Jam Sessions: The 1980’s

After the Full Moon Jazz Collective broke up, It was beginning of a new era.  If the late 70’s saw a decline in jazz, then the 80’s was almost  the final hacking rattle of death.  Or shall we say, not a death by drama, but of almost sheer neglect.

The young man did not know this, however.  He was barely aware of punk rock, did eschewed mainstream rock, and pretended that he never liked the harmonies of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.  After a winter of listening to Chopin, he got off the bus, went to get his hair cut by a black man named Harry.  Inside, he heard the whole Miles Davis album , and came out singing  “ Milestones”.  It fit his stride, caught his mood, in the messy Chicago Avenue sidewalk.

It was spring.

The young man decided that he needed to learn about jazz roots, maybe even learn some standards.

He got himself a “ real book” ( with only partially correct chord changes- tended on the oversimplified and dull voicings)  and started going to “ sessions”.

One was sponsored by Mark Swanson, a young man at the University of Minnesota.  Somehow Swanson had secured a space in the art building for a Tuesday  afternoon/ early evening session.  The idea was that  young aspiring jazz musicians would come, word would get out, and older cats would mentor the younger dudes, they would make great music, and play some gigs.

What happened is that some rock and roll guitarists, ( devotees of John McClaughlin,  George Benson, or Spyro Gyro)  a heavy handed drummer or two, and a timid guy  who had just got an alto saxophone would find their way through the maze of the west bank campus, the art building to the little room where there was a piano,  and a session.

Many well-intentioned players gave up, losing their way in the maze of  the art building; parking being a real bear: few people wanted to carry drum sets and amplifiers  through the snow.

The sessions were interesting if not helpful.  Swanson was of medium height, a wispy blong moustache and ever present English  tweed hat, kind of hunched over, a clarinet player.  He was full of  insight & wisdom, which he shared in mysterious little doses, at odd times.

At one session, were 7 guitarists, 3 horn players, and a thrash drummer.  The young man played piano.  They decided to play a Horace Silver tune, “ Nica’s Dream”.    It is  gorgeous enough tune, with an A section as a bossa, and a B section as a swing.  Typcial Hard bop changes, stuff you would hear on the blue note label in the early 60’s.

After playing the head twice, half of the band repeated the A section, half went on to the B section.  There was no bass player to anchor, and folks just pumped out chords- and rhtyhms- in complete opposition and disunity.  Sometimes the drummer swung, then decided to try his latin chops, and after a few bars of  frustration, went  back into what he knew, rock and roll.   The tune  went on and on, no one really sure where it was.   When it finally died, Mark said in his trademark raspy voice “ Be bop is all about confrontation”.  He left us to ponder that we the group tried to figure out what the hell to play next, as this tune was dead, past dead, past rigor mortis, but still disturbing the ghost of  music in  your mind’s ear.

The young man decided to look for some other jam sessions.

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