In his blog a couple of weeks ago MJ Carty asked ‘When did music begin for you?’
I was fortunate to be born into a house full of music. My mother played the piano and sang. My father used to teach us hymns, as he tucked us in at night. And both of them loved jazz. So, I can’t ever remember a time when I didn’t love music and listen to jazz.
The first record I remember was a 45 – it had a deep blue/purple cover and bright yellow writing on it – this was from before the time I could read, so that’s how I recognized my favourite record. Our records were kept in a polished wooden cabinet and that was the record I always picked out when I was offered a choice. The yellow writing said ‘Duke Ellington’ and it was a track called ‘Tulip or Turnip’ sung by Ray Nance, a trumpeter with the Ellington band. How I loved that tune and still do. I used to sing it my son to sleep with it when he was a baby – I have no idea how many choruses of it I sang in his first year!
Back when I was 4 or 5, if I was feeling miserable or just wanted to be alone, I used to go and hide in the front room under the dining room in the bay window. I had a hidey-hole, just between the dining table leg and the window, where I would retreat with my bear. My parents couldn’t reach me. So my father would put ‘Tulip or Turnip’ on to entice me out. And it worked every time.
About the time of my 6th birthday we moved to Manchester and our sitting room was wired up with a stereo record player, with two speakers set into the bookcases. I remember running back and forth squealing with delight at recognizing the different sounds that were heard from each speaker. I remember pressing my ear to the textured surface of the speaker and being amazed at hearing Woody Herman singing from one and the trumpet section responding from the other.
Some years later and the old mono record player made its way into the bedroom that I shared with my sister. The old ‘Pye Black Box’ player in its lovely wooden case and my old friend the wooden record cabinet became ours. That was when my sister and I found one of my parents’ records which had been left in the record player when it was moved. And so we discovered Fats Waller’s piano playing and singing. We vowed not to tell my parents about the record and kept it for ourselves. The track was ‘That Old Feeling’ and we played it over and over, so often that we must have nearly worn the tracks out. (I couldn’t find the actual version of ‘That Old Feeling’ sung by Fats Waller, so here is another beautiful version this time by Chet Baker.)
When I was about 12 or so, my parents got the latest thing, a cassette tape deck, which was duly wired into the stereo system downstairs. Our friends’ family also got one about the same time. Looking back it seems very odd, but the big concern was about allowing the tape to play right to the end, in case the tape become unwound from its reel, as with the old reel to reel systems. In our friends’ family, every cassette had an obligatory announcement by their Dad to ‘Now turn over’ a few moments before the end of the tape. My father had a much more sophisticated solution, he always recorded an extract of a brilliant 1958 Cozy Cole drum solo from a piece called ‘Topsy’ at the end of each tape and that signaled that we needed to stop the tape and turn over. This started a pattern that lasted for years in my family of everyone having their own signature jazz tune to put at the end of any tapes they recorded – I had a version of ‘Honeysuckle Rose’ by Fats Waller. We were so well conditioned that I think even now, if I ever hear that version of ‘Topsy’ I will start searching for a cassette to turn over!
Another peculiarity of our cassette tape use, was that we were prohibited from fast forwarding tapes, in the belief that this often led to them getting all mangled and caught up in knots – a frequent problem at the time. So if we had a particular favourite piece of music on just one side of a tape, to listen to it again we were needed to listen to the whole of the other side. A friend had put Nat King Cole on one side of a tape and Charlie Parker on the other and so my liking for Nat King Cole led me to listening to the saxophinist Charlie Parker. In the end Charlie Parker and bebop won out over Nat King Cole. Here is one of the tracks from that tape ‘Ornithology’ – I used to do my organic chemistry homework to this.
When I was 19, I left home to go to university. My father prepared a special going away gift for me. He recorded all his Miles Davis records on a set of cassette tapes, noting down meticulously all the personnel details as well and presented them to me, along with the newly released Ian Carr biography of Davis. What a great present to start out adult life with! As a taster for that marathon Miles Davis collection, here is a recording of ‘Milestones’ – an appropriate choice for this blog.
Now I listen to many different kinds of music – Motown, disco, celtic, Broadway musicals, classical and so on, but jazz remains my first love.
26 February 2017
Lots of thanks to MJ Carty for providing the excuse to spend a lovely day listening to jazz, drawing and writing – all favourite things. And I found the original copy of ‘Tulip or Turnip’!