In January of 2011 I started a radio show on AM 1330 in Tucson, AZ. I was set to investigate public policy.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the microphone. After three months of interviewing lawyers, unionized teachers, professors, authors and policy wonks I felt a bit soulless. It seemed that covering highly polarizing issues served to only further the void in authenticity, spiritualism and love that I had been seeking for my show.
I knew I needed to do something different. Something that incorporated intimacy, leadership, race, feeling, diversity and collaboration. At 33 years old I wanted to create a show that opened portals to new information from individuals who have not been asked to pontificate on their reality. In my search I realized that I desired to provide a bridge of knowledge for my generation, the and future communicators. I didn’t want paid surrogates, lobbyists or activists who speak in sound bites and colloquiums to be my mainstay. My show would not be milk toast.
One day I was listening to some of my favorite improvisational music. The trumpet of Donald Byrd, the organ of Charles Kynard and the bass of James Jamerson. It dawned on me this one sun drenched mid March afternoon that I needed to reach inside these records, find as many of these musicians as I could and seek knowledge and wisdom from these artists. In doing so I would be highlighting the unsung heroes. The people who lie below the surface, those who communicate through their apparatus and express what they feel.
My first guest was Pat Martino, the Philadelphia based guitarist who spent an hour an a half on live radio with me in an conversation related to camaraderie, intimacy, leadership, love and feelings. It was a stunning display of openness and honesty that I have rarely if ever felt in my life. Pat was followed by Henry “the Skipper” Franklin the venerable west coast bassist who would eventually spear head a tribute concert that I hosted for the late great pianist Gene Russell in South Central Los Angeles. I realized pretty quickly that that I had tapped into a vast reservoir of commodities. Not ones you trade but one’s that you treasure for eternity.
This unconditional love from Pat and “the Skipper” put me on a path to a period in our country’s musical evolution when the cross-pollination of music was flourishing. It flourished because the masters were still thriving. Dizzy, Duke, Monk, Satchmo, Bird, Herman and Basie. It flourished because of a commerce drivin’ recording industry with a propensity of independant labels and a wide open radio dial where stations based in upstate NY could be heard in Delaware on a clear night.
The masters like Blakey, Roach and Shearing sought to create and take their show on the road both at home and abroad. In metropolitan cities and small towns, community colleges and after hours coffee houses. Their gigs were often 3 sets a night six days a week before moving on. They saw it as their responsibility to play their music for the people and serve as role models for a cadre of musicians who were searching for their own individuality. They were the best scouts, filling up the bandstand with an ear for those who could fill in and eventually take over. It was this brotherhood of musicians that came up under the masters that I zeroed in on and sought out. We spent less time discussing theory and a whole lot of time on values, point of view, trust and fearlessness.
All told I have recorded over 300 interviews with musicians who’s careers started before I was born (1978). Their names include DeJohnette, Grisman, Burrell, Weir, Airto, Akiyoshi, and Bill Cosby. Their musical aptitude encompasses all forms; Blues, ragas, bluegrass, free jazz, bayou, psychedelia and funk. While many of my guests went on to become leaders i made a conscious effort to focus on accompanists as well. Names like Roker, Cables, Ndugu, Rainey, Heard and Upchurch were masters of all trades with a mindset to sound different. They knew that there job was to make the leader sound as good as possible, whether it be a Hollywood Soundtrack, A Motown Date, an appearance at the Bitter End or a record session @ Riverside, Contemporary, Blue Note or Fantasy. They pioneered the transition from acoustic to electric instrumentation and the melting pot of Latin rhythms, Bossa, early Rock and Jazz.
Their stories speak to immigrating to this country. Growing up in segregated communities encountering and overcoming Rascism, and stories of larger then life personalities, Jimmy Smith, Willie Bobo, Bill Monroe,Cal Tjader, Cannonball Adderley, Jerry Garcia, Ravi Shankar Woody Shaw and Elvin Jones. What all of my guests understand was that that the music is bigger then them and always will be.
At this time our country was full of regional hotbeds of music activity. From San Francisco to Chicago, the pipeline from Boston to New York, from the Gulf Coast to Los Angeles each city had a plethora of live clubs that would stay open till the wee hours of the morning when Miles Freddie Hubbard or John Coltrane might saunter over after their gig was done for the night. It speaks to a brotherhood that was intent on exploration and keeping the roots of the music intact. As many have noted; “you have to know where you came from to know where your going.”
My interviews also include those who produced, arranged chronicled and showcased the music. From sweeping floors to writing linear notes, from the Keystone Korner to Jimbo’s Bop City. The values of the record producers, club owners and promoters was one that bore deep into the soul wanting you to dig the venue the music and the musicians. Above all it was not about making a hit but cutting a record that epitomized what the label stood for.
For this host being able to interview my heroes in music has been a life affirming process. This venture has been an intergenerational excursion into our cultural history and as I listen back I can hear my growth as an interviewer, writer, investigator and human being. Speaking to these musicians and in some cases meeting them has made me realize that I am capable of doing truly meaningful work and gaining the respect of intelligent people. I have felt the spirits of Sonship and John Kahn Shelly Manne and Monk Montgomery and the consistent reminders from them and others to not forget this bastion of musical greats. I feel it is important to share their stories because they preserve and promote the essence of who we are as human beings.