You probably have a story about the very first time you were introduced to the music you love the most.
Some of you grew up with jazz all around you in the household and on the radio. But for others, there was a specific moment — and often a specific artist — when the music entered your world.
It could have been a parent, or a sibling, or a friend. Someone took Kind of Blue out of the record sleeve, let the needle drop, and changed your life forever. But maybe the pathway was more complicated; you fell in love with an artist in a completely different genre, and that led you to explore their influences — which just so happened to include several jazz artists.
I was thinking about this lately, so I took to Twitter to ask our followers a simple question.
What artist was your gateway to jazz?
— JAZZ.FM91 (@JAZZFM91) January 6, 2020
That struck a chord and sent listeners on a trip down memory lane. More than 140 people responded, and some of the answers were fascinating. So, the next day, I posed the same question in a Facebook post. Another 300 people offered their responses, with more still trickling in.
The most popular responses are the ones you’d expect: Ella Fitzgerald, Dave Brubeck, John Coltrane, Oscar Peterson, Louis Armstrong and, towering above all the others, Miles Davis.
Due to the volume of responses, I decided to take it a step further and record them on an Excel spreadsheet. Here they are in chart form.
(It got really large, so I eventually had to omit some of the responses that were only mentioned once. If yours didn’t make it onto the chart, I’m sorry!)
The most intriguing examples are the ones that aren’t jazz at all.
Those who came from rock ‘n’ roll credited artists such as Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, the Grateful Dead, the Allman Brothers, Santana, Yes, Jeff Beck and the “sultry saxophone” of Supertramp. The most popular answer in the rock category was Steely Dan, namely their best-selling album Aja. The record is a milestone of jazz-rock — featuring session work by Wayne Shorter and many others — and is widely considered to be one of the greatest albums of all time.
Of course, jazz fusion also made a major impression on rock listeners in the 1970s. Groups like Weather Report, Return to Forever, Mahavishnu Orchestra and Spyro Gyra exploded into the pop culture of the day, so they were in a lot of responses.
For JAZZ.FM91 music director and on-air host Brad Barker, it was Rush and The Police that paved the way for his now well-documented obsession with jazz. “Geddy Lee and Sting were always referencing great jazz that they loved — Weather Report, Al Di Meola, Stanley Clarke — so I had to check it out.”
And there are plenty of other bridges from other genres. If you came from hip-hop, you might give credit to rappers like Pete Rock, Large Professor, A Tribe Called Quest, the Beatnuts, the Artifacts and Guru from Gang Starr. If you came from the pop route, you might have been introduced to jazz through the likes of Jamie Cullum, Phil Collins, Diana Krall or Kenny G. For fans of country and roots music, it might have been Big Sugar, Béla Fleck and the Flecktones, or Hank Thompson’s version of Don’t Get Around Much Anymore. For lovers of Latin music, it may have been Antônio Carlos Jobim, João Gilberto or Mongo Santamaria. And if you came from soul or R&B, it might have been Junior Walker, Tower of Power or Earth, Wind & Fire.
For many people, it wasn’t necessarily an artist that first introduced them to jazz, but something they heard in a movie or on TV.
Unsurprisingly, Vince Guaraldi had a huge impact because of his work on the Peanuts cartoons, namely A Charlie Brown Christmas. Three people mentioned Harry Connick Jr.’s soundtrack for When Harry Met Sally. One credited the Bridges of Madison County soundtrack, which features Johnny Hartman, Dinah Washington, Irene Kral and others. Another said it was Angelo Badalamenti’s original score for Twin Peaks. For another, The Thomas Crown Affair offered an introduction to Dave Brubeck. And for another, it was Dean Martin’s role in Ocean’s 11.
Many of you said you were exposed to jazz as children when you watched Bugs Bunny, Betty Boop and other Saturday morning cartoons, or The Friendly Giant, or The Muppet Show.
My favourite response was from a Facebook follower who said it was the 2008 post-apocalyptic video game Fallout 3 that turned them on to jazz. “The entire soundtrack is made up of jazz tracks, and I fell in love.”
Here’s another of my favourite answers, which contains four degrees of separation ultimately connecting Nat “King” Cole to The Beatles.
Beatles -> Ravi Shankar (their influence) -> Norah Jones (his daughter) and then -> her stated influences (Gregory Porter, Nat King Cole)
It’s a bizarre link but I swear that was how I got to appreciate Jazz. 🙂
— Luduvicu (@luduvicu) January 7, 2020
Several people credited not a musician, but JAZZ.FM91’s own Glen Woodcock and Ted O’Reilly for getting them hooked on jazz. “Beyond any specific artist, Glen Woodcock’s The Big Band Show one Sunday night captured my mood and heart,” one listener said. “It motivated me to explore jazz and become a listener of JAZZ.FM91.”
So then, what was Woodcock’s introduction to jazz?
“When I was about 16, I was on a ski trip with my older sister and some of her friends,” he recalls. “On the way home, we were listening to the car radio when a Glenn Miller recording came on. The fellow driving the car asked if I liked Glenn Miller’s music. I said sure, but rock ‘n’ roll was king. He then asked if I’d ever really listened — really listened — to Glenn Miller’s music. So I listened to that tune on the radio with every nerve, as I’d been taught to by my high-school music teacher. And this time I heard not just the melody, but the harmonies, the section work, the dynamics and the jazz solos with a new awareness. That one afternoon outing changed my life.”
I also posed the question to the rest of my colleagues here at JAZZ.FM91.
Here is Danny Marks, host of BLUZ.FM:
“Dad was a big jazz fan. My first taste of serious jazz was Oscar Peterson. His Night Train album on Verve got worn out on our turntable. The power trio of Peterson, Brown and Thigpen and their magic interaction fired me up. Dad explained that Oscar was a fan of Art Tatum and of Mom’s favourite, Nat ‘King’ Cole. Dad went on to say that Peterson quoted from the classics as well as jazz in his musical excursions. Dad didn’t say that Oscar always played the blues in his jazz — maybe that’s the part that sold it for me, then and now.”
Here is Gumbo Kitchen host Ronnie Littlejohn:
“It was as early as 3 or 4, watching Disney’s The Jungle Book. The sound of King Louie rockin’ I Wan’na Be Like You. I had no idea it was really Louis Prima from New Orleans.”
Here is our operations director, Michael Booth:
“Lester Young, thanks to the relief manager at the Revue Cinema where I worked, who would play him and Tom Waits constantly before and between shows. Next would be Miles Davis, when I got to see the Tutu tour and Stanley Jordan’s first tour at the Ontario Place Forum.”
And here is Jaymz Bee, host of Jazz in the City:
“Eumir Deodato’s jazz-crossover hit Also Sprach Zarathurstra (2001). His Rhodes sounded great, the percussion was so groovy. I was a teen and went out and bought the LP, Prelude. From there it was Duke Ellington’s Far East Suite. It was already out for years, but it wasn’t a hit on radio, and it took a while for vinyl to reach North Bay back in the day.”
As for me? Tom Waits.
For some of you, it was our radio station that introduced you to jazz. As one listener put it, “I was channel-surfing, found JAZZ.FM91, and haven’t left. Know nothing about jazz, but I know what I like.”
No matter how you got here, welcome. We’re glad to have you.