Jazz Corner: Various Jazz Musings –
For this month, here are a few random take on various jazz topics, dealing primarily with how the human mind rises above adversity, in this case applying to jazz musicians and how they got over their troubles.
At the top of my list right now is the passing of a jazz musician, Pat Martino, a few weeks ago. He was one of the main jazz guitarists of recent years and the history of his musical journey is quite astonishing.
Martino was an excellent jazz guitarist who was at his peak in the 1960s. He had several successful recordings to his name and was in demand on the jazz club circuit. Then he suffered a brain aneurysm which required delicate surgery. The operation was successful, but Martino lost most of his memory; he also forgot how to play the guitar.
However, nurtured by a caring wife and family, Martino’s memory gradually recovered. His guitar playing picked up and his wife got the idea to play Pat her own previous recordings! It worked well and he was gradually able to play at his first caliber. It was nothing short of a miracle that Pat Martino’s latest recordings were no less brilliant than his early works.
In an earlier time, Oscar Peterson was struck with paralysis and lost a lot of control in his left hand. But he persevered in his game, developing his right hand game to such an extent that it sounded great again. Every avatar of Peterson was brilliant; his genius shone, anyway!
Martino and Peterson both reinvented themselves to their old playing standards. Their examples are truly inspiring.
During the Cold War between the West and the Soviet Union and their satellite countries, jazz was, interestingly, a focal point of wear and tear on the artistic front. The Soviet bloc had banned its citizens from playing and even listening to jazz. Around this time, the United States decided to use jazz music as a tool to reach those behind the “Iron Curtain”. American jazz greats like Louis Armstrong, Dave Brubeck and others have been named Jazz Ambassadors. But their biggest push on the jazz front was a regular, long-running shortwave radio show called “The Jazz Hour” on the public network. Voice of America. It has been broadcast around the world and is arguably the biggest and most popular jazz broadcast / show of all time. A big advantage of this program was the knowledge of jazz which was transmitted by its legendary announcer, Willis Conover. His booming voice, his great choice of music and the details of that music have created several generations of jazz enthusiasts all over the world. Many Indians learned ABC and beyond jazz from Conover. Incidentally, Conover was invited to be the host of the very first Jazz Yatra in Bombay in 1978. The impact of Conover’s radio show was such that it was acclaimed by the public as much as any. great players gathered for the festival.
The impact of VOA Jazz Hour has been felt around the world. In Cuba, the great jazz trumpeter Arturo Sandoval was recruited for his compulsory service in the Cuban army in Havana. He was already an accomplished musician. However, playing or even listening to jazz was illegal. Arturo was “caught” listening to the VOA Jazz Hour and jailed for three months.
Strange as it may sound, a recent report from Pyongyang in North Korea was far more terrifying. A few ordinary citizens have been arrested for listening to jazz and K-Pop. They were tried and executed by a firing squad for their “crime”. Now we know the opposite of freedom.
In fact, jazz legend and brilliant trumpeter John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie had wonderful thoughts on jazz, human freedom, and peace. He said very seriously, “If everyone listened to jazz, we would never have another war.” We would all live in peace. Amen to that thought.
Fortunately, there is no law against listening to jazz in most countries of the world. Get your fair share! Let’s make this world a better and more peaceful place.
Sunil Sampat is a jazz critic and contributing editor at Rolling Stone India. Write to Sunil at [email protected]