Yuillogistically Speaking

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All that Jazz!

By Major Chick Yuill – 

One of the supreme pleasures of living in America is the ready availability of quality jazz on the radio. With just a flick of the switch you can hear all the greats from Louis Armstrong to Duke Ellington, from Ma Rainey to Wynton Marsalis. For a jazz lover it’s like you’ve died and gone straight to heaven!

In order to appreciate my unrestrained joy at this opportunity you need to know a little of my musical voyage of discovery and the criticism I faced in taking that journey. I must have been about 15 when I first heard New Orleans jazz. As long as I live I’ll never forget the thrill, the goose bumps, the “tingle factor” of listening to an old scratchy recording of the King Oliver Band dating from the 1920s. I was hooked.

In fact, for the rest of my teenage years most of my all-too-meager weekly allowance from my parents was spent on things connected with jazz-recordings, magazines, books-anything I could get my hands on. And-bliss beyond words-there were those wonderful, never-to-be-forgotten occasions when some of the luminaries of the jazz world actually visited Scotland.

The safety of the passing of time allows me now to confess a number of absences from school which were never fully explained to those in authority. How do you convince parents and teachers that really there is no choice in the matter, that hearing and seeing Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Ruby Braff and George Lewis “in the flesh” is more important to the development of the mind than yet another math or science lesson which could easily be attended long after my heroes had flown back across the Atlantic Ocean?

I was, alas, a great worry to my parents, especially when I refused to go to a Salvation Army brass band concert because it clashed with a jazz festival I had planned to attend. My saintly old dad actually included a space in his very full prayer list in which he petitioned the Lord that his son would grow out of his affection for a music for which he himself had no appreciation! He expected and experienced much success in prayer and he kept a little book in which he listed the Lord’s answers to prayer as they came. Powerful though he was in the ministry of petition, that was one request the Lord never saw fit to grant and there remained an incomplete entry in his prayer diary.

Of course, as every aficionado of this great American art form knows, there’s more to jazz than just the music. There’s a whole folklore surrounding the leading players, their fads and foibles, their personalities and peculiarities. And some of the best quotes ever spoken by human beings originated on the lips of jazz musicians. Which brings me to the point of sharing this part of my life story.

Eubie Blake was a legendary jazz pianist who died just a few years ago at the ripe old age of 103. On his 100th birthday Eubie was interviewed by a newspaper reporter who commented on the fact that the jazzman had not been noted for his healthy lifestyle. Quite the opposite, in fact. Eubie’s eating and drinking habits would have given any heart specialist cause for grave concern.

The great man smiled at the comment and responded, “Well, if I’d known I was going to live so long I’d have taken better care of myself.” Everybody laughed, but the quote found its way into print and into the folklore of jazz. But I think that Eubie Blake had a point. Not everyone is as fortunate as he was. Most people who neglect their bodies pay for it with poor health and a shorter life than the Lord intended. And Salvationists can be as guilty as anyone else. Indeed, we occasionally justify overworking on the grounds that we are doing it for the Lord, and overeating on the grounds that, since we don’t drink or smoke, it must be alright to have one area of excess.

Even if don’t enjoy jazz, it might just be the time to heed the counsel of Eubie Blake. And if that doesn’t convince you, read I Corinthians 6:19-20. The Apostle Paul never played jazz piano, but he would have agreed with Eubie Blake on at least one thing!

 


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