One year ago, to commemorate the one hundredth anniversary of the first jazz recording, we embarked on a project to capture the greatest living jazz performers of our time.
Their words, their music, their stories.
And so, the “Jazz Stories” series was born.
Access to talent is, was and remains the hardest obstacle to overcome.
That being said; I was thrilled and extremely lucky to have received a “YES” from an amazing array of talent. From the youngest; 14 year old piano player Joey Alexander to 93 year old drumming legend Roy Haynes.
Then there was Wynton Marsalis.
The man carried Jazz on his back during a few decades when the music had trouble maintaining anything but a core audience.
Wynton’s “yes” to us gave us an early endorsement to other artists.
He gave us a behind the scene look at his “Jazz at Lincoln Center” mentorship of talented young players from all over the country.
Can you image being a teenaged horn player sitting in with and mentored by the great Wynton Marsalis? He remains the most generous spirit and the “Conscience of Jazz”.
Wynton spoke of his own upbringing, his dad Ellis a piano player and music teacher in New Orleans and how he and his brothers would run out the backdoor as cousin Alvin Batiste would come in the front door with clarinet in hand looking to pin the boys down for a four hour practice session.
He can still hear the Alvin’s words ringing in his ears, “Hey, man you got your horn?”
That’s the thing about Jazz Musicians. It’s about the community, connection and collaboration. The willingness to pass on the knowledge.
Roy Haynes had already developed a reputation in his hometown of Boston when Joe Jones, the drummer for Count Basie reached out invite him to New York.
Roy’s image is forever captured in what is widely considered the greatest photograph in Jazz. Taken on Sept. 13, 1953, a date at a club called the Open Door in Greenwich Village by Photographer Bob Parent .
Arguably the greatest quartet ever assembled : Roy Haynes on Drums, Charles Mingus on Bass, Thelonius Monk on Piano and Charlie Parker on Saxophone. One could only imagine what that night must’ve been like.
“I was playing with some great people, I was enjoying it.” Haynes told us.
Jimmy Heath, 91 years old, saxophone player, the diminutive “Little Bird” transports us back to a time in Philadelphia when he was a young band leader.
One afternoon in 1947 Charlie “Bird” Parker asked to sit in.
Heath gave Parker his horn and stills laughs describing John Coltrane’s face, stunned and amazed by Parker, overwhelmed and mouth agape in paralyzed awe.
Jimmy spent many years a professor of music at Queens College and still in demand as a performer.
As we sat with Jimmy in July of 2017 he received an urgent call from “The Blue Note”. It went like this : “This Saturday?...I can’t do it, I’m playing this Saturday. Hey when is the (my) Big Band playing the Blue Note?...December? oh ok. Bye”
Time and again, the same names come up. Parker, Thelonious Monk, the great piano innovator and; of course, Miles Davis.
Sonny Rollins, the Saxophone Colossus, now 87 years old, recalled in previous “Modern Masters” profile that Monk was a huge early supporter of his career.
They were very much alike. Sonny remembers Monk telling him “Hey Sonny, without music life would be (expletive).” Said Sonny, “ Yeah, man that’s exactly how I feel what else is there in the world but music”.
Monk and Sonny spent their lives seeking their elusive “Lost Cord’. “I spent my life trying to find it, and I still am” Sonny lamented.
Sonny is now quietly retired in Woodstock, NY. He remains available to musicians and journalists alike.
He has donated his entire archive of music and life’s papers to the Schomburg Center of the New York Public Library.
Monk’s influence remains very much part of the Jazz Scene today.
Joey Alexander, the incredibly gifted child phenom, now 14 years old has dedicated an entire album to Monk inspired music to great acclaim.
We interviewed him before a show at Hunter College in Manhattan and explained Monk’s appeal …”He was so very playful.”
Jazz Fusion Innovator Chick Corea, similarly performed a series of dates at “Jazz at Lincoln Center” dedicated to and inspired by Monk.
“He (Monk) demonstrated at the time, when it was really needed and still needed today, the freedom of expression. Right? Monk was free.”
It was Chick’s father, Armando, a jazz trumpeter, who first exposed his son to the music of Miles Davis.
Chick would later join one of the famed incarnations of the Miles Davis Quintet having replaced Herbie Hancock.
There are so many leaves on the Miles Davis tree, they could block out the sun.
Musicians carry his name on their performing resumes as a badge of honor.
Ron Carter, “String Bass, String Bass, String Bass”.
Proudly identifying as the “Most Recorded Jazz Bassist” in history, Carter shared his love and admiration for Miles.
Miles told him to compare their work to a chemistry lab. “I provide the chemicals .. Miles told him. It was up to the band to create the mixture.”
Miles loved the players in his band, but he wasn’t above messing with them. Carter recalled how Miles would try to influence them during a show
“He would come over and whisper Slower, Slower..” and Carter laughed as he remembered saying to him.. ”Miles, don’t talk to me when I’m playing.” With that Miles would flash him a mischievous smile.
Miles Davis is misunderstood by many according to Heath. “Some people thought it was disrespectful when Miles turned his back to the audience. But we was getting out of the way of the other players, Trane or Cannonball. It was a sign of respect.”
Added Heath, “Miles was respectful and he paid good. Miles was always cool, man.“
"Jazz Stories can be viewed on YouTube.com/fox5ny