Rob Tocalino is the Director of Marketing at the Mondavi Center for Performing Arts, UC Davis
By ROB TOCALINO
I was a teenager in the 1980s. My main musical points of reference were MTV, what was then called “college” rock radio, and, to a lesser degree, the mighty classic rock station KZAP.
Music did not run in my family, so when I started taking guitar lessons, I had to forge my own path. What started with acoustic noodling moved quickly through hair metal and riff-based rock. At some point in this exploration, my guitar teacher thought I should get hip to jazz, and brought in some Wes Montgomery tracks. I loved the sound, but didn’t know how to make it.
So I signed up for Stanford Jazz Camp, and spent warm summer evenings jamming and talking and soaking up jazz. But even after that, it still just all seemed too much for me. I couldn’t find my way in.
The first real spark came through the airwaves. It was my final year of college. Sitting in my apartment, writing a paper, with jazz on as background music, John Coltrane’s “Blue Train” came steaming into the room and made me stop. At that moment, I stopped hearing the music through the lens of my limited musical talent, and it started to open up for me.
But the real thing -- the ga-ga moment -- happened live. I was in New York and decided to hit a jazz club for the first time. I walked downstairs to the Village Vanguard, right at show time, and a gruff woman (who I later figured out was the owner of the club, Lorraine Gordon) dragged me to an empty seat up against the stage.
Towering above was a chandelier of resonators. And soon, Bobby Hutcherson was sweeping, dancing, and exclaiming across the instrument, moving his band and the room through a range of emotions and sounds that seemed limitless. I felt the music go right through me. I understood that night the physicality of the music, the fact that at its best it was a music made in the moment and then gone, and that what made it precious was that it could all fall apart at any minute.
Just like life.
Just like love.
This is part of a series about falling in love with the artform of jazz.
We're inviting you to share your story of how you came to love jazz, in 200 words or less. Email your essay to [email protected] before February 14. We’ll read the top submissions on air and award several prizes.