“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

Interviews with three outstanding, acclaimed writers and scholars who discuss their books on Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, and Cole Porter, and their subjects’ lives in and out of music. These interviews – which each include photos and several full-length songs – provide readers easy access to an entertaining and enlightening learning experience about these three giants of American popular music.

Poetry

The winter collection of poetry offers readers a look at the culture of jazz music through the imaginative writings of its 32 contributors. Within these 41 poems, writers express their deep connection to the music – and those who play it – in their own inventive and often philosophical language that communicates much, but especially love, sentiment, struggle, loss, and joy.

Interview

NBC Radio-photo by Ray Lee Jackson / Public domain
In a Jerry Jazz Musician interview, acclaimed biographer James Kaplan (Frank: The Voice and Sinatra: The Chairman) talks about his book, Irving Berlin: New York Genius, and Berlin's unparalleled musical career and business success, his intense sense of family and patriotism during a complex and evolving time, and the artist's permanent cultural significance.

Interview

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Carl Van Vechten Collection
Richard Crawford’s Summertime: George Gershwin’s Life in Music is a rich, detailed and rewarding musical biography that describes Gershwin's work throughout every stage of his career. In a Jerry Jazz Musician interview, Crawford discusses his book and the man he has described as a “fresh voice of the Jazz Age” who “challenged Americans to rethink their assumptions about composition and performance, nationalism, cultural hierarchy, and the racial divide.”

Interview

photo unattributed/ Public domain
In a Jerry Jazz Musician interview with The Letters of Cole Porter co-author Dominic McHugh, he explains that “several of the big biographical tropes that we associate with Porter are either modified or contested by the letters,” and that “when you put together these letters, and add our quite extensive commentary between the letters, it creates a different picture of him.” Mr. McHugh discusses his book, and what the letters reveal about the life – in-and-out of music – of Cole Porter.

Book Excerpt

The introduction to John Burnside's The Music of Time: Poetry in the Twentieth Century – excerpted here in its entirety with the gracious consent of Princeton University Press – is the author's fascinating observation concerning the idea of how poets respond to what the Russian poet Osip Mandelstam called “the noise of time,” weaving it into a kind of music.

Short Fiction

photo Creative Commons CC0
Short Fiction Contest-winning story #53 — “Market & Fifth, San Francisco, 1986,” by Paul Perilli

Poetry

photo by Eric Frommer (transformed from color)/CC BY-SA 2.0
Two poems of reflection and remembrance, by Michael L. Newell and Russell DuPont

Art

"Speaking in Tongues" by Charles Ingham
Charles Ingham’s “Jazz Narratives” connect time, place, and subject in a way that ultimately allows the viewer a unique way of experiencing jazz history This edition’s narratives are “Released from Camarillo State Hospital, Charlie Parker Plays Jack’s Basket Room,”“Diz Railing at the Cosmos,” and “Speaking in Tongues”

Book Excerpt

A ten page excerpt from The Letters of Cole Porter by Cliff Eisen and Dominic McHugh that features correspondence in the time frame of June to August, 1953, including those Porter had with George Byron (the man who married Jerome Kern’s widow), fellow writer Abe Burrows, Noel Coward, his secretary Madeline P. Smith, close friend Sam Stark, and his lawyer John Wharton.

Interview

photo by William Gottlieb/Library of Congress
Con Chapman, author of Rabbit's Blues: The Life and Music of Johnny Hodges discusses the great Ellington saxophonist

Jazz History Quiz #134

Photo by Brian McMillen/Brian McMillen Photography
Influenced by Charlie Parker and Phil Woods (pictured), before forming his own group this alto player got his start in Buddy Rich’s Big Band, and shortly thereafter played with Lionel Hampton. While leading his own band, he was famous for playing bebop covers of songs such as “The I Love Lucy Theme,” “Come Fly With Me,” and “Hooray for Hollywood,” and often performed with singer Eddie Jefferson. Who is he?

Book Excerpt

This story, excerpted from Irving Berlin: New York Genius by James Kaplan, describes how Berlin came to write his first major hit song, “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” and speaks to its historic musical and cultural significance.

Pressed for All Time

In this edition, producer Tom Dowd talks with Pressed for All Time: Producing the Great Jazz Albums author Michael Jarrett about the genesis of Herbie Mann’s 1969 recording, Memphis Underground, and the executives and musicians involved

Interview

photo by Bouna Ndaiye
Interview with Gerald Horne, author of Jazz and Justice: Racism and the Political Economy of the Music

Photography

photo of Stephane Grappelli by Veryl Oakland
Veryl Oakland’s “Jazz in Available Light” — photos (and stories) of violinists Joe Venuti, Stephane Grappelli, Jean-Luc Ponty, Zbigniew Seifert, and Leroy Jenkins

Great Encounters

photo of Sidney Bechet by William Gottlieb/Library of Congress
In this edition of "Great Encounters," Con Chapman, author of Rabbit’s Blues: The Life and Music of Johnny Hodges, writes about Hodges’ early musical training, and the first meeting he had with Sidney Bechet, the influential and legendary reed player who Hodges called “tops in my book.”

Book Excerpt

In the introduction to Jazz and Justice: Racism and the Political Economy of the Music, author Gerald Horne writes about the severe cultural and economic obstacles jazz musicians have encountered since the music's inception

“What are 4 or 5 of your all-time favorite Blue Note albums?”

"What are 4 or 5 of your all-time favorite Blue Note albums?"
Dianne Reeves, Nate Chinen, Gary Giddins, Michael Cuscuna, Eliane Elias and Ashley Kahn are among the 12 writers, musicians, and music executives who list and write about their favorite Blue Note albums

Humor

photo by William Gottlieb/Library of Congress
"Every Soul is a Circus," by Dig Wayne

In the Previous Issue

photo by Carol Friedman
“The Jazz Photography Issue” features an interview with today’s most eminent jazz portrait photographer Carol Friedman, news from Michael Cuscuna about newly released Francis Wolff photos, as well as archived interviews with William Gottlieb, Herman Leonard, Lee Tanner, a piece on Milt Hinton, a new edition of photos from Veryl Oakland, and much more…

Contributing writers

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