Tomorrow I head upstate to see my friend Steve, who I haven't see in about 3 1/2 years. When I was in high school eschewing all forms of music with the exception of hair metal and Huey Lewis and the News, it was Steve and his younger brother Dave who turned my head around to a whole new world of music.
To this day I still remember the experience of hearing jazz for the first time. With the exception of big band stuff from the movies and some Louie Armstrong, I was really exposed to any jazz. Thank my mother's love for Air Supply and The Moody Blues. (P.S. Mom - I love you!). Dave and I were driving to the old Orange Plaza Mall to pick Steve up from work. At that time he was toiling in some old art studio supply store in the lower level basement section of the mall. I didn't know Steve that well - he was two years older than Dave and I, and already in college: an odd, introspective guy whose style was sort of Robert Smith meets Johnny the Homicidal Maniac (in dress only - I don't think Steve was capable of actual physical aggression - as a member of the high school wrestling team ,that was Dave's job). So, whatever the circumstances, Steve got in, closed the door and said, "Listen to this, I think you'll like it. This guy plays faster than any of your metal guitar players." It was Birds of Fire by the Mahavishnu Orchestra. It would be an understatement to say I was floored hearing John McLaughlin for the first time.
Was this was jazz was like? This was insane!
A couple days I was even more amazed when I heard the Friday Night in San Francisco record by John McLaughlin, Al DiMeola and Paco De Lucia. It wasn't just the speed and ferocity with which these guys were attacking their instruments, although that was the initial draw for me. There was something else. Something that at the time I couldn't place, but I think now turned out to be passion. This was 1990-1991: the hard bangin' metal I had grown up with was was dying in loud, painful gasps. Even Metallica finally starting wheezing after the release of the Black Album. Everything was tired. And along comes this whole new style of music that sounded like every note had blood and tears and loss etched along its side.
For me, the final piece that completed the love for jazz I have now came as almost a cliche. To know Steve is to know a man who revels in the art of lofty, often pretentious statements. This is not a knock on Steve. I would guess that 90% of the stuff he says he truly and firmly believes - the other 10% he's trying on for size to see how it fits. So, while the next sentence I'll quote from him can be (I think, but remember I haven't seen or talked to him in years) taken as a quintessential Steve statement, in this particular instance forgive him - he was 100% right:
STEVE: So, did you like the other stuff?
CHRIS: uh, yeah! That was great!
STEVE: Okay, listen to this. This is the greatest jazz record ever made. (classic "Steve" line)
CHRIS: uh, okay Steve!
Cut him some slack. It turned out to be Kind of Blue.