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Falling In Love Supreme: Uncle Sam’s Jukebox

Allen Morrison is a respected jazz journalist who contributes to Down Beat and Jazz Times. He has also worked as a publicist for major recording artists, a government spokesman, and a communications director for major public agencies. A native New Yorker, Allen continues to follow the live jazz scene in the jazz Mecca of New York City.

When I was a little kid growing up on Long Island in the mid-1960s, I had a voracious appetite for all kinds of music - pop, classical, movie music, TV themes - especially by Henry Mancini, who was one of my favorites. I played piano by ear, and I played everything I heard. My parents also sent me for classical piano lessons starting at the age of seven. 

When I was about nine years old, I was very fortunate to have an uncle who we called "Uncle Sam, the Jukebox Man."  Sammy ran a successful business installing coin-operated jukeboxes throughout the New York area, which he kept supplied with all the current 45-rpm singles of the era. One miraculous day, Sammy showed up at our house with his truck and proceeded to unload a classic Wurlitzer Rock-Ola jukebox - he had an extra and put it in our rec room. Thereafter, he would visit periodically and refresh our supply of 45's.  

Because Sammy had to stock restaurants and bars in every part of New York, he had more than just the Top 40 - he had records from people I had never heard of - records like "Watermelon Man" by Mongo Santamaria, and "Desafinado" by Charlie Byrd & Stan Getz.  This was heady stuff for a 9 year old. I couldn't imagine who listened to music like this - certainly nobody I knew in my sheltered suburban town - but I'd close my eyes and dream about other worlds where musicians played these songs and people I could barely imagine danced to them. And then I'd head to the piano and try to duplicate them.  

In 1964, my parents switched me to a nearby jazz piano teacher named Bob Niedig. The single of "The Girl From Ipanema" had just come out, and I really fell under its spell. My teacher wrote out the changes for me. That song turned my head around - especially the middle eight. It just went places harmonically that my little 10-year-old mind couldn't conceive. That really got me interested in the harmonic and rhythmic possibilities of jazz - an interest that has lasted a lifetime and taken me to some really interesting places, including covering jazz festivals in the US, Canada and Brazil.

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