Younger siblings have the luxury of watching and learning from their elders, which is exactly how I came to love jazz. My brother played trombone in the high school jazz band and when I was in middle school, I got to hear them play “String of Pearls” and “Stompin’ at the Savoy” at their inaugural concert. It was an eye-opener. I’d heard jazz before, but wasn’t into it. There was nothing to grasp melodically like there was in pop music. But there’s a type of jazz for everyone and, at the time, big-band was right up my alley. There’s a lot to love about jazz from that era: whistle-able melodies, dance-able tempos, loud shout choruses from the brass, and clear beats from the rhythm section. So I bought a Glenn Miller “best-of” compilation and started listening.
I worked my way through the American Songbook via Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington and loved putting names to songs I’d heard on TV and in movies. “Sing, Sing, Sing” and “Little Brown Jug” became favorites. And, of course, I started listening to Excellence In Jazz. While I’ll always have a spot in my heart for the jazz that got me interested, I realized there was a whole world of jazz to explore. I tapped my foot to the syncopation in Miles Davis’s “Milestones.” I came to believe there is no cooler collaboration than Paul Desmond and Dave Brubeck. And when I heard Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers’ “Moanin,’” it spoke to me like no other. By that time I had joined the high school jazz band just like my brother. I got to learn about jazz by listening and playing. To be part of this new groove was a different kind of fun than I’d experienced before.
My brother and I still love jazz and talk about it from time to time. At one strange point, we both worked in jazz radio (I was here at Capital Public Radio; he was in Long Beach at KKJZ). I wonder what would have happened if my brother had joined a polka band in high school. This might have been a very different blog entry.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org before February 14. We’ll read the top submissions on air and award several prizes.