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To celebrate the 250th edition of The Standard, we asked the readers of our weekly music newsletter to submit videos, poems or essays about their relationship with music. Here are the winnners. Thanks for reading The Standard.
Lee Newman: The earliest example I can find of Jazz Sunday posted by me is on July 17, 2016, in the What’s Spinning thread on the Vinyl Me, Please Forums. It’s a picture of a Benny Goodman record.
The idea of Jazz Sunday certainly predates me, but somehow it has become synonymous with me. Jazz Sunday is (to me, anyhow) quite simply the almost religious rigor that I apply to only listening to and spinning Jazz on Sundays. I am so fervent in this practice that a real life friend once asked me if I had any vinyl that wasn’t Jazz. As of this writing, discogs says I have 1068 albums. Only 234 of those are classified as Jazz by the database. All of those and a few more like Orquesta Arkokan, which fit my wider definition of Jazz, sit on my Jazz shelf. That’s right, I have an entire 2x4 Kallax dedicated to the genre.
If I’m completely honest, I’m not sure when I became a fan of Jazz. I saw the Tommy Dorsett Orchestra in High School and I remember being infatuated with Glenn Miller’s String of Pearls even as early as Junior High (Yes, I am an Old who went to Junior High instead of Middle School.) My parents had a Benny Goodman record, so Jazz was definitely there at an early age. I played the Trombone in band starting at Jacksonville Junior High. Like every instrument I’ve played through the years, I didn’t have the discipline to become very good at it. As a result, I stopped playing it sometime in college.
Maybe it was because of that instrument and its ties to Jazz, but sometime in high school I discovered Miles Davis — I bought a copy of Kind of Blue on vinyl at Nice Price Books in Durham my senior year. Before that I had dubbed copies of Siesta and Think of One by Wynton Marsalis onto fancy Maxwell tapes with my Grandfather’s hifi set up in Alexandria, Virginia. I would ride my bike to the library during summer visits there, check out records and dub the ones I needed to have in my life. The summer before my Senior year of High School, while my parents moved us to Durham, I stayed in Alexandria. I attended the Free Jazz Festival in D.C., met Malachi Thompson and got him to sign my copy of Spirit, still a prized possession on that dedicated shelf.
During College I took a class on Jazz. As a result, I bought lots and lots of Jazz on CD — especially Miles Davis. However, I also added a very special album to my collection — Ornette Coleman’s The Shape of Jazz to Come. I was deep into bebop and Hard Bop at the time and had begun to appreciate the cornier swing that my parents had introduced to me, but Free Jazz was foreign territory to me. I spent the next 24 years trying to decipher it to no avail.
This leads me to this club. I’ve been a member of Vinyl Me, Please since March of 2016. I joined after my wife purchased a turntable for my birthday that year. This was after she saw the sparkle in my eye after we gifted my daughter with a turntable for High School Graduation. I had been hit with ads for Vinyl Me, Please for years on Facebook. I especially noticed the ads for Wilco and Black Sabbath. So with a turntable in hand, I decided to take the plunge to learn more about my preferences in music (but mostly I wanted those sweet Wilco and Sabbath records). I found the forums not too long after I joined.
In July of that year, I bought a copy of Out to Lunch by Eric Dolphy from the curated section of the store. I didn’t really know what it was, except that the VMP forums were excited about it… so I was as well. I listened to it and my wife decided I had bought something that wasn’t necessarily music. I actually believe she told me that “this is what insanity sounds like.” I spent a few spins trying to figure it out. Someone in the forums said to focus on the bass and I did and it opened up. Suddenly Free Jazz made sense. Now I call Dolphy, Eric Gale and Joe Henderson some of my most favorite jazz musicians. I also quite frequently return to that Coleman album and listen to it because I want to, not because I’m trying to figure it out.
All of this is to say, that I didn’t discover Jazz through this club, but it has — through its spectacular curation; their penchant for pressing amazing sets as exclusive variants; and their forum’s sense of community, knowledge and musical fandom — enriched my understanding and appreciation of the American Art Form known as Jazz.
Erika Oakvik: I’m a dynamic person. And by dynamic, I mean highly emotional. Full of a lot of melancholy but also very capable of not being a Sad Girl. I used to fret I was some strange emo-yo-yo unable to cultivate a singular aura with ease. That was until Vinyl Me, Please, proved that possessing the ability to swing from heavy to light, to listen to the loud and the soft — this ability to adapt — it’s a strength. VMP gives permission to shift perspective: the music you listen to does not have to dramatically pigeonhole your soul into predetermined, compartmentalized feelings. This last year has been a slow process of learning the seemingly unconnected are actually kindred. I find myself and my emotions no longer in siloed confinement. VMP’s curation of music reminds me we do not have to be either happy or sad, we can be both at once and perhaps that is the most pure and lovely thing about our fragile humanness. And strangely, reading The Standard each week has become a bit of a liturgy for me. Not in some weird religious way, but in a comfort-during-the-chaos way. I guess what I’m trying to say is the VMP community affirms we’re all just trying to get by. There’s plenty of us facing rejection, eating burnt toast for too many meals a week, riding our bikes with a flat. Somehow, we’re arriving, trying our damn best to dial in to that tiny voice which urges keep going, keep going, keep going. So, to all the other yo-yos out there, let VMP remind you that you are not alone. We’re gonna be OK.
**Short film by Max Wolf: **
Poem by Benjamin Parva:
Stop. Do you hear it? Under the Congress Avenue bridge, the bats, how they squeak in harmony Just for you.
Stop. Did your ears catch it? Outside your window, the breeze dances through the trees and whispers a melody Just for you.
Stop. Can you feel it? The fire, burning hot, snaps sparks and cracks wood A walking bass line Just for you.
Stop. Have you ever noticed? That the world is never silent. Just for you.
Stop. And remember that with each breath you draw You are contributing to the ambient music Conducted, recorded, and produced by Mother Earth.
Stop. And Listen.
Chris Langan: I turn 44 years old in exactly 11 days. Forty-four. I remember as a kid working the math (not my strong suit) in my head of how old I’d be in 2020 — which seemed like ages away, and a time when we would be driving hover-cars and our robot housekeepers would serve us lunch directly from their commissary bellies — and thinking it will be so weird to actually be 46; what will the world really be like? Back then, CDs were brand new — like brand new — and we were members of the Columbia Record Club where we ordered cassette tapes of seminal albums like “Breakin 2 - Electric Bugaloo,” “Synchronicity” and “Pyromania.” I don’t remember my dad ever getting hosed by Columbia and going into arrears either (like so many teenagers did when they didn’t pay the bills).
I remember there was always music. Vinyl, 8-tracks, cassettes and later CDs (so many CDs), and so often now MP3s. I was raised on '60s and '70s rock and roll, folk, Motown and pop. The Beatles before everything, Bob Dylan, Simon and Garfunkel, The Mamas and the Papas, Smokey Robinson, The Four Tops, Boz Scaggs, Neil Diamond, The Kinks, The Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys. I remember distinctly the feeling of going to the bookcase and pulling out records — how each time I might discover something new — the smell of the sleeve, the look of the label, the words inside. I remember pretending I was a one-man band in our basement (growing up in Wisconsin it was often too cold or crappy in the winter to go outside) singing along to Billy Joel or Foreigner or Sesame Street Fever on 8-track.
I remember making my own discoveries. The first time I heard The Wall it changed everything. Miles Davis, "An American in Paris" by Gershwin, The Descendents, The Clash, Led Zeppelin, Etta James, The Specials, and on and on without ceasing. My appetite for music is never sated. Music is everything and ties me to a place and time, or sometimes frees me from a place and time. Sometimes both. Digital music is magic — and has been a giant shot in the arm for discovery — but it can never replace that feeling of touching the record — the kinesthetic sense of actually putting your hands on something an artist has created and reading along with the lyrics and flipping through the artwork.
Now that I’m older and my kids are older and slightly more responsible, and I have a little bit of disposable income, I have started collecting records again in force. I want them to know and feel how wonderful it is to hold something that represents a specific moment in the universe, or a collection of moments, that is an expression of feeling and thought and beauty or ugliness or whatever — and that for a brief time (the length of that album) — you can hold that in your hand and experience it too, because: Records = Life.