John M Donovan
Hat Tip #1: Yours Truly Dick Karner
(First in a series, I hope, of blog entries saluting people whose impact on my life is still felt today.)
I had some weird misconceptions back in high school. I remember hearing some of my classmates talking about going to a Marshall Tucker concert in Terre Haute, and I couldn’t wrap my head around it because to me the word concert referred solely to symphonic music being played by an orchestra. In my mind a concert was three or four rows of musicians in evening wear, with violins and a conductor and polite applause.
What little I knew about the Marshall Tucker Band made me wonder how they were going to fill all those seats and why they would want to play orchestral versions of “Can’t You See” and “Heard It In a Love Song.”
This is what happens when you don’t go to a lot of concerts (or any) and when you don’t fully embrace the same music as your peers. In high school I was aware of the current pop and rock hits but at home I usually listened to big band, old-time country, and, I don’t know, probably sound effects records. I played bass trombone in jazz band but didn’t really get into jazz until I accidentally discovered a Saturday night radio show called “And All That Jazz” on WXUS-FM out of Lafayette.
The show was hosted by a man who referred to himself as “Yours Truly Dick Karner,” and when he said the name of the show it was always “And Allllll That Jazz.” He had the perfect voice for late-night listening—resonant, calm, and authoritative—and after each song when he was listing everyone who played on it you could hear not only his love for the music and the musicians but his love for sharing it all with his audience.
That made me listen closer.
Yours Truly Dick Karner played cuts we didn’t play in jazz band, cuts that were heavy on improvisation (our high school ensemble, for the most part, didn’t stray far from the charts). He played artists I’d never heard of—Stanley Turrentine, Chick Corea, and the Bill Evans Trio come to mind—and made me want to seek them out. He played Chuck Mangione’s “Hill Where the Lord Hides,” which I thought was the coolest song title ever.
Yours Truly Dick Karner introduced me to cool jazz, bop, fusion, and a whole bunch of other sub-genres. With every song it was like he was saying “Here’s something you need to know.” And he was right.
Today, some 40+ years later, I still listen to a lot of jazz and I’m fortunate to call Mr Karner one of my Facebook friends. But here’s something I picked up from “And Alllll That Jazz,” something subtle that I didn’t even notice till recently. When I’m listening to rock or folk or pretty much any other music genre, I’m aware of the performer but focused on the song. When I listen to jazz, I’m focused not only on the song but on each individual musician. I might not know their names, but I can picture their fingers on the bass or the drumsticks in their hand. I become aware that on this particular recording from 50 or 60 years ago, each musician was creating something new, something from deep in the soul, and leaving it on tape to thrill an audience next week, and next century.
It’s one reason jazz touches me so much, and one reason I’m glad I stumbled across Yours Truly Dick Karner way back when.