you ever heard snow fall? You don’t – it descends silently like a thick
marshmallow cloak coating everything in sight with layer upon layer of
pristine whiteness. After a 32-hour flight from my home in Brisbane to JFK
airport in New York, the blinding spectacle of twelve inches of snow hurt
my eyes as I gazed at Central Park. My hostess, a famed art historian,
enticed me out into the frozen landscape to frolic with gay abandon. For a
tropical Australian, it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Despite
spending my first New Year’s Eve in the Big Apple, the spectacle of Times
Square, freshly cleared by snow-ploughs, was best viewed on television.
The first two days of 2001 were spent hibernating in a state of surreal
suspension until my hostess left for her field trip in Egypt and I became
custodian of her artistically lavish apartment and two feline friends.
primary purpose of my visit was to present a research
paper at The International Association of Jazz Educators’
Conference from January 10 to 13. Marian McPartland, jazz
pianist, and host of the long-running radio program
Piano Jazz, is the subject of my PhD research, and the
focus of my Conference paper. Meeting up with Marian
again, after my appearance as a guest on Piano Jazz
in 1999, rekindled my passion for the daunting task of
writing a dissertation on her remarkable life in jazz. In
the ten days leading up to the Conference, I spent long
hours at the Institute of Jazz Studies in New Jersey, an
invaluable jazz archive for a long-distance researcher.
The journey involved three forms of transport, and on my
last visit I was “arrested” for misunderstanding the
complexities of the Newark Subway. Despite the
intervention of two fellow researchers and my tearful
pleading, a summons was issued. Oh, Praise the Lord, for
leading me to a spiritually uplifting gospel service in a
Harlem Baptist church to wash away my sins!
out live jazz as consolation, I returned to the enclave of Jazz at Noon,
sitting in with a remarkable group of retired businessmen/musicians who
have kept the flame of mainstream jazz flickering for 35 years. At one of
the classiest club venues, The Jazz Standard, I drank in every note played
by the formidable pianist, Tommy Flanagan, one of my idols. Exhilarated by
the elegant artistry of his trio, I splurged on a cab that swept me along
the grand illuminated boulevards of the “city that never sleeps”. Just as
there is a seedier side to New York, the jazz life can breed heartache. A
viewing of the Broadway show Sideman on video at the Performing
Arts Library Annex, recommended to me by Cleo Laine, reduced me to tears.
The highs and lows of both jazz and its musicians are evocatively
portrayed in the Ken Burns documentary simply entitled Jazz. Nine
riveting episodes went to air in January 2001, taking a historical,
musical and critical perspective on America’s gift to music. For
Australian fans, Jazz will be shown on the ABC.
of the Conference dawned, and after registration among thousands of jazz
delegates, I haunted the ballrooms of both the Hilton and Sheraton hotels
for a feast of jazz performances, panel discussions, seminars, workshops,
exhibits and research presentations, all focusing on the theme of jazz
education. My paper Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz: A Model for
Jazz Education was scheduled for Friday the 13th, but it proved to be
a good omen as the topic attracted an audience of devoted listeners to the
popular program. Apart from the Conference highlights, the peak experience
for me was attending a solo performance given by Marian in the Stanley H.
Kaplan Penthouse in the Lincoln Center, the first time I had seen her in
concert. She enthralled the audience with a sophisticated program of jazz
standards and originals, and her pianism and quirky patter turned every
head in the room away from the panoramic views of the New York skyline.
Marian McPartland is a shining example of the rejuvenating power of jazz,
as is saxophone player Neall Strand, who invited me to play piano on a
second CD of Mellow Jazz in Colorado before flying home. Recording
with American musicians was inspirational, and I returned home enriched by
such a kaleidoscope of musical experiences, by renewing old friendships
and cementing new ones, and by resonances of my previous visits to the
jazz capital of the world. Long live jazz!