Another tourist season is complete. CAMP Rehoboth hosted a very successful Sun Festival with events all week long, climaxing with concerts by The Skivvies and the lovely Jennifer Holliday. Right on the heels of CAMP’s October 10 Block Party, the 2021 Rehoboth Beach Jazz Festival will take place. Jazz has been a fall staple of this resort town since 1989.
Over time, jazz music has undergone several major modifications. From its genesis in New Orleans at the end of the 19th century into the early 20th century, there is no one genre that encompasses the jazz world. It may be expressed in swing, bebop, hard bop, ragtime, blues, jazz fusion, and more. Jazz is one of those things in life that you either love or hate. Evidently, quite a few people in Rehoboth Beach and the surrounding region love it, including yours truly.
When you begin to rattle off the names of well-known jazz musicians, the list can be extensive, depending upon the style. Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, Louie Armstrong, Count Basie, Freddie Hubbard, Chuck Mangione, Pat Metheny, Chick Corea, Joe Henderson, Miles Davis, David Sanborn, Spyro Gyra, McCoy Tyner, Grover Washington, Jr., John Coltrane, Chris Botti and the WHOLE Marsalis family come to mind immediately. It would only be right to add the names of jazz vocalists (perhaps in a future article).
Perhaps this is the right time to introduce readers to a few queer jazz musicians. The connection between being LGBTQ and a jazz performer only confirms that being queer is just a reality for that person whose personal musical expression is jazz.
Fred Hersch is a jazz pianist, educator, and HIV/AIDS activist. He started to play piano at four years of age, began composing at age eight, and was winner of national piano competitions from age 10 on. When he was 38 years old, he came out. He also revealed that he had been treated for HIV during the previous nine years. His coming out gave him the platform to be a spokesperson for AIDS services and education, which he has done with passion.
In 2008, Fred fell into a coma, and remained incapacitated for two months. When he came to, he could not play piano, due to atrophy. Following rehab, he was able to play once more. In 2011, he performed My Coma Dreams, reflecting the elusive contrast between dreams and reality. A good read is Hersch’s autobiography, Good Things Happen Slowly.
Reviewing lists of jazz musicians by instrument, the trumpet, guitar, saxophone, and piano are the top performers. The list of those who played the vibraphone is shorter. Rising above his peers on this instrument is Gary Burton. He revolutionized the vibraphone when he began to play it with four mallets, rather than two as was common at the time.
Burton had an extensive career not only as a performer, playing with other marquee names, but also as an educator at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. His early years there were spent as a professor, then Dean, then Executive Vice-President. He revealed to the world during a 1994 interview on Fresh Air with Terry Gross that he was gay. This news made Gary Burton one of the very few jazz musicians of his time who were openly gay. Burton and his partner were married in Provincetown in 2013. He published a wonderful memoir titled Learning to Listen.
As a left-handed performer of the double (string) bass, Jennifer has been known professionally as “Lefty” and “The Southpaw.” She has played with the top tier of jazz musicians, including lengthy tours with Mel Tormé and Doc Severinsen. She has also appeared in concerts with Woody Herman, k.d. lang, and Take 6. Formerly known as John Leitham, Jennifer transitioned in 2001. This occurred while touring with Doc Severinsen and led to her divorce.
In her new gender identity, Jennifer encountered canceled gigs, and eventually left Severinsen’s band. She retreated from performing due to some surgical difficulties. During that time, Jennifer wrote a host of new material, eventually recording The Real Me. A few years later, in 2012, an award-winning documentary on her life, I Stand Corrected, was released.
Queer Jazz. This sounds like a strange way to describe these three jazz musicians who are simply living their best lives as they need to. From their fingers and hands, their music jumps and brings life to a world in desperate need of life. But as their music gives life to others, it is the soul expression of the life they have found for themselves. And they wouldn’t have it any other way. ▼
David Garrett, a CAMP Rehoboth Board member, is a straight advocate for equality and inclusion. He is also the proud father of an adult trans daughter. Email David Garrett at email@example.com.