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N-Motion Entertainment wants to provide perspectives on music, jazz, artists, and how these subjects are relative today. As a result, N-Motion has added a great writer to it's team to present his perspectives on the today's and yesteryear's jazz. Brian Suber, will captivate you with his personal, but insightful views on jazz and music. We here at N-Motion Entertainent are excited to have someone with Brian's creativity and his ability to provide visual clarity with his written prose.
N-Motion Entertainment will provide the perfect platform for Brian's artful writing with "Brian's Corner." Brian's Corner is where you will hear about Brian's experiences with jazz and the impacts it has had on his life. It is N-Motion Entertainment's goal to provide a forum for our vistors to share their jazz experiences as well!
Please welcome Brian Suber to N-Motion Entertainment, take a minute and read his article so you can get a sense of his jazz awareness!
Each One, Reach One.
Why should you listen to me?
I’ve been a jazz lover for quite some time now; nearly as long as I can remember. I’ve always liked jazz in one form or another, and I grew to love it as my palate for music matured throughout the years.
I was always fascinated by Jazz music, and although I loved R&B, pop, and even some rock and blues as a child (and still love it), it was jazz that I grew to revere. Straight Ahead jazz was not my first love in the genre, light jazz was. One of my earliest memories as a child was my then favorite song;
“A Taste of Honey” by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. I heard it on the radio, and I was hooked. I was born in Pittsburgh in1958, and reared in the Hill District, and back then, WAMO was only an A.M. station (they actually did a remote broadcast from a little store on Webster around the corner from my house), and while Motown was the rave, and Stax records, and Soul music was the background music for life in the ghetto (and I lived in the “ghetto”; the Hill District), jazz was a constant undercurrent, a heartbeat of the vibrant life of the slums in which I lived.
It’s funny now, but as a child I can remember going up to “Saint Richards” (later it became St. Benedict the Moor), Catholic Church on Bedford Avenue for their afterschool program. One of the first times I went there I heard some kids my age (around 6 or 7 years old), playing on an old piano that was in the gym. They were playing a bass line from a song I wasn’t familiar with, and I thought it was the coolest thing I had ever heard. Many years later, I would recognize it as the bass line from “Song for my Father” by Horace Silver (featuring a then 18-year-old drum phenom from Pittsburgh, Roger Humphries). Radio, and primarily TV also introduced me to various jazz artists and their music, but at that time my under-developed pallet couldn’t fully tolerate it, but the music stuck with me. The seed had been planted, and the soil was undeniably fertile.
I also remember overhearing snippets of grown folk conversation about jazz back on Junilla St where I lived. Folks talking about music and various artists in town. One summer day I heard 2 men talking while they were standing in the cobble-stoned street (with its 1½ foot curb) of the steep hill that I lived on. One man said to the other “you know, Jimmy Smith is coming to the Hurricane (a jazz bar on Webster Ave), this weekend”. At that time, I didn’t know who Jimmy Smith was (although I do recall that Jimmy would put out a “jazz” cover of various pop hits seemingly every week; he even did a cover of Aretha Franklin’s “Respect”), but years later, he became one of my all-time favorite Jazz artists; right up there with Wes Montgomery, John Coltrane, Miles, and others. One of my greatest regrets in life is that I never got to hear any of them perform live, and I damn sure wouldn’t have been allowed to go see the Mr. Smith play on that warm summer’s day circa 1966.
Growing up there were a few stand out teachers in my grade schools, junior high, high school, and even the church I attended as a child, who fostered my love for music. I don’t know if anyone remembers, but R. L. Vann Elementary School on Watt Street (the school I attended), was known for the yearly elaborate “operettas” it used to produce back then, and in my 6th grade year at Fort Pitt Elementary, the music teacher (a black man who’s name I do not recall), put together a choir of us young students. We actually sang gospel music, and although I cannot prove it, I felt we sounded pretty good.
My junior high years were spent under Mrs. Voyvodich at Arsenal Middle School. She introduced me to the viola in her orchestra class (I still play a little; gotta blow the dust off that thing), and during my high school years I sat under Mr. Zoroscky in Peabody High School’s Orchestra class. There I was privileged to meet and perform with the likes of violinist Rodney McCoy, trumpeter Darryl Cogdell, and guitarist Kenny Karsh, three of the best musicians I have yet to meet, and there were others in that class who were just as good. But it was during my college years that I received my best education in the jazz genre. By then I had been introduced to the funk fusion of Grover Washington with his smash hit “Mr. Magic”, as jazz fusion was just beginning to take off. Radio played Kool and the Gang’s” Summer Madness; my cousins introduced me to Earth Wind and Fire’s “Power” on the “Last Days & Times album (still my favorite EWF album), featuring the Kalimba played by Mr. Maurice White, and the alto sax featuring Ronnie Laws. In college I heard the groove fusion of Bob James “Westchester Lady”. and the funky jazz fusion of Herbie Hancock's iconic “Chameleon”. The funk, soul and fusion that I heard, whetted my appetite for a more sonically and conceptually, sophisticated sound, and my mind and soul was ready to forego drinking the milk of the softer styles of urban music, and to begin eating the meat of the mature complexity of the sound of straight ahead Jazz music (along with the heady music of the then burgeoning jazz fusion explosion).
As a freshman at Pitt, I was undecided concerning my major, and although I had an affinity for the sciences, I also loved music. I decided to explore a science major, and a music minor. I played a short stint with Pitt’s chamber orchestra, and enrolled in music theory class. I also quickly came to the realization that I needed a steady income to maintain any semblance of a free lifestyle, so I took a job cleaning floors at the Carnegie Museum and Library in Oakland. Shortly thereafter came the advent of the “Walkman”, and that was a game changer! You see, I worked the night shift, and to get me through the night and the early morning, I began to listen to WDUQ and WYEP radio with the professors of jazz Tony Mowod, (I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Frank Greenlee of WDUQ as well; more on him in a future article), and Buck Brice respectively. My third Professor of Jazz was an actual professor, and Jazz instrumentalist, Professor Dr. Nathan Davis. It was these three men who solidified my love for one of the great genres of music born in America; Jazz.
Since I can’t really recall the chronology of meeting or hearing these gentlemen, I’ll talk about them in alphabetical order. So, first off was Elliott “Buck” Brice. Buck Brice was a DJ at WYEP from 1970ish (even WYEP is not sure of his start date) – 1989. He died at the age of 61 shortly after his retirement that same year. He was born in Homestead, PA (an eastern suburb of Pittsburgh), and manned the early morning shift on WYEP radio. Buck was a veritable encyclopedia of jazz knowledge and history. He was as colorful speaker, and kept his show entertaining and educational. He had a vast knowledge of local and national jazz artists, and gave his audience the pleasure of hearing the music that he loved, as he wove stories of the history of various artists. And, he was very opinionated as far as stating what was “good”, and what was not concerning jazz. I once called him up with a request. I was 19 years old, mind you; I was learning the history of the music, and enjoying the daily history lessons. I asked Buck to play a song from Bobby McFerrin’s debut album. The song was actually written by Grady Tate; “Moondance”. It took Buck about a half of an hour to play the song, and when he finally did, he lead up to the song by stating that he had sampled the entire album, and that he disliked the album as a whole, and wasn’t impressed with Bobby, but he said that I had chosen the best song on the album. I laugh now, but it was a big compliment coming from that man, and I don’t think Bobby’s career suffered any from the slight.
As I stated previously, Buck Brice died in 1989; I plan on writing a more complete article about the man and his work in the near future.
Next, alphabetically comes Dr. Nathan Davis. I spent a much shorter time studying with Dr. Davis, but he left a long and profound effect on me, and my appreciation for jazz music. Dr. Davis taught at the University of Pittsburgh for 1969-2013. He was also an accomplished musician and talented saxophone player (as well as playing clarinet and flute). Dr. Davis was a warm approachable man, and his love for the music was only eclipsed by his love for the music student. I was really struck by that. Here was a man of great accomplishment, and renown, but his humility, and humanity towards the students was astounding. He taught with care and respect; respect for the student, the music, and the craft. I believe he taught me more by his character, then he could teach me about music, because my mind really had to stretch to comprehend all that I was learning; but his patience, humility, and sense of humor put all the students at ease (even this shy student). He was truly a great influence on me, and I owe him a debt of gratitude for the gift he gave me; a gift of lifelong love and appreciation for this great form of American urban music. Thankfully, Dr. Davis is still around; please forgive me for speaking of him in the past tense, as I am merely writing of my memories of that fun nostalgic era in my life.
Lastly, but not least, I have to tip my hat, and give me thanks to an icon of the Pittsburgh music scene. I cannot give this man enough accolades, he still inspires me due to his unending love for the music, and my hometown; that man is Mr., or should I say Professor Tony Mowod.
Prof Tony is a legend in Pittsburgh, and for good reason; Pittsburgh is his home, and his love for the town, and the music he brought to it made him a mainstay in the city, and in the hearts of jazz lovers here, and literally around the country. He manned the Night Shade mic; late night jazz, and at its height, his show was syndicated in over 60 markets. Although I can’t quite remember when Tony took the mic at WDUQ, I do remember listening to his show for many years. His smooth voice, and his knowledge and love for the music made listening to him easy, educational and enjoyable. Unfortunately, WDUQ was sold in 2011, and Tony has since left the air, but I, and many others owe a debt of thanks to the man for his stalwart work at the craft the he loved.
These men that I have described here are just a few influences that shaped my thoughts and feelings about music. There are many more people that will remain unnamed, but they are no less important. Family, friends, acquaintances, and people I’ll never know, or never meet. We all have diverse influences that go unnoticed but impact of lives, and loves nonetheless. Our world intertwines in ever increasingly complex ways. So, if you decide to read my column, first let me thank you, but secondly, know that these are just opinions, no better, and no worse than any others. The comment section will always be open, and I hope we can share information, and opinions in a respectful and beneficial manner for everyone.
My next post will be the initial installment of “Brian’s Corner”. You can find it right here on N-Motion Entertainment.com. I hope you join me there, and I also hope you will be entertained, enlightened, and maybe even educated to some small degree. Thanks for taking the time to read, and I’ll “Catch you on the Corner”.
I’d like to take the time to personally thank Mike Sauter, Program Director for WYEP Radio: 91.3 FM, for his contribution to this article. He provided me with background information about Buck Brice, and his tenure at WYEP.
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