The first two jazz LPs I ever bought were by Stan Getz and Dave Brubeck. That day was in 1953, nearly sixty years ago, and I was barely twelve years old. Brubeck died this morning, one day shy of his ninety-second birthday, and his death brings back a flood of memories. I heard him in concert on several occasions, and bought several of his early albums, including that first one, the ten-inch Jazz at Oberlin.
Brubeck enjoyed a long and illustrious career. I last heard him at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall several years back, and although he hobbled on and off stage with difficulty, his playing was still as spry and powerful as ever. But his death reminds me most of all of how and why I became a jazz fan. This poem I wrote in 2007 explains:
My First Downbeat
Dimly in black and white, through a scratchy glassine sleeve
in a dingy bin at Colony Music in Times Square,
Eddie Fisher’s face smiles up at me from the cover
of a bedraggled Downbeat magazine.
My very first major crush! I catch my breath, transported back
to seventh grade, the day I bought this very magazine,
the one that seduced me down the road of jazz.
Long lost for decades, now it’s reborn as memorabilia,
with a $25 price tag. My knees creak as I hunker down,
retrieve the magazine, and slip it from its plastic sleeve.
Yes, this is it – November, 1953. I turn the fragile pages,
searching for the story. Stan Getz, busted in Seattle
for trying to rob a drugstore to finance his heroin fix.
My mind’s eye scans the photo – Stan in white tee shirt,
leather jacket, boyishly handsome, cuffed and flanked by cops.
So tragically romantic – oh, alas, poor Stan.
So it came into my life, a heavy ten-inch Verve,
Stan Getz Quartet, my very first LP. I didn’t understand at first,
me, a 12-year-old Milwaukee girl, who played “Oh My Papa”
on a red mother-of-pearl accordion. But still I persevered,
and soon my tastes evolved. At a Washington convention,
my father had his photo snapped with Eddie Fisher
as a special gift to me, but when he brought it home,
to his dismay, I blew it off as square.
But no, Stan’s story isn’t in this Downbeat! Paging through,
I find fascinating photos – Mingus and Bird at Birdland,
a young Miles Davis with a broad, ingenuous grin,
before he donned the mask of Prince of Darkness.
Then it comes flooding back –
Stan Getz was in my second Downbeat, not my first.
The Hilltoppers were on the cover. All these years,
my personal mythology has been a fraud.
Carefully, sadly, I slip the Downbeat back in its dusty bin.
Later, on Amtrak, heading north once more,
I curse my stinginess. Damn, I want those early pictures
of Miles and Mingus, even though I didn’t fall in love with them
till freshman year. Nothing for it but to head back to New York
and splurge on tattered memories in a magazine
that no one cares about but me.
I never did get that magazine, but down in the basement I still have cartons of old jazz LPs from the 1950’s. Browsing on eBay, I’ve learned that some of them may be worth hundreds of dollars, including perhaps Brubeck’s 10” Jazz at Oberlin. Maybe I’ll auction them off one of these days, but somehow I haven’t gotten around to it, in part because they’re so well and thoroughly played.