Houston's Jazz History

Later on, of course, I came to appreciate a whole host of jazz artists, from the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and Count Basie to Charles Mingus and John Coltrane, but even so, it's still the genre I listen to the least. That smooth-jazz stigma has always lingered, and the arcane trajectory jazz began traveling around the mid-'60s has always left me cold. Oddly enough, perhaps, Sample seems to agree on this count.

"When I first heard free jazz, I was not interested," he says. "I was only interested in what I had loved as a child — why did Louis Armstrong give me chills down my spine? Free jazz didn't do that. It was an intellectual thing, and I guess I'm a Southerner and a very spiritual guy. To me, the only purpose of music is to heal. I'm not interested in trying to proclaim to someone that I'm a genius."

One of jazz's great virtues, I think, but also one of its main problems, is that it combines so well with so many other kinds of music. This wasn't a problem 50 or 60 years ago, when it was more or less the common ground of all popular music — the meeting point of swing, rhythm and blues, Tin Pan Alley pop and even country. But as forms such as rock, soul, disco and hip-hop became dominant, pure jazz — if there ever even was such a thing — receded to the fringes.

Details

KTSU's Jazz Hall of Fame Honors, with host Dee Dee Bridgewater and musical director Horace Alexander Young, are 8 p.m. Saturday, September 6, at the George R. Brown Convention Center's Assembly Hall, 1001 Avenida de las Americas. Debra and Eloise Laws, Brandon Lee, Kyle Turner and the TSU Jazz Ensemble are scheduled to perform. Tickets are $45 and $65; for information, call the TSU Communications office at 713-313-4205 or visit www.ktsufm.org.

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A lesson in local jazz history is as close as the library. The Houston Public Library's Houston Metropolitan Research Center, located in the Julia Ideson house next door to the main branch at 500 Mc­Kin­ney, has a Texas Jazz Archive of photographs, recordings and oral histories of jazz musicians from Houston — including an Arnett Cobb collection — and elsewhere in the state. (Open by appointment only.) TSU has its own jazz archive on campus at the Robert J. Terry library.

Again, though, that makes it sound like jazz only exists to be researched and written up in stodgy academic journals or drier-than-dry collectors' journals. Whether you love it, hate it or are indifferent, jazz is a cornerstone of American music and, overseas especially, one of this country's major cultural calling cards. Jazz's fingerprints are all over any kind of music that came after it, from indie-rock to bluegrass to hip-hop, and its emphasis on live performance set a benchmark that stands to this day.

More important, though, despite its popular reputation as either background music or the province of insufferable music snobs, jazz is still a vital and viable music with plenty of life left. Besides clearing away some of the cobwebs from one of the dustiest corners of Houston's musical history — which itself would be more than enough — KTSU's Hall of Fame is a welcome reminder that local jazz exists in the present as well (all four surviving inductees maintain active performing careers). Things like this can only help nudge it out of the library and back onstage where it belongs.

chris.gray@houstonpress.com

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