Last night, I had a great playing DJ by posting jazz and videos on my fb page. A friend of mine asked me when was the last time I played violin and suddenly I recalled being a 14 year old Jr. High School student ( these days its called Middle School) playing my violin all day on Saturdays in my bedroom. The first album that popped into my mind was "Birds of Fire" by the Mahavishnu Orchestra. Jerry Goodman was the violinist for the band at the time, before Jean Luc Ponty joined.
I remembered playing "Miles Beyond" over and over and "Birds of Fire" in an attempt to become more accurate at playing fast runs. Prior to playing jazz-rock, which was called "Fusion" at the time, I played classical violin. I was in elementary school and began taking lessons when I was in the 2nd grade at the school. On Saturdays, I took lessons at noon at the Grinnell's Music Store on Woodward in downtown Detroit. Prior to that time in my life, I remembered being a little girl before I entered elementary school. My grandfather would play Bossa Nova, Stan Getz and Milton Nasciemento when it was time for me to take naps.
By the time I was in the 4th grade, I was playing in Detroit's All City Orchestra, that met for practice in the large auditorium of Cass Technical High School. The orchestra would have been like the Detroit Symphony Orchestra's Sphinx Orchestra for youth.
So some of my Saturdays were spent meeting at Cass Tech in the mornings, then I would walk to Woodward and take my noon lesson at Grinnell's. I recall my best friend and I being the only two girls from our elementary school to play in the orchestra with high school students. I played second chair position.
What does classical music have to do with jazz? Well, one day at Cass Tech, we were told that the funding was gone and the orchestra could no longer be supported ( I think this was in 1966) and that the orchestra would be discontinued. I remember being in the hall with the other students, all of us with the look of shock and confusion on our faces, and crying. I remember that when we arrived, the auditorium door was locked, so we were waiting in the hall for the conductor. Our instrument cases were in the hallway and when someone arrived, we were asked to gather 'round. I remember that when we received the news, how some of us who were standing against the lockers, slid down to the floor and cried.
After the orchestra was shut down, I continued to take private lessons at Grinnell's until it closed down. By that time, I was in Jr. High School and we had "Band" instead of "Orchestra." Eventually, I dropped out of the class. All I had to practice from was Beethoven, Mozart, and a Vivaldi concerto for two violins. Now this is where the jazz comes in.
One day, I was listening to WJZZ and the DJ played a Miles Davis tune. I can't recall what it was but I remembered thinking that I could play the song. I used to listen to rock a lot when I was a teen and was trying to figure out what else I could play on the violin. Later, in 1972, I heard the Mahavishnu Orchestra play "Birds of Fire" and fell in love with the song. I liked fusion because it combined rock and jazz. I could hear the violin in it and was sure that if I bought the album, I could pick out the notes and play by ear. So I grabbed some of my pay from my newspaper route, hopped the Hamilton bus to Northland, and bought it from the record store. And this is how I began collecting fusion LP's that had violinists. Later, I practiced to Stephan Grapelli, then Jean Luc Ponty when he replaced Jerry Goodman. I also had Gentle Giant collection to practice to. My favorite to play was "Black Cat" from the Acquiring the Taste LP.
Years later, in the late '70's, early 80's, when I was a university student, I took some jazz theory and music appreciation courses to help me understand how jazz was composed. It was at that time that I began collecting jazz, going to jazz concerts to write papers for my theory classes, and really got into BeBop and folks like Cecil Taylor, Ornette Coleman, Eric Dolphy, Coltrane, Miles, Ayler, and others. Later, I took these experiences and began documenting jazz musicians by writing jazz related poetry.
Here's the Gentle Giant cut "Black Cat"
Here's an early video of the first Mahavishnu Orchestra with Jerry Goodman on violin, Billy Cobham on drums, John McLaughlin on guitar, Jan Hammer on keys and synth, and Rick Laird on bass. (My hair was like Jerry's!)