I guess all of us recall a favorite teacher. Someone who could see through our adolescent insecurities and egos (one is the product of the other BTW) and speak to us on a one to one basis. Without exception they are people called to the profession, they never go into teaching because it's a easy degree. They inevitably establish a rapport with their students based upon mutual respect. In Lapeer there was Mrs. Judith Weaver.
She was married to the school choir director, and was a bohemian kind of character. She taught English and Journalism, and always brought a little of the real world into the classroom.
She approved of us boys reading Playboy because she knew the best writers of the era were turning out articles and short stories for Playboy. She listened to Jazz music, and introduced her students to it. More on that later.
One day Mrs. Weaver brought in an assignment. Scholastic Magazine had introduced a deal whereby students could order paperback versions of the great books of the day for a huge discount. We were to pick one, and write a report on it. I glanced through the flier. Now which of these books would...
A Be cheap?
B Be quick to read?
C Present no challenge whatsoever when it came to writing the requisite report?
AHA... Here's one! On The Road.
Great, a travel documentary! Nothing could be easier than writing a report on a travel documentary, right? Just name off a few towns, scan through the text for a few landmarks, write up a couple of double spaced pages and VIOLA... back to American Bandstand.
Somehow the adventures of Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarity didn't quite give themselves up to quality time with a TV. My GAWD, is this possible? Can people really live like this?
I couldn't put the book down.
When I'd finished it, I had no CLUE what to write in the report. How in the hell can one construct a family friendly summary of a book that is at once completely profane, seditious and entirely corrupting to every small-town, status quo validating, middle class value that one had ever learned?
I wrote the report on some other book, began planning my escape from Lapeer, and never gave a damn about Bandstand again.
But I was still convinced I wanted to be a musician. I loved listening to Gene Krupa on “Sing, Sing, Sing” and recall seeing Larry Johnson, the areas best drummer, play the song in a half-time show with his High School band in Flint. He seriously tore that drum set up! Then there was Mo' Purtil, the drummer for Glenn Miller and his great playing on “Bugle Call Rag.” These guys were soloists, and they brought the roof down every time they played. I was quickly learning the show-biz aspect of this musician thing.
Then one day I was walking down the hall at school. I was passing by Mrs. Weaver's English class,when I heard something that stopped me in my tracks. She had brought in one of her jazz albums, and was sharing it with the class. I couldn't believe my ears, I'd never heard anything like this before. The horns were wailing, the piano player was banging out chords that I'd never heard in any of John Phillips Sousa's marches, and the drummer and bass player were locked in unison. They were playing off one another, it was like they were Siamese twins of some kind, joined at the hip.
I HAD to find out what that was.
After the class let out I ventured into the empty classroom. She'd left the album on the desk. “Art Blakey and his Jazz Messengers Featuring Clifford Brown.” At lunch I lit out immediately for Walter's Music Store. I combed the LP racks looking for a Blakey record.... nothing. Then, in the $1.00 bin, I saw the name Clifford Brown. On the cover was a picture of Max Roach looking over his cymbals. THIS was the one, I gave Marge the dollar and hurried out the door. As soon as I got home that afternoon, I put the record on. The rattle of those Gretsch drums, and the crash of those K Zildjian cymbals had me mesmerized.
From that day on I'd sneak down to the empty choir room where Mr Weaver taught. He kept copies of Downbeat magazine in the rack, and I perused every one. There were articles about the latest developments in jazz. The “new thing” was taking over from the old Be-boppers, and not many were thrilled about it. I read every article, and looked at every Gretsch drum ad. Gretsch was the instrument of choice for Max Roach, Art Blakey, Elvin Jones, Philly Joe Jones, Lou Bellson and just about every other, major jazz player.
I was seriously hooked.