Probably the biggest personal passion that I’ve carried with me throughout my life is jazz. It all started when my dad bought me a shortwave radio for my 14th birthday. I soon discovered Willis Conover’s famous program on Voice of America, one that helped spread the message of jazz around the world, particularly to the Eastern Bloc countries. I would take my radio to the breakfast table each morning before school and listen while I ate.
Willis Conover and Dexter Gordon got me hooked on jazz
One of the first albums I heard on Conover’s program was saxophonist Dexter Gordon’s Blues a la Suisse, recorded live at the Montreux Jazz Festival. I promptly went out and purchased that, and never looked back. We were residing in Shreveport, Louisiana at the time, and Stan’s was the big local record store chain, one that had a large regional distribution arm as well. Stan’s brother Ace Lewis was a drummer who managed one of their stores, and he played a lot of records while I was browsing that further hooked me. It’s where I first heard saxophonist Anthony Braxton, on Circle’s Paris Concert album on ECM. Ace would occasionally give me albums that were more avant-garde in nature that couldn’t sell. One of those, George Russell’s Live at Beethoven Hall, is still one of my absolute favorites today. I immediately gravitated to avant-garde jazz, even though I was just getting into the music. Although I collect and listen to all types of jazz from throughout its history, “outside” players such as Braxton, Cecil Taylor, Sam Rivers and Andrew Hill are who I listen to the most.
I have over 2,000 CDs and 1,000 albums (plus a few cassettes due to the recent rebirth of that medium). Even though I occasionally download music and subscribe to Amazon Unlimited, I have that collector’s mentality of wanting, no needing, that tangible artifact to hold in my hands.
Transition to blogging about jazz
Beginning in 2009, I started to write about the music and post reviews on my blog, Improvised. The blog started to gain a little following and soon I was getting CDs in the mail from artists, labels and publicists from around the world. I was honored to be part of National Public Radio’s annual jazz critics poll for several years, but I’ve wound down my jazz blogging activity recently due to the demands of my schedule. It was also nice to be free to be able to listen to anything I wanted at any time, without the pressure to post a review.
Anyone else have the music collector’s bug? I’d be interested in hearing your experience. Collecting can be all-consuming and a little dangerous, particularly to your wallet, but there’s a thrill to tracking down that rare album that completes your collection of a particular artist.
Photo of Dexter Gordon at the Village Vanguard by Tom Marcello.