It began with an album cover. A profile shot, slightly blurry around the edges, of a man with a dark, sharp-pointed goatee, wearing a green plaid jacket and black fedora. His right eye (the only one visible) was shut, as if he’d been caught in repose, but that slight blurriness suggested his moment of rest was ending and he was about to burst into some unpredictable action. The words in an archaic font running down the left side of the cover were punctuated by two syllable-breaking hyphens:
MONK’S DREAM THE THELO-NIOUS MONK QUAR-TET
Thelonious Monk? What kind of a name was that?
My father had bought the LP when Columbia first issued it, in 1963. I found it in his collection 20 years later. I was 11. For more than two years, I’d been listening almost exclusively to the Beatles and other 1960s British Invasion bands. Their music had inspired me to take up the guitar, and I still loved it dearly, but I was ready for something else. And what I heard when I dropped the needle on “Monk’s Dream”—those fractured piano chords, that melody delighting in its own lack of resolution, that corkscrew Charlie Rouse tenor sax solo, so aggressive and yet so whimsical—was indeed something else.
Further epiphanies followed. Some came via my dad’s longstanding interest in the music: Miles, Mulligan and Baker, Brubeck and Desmond, Ellington’s Blanton-Webster band. Others were triggered later by teachers, friends, and even radio DJs: A Love Supreme, Bill Frisell, the Julius Hemphill Big Band album, Henry Threadgill’s Too Much Sugar for a Dime.
By the time that last disc came out, I’d already spent two years playing in jazz ensembles in the New England Conservatory’s extension division—one of them led by future Klezmatic Matt Darriau—and another seven years studying guitar privately with Berklee professor Craig Hlady. I’d learned all about ii-V-I turnarounds, the Lydian mode, and the glories (and shortcomings) of The Real Book. The music I was making for myself still leaned closer to rock, but I was using what I’d learned to write more about jazz, first for The Boston Phoenix, then for Musician, where I was on the editorial staff for eight years.
As the ’90s turned to the ’00s, my day-to-day awareness of the jazz scene slowly diminished; I got caught up first in writing a book on the rock band Radiohead, then in editing a variety of music education-related magazines. But my love of jazz stayed strong, and so I was gratified when Evan Haga brought me into the JazzTimes fold as a freelancer three years ago. Reviewing worthy new albums, drawing attention to undersung players, interviewing and writing about giants like John McLaughlin, Jimmy Heath, and Ron Carter—it felt like a homecoming.
Now, after more than a decade at JazzTimes, Evan has moved on, choosing me to be his successor as editor. It’s a challenging task, and sometimes I find myself worrying whether I’ll be able to uphold the high standards that Evan maintained. Then I remember my dad (now 14 years gone) and his records, and the cover of Monk’s Dream and all that it set into motion, and I know it’s going to be okay. For in the end, this job is grounded in the same thing I felt when I was 11: the thrill of discovering great music. That thrill never fades, and I consider it an honor to keep on discovering along with you.
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