Jim Sherburne doubled the size of my jazz world all by himself.
I love jazz; old jazz, new jazz, Dixie-land, Chicago, Bop, Free…but being of a certain age, I am particularly enthralled by jazz from the mid-20th century (doesn’t that – accurately – make it and me sound downright archaeological?). My most-preferred selections had to be carbon-dated before I could play them.
Until I met Jim, I was comfortable in the belief that all the best jazz originated on the East Coast. Then one afternoon while waiting for Nancy Sherburne’s lasagna to finish simmering, Jim and I traded rants in the living room. Translate that to; he ranted while I listened and nodded and thumbed through his tattered record albums.
(Shelly Manne, Jimmy Giuffre, Howard Rumsey…who were these guys?)
Jim had graduated from UK, and then lived and worked in the advertising world in Chicago during the 60’s. He developed ad campaigns that featured a singing Kool-Aid pitcher and the encouraging “Double your pleasure, double your fun, with Double-Mint, Double-Mint, Double-Mint Gum!”
Clearly, the man could write.
(Bud Shank, Conte Candoli, the Lighthouse All-Stars…who were these guys?)
Jim began to research and write historical novels…good ones. They were published to good notices by Houghton-Mifflin; HACEY MILLER, followed by THE WAY TO FORT PILLOW, then my personal favorite; STAND LIKE MEN, about the coal union wars in Kentucky.
The Sherburne family eventually moved back to Kentucky.
(Shorty Rogers, Chico Hamilton, Gerry Mulligan…WHO WERE THESE GUYS??)
I loved going to Jim and Nancy’s house. I would park behind their car with the informative bumper sticker; “Republican in Trunk”. I’d dutifully follow the instructions on the 1950’s era poster in the bathroom; “Don’t be a Commie! Wash your hands!” The lasagna was killer. The laughter was eye-watering. The volume was cranked up to “eleven”.
(Wince at the scratches. These records have been played to death!)
Afterwards we would play the “Song Game”. The rules were simple; we went around the room and when it was your turn, you sang a song, any song. If I had brought a date, at this point in the evening, she would generally be terrified and I knew I would have some splainin’ to do in the car home.
When it was Jim’s turn, he’d sing old union anthems I’d never heard of.
I’d be so happy for him. His world was filled with passion, anger, joy, outrage, and fierce hope. He was delighted to share it all with you.
His book, RIVERS RUN TOGETHER, depicts those chaotic days of the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago. The hippies had taken over the park and one of their slogans was “Don’t trust anyone over 40”. Jim was over 40. His and his protagonist’s hearts were in the park with the kids, but the math excluded them both.
On the day his book; POOR BOY AND A LONG WAY FROM HOME (which features a young D. W. Griffith and a younger silent film industry) was released, I drove to a bookstore in Danville to purchase the book. I knew Jim would be there to sign books. I was first in line. I like to think my graciously inscribed copy is the first of the first printing. Book nerds are just that way.
But what about the music?
When I finally got a word in between the rants and before the lasagna, I asked Jim where this music came from. He explained that while he was in Chicago, he had access to all these recordings of California musicians. Many of them worked for the movie studios and played jazz with each other on the week-ends. He thought they were pretty good.
The West Coast jazz spoke of short sleeves, loafers, and the long, long unbroken lines of horizons. Giuffre and Mulligan played and you squinted your eyes and understood Diebenkorn.
The East Coast responded with rolled-up sleeves, jackets & ties, edges & corners. Parker and Prez wailed and you sang back Burroughs and Huncke.
The West Coast sang of sunsets & fogs, beaches, cars & personal distances. The East Coast argues night, streets, cabs & crowds.
The West whispers innuendo. The East yells back in-your-face—OH! LET’S GO!
The West is cool, the East hot.
Stars vs. neon.
Highways vs. subways.
It doubled my jazz world.
Thanks to Jim.