theme for today’s Old School Friday is “the Greatest of All Time.” As usual, the creators of this meme have purposefully left open interpretation of the theme—and a look around the OSF participants reveals the usual high degree of creativity folks came up with in applying their own lenses.
I think I will do something a little different. I will focus on the greatest art form ever created by the young country we call the United States of America. That art form is jazz music. I know this heres a fightin’ words kind of topic among jazz fans, but I think that—hands down—the greatest jazz album of all time is Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue.
Listen to the whole album here on Last.fm.
I’d really, however, like to dedicate this OSF to all those jazz musicians who are not well known. All those people who play on street corners or in subway stations…who gig in small neighborhood clubs and at the zoo’s “jamming with the animals” programs…who learn brass and percussion and improvisation in high school jazz band.
When I was growing up, everything “extra” I ever got was because of my mother’s jazz gigs that she got in addition to her full time teaching or other jobs. My private telephone, my prom dress, my summer leadership camp—my own saxophone for jazz band. All thanks to the tips she got in her “kitty jar”—an extra large brandy snifter that sat atop her piano and that she primed with a couple of bucks of her own to cue folks in to what they were supposed to do. She was only continuing the tradition of her own mother, who had a regular full time gig for much of her adult life.
Some of my favorite memories of my mother, and the true mark that I had reached adulthood, was when I would come home from college and go out to jazz clubs with her. There is a tradition in the community of jazz musicians that when you have a gig, you invite fellow jazz musicians who are in your audience to sit in with you for a tune or two. To snub a colleague was to risk not getting a recommendation from them in the future, or an opportunity to sub for them, or certainly the chance to be asked to sit in with them in return. It was always quite incredible to listen to her perform with these musicians. She became someone else on stage, and for a time, took me with her.
My mother’s name would not be known to you. Unless you happen to be one of her thousands of former students or unless you happen to be familiar with the Indianapolis community jazz scene of the 70s and 80s. But the next time you are having drinks in a bar and you see the vocalist or trio performing on the small stage up front, or are waiting on the 5:12 to take you home and you see the brother blowing “Satin Doll” on his horn, please drop a five or ten into the kitty jar or open saxophone case for my Moms. And know that you are helping to continue the greatest music of our, and possibly all, time.
Happy Old School Friday!