Sunday, December 11, 2005

I started playing guitar as a freshman in high school. I played the usual pop/rock fare; a couple of friends formed a band, and we played covers off the radio. My heroes were guys like Joe Satriani and Stevie Ray Vaughan -- and, of course, B.B. King. That was my concept of music: I was a lead guitarist. Sure, I covered rhythm parts so we could play school dances, and because that's what you do as part of a band; but it was a means to an end. I wanted to play solos.

There were two guys a couple of years older than me, Ross Stafford and Pete Swanson. Pete played bass, and he was the envy of everyone else because he had a six-string bass and he played just like Les Claypool. He was a monster; he would sit on the edge of the stage playing the riff from "My Name Is Mud," and we all thought it was just the coolest thing we'd ever heard. And that was important, because it established his cred for what happened next.

Pete got an upright bass; and along with Ross, who played piano, he started playing jazz. I don't know which of them caught the bug first, or how it happened; but they started playing together in Frothingham Hall after school every day, working out changes on a few simple tunes. To be honest, I didn't understand most of what they were doing -- but these were the most serious musicians I knew, and they had clearly graduated into something that fascinated them. So I was mesmerized.

My friend Tony and I walked in one afternoon, and Pete was visibly excited. He said, "Listen to this!" and he began playing a line. When he was finished, he looked up at us and asked, "Do you recognize it?" We shook our heads, and he seemed surprised we didn't. "It's 'Autumn Leaves.'"

I didn't know what "Autumn Leaves" was. But I knew I was missing out on something, and I knew I had to catch up. So that afternoon, I walked down to Newbury Comics and sifted through the jazz section. I found a CD with a picture of a bass, piano, and drums on the cover; that seemed like what I had been hearing, so I flipped it over and I was ecstatic to see "Autumn Leaves" among the songs listed. That was Chick Corea's Akoustic Band, and it was the first jazz CD I bought.


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