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Jim Collins is editor emeritus of The News-Herald and also serves as executive in residence at Lakeland Community College. His popular weekly column appears each Sunday in Comment in The News-Herald.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Helping a friend ease his way into jazz world

Jim and Louise Savage were icons and music educators of note around here long before their 90th birthday party a couple of weeks ago.

They won’t actually turn 90 (25 days apart) until August, but the Fine Arts Association celebrated a little early because this is when the organization holds its annual fund-raiser gala at LaMalfa in Mentor.

There were more than 200 people on hand, dining, reminiscing and bidding on a boatload of prized items to raise money and help keep Fine Arts going strong.

Jim, a piano teacher, and Louise, a voice instructor, started the Fine Arts at their home (built in 1884) on West Spaulding Street in Downtown Willoughby in 1957. Everything, including the Mississippi River, has to start someplace, and the Fine Arts started at the Savages’ big old home, which is now the Homestead House Bed and Breakfast.

Jim and Louise and the association’s newly minted trustees soon realized they had something really good on their hands. So they raised some money, built a new showplace in 1972 on the grounds of what is now Andrews Osborne Academy on Mentor Avenue, and there it stands, in all its glory, about to undergo an addition to accommodate the area’s rapidly expanding fascination with all of the arts.

Janet Podolak wrote a terrific feature story about the Savages and the gala event a few days before it happened, and I won’t duplicate it here.

I will merely tell you about something that happened that evening that caused me to enter into a labor of love to bring a little extra joy, I hope, into Jim’s life.

Jim and I (we have known each other forever and I have been on the Fine Arts board for more than 40 years) were standing in line at the salad table.

After the usual pleasantries (“How’s your tennis game?”), he surprised me with his most recent excursion in the field of music.

Jim teaches classical music playing, just as Louise teaches voice in the classical genre. My own interest in the classics is minimal. I have always been a jazz guy.

“I have taken up an interest in jazz,” Jim Savage confided to me. He said he is listening to it, reading about it, and finding it to be something worthy of his investment of time.

I gulped. I collected my thoughts. I refused to say, “It’s about time,” because he had plenty on his musical platter already without worrying about a foray into a totally different kind of music on the eve of his 90th birthday.

Yes, I know. Music is all just a bunch of notes. Beethoven and Brubeck compositions are all just notes. They are just played differently.

But I wanted to help further Jim’s experiment in jazz. “Are you familiar with the college lectures on the history of jazz by Professor Bill Messenger?” I asked.

It is a priceless collection of eight CDs called “Elements of Jazz: From Cakewalks to Fusion.”
Messenger narrates them, replete with examples by every prominent jazz musician you can think of.

I am fortunate to have the collection. It was lent to me in January 2011 by Don Miller of Eastlake, who is a lover of jazz and a 1952 grad of Willoughby Union High.

Don loves good jazz, including drummers who know how to use brushes. “If I ever write a book,” he confided, “it will be called ‘Rock Drummers Don’t Use No Damn Brushes.’ So far I have just the title, no text.”

Right on, Don, just like my book, “The Phone Never Rang,” about the Steele murder in Euclid — a title but no text.

But I digress.

I spent Memorial Day copying the eight CDs for Jim. Meanwhile, the lady of the house went to the copying machine and duplicated about two dozen pages of notes that accompany the lectures.

As you read this, I have probably already delivered the finished products to Jim. I hope he digs. Louise too, for that matter. I have never explored the topic of jazz with her.

Here’s what’s in the package: “Plantation Beginnings,” “The Rise and Fall of Ragtime,” “The Jazz Age,” “Blues,” “The Swing Era,” “Boogie, Big Bands and Bop,” “Modern Jazz,” and finally, “The ABCs of Jazz Improvisation.”

Each lecture, with music, is about an hour long. It is everything you would want to know about jazz — or at least a valuable primer unless you crave a larger taste.

I am probably prohibited by law from making any more copies of the jazz lectures. But if the people who run “The Great Courses” have any brains at all, they are aware that a guy like me (and Don Miller) is going to make a gratis set for a friend.


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