Jazz, like sand, gets into everything

After I switched my allegiance from rock 'n' roll to jazz, I began to realize that I'd already been listening to jazz for a long time.

In college, I played bass in a blues-rock outfit and my pals and I were valiantly holding back the polluted tide of disco by covering the tunes of T-Bone Walker, Skip James, Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy, B.B. King and the Allman Brothers Band.

My big moment in any gig came with the intro of the Allmans' "Whipping Post," which features a simple bass ostinato, instantly recognizable to music lovers of the time and built upon an odd 11-to-the-bar time signature that moved into 12 as the keyboard fell in. But the really fine moments arrived during the guitar solos by bandmates Doug Harvey and Ted Schick. Doug's deep and soulful ideas were the perfect complement to Ted's technical prowess and flash.

And, I swear, what came out was jazz.

Doug remained close to the music business for more than two decades and now runs his own private business in Ohio, while Ted teaches philosophy in a Pennsylvania college and writes textbooks and scholarly articles. Both still play and they are, if anything, better than they used to be.

These two taught me something I didn't know I'd learned: that is, that the best of music can become jazz when it reaches maturity. There are many examples of this. Duke Ellington's pop tunes of the early 20th century coalesced into his grand and weighty sacred compositions. John Coltrane demonstrated time after time that a standard can be turned inside out. The Allmans themselves took Dickey Betts' "In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed" into precincts where music became almost pure math, but it was a righteous workout. B.B. King, Ray Charles, Buddy Guy -- all these people know about jazz, and it shows in their music, like a sustaining, nourishing bowl of homemade chicken soup.

Another friend, Russ Hall of Texas, is a novelist. What cemented our friendship nearly 40 years ago was a common love of music and books. When I began my SkyJazz gig, he deluged me with ideas and made me think about many unconsidered aspects of the music I love most.

And maybe the best idea he planted is ... here, I'll let him tell it:

"Jazz, of all music forms, is the least tolerant of a fool." -- Russ Hall.

To this I add: "But she is a most forgiving mistress."

When the Duke titled his autobiography "Music Is My Mistress," he wasn't being cute. And music lovers, especially those partial to jazz, know quite well how, when all else fails, music will never let you down.

There has been no greater musical revelation for me than the understanding of how jazz covers all idioms of music like a binding thread. Bach and Coltrane have more in common than one might first suppose. The glory is in realizing it.