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Falling In Love Supreme: How Jazz Found Paul Conley
If you’re a longtime CapRadio listener you may remember me as a jazz disc jockey from 1991-2001 (bless you if you do!). Or you might have caught one of the Jazz Profiles documentaries I produced for NPR, hosted by singer Nancy Wilson in the late 90’s. Maybe you heard an All Things Considered piece I did in more recent years on local jazzman Joe Gilman or jazz legend Dave Brubeck.
Or maybe -- and most likely -- you don’t know me from Adam!
That’s ok. For the sake of this article just know that I’m a jazz fan who’s been blessed to indulge my passion while sharing it with listeners as an employee of Capital Public Radio.
But where did that passion come from?
It’s a question I’ve given a lot of thought to, and the answer I found kind of surprised me.
First of all, I would never have a job at CapRadio if I hadn’t first discovered – fresh out of college in the mid 80’s – Gary Vercelli’s program “Jazz International” on KXPR. I was living in Stockton, working at my family’s restaurant, and listening to Gary’s compelling nightly mix of John Coltrane, Emily Remler, Joe Henderson, Dianne Reeves, John Scofield and so many other jazz artists who would become personal favorites.
It was a mind-expanding, soul-enriching time for me that led to my being hired here. But it wasn’t where my passion for jazz began.
Was the seed planted at UCLA where I hosted a weekly jazz radio show and ran a monthy jazz concert series? No. I was a jazz lover before that, too.
Maybe it was while playing in my high school jazz band? Or during trips to Tower Records to buy the latest Crusaders or Jeff Lorber Fusion lp’s? No, still not when the jazz bug bit.
OK, how about Junior High when I saw my first big band concert at Delta College and discovered jazz on public radio station KUOP (now part of CapRadio)?
Nope. Not then either.
Here’s what I finally realized as I reflected on how my relationship with jazz got started.
It wasn’t while listening to other people play this music that I learned to love it. It was while seated at our family’s Baldwin spinet as a grade schooler doing everything I could to avoid practicing my scales. That’s right, blame it on piano lessons! Having a really hip piano teacher named Mrs. Billingsley didn’t hurt either.
Sure, I played my share of Bach and Beethoven, but not very well. Then Mrs. B. got me a book called The Joy of Jazz. In it were easy versions of classic tunes by jazz/swing heavyweights: Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Jimmy Dorsey, Fats Waller, and Sy Oliver. From that book I discovered the beautiful harmony of a major 7th chord and learned how to play boogie woogie bass lines. I worked my way through ragtime syncopation and quirky bebop melodies. Soon I realized I could improvise a little bit too, and that’s when the deal was sealed. Jazz was part of me.
What’s remarkable is that I didn’t start listening to jazz until many years later. In some cases it took a couple of decades – not until after I started working at Capital Public Radio -- that I heard recordings of tunes I first discovered in The Joy of Jazz.
How did I fall in love with jazz? You might say jazz found me through my fingers before it ever hit my ears.
This is part of a series about how our music hosts fell in love with the artform of jazz.
We're inviting you to share your story of how you came to love jazz, in 200 words or less. Email your essay to email@example.com before February 14. We’ll read the top submissions on air and award several prizes.
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August 20, 2019