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Journal, Day Two

By Tyehimba Jess

Hustlin’ the music, blessings of student radio, AACM, etc …

Counting on the music to take me there …

I lived in Chicago for about 18 years, and while I was there, I had the opportunity to listen to so much music that wrapped me up and took me there—there being that place where I could unhinge my senses and relocate my gut.

Ahhhh, the blues and jazz of Chitown …. Where would I be without the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians? Where would I be without the Velvet Lounge?

I can’t exactly remember when I discovered the AACM. Probably when I was a radio DJ at WHPK FM at U of Chicago. I used to spin records from 11 pm to 1 am, and it was there that I got a real education in jazz. I had to con my way onto the jazz staff—they asked potential dj’s to submit a playlist for a potential show. I knew next to nothing about jazz, so I went down to the local record store and copied down names of albums, mostly of cats that I hadn’t heard of. Charlie Mingus? hmmmmm…. looks good. I’ll put him down. Rahsaan Kirk? Never heard of him, but his album looks serious. And so on.. When I finally turned in my playlist of about 50 names, records and selections, the jazz format chief was ecstatic—“This is the best playlist I’ve ever read!” and so on—and I was now a dj!

Fortunately, I learned a lot in the ten years that I dj’d for WHPK. It was like a whole new education for me outside of the classroom. All I knew was that the cool cats seemed to dig jazz—so I needed to get hip one way or another. Being a dj was the only way I was gonna be able to get hip to all that music- there was no way I was gonna be able to afford all those records, but I could ‘rent’ them for a few hours each week, and share them with everyone else in a 100 watt radius… Here’s to all those student radio stations out there!

I think that jazz is one of the languages that so many younger writers are simply not accessing very much today—it is no longer present in the vernacular off most 20-somethings. I mean, the greats like Ben Webster, Sun Ra, Zoot Sims, Max Roach, Stan Getz… so many others. How does that affect our poetry? I mean, I do not think that jazz will ever die, but there will never be as many folks who are as fluent in jazz, as familiar with it’s nuance and kick. How will that affect the way that we write?

How many of you all have written to music? How does it affect your writing? Any AACM heads out there? The AACM—a model of artistic integrity for me then and now. Those folks relly know how to get out of this plane and onto another one.

So many times, I would sit in the back of the Velvet Lounge and just write to the crazy, awful, beautiful hypnosis of horn spittin’ from the stage, and try to bleed myself just a little through the pen, try to make room for the music that was fillin’ me up so cipher—like….

and I ain’t even started talkin bout the blues… lawd.


Posted in Uncategorized on Tuesday, February 7th, 2006 by Tyehimba Jess.