Jazz and my father
...by the time I was born jazz had long past it’s prime. My introduction to jazz was Sunday afternoons after church.
Originally published on Medium, Sept 12, 2018
The genre of music that is most closely connected to the word cool is jazz. You could argue that the explosion of jazz and when the word cool really became part of the Western English dialect came at the same time in response to one another. At its heights, jazz was more than music. Jazz was a heavy influence on fashion, culture and visual art.
There were two types of cool people who tied themselves to jazz. First were those who went to the venues where jazz musicians worked. Often these spaces were segregated. Musicians needed licenses to work in these spaces. They entered through the back and rarely would be allowed to enter as patrons. Then there were the venues where jazz musicians played.
These venues were not segregated. Musicians spread their wings. Sub genres of jazz like hard bop and free jazz started to take root. Dancing was fun, not work. These spaces were often considered seedy. However, this is where the music really developed. Where the fashions that we think of during peak jazz could really be seen. In other words, there were two definitions of cool for those who listened to jazz: Those who attempted to be perceived as cool, by consuming jazz in safe spaces and those who fearlessly were part of the unvarnished scene.
When we define being cool, we must always remember, you can pay to appear cool. But, the real cool people do not need to flaunt cash. They go to where the culture is at its tempest and they either observe or participate. Remember that when you buy into a gentrified community and then make noise complaints on residents who’ve lived there their whole lives and are part of the reason that where you live, has a prestige and reputation.
That said, by the time I was born jazz had long past it’s prime. My introduction to jazz was Sunday afternoons after church. My brother and I would blare dancehall, rip off our ties and unwind from the church service and our past week. Our mother, in frustration, would order her husband downstairs to tell us to turn down the volume of our racket. Instead, dad would walk downstairs with arms full of records and join us. The music would change, but not the volume.
It was a lesson that was always appreciated. My twin brother and I would concede that it was our father’s turn on the turntable. (We were probably the only family in the neighborhood that still had turntables, but my brother and I often DJed on weekends, and only the most successful DJs could afford CD setups at that time.) Our father would usually start with old reggae records to appease us, move on to rock and roll, then funk before finishing off his lesson with jazz records.
My dad’s taste of jazz is eclectic. It ranges from big band to free jazz. The best part of him sharing his music with us, is that we never knew what to expect. The number of times we had to ask him, “What’s that?” Because a particular song we had never heard of grabbed our attention was significant.
This is a man that found himself leaving Bermuda for England during the 60’s. Hanging out with a member of the Who (allegedly) and through that co-worker spending time in bars that I first heard about through his stories and later through documentaries. I remember bed time stories of him describing what were likely psychedelic parties where projected films of blood pumping through blood vessels enveloped the walls.
As the first member of his family to leave Bermuda, and seek an education beyond high school the man lived his time in England to the fullest. Met my mom, and learned enough at school to eventually manage a team of mechanics, a showroom, and a body shop years after he returned. Yes, my father spent money to support the musicians he met, but he never spent money to appear cool to others.
He’s always been the type of person that personifies what cool is, like a jazz musician. His eclectic life and love of jazz has always made sense to me. And as we became teenagers, he shared his knowledge and love of jazz and life with us.
He’s always let us decide:
Do you want to be the type of person who goes to the places where appearance is how coolness is defined?
Or, do you want to go where innovative creators spread their wings and be part of a culture?
Teaching us one old record at a time.