It is surely a tell tale sign of growing up when the things from your childhood that used to make you feel stiflingly claustrophobic, resurface in a new incarnation. For me, that thing is jazz radio.
My mother loathes silence, with such a passion that she sleeps with music on. I can say, without remote hesitation, that for the duration of my childhood, her clock radio was perpetually playing, 100 percent of the time. In the mornings I woke to Phil Shap and the bird flight, his nine o'clock slot reminding of my lateness for school. In the evenings it was Dizzie Gillespie with the soft drone of a Columbia student's voice reciting the circumstances of the band's recording, or an opera station. As I got older, my mother branched out from WKCR, the student run jazz FM, settling unfortunately on a Chinese pop, opera and techno station. Whatever the genre, the music was always there, and by the age of twelve her cultural explorations had come too late - the sound of jazz made me shudder, it gave me inexplicable hot flashes of anger, and I usually rushed from the room when it was played.
Fancy it then, that at 23, in the midst of a creative stall, I'd get a phone call from an older artist, his words slurred from a morning binge and bout of inspiration, telling me to turn on WBGO, Newark Public Radio...a jazz station. In his cluttered rat's nest of a West Village apartment, a radio perpetually blares from it's perch on the back of his dingy toilet. It is an audial canvas backdrop, a blanket of calculated and indiscriminate noise that exists as rhythmic score to his manic movie of a life. Crack pipes and hookers, piles of photographs and notebooks, angry ramblings and a loathing of yuppies, the lonely, aging beat of a dirty bachelor's drum. This man is not one to be ignored. I can hear the tune floating behind his voice, and I know he can hear the silence behind mine, home to a coffee cup and a sleeping cat. 'You got a radio?' he asks. Somewhat embarrassed I tell him I don't. With a hint of disdain, he acknowledges that I probably only have a computer, and then, to my shock, he rattles of a web address and demands that I go to it. He seemingly dangles onto the telephone just long enough to make sure I've got it, and become disappointed that I can't hear the organ solo that is so eating him up because the live play is a different set.
But once he's gone, hopefully to take a post-bender nap, the music was still coming from my little speakers, and I don't rush to stop it as usual. I have been toying with the idea of this for a few months now - the idea that I might actually like jazz. I learned early on, to observe the things that inspire those that inspire you, and it is no small deal that so many people I think are brilliant let jazz radio fill their empty space. And sure enough, before I have refilled my cup, there it is - an idea. A creative synapse collides with another and I have an inspiring idea.
I think it's important to be open to seeing your own anal retentive habits and eliminating them, but somebody please go turn on WKCR or WBGO, and tell me if I'm not just turning into my mother.
by iO Tillett Wright