Casting a Wide Net

Reflecting back on my flukish introduction to jazz, I have this seeming conundrum: How is it that my revelation of this “...only true indigenous American art form” (as Quincy Jones noted in the Foreword of my book) all came about because of a most passionate and knowledgeable Brit playing records on the radio?

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Wes Bowen (uncredited photo)

 

And how is it that Wes Bowen, an erudite transplant from South Wales who served as paratrooper in World War II and rose to the rank of major in the British military, would somehow become recognized as one of the world’s great authorities in jazz. After moving to the US following the war, he began what would become a 30-year career in broadcast journalism, along the way even holding the post of national president of the Broadcasting Editorial Association.

From my own exposure to this great music in the 1950s, what I eventually learned is that Bowen’s popular “All That Jazz” program on Salt Lake’s KSL Radio had regular followers spanning 38 states, even reaching ships at sea.

Like so many others from across the pond, Bowen (born in 1924) received his “baptism” – also through radio – by listening to the recordings of such early jazz masters as pianists Duke Ellington (with whom he became a  close friend), Fats Waller, Art Tatum, and Earl (Fatha) Hines.

Interspersed with the great sides he spun, Bowen would share his personal accounts and interactions with various artists. Wes Bowen made you feel like you were part of his world...that you belonged, and were a member of this special family. His distinct accent, his cool, laid-back delivery during those early morning hours so perfectly fit with the captivating sounds I was hearing.

As a teenager, I guess I was too shy to even consider trying to get his phone number and letting him know how much of an impact he was having on me. Looking back now, I wish I had made the connection. I think we would have become fast friends.

 
Earl (Fatha) Hines

Earl (Fatha) Hines

In 1955, about the same time that Wes Bowen was exposing me and my ears to this exciting new music, Willis Conover launched his wildly celebrated “Voice of America” jazz broadcasts, reaching millions of new listeners throughout Europe, as well as behind the Iron Curtain.

Bowen may not have had the same reach that Conover enjoyed, but each in his own way made a huge impact in furthering the spread of jazz around the world. It’s interesting – while it was a New Yorker in the mid-20th century who brought this amazing American art to the Old World, it took a Britisher to bring it back to America...and, more importantly in my case, to me.

And of course, Duke

And of course, Duke

 

 

ALBUM  Fatha's Pianology 

COMPOSITION  “Pianology” 

PERSONNEL  Earl Hines

 

 

ALBUM  In a Sentimental Mood

COMPOSITION  “East St. Louis Toodle-Oo” 

PERSONNEL  Duke Ellington


Blue Red

It doesn’t really matter wherever in the world you come from, your background, your upbringing, your level of education. The circumstances for how you were introduced to – and then became a lifelong devotee of – this fabulous art form we call jazz is as different for one fan as it is for the next.

It was an early morning, chance encounter on radio as a teenager when I got hooked. I had stayed up late listening to an extra-inning baseball game broadcast of the St. Louis Cardinals on KMOX radio. Not ready to call it a day, I began turning the dial. From my midwestern home in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, about the only thing I could pick up at that hour was static. But all of a sudden, I landed on the 50,000-watt station, KSL in Salt Lake City, Utah, just in time to hear the opening theme of host Wes Bowen and his “All That Jazz” program.

What better exposure could there be for night owl novice who knew nothing about jazz than to hear the blues and those delicious block chords played by Red Garland? As it turned out, that opening theme song would serve just as a prelude to all the great jazz programming that would follow.

In our household, music at that time was a pretty big deal, primarily because my grandfather, a clarinetist, had the distinction of performing with John Philip Sousa’s Marching Band. It was when “The March King” toured throughout the midwest that he used C.W. Smith as one of his pick-up section players. On weekends, there was kind of standing invitation for fellow musicians from the neighborhood to bring their horns and sheet music to our home and join with my grandfather in hours-long sessions.

While in grade school, my parents bought me a King Silvertone cornet. Soon thereafter, I began studying classical music privately every week, and by my teenage years, was sufficiently adept to playing just about anything written on the scores in front of me. But then Wes Bowen and his “All That Jazz” program jolted me. By serving up the best of the swing stylists, big band leaders, plus bebop, cool and hard bop giants, his shows literally took control of my senses, instantly redirecting my musical outlook.

From then on, I took every opportunity to tune in. I began memorizing all the names – Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, Count Basie, Horace Silver, Sonny Rollins, Ray Bryant, George Shearing, Dexter Gordon, Thelonious Monk – and their tunes. And I began searching out, and buying their records.

As for Red Garland, it was many years later – well past his glory days with the original, most famous Miles Davis Quintet featuring tenor saxophonist John Coltrane, bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Philly Joe Jones – when I finally got the opportunity to visit with and photograph Red, who remains as one of my all-time favorites on the piano. He did nothing flashy, and used such a narrow range of the keyboard; but to me, Red Garland – with his overall feel and those husky two-handed chords – was simply without peer.

What an introduction to my life in jazz!

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34-001bbb.jpg

 

ALBUM  A Garland of Red (Prestige)

COMPOSITION  “Blue Red” (Red's solo begins about 2:30 into the song)

PERSONNEL  Red Garland, piano; Paul Chambers, bass; Art Taylor, drums