“Jazz is where you find it.” That is the opening sentence in the first paragraph of an essay in Jazz Matters: Reflections on the Music and Some of its Makers. Here is the rest of the paragraph.
The Polish novelist and essayist Leopold Tyrmand, who spent much of World War Two as a forced laborer in Germany, tells of hearing the music of Benny Goodman from a hand-cranked phonograph in a rowboat in the middle of a river. The phonograph was operated by a Nazi soldier afraid of being thought an American spy or sympathizer if he listened openly. With difficulty, Tyrmand talked his way into the soldier’s confidence, and a strangely matched pair of fans spent a Sunday afternoon spelling one another at the oars and digging Benny.
Owen Cordle, a correspondent for that excellent newspaper the Raleigh, North Carolina, News and Observer, may not feel as isolated and certainly not as endangered as Tyrmand and Hitler’s soldier did. Cordle lives in a small suburb of Raleigh where high-quality jazz does not run rampant. He reports, however, that great music materialized there the other night. Owen sent the message below to share the experience with Rifftiders. It confirms my frequent observation that it is possible to be surprised by fine music almost anywhere in the United States. I have supplied a few informational links.
Lou Marini showed up last Saturday night at the Lotus Leaf, a small Vietnamese restaurant in Cary, NC, as part of a dinner party booked by Frank Corbi, his former saxophone teacher. There was no publicity other than an e-mail message from the owner to the musicians who regularly perform there that Lou and Frank were coming and that they might bring their horns. Guitarist Richard Fitzgerald, who was performing there with singer Deb Trauley, had done a little preemptive homework — just in case.
Dinner orders placed, Lou and Frank headed for the corner where Richard and Deb were set up. Richard launched “T-Bone Shuffle” and the horns tore into it, Lou on alto, Frank on tenor. Knowing Lou’s history as a member of Blood, Sweat & Tears, the original Saturday Night Live band and the Blues Brothers band (he was in both Blues Brothers movies), I was primed for a heavy R & B scene. But Lou proved a fierce bebopper. With Frank in his lively, oblique Lester Young bag, this was as close to Bird and Pres as I’ve ever come. I was knocked out.
This may sound odd, but part of the joy came from watching Lou grab bits and pieces of the heads and sometimes feel his way through the first improvised chorus or part thereof and then nail the chord changes solidly the next time around. He was fallible and human but a quick study. And that was the beauty of it — recovery, ingenuity, memory and the musical ear in action on the wing. He played lots of blistering runs and varied the entrances and exits of his phrases. You could catch Bird’s vibrato once in a while. He showed intense drive. In the words of the “Cannonball” Adderley title, this was “spontaneous combustion.”
Frank’s tenor — full of quotes and circling runs and behind-the-beat phrases — took the harmony to places it had rarely been before. He can make the oddest note fit. It was lovely and floating. He was the Four Brothers to Lou’s Bebop Brother.
Richard called the tunes, started an intro and let the horns find the melody and weave counterlines: “I Remember You,” “Have You Met Miss Jones,” “Blue Monk,” “Autumn Leaves,” “Tenor Madness,” “There Will Never Be Another You” …
Sometimes the spirit of a thing can give you hope and heal you even when the source isn’t perfect. Such was the case here. I wouldn’t have changed a note.
(For the record: Frank lives in Cary. Lou’s dad., who was also present, now lives in Raleigh. Frank and the Marinis lived in Ohio during Frank’s teaching days.)
(I sent you this because jams of this caliber and spontaneity don’t happen too much anymore, especially where I live.)
In addition to his work for the News and Observer, Owen Cordle reviews music for JazzTimes magazine.