Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Jazz Uncle

My uncle is a graphic designer, like me. Actually, he's more of a graphic designer than I am, for reasons i might try to explain later. He's designed countless vinyl record and book covers, posters, logos, magazines, and virtually anything that can be designed and printed. He started his carreer designing countless medicine boxes, back in the dawn of the 70s. I think it was for a pharmaceutical company called Faran. Not sure though, cause the memories are very faint - i was very little. But i remember Faran's premises seen from the inside of a car (probably my dad's) on the side of the highway just out of Athens - and I remember him coming to my grandparent's house in Halkida (where my parents sent me to stay there for a year just before i started school) clad in his moustache, perfect shirts and perfume, his mother being in love with him, cooking him dinner and ironing his shirts, and him accepting the goods before he'd leave off to get back on his life on the fast-lane graphic design business, his leaving being to my disappointment.

But there were remnants of him left in granny's house: His paintings (a bleeding heart, drawn Pop 60's style, a Warhol Marilyn replica with a tear running down the cheek), and the totemised pieces of his work (like his annually printed yearly calendar with 70s Milton Glaser style illustrations) or scraps from a magazine or newspaper writing about him. And there was his Jazz radio show, that granny never missed, just after midnight. Actually, uncle and jazz are two concepts so intertwined it's hard to seperate them.

Growing up I so wanted to be part of this: Jazz music, fine italian shirts like the ones John Lurie wore in films or Giardino's heroes in comics, Memphis-like furniture, cool chicks with gray eyes and short-sleeved dresses - like Debra Winger in "Sheltering Sky". During the summers I lived at granny's house in Halkida, she was still listening to the midnight jazz shows, and that has got to be one of the finest, greatest, most atmospheric and a bit funny memoirs of my whole life: A typical greek granny holding a pocket radio next to her ear, listening to Thelonious Monk in the middle of the night. But the track would end, and the voice would announce the next track or talk about the artist presented this time, and that surely was her pride and joy: her son on the radio. And there were no indy stations back then, just 3 or 4 state-run ones and lots of oriental sounds heard over a lot of mystic static on the AM scale.

I started taping the shows when in highschool. After my father died, the uncle probably replaced somehow him in my mind. I think I even spent some days with him just after this sad death, when i was 13, back in 1986. It was escapism, being in his house in Athens among thousand of jazz vinyls and videotapes playing arthouse movies at night on his brand new tv and VCR. Even glimpsing tits and legs in Playboy mag while sitting on the loo (loved the magazine rack in his toilet) was a joy.

I remember how i tried to grab a Milo Manara comics album and how he told me off "not for you yet, kid" and how he sat down on his scetching desk and started work for the layout of popular "Tahidromos" and "Ena" magazines, rearranging neatly lettraset typefaces and bits of coloured paper on a mockup. I remember his visit to London and him bringing back the Style Council's "My Favourite Shop" (i still remember the black and white photos on the cover and Paul Weller's haircut), Alison Moyet's maxi single for "That Ole Devil Called Love" and even Tears for Fears and "Everybody Wants to Rule The World". I remember him being ecstatic about the jazz revival in pop culture happenning in London at the time with films like "Absolute Beginners" and bands like the Blow Monkeys.

Soon after that i remember watching "Absolute Beginners" on cinema and listening to Conte Candoli spitting out frenetic solos in the 50's West Coast Jazz presented on his radio show. And then I remember learning by heart (all almost by heart) the Clifford Brown solo in "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home Too" sung by the cool goddess Helen Merrill. And I remember the moments when one rainy afternoon i first listened on his state-of-the-art hi-fi system the horns sounding almost regilious in Oliver Nelson's "Stolen Moments".

The list is endless. Stan Getz, Coltrane, the songs of Cole Porter and the beauty of Abbey Lincoln singing about how "Love Walked In" and Barney Wilen's soundtrack to the comic by Paringaux and Loustal "La Note Bleue". I played this thing maybe a trillion times and fell in love with the musicians and their solos. I still remember their names, particularly the pianist, Alain-Jean Marie, and still remember most of their solos by heart. This album was a true initiation to the wonders of Jazz. I had bought it at a curious shop in Berlin in summer 1989, then lent it to a friend, and then he lost it. I was sad, but years later i found the CD in Paris. Then I lost that too, and then I found it again in London, second hand.
I still listen to it with interest and joy. And jazz still fills me with delight. It's a shame this music still stays a secret, hidden under endless layers of boring stereotypes. Sometimes I listen to amazing jazz, live, at Jazz Upstairs here in Athens. Perfect sound system, perfect drinks by the best barman ever, and ocassionaly some lives that knock your socks off. How can one forget Sheila Jordan playing there 3 years ago? Or Benny Lackner, this fresh, amazing pianist from NY.
Jazz is pure joy - a music that sits on a stool wearing summer shoes gazing over people's shoulders at visions of a world full of happiness, colours, intimacy, exciting ideas, dancing and singing: excactly as it should be.

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