“Whistlin’ the Bird” — Two True Jazz Stories by Bob Hecht

Part 1: Confirmation (1969)

 

     It wouldn’t be the first time my penchant for whistling jazz tunes got me in trouble…nor the last.

     I’d been crazy about whistling from my boyhood. Perhaps I inherited my obsession from my late father. He wasn’t a jazz fan like I am, and I barely even remember him whistling—he wasn’t around much when I was a boy and he died when I was twelve—but my mom later told me he was an outstanding whistler. “He could do triple tonguing and everything,” she said.

     So maybe it was in my DNA. But at any rate, after his death I determinedly taught myself to whistle. I have a good ear and decent sense of pitch, so I found I could easily get in sync with whatever music I was hearing. And then I practiced and practiced, whistling along with jazz compositions and solos for years until I got

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September 17th, 2018

“Jazz and Democracy” — by Bob Hecht

     As someone who both adores the best qualities that jazz has to offer, and abhors our current national politics of polarization, I’m often struck by how the two realms of jazz and politics so dramatically conflict, in their respective expressions of two great American inventions.

     It’s not supposed to be like that, though, because jazz and democracy,  theoretically at least, share so many core principles.

     Jazz, I believe, contains the best of democratic values. In jazz, everyone has a ‘voice’ and a

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August 1st, 2018

A true jazz story — “The Sober Years” by Robert Hecht

From a small balcony above the stage of the Maybeck Recital Hall in Berkeley, I’m looking down on the jazz duo of bassist Red Mitchell and pianist Roger Kellaway, while tapping my foot to the earthy, swinging beat they are laying down.

It’s a Sunday afternoon in 1992 at this unique venue. The recital hall is part of a house originally built by the famed architect Bernard Maybeck in the early twentieth century. (Maybeck designed the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco, along with many other notable buildings in that city.) The hall accommodates only about 50 people, and it’s a warm, redwood-paneled room with beautiful leaded glass windows on three sides. It actually feels a lot like being in a little chapel—but the religion being worshipped here is that of acoustic jazz, primarily of the pianistic variety.

For several years now, ‘The Maybeck’ as it’s familiarly called, has hosted a who’s-who of

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July 5th, 2018

A true jazz story: “Woody ‘n Me” — by Robert Hecht

I’m driving up Raymond Boulevard toward downtown Newark. In the darkness the huge lighted sign atop the Public Service Electric & Gas Company serves as a beacon for approaching the city. Yet tonight something is off with the sign, and I laugh out loud as I see that its ‘L’ has burned out…and that it is now offering ‘PUBIC SERVICE’ to the community!

I am on my way to work at radio station WHBI where I am a staff announcer but also produce a nightly jazz show. On the car seat next to me is my

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May 21st, 2018

Three takes on Louis Armstrong

One afternoon at the age of ten, lightning strikes.

Alone in our ramshackle wood-frame house in Hartford, I decide to listen to some of my parents’ 45 RPM records. I watch one slide down the fat spindle and plop onto the turntable to receive the tone arm and needle. The music starts and like a bolt captures not just my ears but my whole being. It’s a guy with a gravelly voice singing something about

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April 17th, 2018

“In Your Own Sweet Way” — A Bill Evans Memory, by Robert Hecht

     It was the kind of New York night not fit for man nor beast. Sleet and wind whipping about, snow banks and ice everywhere. With my ‘49 Dodge slipping and sliding on the Village streets, I make my way to the Vanguard to catch the midnight set. The small sign outside the entrance inconspicuously announces: “Bill Evans Trio.” This is the 1962 edition of the trio, reformed after bassist Scott LaFaro’s death the year before; and this is the club where Bill had played his last sets with

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January 25th, 2018

“Bird Lives” — a memory of Charlie Parker’s Kansas City, by Robert Hecht

     The night I truly ‘got’ the shining genius of Charlie Parker I was in my girlfriend’s apartment on the Lower East Side. The year was 1961. I was nineteen, she was much older and hipper, and had turned me on not only to some great music but to getting high as well. She had all the essential jazz records, including the one on the turntable that night. It was The Fabulous Bird, on the old Jazztone label, consisting of reissues of some of Bird’s phenomenal 1947 Dial sessions. She had a very low-fi stereo—I can still see the nickel she had scotch-taped to the tone arm to keep it in the grooves. But the fidelity didn’t matter, in part at least because this evening I had just smoked a

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January 3rd, 2018

In This Issue

Maxine Gordon, author of Sophisticated Giant: The Life and Legacy of Dexter Gordon, talks about her book, and the complex life of her late husband.

Also in this issue…A new collection of jazz poetry; "On the Turntable," a new playlist of 22 recommended recordings by seven jazz artists; three new podcasts by Bob Hecht; a new “Great Encounters”; several short stories; the photography of Veryl Oakland and Charles Ingham; a new Jazz History Quiz; and lots more…

On the Turntable

This month, a playlist of 22 recently released jazz recordings, including those by Chris Potter, Sons of Kemet, Stephan Crump, Brittany Anjou, Julian Lage, Joey DeFrancesco and Antonio Sanchez

Poetry

Seventeen poets contribute 21 poems in this month’s edition…

The Joys of Jazz

In new podcasts, Bob Hecht tells three stories; one about Miles Davis’ use of space in his music, one on the mutual admiration society of Sinatra, Lady Day, and Lester Young, and the other about the train in jazz and blues music.

“What are some of your all-time favorite record album covers?”

Gary Giddins, Jimmy Heath, Fred Hersch, Joe Hagan, Maxine Gordon, Neil Tesser, Tim Page, Veronica Swift and Marcus Strickland are among the 25 writers, musicians, poets, educators, and photographers who write about their favorite album cover art

Art

“Thinking about Ida B. Wells” — a photo narrative by Charles Ingham

Jazz History Quiz #126

In 1964, along with the orchestra of arranger Lalo Schifrin (pictured), this flutist/alto sax player recorded one of the first “Jazz Masses,” and soon after studied transcendental meditation in India. He would eventually become well known as a composer of music for meditation. Who is he?

Great Encounters

Dexter Gordon tells the story of joining Louis Armstrong’s band in 1944, and how they enjoyed their intermission time.

Art

In this edition of Veryl Oakland’s “Jazz in Available Light,” photographs of Red Garland, Dizzy Gillespie and Rahsaan Roland Kirk are featured.

Short Fiction

"Strings of Solace," a short story by Kimberly Parish Davis

Interviews

Romare Bearden biographer Mary Schmidt Campbell discusses the life of the important 20th century American artist

Cover Stories with Paul Morris

In this edition, Paul writes about jazz album covers that offer glimpses into intriguing corners of the culture of the 1950’s

Short Fiction

"And so we went to Paris," a short story by Sophie Jonas-Hill

Coming Soon

National Book Award winning author for non-fiction Jeffrey Stewart is interviewed about his book The New Negro: The Life of Alain Locke...Legendary producer, Blue Note Records discographer, and Mosaic Records co-founder Michael Cuscuna talks about his life in jazz.

In the previous issue

The question “What are some of your all-time favorite record album covers?” was posed via email to a small number of prominent and diverse people, and the responses of Gary Giddins, Jimmy Heath, Fred Hersch, Joe Hagan, Maxine Gordon, Tim Page, Veronica Swift and Marcus Strickland are among the 25 writers, musicians, poets, educators, and photographers who participated...Also, the publication of the winning story in our 50th Short Fiction contest; an interview with Romare Bearden biographer Mary Schmidt Campbell; a collection of jazz poetry; two new podcasts by Bob Hecht; the March edition of "On the Turntable," and lots more...Click here to be taken to the issue.

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