In this special guest post, jazz artist Wycliffe Gordon reflects on the many forces that have shaped his legendary sound. Wycliffe and his band will perform at St. Gregory’s on Sunday, January 24 at 4 p.m. Get tickets today!
By Wycliffe Gordon
I was first introduced to music by my late father, Lucius Gordon, who studied and played classical piano music as well as perform in several churches in my hometown of Waynesboro, Georgia.
I have fond memories of the reel to reel tape player and recorder that sat on my dad’s upright grand piano where he wired speakers throughout each room in the house. At some point throughout each day we would here the music of Beethoven, Mozart, Schumann, and one of his favorites, Chopin. I only knew of Beethoven, because he would always play the first two movements of the Moonlight Sonata, and I thought it was a “funny” name and easy to remember. Ludwig. Ha!!! At the time I did not know the other composers, but I was certainly familiar with their music of which I had to identify many years later as a music student during college.
We were reared in and exposed to the music of baptist church in the south, which played a large part in my growth and development as a musician and person. Little did I know how great a role it would play in shaping my whole concept of sound and existence. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but something about experiencing the instrumental music and the singing of the choir has always moved me beyond explanation. I would sometimes witness members of the congregation “get in the spirit” or “catch the holy ghost” and that was scary to see as a youngster. I’ve gotten older and now it scares me more!!!. lol Just kidding. I always tried to remain “cool” so the “spirit” wouldn’t hit me in front of others. I mean, who wants to fall down or out, having no control over what was happening at that moment? Not me…Eventually I would release myself and just let go and cry. I’ll never forget the first time I heard someone sing “He Looked Beyond My Fault.” Wow. I learned that melody as Danny Boy and Londonderry Air. Very pretty song, but “Amazing Grace shall always be my song of praise” is the opening line. By the time Mr. Johnson got to “I shall forever lift mine eyes to Calvary, to view the cross where Jesus died for me” I was crying and couldn’t control it. This is when I knew music was one of the great languages that would connect people and help them to celebrate their likenesses and embrace their differences, cultural and otherwise.
I was introduced to jazz on recordings that were bequeathed to our family by a great aunt after her home going services. I started trombone at age 12 and this collection of music wound up at our house with a record player about age 13. I listened over and over, and though my teenage friends and I were into the pop music of that time, I would listen to the jazz in our garage everyday, then began imitating what I heard. I listened to Louis Armstrong and my love affair with jazz began. I loved his music but have now come to understand why I and so many others loved Pops. The music was just a manifestation and representation of his being. One of the greatest humanitarians of all times, he shows us how to live, love one another, and come together. More importantly realize that we have always been together and that we’re all ONE. What a great lesson to receive.
We all have that ability and music gives us the platform to communicate that love through sharing.
Thanks to my dad for sharing with all of us the world of music and my mom for the consistent support throughout and keeping us on the straight and narrow.