Art Blakey gets to me in a very visceral way. It almost seems as if anyone in the audience—or the band—were to dare to drift off, Blakey would fire off a series of sharp rim shots to snap everyone back to attention.
” data-original-title=”” title=””>Charlie Watts‘ swing feel on the ride cymbal for opening up his ears to jazz. Nowadays, as well as seeing as much live jazz as he can, Jack is working on his jazz chops studying drums with Billy Drummond.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I was born and grew up in Washington, DC, and I now live with my wife in Northport, NY, on Long Island. I work as one of two political editors at Newsday, a daily newspaper that circulates on Long Island. My boss and I assign and edit stories about New York State government and politics, and the same subject matter in Nassau and Suffolk counties, and Washington, DC. I feel very lucky to have a wife and two great children who actually enjoy being around me after all this time. And I’m a huge fan of dumb comedy—the Farrelly Brothers, Mel Brooks, Family Guy, South Parkand on and on.
Besides Washington—where I grew up and returned to later as a news reporter—I’ve lived in Denver, CO; Santa Cruz, CA; Nashville, TN; New York City; Durham, NC (attending college at Duke); and Florence, Italy, during a semester abroad. I majored in English literature, where I was exposed to books Ulysses, and John Milton’s Paradise Lost. Although I didn’t major in journalism, I worked periodically for the student newspaper, The Duke Chronicleand started in journalism right after graduating, as a general assignment and police reporter at The Tennesseanin Nashville.
What’s your earliest memory of music?
Lying on the floor in our living room as a kid in Washington, watching my mother work the pedals on the baby grand piano she had inherited from her family. I think I picked up a sense of rhythm from connecting how the pedals affected the pulse of the music she played. She was a good enough singer to have been accepted at Julliard, only to turn her place down, because she didn’t want to leave home! I was exposed to a good dose of tunes from My Fair Lady, South Pacificand other shows from listening to her.
I’m embarrassed to reveal that when my mother encouraged me to take piano lessons, I replied that it was for “sissies.” I’m sorry she let me off the hook, because I clearly knew nothing. I did take guitar lessons when I was about 14, after talking my father into buying me a powder blue Fender Mustang electric guitar and a small Fender amp. Soon after, I began to fail at math in school, and I guess in Dad’s mind that was the result of the focus on the guitar. So back we went to Chuck Levin’s music store in Washington, and returned everything. My father was a great dad, but having been born to first generation Italian parents in 1904, he was very old school and very conscious of moving up in the world in a paying profession. He certainly succeeded, becoming a trial lawyer, a federal prosecutor, and then a federal judge in Washington. At the end of his career, he presided over pretty much all the Watergate cases, including those of the burglars who broke into the Democratic National Committee offices, the conspiracy trial of President Nixon’s senior staff and the constitutional battle over the White House tapes. But I suspect he saw a musician’s career basically as a likely ticket to poverty, and hence did his best to steer me in a different direction. I’ve become a very good journalist, but always wished I’d taken up music as well. So now I’m having my revenge at age 68 learning how to play drum set!
How old were you when you got your first record?
Probably about 12 or 13 years old, when I somehow came up with the money for Meet the Beatles, their first big LP in the United States. We lived in Northwest Washington, near the Maryland line, and my friend Joe Bradley and I would get the D-4 bus on Saturdays, to F Street, near the White House, where there were a couple of blocks with a lot of record stores . I’d play my purchases on our Zenith record player, which played a stack of records automatically, and pumped out the hits through a self-contained tube amplifier and one big speaker. None of those records survive.
What was the first concert you ever attended?
It had to have been in early high school, when we were bused to DAR Constitution Hall for concerts by the National Symphony. I am embarrassed now by the lack of attention to the music that was characteristic of most of us, me included. So, I’m afraid my sharpest memory of these concerts was the time I felt a tap on my left forearm, and the guy next to me handed me a wooden armrest from one of the seats along the row. Hopefully, someone reattached it when the piece made its way back down the line.
Was there one album or experience that was your doorway to jazz?
In my recollection of my LP collection are several
records that I must have bought in the early ’70s, when I was still in high school. I don’t know how I came across him, or across jazz in general, at that age. Every time I look at the “J” section of my jazz LP collection, I sort of marvel at how I discovered Ahmad Jamal in the first place. But I know I was attracted to his emphatic left hand on the keyboard, which created a rhythm that makes me sort of sit up and pay attention, still. So here’s a guess about the one album:
which ends with his take on “C’est Si Bon,” a song my mother used to sing while playing the piano.
I really have no idea how the person described above came to discover jazz. Having raised myself on rock ‘n roll, perhaps I was primed to like jazz without knowing it, by listening to the drumming of
1941 – 2021