This… this was definitely a quintessential “Bridging The Gap” moment for me. This medley of songs from Duke Ellington, Lionel Hampton and James Moody by way of Eddie Jefferson, made a lot of music possible for me and a few of my contemporaries. The reason that I make such a declaration is because I’m a firm believer in affirmation. For many years leading up to the release of this particular set of music (and I’ve had this conversation with others who had a similar experience), I faced like so many others the awkward years of tweendom and teendom carrying the dreaded instrument case and sheet music folder on and off the bus, year after year to many of the same questions: What’s in that case? (and heaven forbid if I ever wanted to get any practicing done on Bari Sax) What’s in that big case? Kids laughing outside listening as I practiced through the awkward squeaks and squawks that come along with being a ten year old learning an instrument. Those developing years on saxophone were not “cool”. Well, actually let me rephrase that: It was always cool to me to learn and play music it just wasn’t necessarily cool to the exterior forces that all adolescents look to from time to time for affirmation. Until…

Yes that until came when I was in the 10th grade and Chuck Brown released this opus melding Jazz Standards and the incessant, hypnotic Go-Go beat. In my hometown Go-Go was king. This was all throughout the beginnings and “Golden Era” of Hip Hop. Folks, loved Hip Hop as well, but nothing and I mean nothing like their adoration for Go-Go. This fell right in line with the aspirations of a bunch of band nerds who just happened to love playing their instruments and who had a love of all kinds of music especially America’s Classical Music: Jazz.

It was almost a perfect storm that happens only every so often, where the popularity of a music lines up with musical credibility. This was affirmation of a very high order: These guys were playing instruments and playing them very well. Not only that, the colors and textures went beyond the 7th and the extended harmonies and voicings would live with many of us up to this very day.

I cannot tell you the feeling that I get every time I see a young person with an instrument in their hand. You know I often think that we close off so much creativity because we frame so many arguments in terms of old and new: Like it’s old school to play an instrument or it’s new school to use the computer as your instrument. They are both valid and they need to be balanced so that there is an appreciation for what the challenges are to both methods of music making. That something is “old school” argument is complete garbage. In 1986 all of these songs except the Ellington were new to me. Then I went back through my parent’s collection and found the originals because I was spurred on by this great music being framed in a contemporary context. That still happens for folks through sampling et al, but it was something about hearing those horns blow, the rhythm section and that percussive beat that is as much D.C. as it is West Africa or Cuba for that matter.

Something as simple as a recording as an homage to some Jazz Greats allowed this awkward lanky teenager to feel like an alchemist in front of a larger group of his peers because he could play the arrangement note for note. It was like I pulled a rabbit out of a hat, because the looks on the faces said it all: “How did he do that?” This is why we make music… for that feeling and I’m not trying to sound like the grumpy old man by saying we need some better examples to come to the fore. Oh the examples are out there but we have to do a better job of helping to promote them to balance out the mediocre that goes for amazing these days. What Chuck Brown and crew did back in ’86 is still amazing, some of this stuff in the marketplace that takes up a vast majority of the mind share of numerous young people, not so amazing. In fact I might even goes so far to say that I’m questioning it’s validity as music. That’s not the grumpy old man talking, that’s just someone who was lucky enough to be affirmed with music by musicians many moons ago.

Ivan Orr is a multi-instrumentalist, composer, performer, and writer. A native of Charlottesville, Virginia Ivan was involved with the forming and nascent days of The Music Resource Center as its first Program Director. A graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Department of Music, Ivan currently resides in Richmond, VA where he maintains an active performance and production schedule while serving as the Music Editor for Grown Folks Music, a position he has held since 2010.