A night in Birdland

Feb 07, 2011 3 Comments by

Last Thursday I watched the latest Dave Liebman Saxophone Summit at Birdland. Liebman, a veteran of Miles Davis’ band and many others, shared the stage with fellow reedmen Joe Lovano and Ravi Coltrane, son of John. Phil Markowitz, Cecil McBee, and Billy Hart made up the rhythm section. It was a great show, but I wasn’t enjoying it half as much as the guy sitting next to me. He was a student from Turkey, probably about 20 years old, a musician (originally guitar, now saxophone), a huge jazz fan, and this was his first trip to New York. His priority had been to check out as many clubs around town as possible, and he’d clearly made himself completely comfortable at Birdland; when I was trying to figure out what to do with my coat, he showed me the hooks underneath the bar, which I’d never noticed in any of my previous visits. He’d seen Kenny Barron the night before, and he was kicking himself that he was going to miss Wayne Shorter at Town Hall on the 9th. I asked him after the first set how he’d gotten into jazz. It turned out that his first guitar teacher, who was mainly a blues player, had also introduced him to some music by Joe Pass. That was it. A life-changing moment.

It was a treat to absorb such enthusiasm. My mind went back more than 15 years to when I first started traveling to New York regularly, and my near-disbelief at the musical riches on offer every night. And then it went further back, to the night when I first heard Ravi’s dad. I was 15, sitting at home in Cambridge looking out over Brattle Street and listening to Eric Jackson’s show “Eric in the Evening” on WGBH radio. He was doing an all-Coltrane program, and he played A Love Supreme in its entirety. “Resolution” in particular floored me, as it still does today. My whole conception of what was musically possible changed immediately, much as that of my young Turkish acquaintance must have done when those first few Joe Pass licks reached his ears.

This brief encounter, along with my recent trip to Eastview Middle School in White Plains, NY (of which more later), was a welcome reminder of why I do what I do. Such things are never bad.

Random Thoughts

3 Responses to “A night in Birdland”

  1. John Crooks says:

    Thanks Mac! Eric Jackson is a real treasure. His show introduced me to a lot of great music, and his natural DJ style makes Eric in the Evening a great vehicle for bringing jazz to both fans and newcomers.

  2. Eric Jackson says:

    I just read this today. Thank you! I have always felt very fortunate that I am able to call something work that I really love to do.

    • Mac says:

      Eric, thanks a lot for reading and taking the time to comment. And most important, thank you for introducing me and so many others to so much great music over the years.

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