The Jazz.com Blog
May 11, 2009 · 3 comments
Jazz writers usually focus on the action on the stage, but Walter Kolosky recognizes that the music's impact on the devoted fan in the audience makes for an equally interesting story. [For a related article, see the Dexter Gordon Dozens by Eric Novod, also published today.] T.G.
Some Other Spring
Dexter Gordon with Karin Krog (1970)
Artwork by Thomas Andersen
This is a true story. The names have not been changed. I think this happened in 1978 or 1979.
Eric had been anxiously counting down the days until jazz saxophonist Dexter Gordon would be playing in Boston. He had purchased his tickets early on for the rare appearance and had been talking about the event to anyone who would listen. He would also talk about it to anyone who wouldn’t listen. Eric was like that. He would latch onto something new and get so excited that he wanted the whole world to know all about it. Sometimes this was great. Other times it was a real pain in the ass.
Just a very few months earlier, Eric had come to college for his freshman year. He was an affected kid who didn’t seem to quite fit in. His voice had a permanent scratchiness to it that could make people leave a conversation out of discomfort. He also spoke in a halting fashion that betrayed a distinct lack of confidence.
One day he was hanging around a main hall at school and saw some students sitting on the steps playing guitar. They were having a great amount of fun. Eric, who had no musical background, was fascinated. He listened to one tune after another. During a pause in the music, Eric asked, “What kind of music are you guys playing?”
“We’re jamming on some jazz changes,” said Buck.
From that moment on, Eric was hooked. He started hanging around these students and would attend their jam sessions. He picked up a couple of books about jazz and started listening to jazz records the guys had suggested. He was insatiable. He was also no longer a pain in the ass because his enthusiasm was so overwhelming that his presence became welcome. Eventually, over just a few weeks, he became one of the gang.
But, Eric was not entirely happy. Sure, he loved the musicians and the music. But one thing was missing. He didn’t know how to play an instrument. He took action. Confidently he showed up one day holding a saxophone. “I have decided to learn how to play this thing,” Eric proclaimed. And learn he did. He dedicated himself to the horn, ignoring all other aspects of his life. In several months, he still played very badly, but his progress had been impressive.
“I’m going to play in the style of Dexter Gordon. The man is a genius and all the shit the guy has been through. I mean, Jesus Christ, the guy can blow,” Eric spitted out. “He’s coming to Boston, you know. I’ve already got my ticket.”
The show date snuck up on everyone, so people were surprised when Eric turned up one day and said he had to tell everyone about the Dexter concert from the night before.
“Guys, you should have been there. What an event! For awhile it didn’t even look like it was going to happen. At 8 o’clock a guy came out on stage and said Dexter was late, but he would be there soon. Then at 8:30 the guy came out again and said the same thing. There were some people in the crowd who were starting to get a bit upset. But when the guy came out at 9:00 and repeated his little spiel again you could hear boos. Then at 9:30 and 10:00 it started getting unruly in there.
“It didn’t bother me so much because I was meeting some new people and talking to them about jazz and Dexter. But, about 10:30, man, that’s when it became real ugly. The emcee came out and had to shout over the crowd. He promised that Dexter was on his way and was going to play. The crowd was beyond pissed at that point. Then at about 11 o’clock, Dexter and his band finally walked out onto the stage.
“Man, you should have seen how drunken Dexter was! I mean, he was barely able to stand-up! He walks to the mike and mumbles a few words I couldn’t understand. If he wasn’t drunk, he was just awfully sick or something. I don’t know. But the crowd was just stunned at his appearance. We wondered if he could even play! Then after about two or three minutes of nervous silence, the band began and played “Laura.” After the tune ended, Dexter mumbled a few words and then turned and staggered off stage! A few minutes later, the lights came back up, the crowd booed and the emcee came out and told us the concert was over. Talk about an angry mob!”
Tony said, “That must have sucked. You had to be pissed-off.”
“What do you mean?” Eric asked.
“Well, you pay 20 bucks for a ticket, you wait for three hours and then Dexter only plays one tune. I would have been ticked-off,” Buck said.
“No guys, not at all,” Eric proclaimed, “it was the most inspired and beautiful 20 minutes of music I have ever heard in my life.”
Many years have passed since this event took place. Last I heard, Dexter Gordon died a long time ago and Eric never did follow in his footsteps—that is, he never became a great saxophone player and has not yet died. I hear he lives in New Jersey and writes about music.
I will never forget Eric’s enthusiasm or the deepness of his realization that sometimes just a few moments of perfection is all the soul needs. Many musicians, jazz players in particular, work their whole lives to attain just a minute or two of pure freedom, playing like they have never played before. In those moments all boundaries are gone because the invisible shackles have been removed. Many players will never have that moment. Some will be drunk when they have it. Others may need to be drunk to have it. And, in some cases, the audience will have to be drunk. But we jazz fans hope that in our sober listening, we are lucky enough to hear those very rare moments. That’s why I listen.
Author’s note: In 1978 or 1979 $20 was a lot of money—especially for a college student.
This blog entry posted by Walter Kolosky