free jazz in a Rock and ROll town… a memoir.

The young man moved to Minneapolis for college, after two years in Duluth, where he had first heard records of Pharoah Sanders, Weather Report, and Count Basie.  It was 1978.

The rest of his generation was split between the BEE GEEs & the Ramones.  He went for neither.  The young man almost went apoplectic over “wisdom through music”, and decided to play piano again, and hey, why not tenor saxophone?

And in the loneliness of the University of Minnesota, where there was still disco, and the beginnings of punk rock, it did not reach the young man’s heart.  He became a jazz fascist.

It was  the time of the Replacements, Husker Du, Prince, Soul Asylum, the Times, the Suicide Commandos, the Suburbs.  The young man saw none of these shows.  He didn’t like the energy, until the end of the decade.

The young man hung out at the  Lake cafe, where the hippies that ran it would pay their bills in pennies just to piss off the power companies.  He tried to fit it, but never quite did.  The hippie club was too hard to get into.  At the Lake cafe, he began to drink strong coffee, and met the acquaintance of two powerful men.

Roy Otello was an intense,skinny,curly black haired man, who spoke faster than anyone he had ever heard before.  His dark eyes went wild when he spoke about Eric Dolpy.   Roy played flute at a speed that matched his speech.  The young man looked in amazement at the scraps of paper with 32second note runs, huge leaps of more than an octave.  And Roy would play it, sometimes shrieking as he went phrenetic.  ” You gotta hear Rahsaan Roland Kirk!” Roy sputtered as he gulped another espresso.

Sometimes Roy would play with a man named Dinosaur, a man with no certain address. Dinosaur made drums from whatever materials he could find, skin or metal, and fashion drumsticks  by whittling discarded tree trimmings.  Dinosaur was also fond of drinking gasoline, and singing along in a howly, raspy voice that made Tom Waits sound like a choir boy.

When Roy and Dinosaur played, the energy was so dark, intense, and foreboding that it brought up the same images as the punk rock the young man was trying to avoid.  Few people ever wanted to hear them, much less hang around them.

A few years later, the young man ran across Roy at the Lake Cafe again- same intense eyes, but slightly rounded, talking slower but still uneasy and slow motion phrenetic. ” I’m taking thorazine now, and it’s helping my mood”.  But he had the shakes, and reams of nearly impossible and unplayable flute music under his arm, on ratty yellow sheets of manuscript paper.


  1. I am going to go between using real names for bands, and “personas” for people…. to avoid trouble/ hurt feelings, letigouistiy… AND ALSO to report on the emotional truth rather than be tied to actual events. There are some things I will avoid, which if mentioned, could be a “distraction” to my professional life ( to put it obliquickly!!)
    I am going to work on this fairly often. Thanks for your interest!


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