May 2008
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Billie Silvey
Sometime in the nineties, popular music became impossible to listen
to, at least for me.  Throughout the eighties, I had loved rap, British
pop, some punk, and a few huge stars, most notably Prince.  In the
nineties, rap devolved from a powerful, poetic social statement to a
bland, crassly materialistic exercise.  British pop was eclipsed by the
whiny white boys who eventually became labeled emo.  Punk was
replaced by grunge, which meant it became entirely humorless, its
sly sneer replaced with the sound of people in hell and bored by
their damnation.  The big stars weren’t like the icons of the
eighties.  There was no Madonna, no Prince, just a bunch of kids,
belly-baring pop princesses and vapid boy bands.  I remember one
day flipping through the radio dial to find something new to listen to.  
I found something old.  I found jazz.

I found it at 88.1 fm, which at that time in Los Angeles was KLON
(now
KJZZ).  I can tell you the name of the singer who first hooked
me.  It was
Kevin Mahogany.  He was singing “Parker’s
Mood,� and from the first “Come with meeee. . .� I was
blown away.  His voice is a deep, rich instrument that can play
lightly with melody, burst out impossibly into clear, ringing tones,
and then explode in great, belted crescendo. All of it is perfectly
controlled while remaining vibrantly alive.  I had never heard a voice
like it.  I later learned that part of what made him a good
introduction to jazz for me was that his style was a blend of jazz and
R&B.  I learned that from one of KLON’s disc jockeys when,
after being guilted into becoming a member of the station by James
Benefield, I started volunteering at the station during pledge drives.

Of course, jazz wasn’t entirely new to me.  My father had
played trumpet when I was younger, and I remember listening to a
Louis Armstrong record of his over and over as a child.  It had
West End Blues on it, with its famously “impossibleâ€� intro.  
Of course, I didn’t appreciate how great the music was at that
age.  I just knew it made me feel happy.  Other than Armstrong and
Dizzy Gillespie, whom I remember seeing on  
The Muppet Show
playing St. Louis Blues, I knew nothing about jazz.
I Remember the Music
By Kathy Silvey Hall
In 2000, Stanley Turrentine passed away.  Billy Higgins died in
2001, and the entire Los Angeles jazz community not only mourned
him deeply, but helped pay for his burial. The thing about life as a
musician is, it doesn’t usually come with benefits like life
insurance. The Crenshaw Cafe is gone, and so is Scooter Records,
where I bought a good number of my jazz CDs.  Four years ago,
Chuck Niles passed away, and the next year Sam Fields died.  I
don’t know exactly how old Mr. T. or Mr. Higgins were when
they left us, but I know Chuck was 76, and Sam was only 55.  I
haven’t listened to KJZZ since.  Chuck now has a music award
named for him and a scholarship at CSUN named after him.  
Almost every evening I hear Ken Borgers on KCRW and
remember a time, place, and group of people that can never be
matched again.  Mostly, I remember the music.
Another great live jazz performance I was fortunate
enough to see and hear was the result of a happy
coincidence.  A very kind man named Jerry Jones
visited our church one Sunday morning.  I greeted him
and asked what brought him to Culver City.  He told
me he was playing drums for
Stanley Turrentine at the
Jazz Bakery. He then spent the next few minutes
laughing good-naturedly at my torrent of questions.  
My father and I were his guests at the performance
that night, and it was incredible.  When Mr. T. played
the opening notes of “In a Sentimental Mood,�
it felt as though a magic carpet had insinuated itself
beneath me, and I began to float above the seats in the
theater.  His tenor saxophone’s big, open notes
were both sensual and ethereal, and his playing was a
pure, spiritual gift to the audience, the aural equivalent
of temple incense.  Later I left a big bouquet of flowers
for Mr. Jones at the hotel where they were staying
because I simply didn’t know how to thank him.
The men there called him Abdullah Kareem, but I addressed him as
Mr. Higgins or, more often, sir.  When we met, I already owned
several CDs on which he played drums.  If one has even a modest
jazz CD collection, it is difficult not to.  Among his hundreds of
credits, he played on Dexter Gordon’s album Go!, Lee
Morgan’s The Sidewinder, and perhaps most famously, or
infamously as my dear friend Grandpa Walt might insist, with
Ornette Coleman on The Shape of Jazz to Come and in several live
and recorded “free jazzâ€� sessions.  I found him amazing, and
not only because of the music.  He was kind and gracious and
astonishingly humble, and every time I saw him he was smiling.  This
living legend taught drumming workshops to young people at the
World Stage every Thursday afternoon for years.  This same
generous spirit also radiated through his playing.

The first time I heard him play live was like learning for the first time
what drums were actually for.  It was like learning that drums are
musical instruments.  The sound was primal and elegant, elevating
and humbling.  It arrived in the belly, but it was profoundly spiritual.
The radio station was a good place to learn about jazz, blues,
and Latin jazz, mostly because their DJs were so
knowledgeable.  There were the brother and sister team of
Ken and Helen Borgers, the practically perfect Sam Fields,
and the one and only
Chuck Niles.  To this day I cannot say or
hear Chuck’s name without hearing Bob Florence’s
composition in his honor
BeBop Charlie play in my head.  I
remember when Chuck got his star on the Hollywood Walk of
Fame.  I also remember trying to talk him out of bumming
cigarettes from me then being too charmed to do anything
other than give him one, teasing him, as Ken Borgers had
egged me on to do, about Attack of the Mayan Mummy, his
single foray into film acting.  Sam Fields once asked me what I
wanted him to play that night, and I felt completely unable to
answer because his choices always had seemed so right that it
never would have occurred to me to request anything other
than what he intended to play.  All of these wonderful people
were more than willing to share their knowledge and
enthusiasm for the music with anyone they met who loved jazz.
I not only volunteered for pledge drives
but also for station-sponsored events.  
One event I enjoyed volunteering for
was the jazz caravan, and one evening
the caravan brought me to the
Crenshaw Cafe in Lamert Park.  The
Crenshaw Cafe was a Nation of Islam
owned business, which is to say it was
a jazz club that served no alcohol and
only vegetarian food.  That night, it was
also the first place I heard the great
drummer
Billy Higgins play live.
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