Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Music of My Life – Part 3

This third part about the music of my life encompasses primarily four years while I was at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. For me, that was 1970 to 1974, and a bit of time to 1976, while I worked at Connecticut Valley Hospital in the children’s psychiatric unit, before I left to get my Master’s in Developmental Psychology. Wesleyan, at that time, was a unique experience for me. I had never been around other black Americans who were as smart or smarter than me [my high school graduating class of more than 600 had four black people: me, a black guy named Billy, my former best friend, and Billy’s girlfriend, named Carrie, and my cousin Christine]. I had never been around rich black people [my first roommate decided her recently purchased wardrobe wasn’t good enough for Wesleyan and had her doctor father send $500 so she could get new clothes!]. I had been raised in a predominantly white, Jewish and Catholic community, despite the black community in the “Projects” that was one block from where I lived.

If I had to characterize my college years in terms of music, there are only three words: jazz and blues! It was marvelous! There was one student, a white boy who had deferred his admission so he could travel through the south to learn true blues piano! He was awesome. Then there a black student, who refused to wear shoes until graduation (yes, I mean even in winter) who played the most awesome acoustic bass. We had players of all instruments who would gather together to jam in the chapel.

Wesleyan also had its own radio station and that was my public entry. Taught by the one person who had the smoothest voice we all knew on radio, Charlie D [Charles Deramus], I became “Lady Lee” and played smooth jazz in the late night hours. This is in the age of vinyl and cassette. I learned all about the ladies I knew from my childhood and beyond: Nina Simone, Sarah Vaughn, Miriam Mekeba, Chaka Khan, Dinah Washington, and more than anyone else, Billie Holiday.

At parties, it was Earth Wind, and Fire; Chicago; Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young; Carole King; Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes; Led Zeppelin; Steely Dan; David Bowie; The Eagles; and so many others. Plus, Wesleyan developed a degree in Ethnomusicology, so we attended concerts by Indian drummers; Pakistani groups; and a number of African groups since we had an exchange program with Tanzania.

I remember attending a concert with Isaac Hayes where Grace Jones performed. Also, a concert at Yale, where Miles Davis played two songs and walked off the stage, throwing his instrument on the floor. But I must admit to crushes on Freddy Hubbard and Ron Carter (who is the featured picture).

But my most memorable experience occurred during my last years in college. I was 21 and my baby brother was having his 16th birthday. I bought him tickets to Shea Stadium (he was into baseball and Shea was brand new). I went home to bring him the tickets and told him to take his best friend with him. He said, “Well, when are we going?” It was then I learned how he had abandoned heavy metal and gotten seriously into jazz. Plus, it was the best baseball game in the world. Oh, yeah, the Mets lost, but I had eight hot dogs with my brother!

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