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Friday, August 1, 2014

Saturday Nights and "C Jam Blues"

The last two years spent in Birdtown was also when I really started getting into jazz. In a small town, you took whatever you found, even if it wasn't necessarily the best representation of the genre. Well, one Saturday afternoon in the fall, I hit pay dirt. I bought a handful of jazz LPs at a yard sale from some hip people in Port Dover. A couple of Keith Jarrett's, and Miles Davis At the Blackhawk were among the titles from that haul, but the prize of the lot was Charles Mingus at Carnegie Hall. This 1970s live album has only two songs, one on each side: which I likewise recorded to a C-60 cassette. (In those days, I would usually play an LP just once- when I made a tape of it, so I could listen to the music wherever I went.)

The last two years spent in Birdtown were also in the height of a recession. The economic downturn brought out the worst in everybody- even in a small town "where nothing ever happens" there were rashes of car thefts and store robberies. As a result, I was always nervous when I worked the Saturday night shift at the convenience store. One already had enough to worry about, with the drunken weirdos from the neighbouring apartment buildings raising hell, never mind all this other shit! Well, once 11 PM rolled around, and I could lock the doors to Fort Apache, elated that I survived another Saturday night unharmed, my 11:01 ritual began. On the ubiquitous Realistic tape recorder-player would go Side A of Mingus at Carnegie Hall: a rousing 24-minute rendition of Ellington's "C Jam Blues". This would be playing full blast while I performed my closing duties (counting the float, putting money in the safe, filling the coolers, etc.). The wall of sound by saxophonists Charles McPherson, John Handy, George Adams, Roland Kirk and Hamiet Bluiett remains one of the most joyfully raucous things I've ever heard: long lines of honks and squeals like an 18-wheeler and a freight train having a love child. Mingus' sound was often eccentric, and this track especially seemed the perfect soundtrack to clean out one's headspace after several hours of the usual assortment of bizarre Damon Runyon characters from the neighbourhood; and in light of the potential occupational hazards, it also made one glad to be alive.

But you don't have to take my word for it.  Here's a sample to hear for yourself!

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