Jazz Alive: Tune In Tomorrow

Back to my personal jazz history. Truth is my last post in this series depressed me so much I didn’t feel like writing about jazz anymore. It’s just that Miles Davis was so much worse on Doo-Bop than I remembered him being — it was an album that did not age well, and I was a bit ashamed that I had ever found it so enthralling. But I did, and that’s that.

What prompted me to start writing about jazz again was actually the cover of the October issue of Poetry, which has this stunning crocodile photo. That’s what first drew me into this album: crocs.

Where this album came from is shrouded in mystery. I know one thing: it is a movie soundtrack, and to this day I have never seen the movie. Somehow or another I started listening to this album — perhaps prompted by my earlier Wynton Marsalis experience. This was back in the ancient days of cassette tapes, when I would listen to tapes on my walkman going back and forth to high school.

Hold on — memory returning. I think that I bought this tape during a visit to Jakarta for model united nations during my freshman year of high school. I’m recollecting it was a cassette tape from an indonesian company — I remember the style of casing and insert. In Asia, there was all kinds of crazy releases of cassette tapes. In Seoul, Korea, Itaewon had a store called Yes Records where they sold bootlegged metal, punk, rock. The inserts were photocopies of a hand-written list of the songs on the album.

The problem is that the Yes Records bootlegs wore out pretty quickly. They were cheap tapes. Indonesia, inexplicably, had inexpensive — and legal! — high quality cassette tapes through a deal with A&M Records. Or at least that’s my vague recollection. On school trips there, I stocked up on music.

So that’s how I acquired the album. I certainly bought it because of Wynton Marsalis’ name & photo on the cover, not because of the movie. Listening to it on the bus back and forth to school, one day I realized that the fourth track sounded alive — alive like a crocodile or alligator or something. It very viscerally brought to mind the animal. Hard to describe, except that it just sounded like a croc. I scrambled around in my bag and produced the case and insert, complete with glossy cover. Sure enough — title of the track was “Alligator Tail Drag”.

Well, that was a powerful thing. Inducing, just by your music, the personality and character of an animal — an animal that was very far from my mind in Seoul, Korea. The album as a whole was impressive — it was big-band, New Orleans style. But where The Dirty Dozen Brass Band was wonderful, joyful chaos in big band madness, Tune In Tomorrow was carefully coordinated, restrained, scripted — but just as beautiful and inspiring.

My other favorite tracks include a fun, bluesy number, “May Be Fact Or Fiction”, with vocals sung by Johnny Adams. But it’s the romantic, bluesy Shirley Horn pieces — “The Ways of Love” and “I Can’t Get Started” — that really make it stand out. I fell in love with Shirley Horn through this album. She sings with Marsalis’ trumpet and it all comes together with a quiet, simmering intensity. I didn’t know it at the time, but listening to it now it reminds me of Johnny Hartman and his smoke-soaked voice. The track “I Can’t Get Started” (which I vaguely recall is a Gershwin tune) opens with a perfect Marsalis solo, and then Shirley starts her magic:

I’ve flown around the world in a plane
I’ve settled revolutions in Spain
The North Pole I have charted
But I can’t get started with you.

The millionaires I’ve had to turn down
would stretch from London to New York town
The upper crust I visit
but say what is it — with you?

You’re so supreme
Lyrics I’d write of you
Steam… at the sight of you
Dream… day and night of you
But what else can I do?

That is a fine song, Horn’s voice just dripping through it ever so slowly, making me think of smoke rising from a slow-burning cigarette in a dark bar. Or more precisely, “It feels like smoke curling up from a cigarette / someone left burning on a baby grand piano / around three o’clock in the morning.”

This is the fourth in a series detailing my personal jazz history. You can read the series here.

One Response to “Jazz Alive: Tune In Tomorrow”

  1. anne Says:

    this is really strong writing, nicco. memoir and commentary suit you quite well. excellent voice in this.

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