“The essentials of Jazz are: melodic improvisation, melodic invention, swing & instrumental personality.” Mose Allison
This is an excerpt from my memoir The Sound I Felt in the Prelude section entltled “HiStory” that captures a conversation I had with my father. I always wondered how he managed to use the Hindemith mathematical model to create the sound he created. He decided to take a break from composing at the piano in our living room and motioned for me to come and sit next to him on the bench in the Spring of 1965. I asked him how he started and turning toward me he said…
“Music has always been in my blood. I began writing and arranging music when I was fourteen with the Barons of Rhythm. I taught myself how to read, write and sight sing music charts. I went to the library and found the Paul Hindemith method of music theory. This theory was very complex and was based on the mathematical use of harmonic tones from one center to another using all 12 notes freely or randomly instead of the conventional style of composing music that relied upon the music scale as a subset of the notes.
I would take an idea, melody or sound and have a rough idea ≈ the plan that focuses on the bottom notes and now becomes the counter melody of the sound or idea.
One day I decided that I wanted to go and see one of the greatest band leaders of my time His name was Les Hite. Les and his orchestra were performing in New York City @ 52nd Street, at the tender age of fourteen I knew I’d have to find a way to get in to see the band perform and to meet him in person.
It was Friday, May, 24th, 1944, 6:00 pm and it was now time for me to get dressed for my trip to 52nd Street Club. I chose my favorite shirt that was made of beautiful brown silk with gold vertical stripes my mother made for my 13th birthday. Smiling wryly he whispered… My mom chose it because it brought out my sultry almond shaped eyes and warm smile. I was popular with the boys and girls alike. Although I excelled academically, my music class and teacher Miss Davenport inspired me the most. You know, I formed my own band with guys from my neighborhood when I was 14. The guys performed with me throughout my music career. Frank Sinatra was doing his thing in North Newark; Sara was singing in the choir, a lot of great talent came out of New Jersey back in my day. Back to the story− at that time, all I could dream and think about was meeting and talking to Les Hite.
So I gathered up train fare and headed to Union Station located on Market Street that was in to the Ironbound section of Newark, NJ which was predominately a Portuguese neighborhood. Across from the train station was Market Street which had many open venders peddling their wares, fresh and ripe red delicious apples, bright marigold colored oranges; sunny yellow bananas; papayas; pineapples; mangos, it was so bright and festive that it looked like a garden of fruits and vegetables. There was a seafood market and a meat market that sold the best and freshest cuts. The street was of white cobble stone. That gave it a very ethnic and unique feeling, like being on a street in the countryside of Portugal. Union Station was a beautiful gold domed building that stood out from the architecture of row houses on the surrounding narrow streets lined with Poplar trees shading the homes and the sidewalks. Union Train Station was the second most popular cosmopolitan place where travelers from New York and around the world would pass through with the exception of Grand Central Station in New York City. The station had a semi-circle driveway to the entrance made of cobblestone that matched the streets that surrounded the building creating an island in the center of a close knit neighborhood.
I arrived at the train station and had bought a fresh mango and an orange for dinner. I walked up to the ticket window; the ticket agent was dressed in a dark blue outfit with gold epaulets and a hat.
Well young man what can I do for you?
I said with a smile, I would like a round trip ticket to New York City,.
The ticket clerk slid the ticket under the half moon shaped glass and I slid the $1.75 in return.
Over the loud speaker the clerk announced, “The 6:48 pm train to Manhattan now boarding on Track 14”.
I sprung to my feet and began running; I was so excited my feet barely touched the marble floor. People were milling around toting luggage and carry-on’s the women were dressed in coats made of wool and cashmere with tams and hats on shoulder length waved hair. They held little hands of children with warm coats and gloves with hats that tied under their chins. The children quietly followed their folks, the girls with dolls and the boys carrying trucks. I made it to Track 14 and saw the conductor toward the middle of the train. I sprinted weaving in and out of the crowd reaching the center car where the conductor stood. All Aboard! He motioned for me to board the train. I hopped on and found an empty seat next to a group of young musicians dressed in dress pants and white shirts, one guy was placing a suitcase that held the charts for that evening’s performance in the storage above the seat.
I asked, can I sit with you guys? They looked up and smiled and said Sure Man. I introduced myself and we chatted about the gig and sight sang some of the charts that they were going to perform that night. I was shocked to find out that it just so happened that they were band members of Les Hite’s Band. They invited me to join them backstage. I was so ecstatic I could hardly breathe. We arrived at the Savoy and entered through the stage door entrance. Stage hands were carrying the music stands and microphones to the stage. Les Hite was in his dressing room talking with his road manager. Les was cleaning his saxophone in his lap, a page for the manager sounded over the loud speaker. The manager, dressed in casual slacks and a cashmere turtleneck green sweater stood up and started heading to the door and passed me on the way to the stage. I took a deep breath, then I knocked on the door.
Les shouted Come In!
I tentatively entered; Les looked up and said Hi kid, what’s up!
I have followed you and your band and I wanted to know how you do it, how you get that sound?
Les looked at him and laughed and said, it’s easy– you put the highs with the highs and the lows with the lows. Les broke into laughter as he got up to head to the stage.
I was annoyed. I couldn’t figure out why he did not take me seriously. Turning, I said, I can do that, how about letting me be one of your copyists? I am very good!
Les stopped, took a long, long look at me, okay Kid, you must have something going for you if you could just walk up to me and ask for a copyist gig. Come to my office tomorrow at 3 pm and Cal our head copyist will get you squared away. Good Luck kid. I shook Les’ hand and walked with him to the stage entrance where Les introduced me to Charlie his Road Manager. Les told Charlie, look out for him, he’s one of our new copyists. I was on Cloud 9. That was my ticket into the exciting world of Jazz. I was now living my personal dream. So, I joined the band and ran away from home at age 14 and I never looked back. I knew I was on my way, ‘cause God, fate, or destiny wouldn’t allow me to fail now….”
Wishing you Happy Holidaze with a jazz back beat that is the prelude to the life that has been waiting for me. It is what makes the sounds of my life come true and are so filled with the blessings and grace that God has given to all of us. It is Nothing more….Peace & Love Out! JBC 😎 & <3.
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