Friday Night COVID-19 Listening Party: Milt Jackson, John Coltrane, and Ray Charles

“Time being of the essence in the purity of speech, sketching language is undisturbed flow from the mind of personal secret idea-words, blowing (as per jazz musician) on subject of image.” – Jack Kerouac

If you would have told me five years ago that my first *new* music column in the post-Jivewired era would be about a vibraphonist and his collaborations with some of music’s legendary performers, I probably would have laughed it off. Uncontrollably, in fact.

But here I am, having discovered this wonderfulness during a pandemic, champing at the bit to see live music for the first time since December, and all I can think about is hitting the Green Mill in Chicago for a night of jazz. Tonight I’ve got two albums on my playlist:

  • Soul Brothers by Milt Jackson & Ray Charles
  • Bags & Trane by Milt Jackson & John Coltrane

Now Jackson, a bebop player out of Detroit, will instantly have you longing for the pre-hippie days of Haight-Ashbury San Francisco, on an inebriated night crawl through the beat bars, coffee houses, and poetry joints so popular in mid-50’s Northern California, perhaps something like the transcendent Black Hawk in Frisco’s tenderloin district. Back then, being social meant being the scene, and Milt Jackson was indeed the scene. Everybody, from Miles Davis to Thelonious Monk, wanted to play with him.

Jackson, a founding member of the Modern Jazz Quartet, and often dizzying with the mallet, parallels nicely with the story of Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty’s automotive crisscrossing of America in Jack Kerouac’s On The Road. Kerouac often mimicked the great jazz classics in his writing style, insisting on “no periods separating sentence-structures already arbitrarily riddled by false colons and timid usually needless commas-but the vigorous space dash separating rhetorical breathing (as jazz musician drawing breath between outblown phrases).”

Yeah. It’s like that.

Soul Brothers | Atlantic Masters

Jackson’s work with Ray Charles is a true historical curiosity. Not only does the vibraphonist double on piano but he also slaps on rhythm guitar during Bags’ Guitar Blues. Additionally, Charles is heard in a purely instrumental role on piano. During two songs he also handles alto sax, and he’s so good, he could have carved out a successful career sticking strictly to jazz horn. At the time this long player dropped in 1958, Charles would release R&B singles for the popular market, and use his full-length albums to explore his fascination with (and mastery of) modern jazz. 

Jackson’s collaboration with John Coltrane is equally mesmerizing, and it’s a shame these two masters of their craft did not work together again. The tandem oozes late-night cool with sultry grooves and powerful up-tempo riffs that are pure genius.

Dharma Bums

Not “selectivity” of expression but following free deviation (association) of mind into limitless blow-on-subject seas of thought, swimming in seas of English with no discipline other than rhythms of rhetorical exhalation and expostulated statement, like a fist coming down on a table with each complete utterance, bang! (the space dash)- Blow as deep as you want-write as deeply, fish as far down as you want, satisfy yourself first, then reader cannot fail to receive telepathic shock and meaning-excitement by same laws operating in his own human mind.

An aside here, inspired by a generation long past and seemingly forgotten: At a time when COVID-19 won’t let us break free from our own homes, jazz music (and a little Kerouac) can provide the enlightening escape our souls have been craving for ten weeks. Decades of counter-culture demonstrations and demands for free expressionism has left us with what? A yearning for “open” culture at a time where we’ve become too scared to function without the backing of an over-bloated, overreaching, for-our-own-damn-good-whether-we-like-it-or-not government. Is this the freedom our parents and grandparents fought so hard to earn?

Still a-siding: It’s so odd to watch the Left shift so hard to the Right, leaning on state leaders and the like, while Conservatives, who fancy themselves as progressives, cling to a type of big government absent to their party since the days of Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. Where have you gone Jerry Rubin? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you.

I digress, but – wait, no, maybe I don’t – Kerouac said I should fish as deep as I want, so I’m just following his lead. Back to Milt Jackson before I finish with just a little more Kerouac. This post is after all, about the joy that his music brings me.

If you’re fluent on vibraphone, you’re pretty limited to jazz composition as a musical endeavor, particularly if you’re going to use the vibes as a lead or improvisational instrument. Lionel Hampton is the instrument’s professional pioneer, but Jackson’s the master. The two collaborations mentioned at the top of this post are equally staggering and immortal. It’s pure delight to hear Jackson in the accompaniment of these two fine musicians.

And a little Kerouac goes a long way when finishing the Friday evening portrait, especially when a glass of wine is on the forbidden list.

“Hateful bitch of a world,” the beat writer once said. “It wouldn’t ever last.”

Published by Michael Canter

I love music, particularly indie music. It's a bittersweet affair that has been equally fun and soul-crushing, but I couldn't live without it. Personally, I'm a Deadhead, but my passion for all music styles is unparalleled. If I like you I will let you call me Mickey. If you look hard enough, you'll find me at SXSW every year.

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