Listening to a few of my fave albums the other evening after Betsy turned in. My Fair Lady, featuring Jack Sheldon, (vocals, trumpet & flugel horn) Irene Kral, (vocals) and of all people, Johnny Williams as the arranger. This is probably my most favorite album ever… a tongue-in-cheek rendition of the My Fair Lady hits with perhaps some of the most outrageously wonderful horn and rhythm section arrangements I’ve ever enjoyed. 60 years later this album sounds as fresh to me today as the first time I heard it.
You remember Johnny Williams, right? Same Williams guy who composed and conducted the scores for Star Wars, Raiders Of The Lost Ark, Superman, ET, Indiana Jones… yeah, that John Williams. It so blew me away when I discovered that the “Johnny Williams” who arranged such a jazzy album, and was a jazz pianist himself for a short time in his early years, was the same John Williams who scored those classic movies later on! That discovery made me love the Jack Sheldon album even more.
Actually, it wasn’t Jack’s album, it was drummer Shelley Manne’s album, with Andre Previn on piano and Leroy Vinnegar on bass. Such a fine trio! Several guys at Berklee laughed at me when I told them I liked Andre Previn, as he wasn’t considered a “hard jazzman.” If you were a Berklee student, you were cool only if you were into the hard stuff… with Miles, Coltrane, Lennie Tristano, Wayne Shorter, Bill Evans and McCoy Tyner being at the top of that heap. Hell, I hadn’t even heard of Bill Evans and McCoy Tyner until I landed in Boston! Oscar Peterson was my man back then.
You can find that album on youtube and listen to it. Jack Sheldon (who died recently) had a wicked sense of humor, as did Irene Kral, and their vocals are hilarious. In contrast to the vocals, the music and arrangements are top drawer, some of the most fun listening I’ve ever had! And Jack is a crazy good trumpet and flugelhorn player… it’s easy to hear his sense of humor in his soloing.
Check out Shelley Manne, My Fair Lady on youtube. It’s a fine mix of humor and great jazz! 40:18 of pure magic! https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=shelly+manne+my+fair+lady+
Of course one of my all time faves is Miles’ Someday My Prince Will Come… not only because it’s such a classic, but because it’s Wynton Kelly’s performance on the album that really lit my jazz piano fire. Well, that and Red Garland’s solo on Red’s Blues. In high school, Rick McGregor and I used to sit in the car up on the hill overlooking Virginia City after dark some nights, listening to KSL radio out of Salt Lake City, which featured Wes Bowen and All That Jazz for two hours. His theme music, opening and closing, was Red’s Blues, and we’d always stop talking and listen to it intently… it was so exquisite! How many nights we sat together up on that hill, looking down at the V.C. lights, maybe with a beer or two, hearing great jazz that we could never find anywhere else. We could get KOMA out of Oklahoma City up there, too, but it was all pop, and we so hungry for good jazz back then. Rick was a good guitar player, and when Brazil ’66 first came out, he learned every song on it, and played them beautifully. Rick & I played in my folks’ bar in the summer evenings for several years… such sweet memories!
But the album I was listening to the other evening was Kind Of Blue. For some reason it hit me kind of hard, being one of those listenings when the music floods your memory with another time and place. Miles’ plaintive and moody solos; Coltrane’s edgy searching; Cannonball’s melodic and optimistic playing; Bill Evans’ quiet, sensitive chordal work, helping set the wonderfully sombre mood of this album. This time Kind Of Blue vaulted me back into my Boston days, where I lived and worked for the better part of six years. I have hundreds of happy memories of that period in my life, but for some strange reason that listening brought back the dark, difficult times I had while going to school in Boston.
An old friend, Joe Glosson, introduced me to Kind Of Blue, and naturally I think of him every time I hear a cut from that album. In my years of going back and forth from Montana to Boston, I often stopped in South Bend, Indiana, to visit him. We became good friends and I was his best man at his wedding.
In my junior & senior years at Berklee, I didn’t have a car. The apartment rents, close to the school in Back Bay, had gone up to a point where it was necessary to find an apartment further away. That junior year was hard… some of my friends left school and I was forced to move in with Keith Green, in a neighborhood “across the tracks.” The walk to school was long, around 14 blocks, mostly up Mass Ave through a kind of rough section. That winter was gray and cold, and often I’d stop at a small coffee shop about halfway to school to warm up and get a “coffee regular & toasted English.” Except for my classes, I was alone a lot that winter, Keith and I were on totally different schedules, and often he didn’t come back to the apartment at night because he had a girlfriend. Kind Of Blue was bringing back unwanted images and memories, one of my having to actually step over a sleeping drunk in the sidewalk on Mass Ave one morning. That led to all those mornings and evenings I walked to school and back, sometimes broke and cold. And there was that one week where I spent my last quarter on a bag of cheese popcorn Tuesday night, put it in the fridge and had it for dinner the following Friday night! I remembered having nothing to eat that week except a sandwich that Mouse Brown bought me.
As Kind Of Blue flowed so beautifully in my headphones, I thought about how bitter-sweet some of those memories were. Some I could now smile about, several still made me wince. The fact that I survived them was of some comfort, and I could now see, in hindsight, how much and how well a Montana boy adapted to some of the harsh truths of a big Eastern city. It changed me to some degree, have no idea how much. But I changed… I had to. And Kind Of Blue kept reminding me of the overall loneliness that nearly dominated my life that junior year. I couldn’t know it at the time, but my senior year at Berklee was as different as my junior year… I got a different apartment closer to school, and four new and fun roomies to enjoy it with!
A New And Better Year
In retrospect, everything changed for me after that miserable junior year. Yet, as the song Blue In Green began playing, that junior year continued to stick inside my memory. Did I ever think of quitting school and Boston that year? Not really, but I clearly remember not knowing for sure if I would survive it. The following Spring, I moved again, this time closer to school, on Symphony Road, and got a great new roomie, Craig Herndon. It was March in Boston, still cold, and one morning I was leaving the apartment for school when I bumped into a guy in the hall. My flat was on the second floor, and I was under the impression that no one was living in the two apartments above me… I’d never heard a thing up there. So I told this guy that no one was living up there. He looked at me strangely and said, “I am.”
I introduced myself to him, and long story short, found out his name was Jon Lodge, and that he was also from Montana! What a coincidence! I found out he had no roommates, had no furniture, very little food, and was sleeping on a mattress on the floor. I knew that routine well, as I’d done the same thing earlier that year. I found out that he’d had no heat or electricity up there for 4-5 months now. He said he couldn’t afford to go home for the holidays and had spent them here, alone in the building, in a cold apartment, on that damned mattress. I couldn’t believe it, it broke my heart. He walked me up the stairs and showed me the place, and sure enough, it was empty except for the mattress. He had been holed up in there all winter like a homeless person, still going to school, still finding a way to survive!
We walked back down to my apartment and stood in the hall. I looked at him, a fellow jazzer, and from Montana! I remember saying something like, “You can’t live like that, Jon. How about coming down here and moving in with me and Craig?”
He looked at me and got this little smile. Then, “Yeah,” he grinned. “Yeah, I could do that. Yeah, I’d like that! Really man? You’ll let me move in with you guys??” And it was a done deal.
Me, Jon and Craig on their graduation day from Berklee
Me, Craig and Jon 40 years later
I was so deep into Kind Of Blue now, I could almost smell the garbage in the parking lot behind our apartment. But those difficult times spawned new friendships and new experiences that I now wouldn’t trade for anything. We would go on to become great buddies, play jazz together and each have good careers. I thought about all the good times we three had together, determined to not let Kind Of Blue end on a sour note. And it didn’t. But man, did it take me back, vibrant, real and difficult, to those days when food was sometimes more important than music, and Viet Nam loomed before us like a huge brick wall, waiting to blow our music dreams into smithereens, and send us scrambling and lost, into that part of the world we had no desire to be a part of.
Thank you, Kind Of Blue. Thank you for that. I now know, in stark contrast, how wonderfully fantastic it all worked out, and how lucky we all are! And I have to laugh… how good it is to be young and so resilient! Jon Lodge in that cold and dark apartment for 5 months, somewhere in Boston’s Back Bay. And he survived, and flourished! Kind Of Blue, I don’t need you to remind me of those cold and crazy days, but you did it in spades! So grateful to still be here, to listen, remember, and smile back on it all!
2 Replies to “Kind Of Blue”
Hey Steve. Years ago Art Pepper did a series of albums called Art Pepper presents “West Coast Sessions!” I think there were 6 “volumes” in all, each featuring a different jazz great playing with Art. Volume 5 featured Jack Sheldon and it is really terrific. It’s one of my favorite jazz albums of the last few years. You can find it on Spotify. Not sure what other streaming services might have it. If you can find it I highly recommend you give it a listen.
Happily waiting out COVID-19 in the woods of Tucker, GA,
Very sweet column, Steve.