1997: My First Five Jazz Records

14 Jan

I would like to tell you about the first five Jazz CDs I ever heard. The years were 1996-97, I was 14 or 15 years old. I was living with my parents and brothers in Netanya. For a good 7 years I was playing the piano, which meant learning classical music privately (and NEVER practicing it), learning tons of music by ear (mainly songs by hip Israeli composers like Matti Caspi, Yoni Rechter and Shlomo Gronich), composing many melodies and improvising a lot. Since I haven’t listened to Jazz yet, I was probably improvising out of any musical context; just playing around with some chords and melodic motifs. I don’t remember what I was playing (too bad I don’t have recordings of that!) but I remember it was fun.

Then Jazz records came along and changed everything. I’m reminded of a beautiful phrase Israeli musician Alon Oleartchik once used to describe his falling in love with music: “I was spoiled in such a way, that nothing could have brought me back” (on hearing a Billy Holiday album.)

The first one was given to me by a Jazz teacher. I was attending a good music program at Ort Gutman in Netanya (that was before I moved to the Thelma Yelling High School of the Arts,) and our Jazz teacher was Saxophonist Hovav Ben Sadia, a sweet guy who knew a lot about the music, and still does. He lent me the first Jazz CD I ever listened to, and to be honest, I still need to give it back to him…

It was a record on Pablo from 1974 called Ella and Oscar. Half of it was a duet of Ella Fitzgerald and Oscar Peterson, and on the other half they were joined by Ray Brown. No drums. This was the first time I heard songs like “April in Paris” (which was heartbreakingly beautiful) and “How Long Has This Been Going On?”. For some reason I was drawn to the lighter tracks, like “Mean to Me” and especially “I Hear Music”, on which Oscar’s solo totally blew my mind. I immediately started transcribing and practicing it. I don’t remember if someone told me it’s something Jazz players do, but I just sat down with my finger on that pause button, and got to work.

I don’t think I transcribed the whole thing. In the first couple of choruses alone, there was so much information; so much new vocabulary that was fascinating to me; and the music also had a great bounce to it; SWING. What a revelation. By the way, speaking of transcribing solos: thinking of my first five records, I realized that I transcribed a solo from each and every one of them! Needless to say, I didn’t go on with this approach – otherwise I would need to learn too many solos. But it’s still an interesting fact, which probably shows how obsessively curious I was about this new and exciting music I was discovering.

I’m not sure about the exact order in which I bought them, but I think the next one I got (meaning the first one I had actually purchased..) was John Coltrane’s 1957 release on Blue Note, Blue Train, with Lee Morgan, Curtis Fuller, Kenny Drew, Paul Chambers and Philly Joe Jones. I don’t know why exactly, but I didn’t instantly connect with this record. It was one of those times when you are checking something out, you KNOW you should be digging it, but it just doesn’t do it to you. Often, that same thing hits you hard when you go back to it later, and that’s what happened to me with Blue Train. I guess I needed to hear some other music, then listen to it again, this time understanding its context better. However, I do remember being immediately taken by Coltrane’s sound. Even if I still wasn’t sure what to make of the music, that sound of his was just something else. It was beyond music. It had certain qualities about it that appealed to me emotionally. I could hear kindness and good-heartedness through that sound, and that was something I loved about Coltrane right from the start. (A couple of years later I was already a Coltrane fanatic, listening to A Love Supreme for several months straight. I believe It didn’t leave the CD player for half a year.)

Staying true to my transcribing regime, I learned Lee Morgan’s solo on the title track and practiced it like there was no tomorrow. That’s probably the first complete solo I ever learned. It was so much fun playing all those fast 16th notes along with Morgan! Interestingly enough, as opposed to other stuff I was transcribing during that time, I don’t think that anything from that solo really got into my playing. In comparison, the first phrase from the aforementioned Oscar Peterson’s solo still pops up in my solos every now and then.

Next stop: Chick. Someone told me I had to get Chick Corea’s album Light as a Feather (with his band Return to Forever.) The guy had said it so convincingly that I just went to the store and got it; he said there was no chance I won’t love this record, and he was right; I did love it. In certain contexts I really like the Fender Rhodes, and this is easily one of the best Rhodes albums ever made. The sound of Chick’s Rhodes combined with Joe Farrell’s flute and Airto’s percussion.. I don’t know, something about this record simply worked for me. And of course, it had Spain on it – an immortal, everyone-knows-it kind of tune, which, for some reason, all the kids around me thought we have to play . No one was there to tell us we better learn the Blues and Rhythm Changes before we tackle this one, and so I jumped in and learned it. As you can guess by now, I’ve also started to learn Chick’s solo on it, which sounded so awesome; I only got three or four choruses, but there was so much hip vocabulary there! One thing I remember is that he’s arpeggiating an Eb7 chord over an F#7 chord in the first chorus; that was the first time I heard stuff like that! It got me excited and I started to explore harmonic ideas of my own.

Then the next record, another pianist but much more contemporary: Danilo Perez’s Panamonk. That’s actually pretty cool – I bet not a lot of people name this album as one of the first examples of Jazz they ever heard. Danilo released this album in 1996, which means I bought it pretty close to its release date. You might be wondering about the location in which I used to get all these records; it was, of course, the mall. In Netanya’s big shopping mall there was a record store that kept changing owners. It was always a chain of some sort. They had a small Jazz section, and that’s where I was buying my CDs, which means I was dependent on the taste of the guys there who were placing the orders. Panamonk, I assume, is something they received because it was just released, and on a major label.

I listened to the album recently, and I still love this very slick homage to Jazz giant Thelonious Monk. This record planted the seed of two dreams; both of them came true. One was to meet Danilo and perhaps even study with him. And indeed, he was my private teacher for Jazz Piano when I was attending New England Conservatory in 2005-6. The other dream began when I looked at the back cover and saw the personnel. Aside from drummers Terri Lyne Carrington and Jeff “Tain” Watts (whom my friends and I were calling JEFTEN), I spotted another name: Avishai Cohen on bass. At the time I haven’t yet heard of him, and I was shocked to find this name, which clearly belonged to an Israeli like me, on the cover of a great Jazz CD, along with some of the best cats on the planet. In one second, being an Israeli guy playing Jazz in New York became a realistic possibility.

That was the seed to the second dream – I will move to New York. I will play at the Blue Note and all those places, and will join this wonderful, mysterious world called Jazz. I ended up doing that.

The fifth was a Herbie Hancock record called The New Standard, and it was probably in the store for the same reason as Panamonk – it was released on a major label in 1996. So I’m putting this in the Stereo in my room, the music begins, and I’m hearing Herbie Hancock, Michael Brecker, John Scofield, Dave Holland AND Jack DeJohnette – all for the first time. Wow. The type of musical experiences you sometime have as a teenage musician.

I now know their playing very well, but back then it was overwhelming. Jack’s full, ever-pulsing ever-changing playing, Herbie’s voicings, Dave digs underneath, Brecker’s solo begins and you hear all this new information, and everything is happenning at the same time. I loved the first track, “New York Minute”, and started learning Herbie’s solo on it, which sounded so cool and fresh. However, I remember disliking a couple of tracks: the solo piano version of “Manhattan” sounded too cheesy to me, and “All Apologies” bored me with its harmonies, that sounded too simple after hearing the rest of the record.

Later on I discovered Herbie’s records on Blue Note from the 60’s and they became a heavy influence on me. Well, later on I discovered many things. Miles, Monk, Parker, Bud Powell, Wayne, Coltrane’s quartet, Tony Williams, Joe Henderson, Dolphy, Ornette… Sonny, Jim Hall, Dexter, Blakey, Evans, Keith, Pat… so much was still ahead of me. Not to mention The Beatles, Radiohead and other rock bands that I’ve discovered about 2 years later.

But this was still way ahead in the future. Those were still the sweet days of having only 5 Jazz records, learning everything you can from them, and dreaming of New York.

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4 Responses to “1997: My First Five Jazz Records”

  1. Moriel Hoffman January 14, 2011 at 11:03 am #

    Hi Omer, great post. I also really enjoyed your previous posts. I agree with each word, and glad to read about your musical path.

  2. Dolev Mazkereth March 11, 2011 at 10:26 pm #

    Hey Omer thanks for this post, I think it’s a great description of how young people come to get to know this wonderful music called jazz – with all the excitment and questions that follow this discovery. Being a jazz fan myself, I identified with variuos aspects of your expirience. It would be great if you could write other posts about your favourite albums of all times, or something of that sort (hard as that may be!).

    • omerklein March 13, 2011 at 11:53 pm #

      Thanks Dolev, I will surely get to it at a certain point.

  3. Bobev July 29, 2011 at 8:40 pm #

    Hi Omer, Ella Fitzgerald and Oscar Peterson definetely changed my life and brought me in to jazz and blues. I play guitar and a bit of piano. I was wondering if you have any sheet music or midi of you playing Oscar’s piano of April in Paris or other of their tunes.
    If you can email me at mbobev@gmail.com I will take my time and learn how to play the piano. This is my lifetime favorite tune and I really appreciate I am not alone in this insanity called jazz. Thank you Bobev

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