Friday, August 6, 2010

A Tale of Two Cities, Three Drummers, One song - 30 years later

When I was deep in the early throes of discovering the vast wealth of recorded materiel that could be found in various musicians' record collections I had the good fortune to get to have many late night listening sessions at the late John Wadham's house. I need to explain a few things first :) The two best sources for jazz records in Dublin were either a small store in Gaiety Green (a formal flea market - long since gone) run by Mick Fagan, a gentleman I feel privileged to have known, and another store called Discfinder. The latter had some good stuff but tended to be marked up in price if memory serves me correctly. Other than these there appeared to be few other places that carried more than a handful of jazz records. Either you took a trip to London to the jazz record shops there or better still, someone going to the states... I once told my parents to bring back 'anything by Pat Martino or Cedar Walton" when they were visiting relatives here. For anyone reading this, not from Ireland or the UK - John Wadham was the most respected drummer in Ireland at the time. Many's the time I stood online at the Baggot Inn to hear Louis Stewart on one of his return gigs from his stint in Ronnie Scott's band - a line that contained as many drummers wanting to see "Johnny" Wadham.

John's batting average with his students was nothing short of remarkable! They read like a who's who of professional drumming in Ireland. Almost 5 years ago when Jeremy Pelt and peter Washington came to our then new house, here in Oceanport New Jersey for a cookout Peter started asking where the sound system was. I told him that I either listened on the computer, ipod, headphones or a cheap surround sound that we had in the den. Peter invited me to come to his place to listen to some music on his hifi and made it clear that he thought Jennifer and I had the ideal setup to listen to music. Jennifer chimed in that she had been trying to convince me to get a good sound system and couldn't understand why I didn't already have one. During the conversation I protested how much this stuff costs and Peter pointed to our flat screen TV 42" Plasma and said "You could probably get a really nice pair of speakers for half of what you paid for that TV". Two days later I'm listening to vinyl and CDs in Peter's place and am convinced I can tell where the sax section is seated in Peter's place :) Peter stood behind to the right or left while he gave up the 'sweet spot' and I immediately thought of John Wadham. John used to smoke a pipe and sip a glass of port while he played many albums for us.

Pianist George Mesterhazy kicked up my listening by several notches by just arriving at the house one day with a pair of Genelec speakers! "Nearfield monitors" I would soon learn was their title :) I listened to the Sinatra "Close To You" album and could hear great separation with the string quartet. I thought of Peter, then John and then my dad, an Upholsterer who loved music all his life. My Dad had bartered his labor to get a starter hifi that would soon be upgraded to a Quad preamp and Quad Power amp - Garrard record player with an SME pickup arm. He never got the Electrostatic speakers that Quad made but John Wadham had them and I could clearly remember the sound from them. George had returned me to listening through equipment that highlighted instruments and textures I just didn't hear on cheaper setups.

Recently I finally went for it! I bought some Hifi gear and made some great connections thanks to the kindness of Billy Drummond. Billy invited me to come buy and listen to his setup(s). HIs generosity with his time and his home led to me ask about a Jack McDuff album that featured a 19 year old  George Benson playing "Four Brothers" live. I hadn't ever been able to find it and had long since stopped searching. Billy had it! It was called the "Concert Jack McDuff" and 30 years later I heard the track I used to ask John Wadham to play for me. He would ask what I wanted to hear and I would say "Could I hear that again?" and he would patiently play it for me over and over. I grew up listening to music on hifi thanks to my Dad and indeed John! I am know the proud owner of a pair of Martin Logan Sequel II hybrids (electrostaic speakers with a woofer cone), Emotiva preamp and stereo power amp, Arcam CD/DVD player and thanks to drummer number three - Jonathan Mele - I play vinyl on his Project Debut III turntable. I'm left with a question - do the younger musicians get together to listen to CDs, mp3s etc or is that a thing of the past? I hope they do - I feel blessed to have experienced the kindness of the above mentioned gentlemen as my ears were and are treated to all the beautiful sounds I have enjoyed!

Until next time... :-)

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