Driving home last night, down the twists and turns of John Carle Road, I turn on the radio, intending to switch over to WFAN and get the Mets score, but I can't touch the dial. It's NPR, it's Tim Coakley's jazz show. And I'm listening one of those things that remind me of why I still love life. I don't recognize it at all. It's got a big band sound, but not Basie, and too Dionysian for Ellington. It's got the swinging driving riffing quality of rhythm and blues, but it's not Hampton, not even close. And it's too modern. And then these solos, each one different, and each one wilder - not just emotionally, but musically too. And I still don't even come close to recognizing it, but I just keep listening, transfixed. The very first time I got blindsided by the radio like this (with jazz, I mean - there were rock and roll moments) was in college, when I didn't yet know what jazz could do to you, and suddenly it was just me and the radio and John Coltrane with the Red Garland trio. I went out and bought the album, lost it years later in a move, found it in a used record store in the Seventies, but it was fifty bucks and I couldn't afford it. Then Peter Jones gave me his copy, and I still treasure it, although at the moment my vinyl is in a closet that a piece of furniture has been shoved against, and I can't get to it. But it's safe in there. Most recently, and this goes back several years, Branford Marsalis' late-night jazz show on NPR, and it was Tito Puente's Golden Latin Jazz Ensemble Live at the Village Gate, driving late, alone -- maybe down John Carle Road that time, too. I bought that one, too, on CD this time, followed by a lot more Tito Puente.
And I don't buy much music any more, but I'll get this one, because fortunately Tim Coakley identified it. Johnny Varro Swingin' on West 57th Street. How have I never heard of Johnny Varro before? AllMusic Guidesays he's been around since the 50s. They also peg him as a swing musician, which he is, but that doesn't begin to cover it. Here's a direct link to the album, which has great cover art as well. My advice - even if you download music, buy this one. We should be supporting our living jazz treasures.
Then I switch over to WFAN, where the game is still on, due to a rain delay, and I hear Gary Cohen's inspired call of Marlon Anderson's pinch-hit, game-tying inside-the-park home run.
So life is still good. You heard it here first.