By Devon “Doc” Wendell
2013 was a year of musical disappointment, death, bitterness, and pristine isolation for me. I got the usual offers from greedy chuckle-heads to play gigs or do sessions for no money. Not much in the way of good new music came across my desk, and a seemingly endless list of primarily jazz musicians that I knew and loved died, including Donald Byrd, Frank Wess, Cedar Walton, Mulgrew Miller, Jim Hall, Yusef Lateef, Ricky Lawson, Dwayne Burno, and way too many more to list here.
All of this forced me to give into the inherent antisocial beast that dominates my psyche and daily decisions and actions. I became a recluse for many months and I loved every second of it.
Having also become even more disillusioned by rock n’ roll and the people who support that music and its imperialistic rule over what’s left of the music business, I grabbed stacks of classic Swing Era jazz, bebop and hard bop CDs on Blue Note, Savoy, Prestige, Columbia, and the Riverside label and ducked down deep into Doc’s swinging little bubble. It’s a safe place with just a boom-box, guitars, hot coffee, iced cold Coca-Cola, and no downloaded music so I could try to limit logging onto the internet and other non-serene activity. And no Rolling Stones brand vodka or Jimi Hendrix I-pad holders.
This didn’t always work, however, and I found myself falling for an awful internet hoax on the death of one of my idols, Horace Silver, as well as several time-wasted battles with angry nitwit trolls on Facebook. It was as close to hiding out as one could get in 2013 without having to enter a federal witness protection program.
For the most part, it was myself and Freddie Hubbard, Dizzy Gillespie, Bird, Dexter Gordon, Fats Navarro, Woody Shaw, Jackie Mclean, Bud Powell, Johnny Griffin, Lee Morgan, Monk, Blue Mitchell, Miles, Art Blakey, Sonny Rollins, Duke, Basie, Kenton, Thad Jones and Mel Lewis, Lester Young, and Coleman Hawkins, just to name a handful.
With everything swinging this hard, life was perfect and in the moment. No one could touch or drain the historical significance out of the records that I had immersed myself. Not in the way they had done to rock n’ roll and even a lot of great, straight ahead blues over the last few decades.
None of the jazz players I listened to obsessively needed hoards of uneducated imaging teams attempting to “brand” their music to a younger, uncaring demographic. No dumbed-down explanations, publicity stunts, and twitter wars had to be applied to Kenny Dorham’s trumpet playing or Jimmy Heath’s tenor sax work, which gave me solace and much needed energy.
All of the artists I mentioned who passed away this year were also on my constant play list.
I needed them more than ever. Too many years of the insanity of trying to survive in the music business had taken me away from them and now they were gone. No more going to The Village Vanguard or Blue Note and asking Frank Wess or Jim Hall musical questions and sharing laughs after their shows. No more Yusef Lateef showing me how to play the hell out of the blues ten feet from my face. All I had were a flood of memories and fantastic recordings at my fingertips.
Although the music was incredible, the solitude and depression of my trusty little bubble began to make me feel as if I had given up as a musician and a writer. Do I want to be that bitter old blues player endlessly bitching about how the industry kept him down? As I approach 39? In part yes, I like those guys. But I also need and want work. The notion of labor was enough to burst my bubble instantly.
It’s a new year and time to try to put myself out there again. All of that great music is still playing loudly in my tiny bedroom and will until the day I die. But now I’m looking forward to submitting much more copy to my beloved boss and teacher Don Heckman, and I’m searching for good musicians to play and record with in 2014 without a thought of industry needs or trends. Let them retreat to their own bubbles as I often retreat to mine, though mine is vastly superior.
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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Devon Wendell click HERE.