Intro to Jazz
In the 1960’s I was a total rock enthusiast. I was fortunate enough to be growing up in the SF Bay Area during the flower child period, where great rock music was plentiful. I was a frequent attendee at the Family Dog, the Lion’s Share, Keystone SF, and the Fillmore. My introduction to jazz was already underway...
Transitioning to jazz was effortless. Around 1967 a friend of mine put on the turntable the new LP by Blood Sweat & Tears. I was instantly aware that this music went beyond rock in some ways. It was dynamic, arranged, and had broader instrumentation than what I was accustomed to. I was taken with the horns, the groove (swing) and the overall sound. To this day I can remember some of the songs on that record.
I moved to Portland around 1974 and, for some reason, in about ’75 decided it would be a good idea to take saxophone lessons. I found a sax teacher through an advertisement. His name was Robert Hutchens and he lived with his wide Marilyn in SW Portland. I called him up to inquire and he invited me over to talk about lessons. At his house we talked about music, what I wanted from the lessons, and the problem at hand: I did not own a horn. He helped me locate a suitable tenor sax, a Buescher 400. He checked it out for me and assured me it was decent. All I knew was that he made it sound very good, and all I could do was squawk with it. Over time I began to make music with this horn.
I remember a significant turning point that hooked me on jazz - from here on there would be no denying this was the ultimate music for me. Bob played a song for me on tenor sax. Unaccompanied. The song was one I’d never heard, it was called I Remember Clifford. It probably lasted all of 2 or 3 minutes, and it absolutely blew me away. It was passionate, soulful, emotional, expressive, and Bob clearly lost himself, all the while fully in control musically, in the solo, in the best possible way. It was an amazing performance. One of those where you are left wondering “WTF just happened?” while you reenter Earth’s atmosphere.
My lessons with Bob went on for more than a year. During that time I would go listen to a band he played with in Portland. That band was the Mel Brown Quintet. Mel was an incredible drummer, with style for miles, as they say. They said he played like Philly Joe. I didn’t know who that was but I knew I loved this drummer. I suddenly realized the drums as a musical instrument. When Mel soloed I heard melody. Bob was in good company. The trumpet was played by Thara Memory. I am not exactly sure who was on bass but it might have been Omar Yoeman. The pianist escapes me by now, damn. The music was intense hard bop, reminiscent of Art Blakey’s bands...It was awesome.
I lost track of Robert Hutchens when he moved to the East Coast some years ago. I have always wanted to reconnect to talk about our musical journeys. And to let him know the important role he played in mine.