Guest Editorial: Trailblazers

Marshall A. Mays

Guest Editorial: Trailblazers
October 03
00:40 2019

By Marshall A. Mays

It’s a shame the way the greats are disappearing, or have already disappeared. I’m referring to the great practitioners of blues and jazz music. All we have remaining of the pioneers of the Country Blues such as Charlie Patton and Blind Lemon Jefferson are scratchy and dim recordings. These were the men who gave birth to the blues! They gave birth to the genuine, honest blues. They told the truth as it was known to them in the late 1920s, in Charlie Patton’s case, and the early-to-mid 1920s, in Blind Lemon Jefferson’s case.  

The jazz greats as I know them came a little later. The earliest recordings that I can find of trumpet player Miles Davis was at the Royal Roost in New York City in 1948. Saxophone player John Coltrane performed with Miles Davis frequently throughout the 1950s and into the 1960s. Pianist Thelonious Monk came out in force in the early 1960s and held his own for over a decade. These are a few of the greats of jazz who seriously impress me.

I enjoy listening to WSNC, 90.5 FM. This station is based out of Winston-Salem State University. They still play the giants of jazz, along with a large quantity of contemporary artists. I’m glad that there is at least one station in the Piedmont that is keeping jazz alive. I hope that WSNC will continue to broadcast the blues on Saturday nights.  

The message that I take away from the longevity of the relevance of blues and jazz music is that you can take your own path in life. You don’t have to follow others and you don’t have to compromise. This is true of men and women of color and white folks. The popular jazz-rock fusion band know as Steely Dan put out some of the best tunes I have ever heard. I started listening to Donald Fagan and Walter Becker in the 1970s when I was five. 

I followed in the footsteps of some of the great jazz drummers, and I played the skins until just before my twentieth year. I am sorry and happy to say that I sold my drum set when I was nineteen in order to take a trip out to California. I am sorry that I stopped playing jazz. I am happy that I opened a whole new horizon of travel and writing about my travels. It was shortly after this trip that I discovered Jack Kerouac and his jazz-driven prose.

The early blues musicians were pioneers. They were blazing a path of their making. The early jazz musicians were pioneers, too. They were improvising. They were leaving the path, at times, altogether. I’m extremely happy that I discovered these two musical art forms. I hope the greats are discovered, and rediscovered, and I hope they live on and on.

Marshall A. Mays

Marshall A. Mays is a lifelong resident of Winston-Salem and a graduate of R.J. Reynolds High School.  He attended college in North Carolina and majored in creative writing.

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