Stories that Sizzle – “Jazz Dialogues” from Jon Gordon

The text reads like a conversation between best buddies and the jazz jumps off the page in Jon Gordon’s new book “Jazz Dialogues.” A sax player and composer based in Winnipeg, Jon got access early in his career to some of the greats and has compiled their interviews and musical stories here. A lively and hip read.

When did you first decide to interview jazz musicians and compile them into a book?

When I started to work with Artistshare, in late 2005, Brian Camelio (who runs the company) asked what other content I might want to add to my site, other than just the recordings I’d make. I suggested interviews with friends and mentors in music, and he liked the idea. He actually suggested turning it into a book at some point. I didn’t really think to do that then. I did think a few years later to try to turn it into a Doctoral thesis, but it wasn’t granular enough for the programs that were interested in me. So that’s when I decided to add some more stories and interviews and turn it into a book. 

In your intro, how did you – at such a young age (20) – gain access to the first person who booked Charlie Parker (Jay McShann)?

I got to play with Jay earlier that week at the Oslo Jazz Festival in 1987. I was thankful I also ran into him at Heathrow Airport, and his talk to me about what it means to be a stylist was what I felt the best way to start the book. 

What are the key ingredients for a great interview?

I’m not sure. I wouldn’t consider myself an expert. But if you and the other person already know each other, there’s a trust there and shared experiences that can make a conversation more interesting and intimate. 

What surprises did you encounter in interviewing these musicians?

I think the biggest surprise was the connection that Milt Hinton talked about with Al Capone and Jackie Gleason. 

What do many of these artists have in common that have made them top-notch musicians in their own right?

I think they all love what they do. They’re all passionate about making a contribution in their own way, and passing their love and passion for the music on to others. 

If you had to pick one of your favorite interviews what would it be?

I don’t have a favorite, I really enjoyed them all. But I’d mention two things: Getting Mark Turner and I to laugh so much, when he has such a quiet, stoic kind of personality; and Joe Magnarelli and I laughing at the end of the book. 

When the musicians spoke about composing, do you think that’s almost too ethereal a process to describe?

Well, it might be tough for non-musicians to understand all the nuances of it. One thing about jazz that I think is very special is this balance of the in the moment process of improvising, along with composing over time.

How did these musicians create their own opportunities?

Well, the opportunities certainly change through the generations. For example, Eddie Locke came to NYC from Detroit with Oliver Jackson, doing a vaudeville act called Bop and Locke. Nowadays, young people post things on Instagram, Youtube and Facebook, and are able to connect with people around the world. Phil Woods told me once, “They’ve been telling me that jazz is dead since the ’50s. But the music just keeps quietly going on about its business from one generation to the next.” I think every generation has to adapt and find out how they can create opportunities. 

How has talking with these individuals inspired your own playing?

I think the musicians that I’ve known the longest (Eddie Locke, Eddie Chamblee, Phil Woods, Charles McPherson, Bob Mintzer, et al.), really had a great impact on me and taught me more than I could write here. But they and many others have shaped my direction and appreciation for the music. And I’m currently working on a New Nonet Project that combines musicians from Winnipeg (where I teach), NYC (where I’ve spent most of my life), Philly and elsewhere. 

What do you hope the reader gets from your book?

That the reader feels the passion of the musicians I spoke to, becomes more knowledgeable about those musicians and the music itself, and that their love and appreciation for jazz grows from reading more about it.

For more information visit https://www.amazon.com/Jazz-Dialogues-Jon-Gordon/dp/0999477668.

Photos courtesy of and with permission of Jon Gordon.

(c) 2021 Debbie Burke

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