Just when you think you know a lot about a subject, you find out that you have a lot to learn.
The jazz know-it-all. The bane of every music event, get together and, sometimes, a cruise. There is always that guy, and it is almost universally a male, who purports to know everything about jazz. His opinions are gold, his recollection is perfect and his taste is spot on. Or so he thinks. They all fall, however, and when they do it is priceless. Busted! Just a hack with a pompous self-styled aura.
One of my favorite episodes of Jazz Know-It-All Busted, which should be a syndicated reality show featuring tone deaf buffoons babbling about jazz by reciting Wikipedia, occurred years ago on The Jazz Cruise. I was having a drink with Freddy Cole in the Ocean Bar of one of the Holland America Line ships we used. If there is somebody more gracious, humble and polite than Freddy, it would have to be John Clayton and that’s it! Seriously, Freddy did not brag, make fun of anyone or act in any way other than as a perfect gentleman Now, he would butter up my mother to ensure his annual position on the cruise, but that was okay.
While sitting with Freddy and talking about his love of golf, a guest approached us. We were sitting in the open, but it was clear that we were having a one-on-one conversation. Undeterred, the fellow started in on Freddy about his last set. He told Freddy that the drummer was off a bit and that his piano was not tuned properly. He then called out 3 tunes that he would appreciate Freddy adding to his next set, explaining in great detail why each of those songs were so meaningful to him. Somehow woven into this quilt of words was his claim that he has been a fan of Freddy’s forever, has all his records and sees him perform multiple times a year.
Freddy sat through this harangue without saying a word. I mumbled some inane comment about how nice it is to be able to share time with a legend like Freddy Cole. I even tried to speak to Freddy about our prior subject with the hope of having our interloper move on to other prey. Nope. He was undaunted, unrepentant and, most of all, unbearable. Then, like manna from heaven, it happened. Our guy opened his mouth one too many times and, by doing so, revealed his true identity, that of a phony.
What did he say? Well, our guy asked Freddy Cole if “he came from a musical family?” I turned to Freddy and said, “Mr. Cole, this question is yours!” In that quiet, almost pious tone of his, Freddy said, “Yes, we have a few vocalists in our family.” (For those new to this planet, the answer is “yes!” Nat King Cole and Natalie Cole won a combined 10 Grammy Awards.) The guy did not ask who the family members were or anything about them. Obliviousness has its privileges.
Now, I have been uncommonly snarky in this note. Clearly, I have viewed myself over the years as someone who sparingly offered opinions of jazz and rarely felt the need to display any level of knowledge or expertise that anyone would deem exceptional. Between me and me, however, I have worked hard to learn as much as I can, not for the purpose of being a know-it-all, but for the sake of exposing them. And, I also thought I could always hold my own in the world of jazz trivia. Until last Monday! That sound you just heard was me falling flat on my face.
Grover Washington, Jr. was my first jazz obsession. I was a big band guy as a kid, largely because I wanted to be Gene Krupa. Not sure why, but he was my guy. Yes, there was Davy Crockett, Daniel Boone and Superman, but the vision of Gene Krupa beating the heck out of his kit while the whole band watched was so cool. And, of course, Little Ricky made being a drummer cool as well. But, when I heard Grover Washington, Jr., for the first time in my life, I felt the beat. I was still only following the beat and not making it happen, but at least I could feel it.
The pinnacle of my obsession was his 1980 album Winelight. Besides the title track, there is the famous Bill Withers tune, Just The Two of Us and other great tracks. There were only 6, but they were all awesome. Still, Winelight is the song that captured my interest the most. Grover’s soulful and joyous sound on the tune is captivating, but I always was mesmerized by the bass line: Always present, always supportive, but distinctive and amazing all its own.
For whatever reason, I never thought to check out who was on the bass for that album. After all, I already know the greatest electric bass player in the world, Marcus Miller. Why would I care who was playing that bass back in 1979? But on Monday, I took a moment to look. The bassist on Winelight was a young player from Jamaica Queens, named Marcus Miller.
Any sense of being a knowledgeable jazz guy drained from my mind. Marcus played on Winelight, Just The Two of Us and the other 4 tunes. He was 20 years old. My mouth is now shut and my eyes are wide open. They say that the more you see something or someone the more you lose sight of how others see that object or that person. I see Marcus in so many other ways, that my recall of the amazing history of his musical career is dormant from time to time.
Yep, just when I thought I learned a lot, I found out that I had a lot to learn. Thank God, I never asked Marcus if he liked Grover Washington, Jr.’s music. I would have made the guy in the bar talking to Freddy Cole look like a jazz historian!
Our Take is written by Michael Lazaroff, Executive Director of The Jazz Cruise, The Smooth Jazz Cruise and Blue Note at Sea. Feel free to express your views or pose questions to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SATURDAY NIGHT WITH MARCUS MILLER & FRIENDS: Check Out Your Invitation from Marcus!
One week from tonight, Marcus Miller, George Benson, Joey DeFrancesco, Alonzo Bodden and our Saturday Night Band will be on stage together and appear in your living room for the premiere episode of Saturday Night with Marcus Miller & Friends.
It will be an exciting 90 minutes of great music, conversation and comedy, all streamed online to your laptop, desktop, tablet, smartphone or Smart TV in HD picture and sound. The stars are getting together at a state-of-the-art venue in Southern California in just a few days to begin rehearsing and preparing the show. The final product will be incredible and it’s all easy to view from the comfort and safety of your home.
Click here to hear directly from Marcus, who’s excited to bring you the incredible jazz, lively conversation and big laughs that filled our Saturday Nights just months ago.
Tickets purchased prior to October 7 cost $25, giving you access to the show when it premieres at 10 p.m. Eastern Time October 10. If Saturday Nights don’t work, you have 36 hours to enjoy each show On-Demand after it airs.
Readers have asked why we have not included a Quiz in The Weekender for a while. In part, it is because all of life seems to be a daily quiz of what do we do next? But we have rallied this week and are ready to head back into the world of brain teasers.
Question: What is the significance of the following four numbers: 472, 479, 486, 493?