Jay Meehan: The kids are alright
May 26, 2015
"Roaming through the jungle of ‘Ohs’ and ‘Ahs’ searching for a more agreeable noise, I live a life of primitivity with the mind of a child and an unquenchable thirst for sharps and flats."
~ Duke Ellington
Let me just start this out by saying that, even as an outsider who never attended Park City High School, I had the time of my life at their 113th All-Class Reunion this past Saturday night down at what is now the "DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Park City The Yarrow." (Is that a mouthful, or what?)
In fact, I can’t imagine that, even if I had shared the alumni history of the one-hundred-plus other attendees in the room, I could have enjoyed myself to any greater degree. Of course, it goes without saying that I’m much more comfortable as a covert operative in most social situations. I’m neurotic, therefore I am!
As a newcomer to Park City (summer of ’70), to share moments with many of the native-Parkites I’ve come to know over the years was fun and interesting and enlightening and, to be sure, even heartwarming at times.
But as cool as re-bonding proved to be, it would be the evening’s entertainment component, the Park City High School Varsity Jazz Ensemble under the leadership of Chris Taylor, that would totally knock me for an aesthetic loop.
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Their journey through the Big Band Jazz repertoire put me into acute pulmonary dysfunction! They took my breath away! They used me and bruised me and left me, like Pavlov’s dog, salivating for more!
As a non-musician who enjoys writing about his musical experiences, I’ve always tried to make evident an implied contract between myself and the reader not to take what ends up finding print all that seriously. It’s about nothing more than my take on those moments when I’m confronted by the musical art in question. I’m subjective, therefore I am!
That being said, there’s this dynamic confluence where both extreme focus and casual swing sensibilities flow together in this ensemble that speaks not only to the sheer amount of individual and collective "woodshedding" involved but to an almost unconditional love and commitment to the genre itself.
Not to mention the spiritual evolution both jazz music and these young practitioners have undergone during their relatively short acquaintance.
They truly dig that crazy, infectious, big-band jazz beat. Their body language spills the beans as they somewhat subtly swing and sway and rock and stomp in obedience to their inner jazz fan, following the dictates of both the arrangement and their ears. At this level of musicianship, they do listen to each other — intently.
Off the bandstand, to those locked into the magnetic field in play, there is an abundance of less-schooled listening going on coupled with a quite less-subtle component of swing-sway-rock-stomp. These singular big band jazz buffs, including those who had little notion they might possess such a proclivity beforehand, have, through no fault of their own, entered the ecstatic zone.
I found the tours through the instrumental sections to be especially fun. Tenor, alto, and baritone saxophones, tenor and bass trombones, trumpets and flugelhorns (I didn’t notice or hear any cornets, as if I have an ear for such things) and a rhythm section of piano, guitar, acoustic and electric bass, and drums kept things quite interesting all night long.
Not to mention the alternating vocalists whose silky smooth approaches to the microphone and sophisticated phrasing once they got there belied their age. That’s really not fair. If anything testifies to the irrelevance of chronological years, it’s the Park City High School Varsity Jazz Ensemble. Immersion in such an art form ushers one into intellectual adulthood rather quickly.
And then there’s their soloing and spot-on comping and the trading of choruses and portions thereof to the point where they’re firing on all, what, 20 cylinders or so, and you just know that, whenever they decide to resolve their current equation, the runway’s going to be far too short for any sort of proper landing. I’m ecstatic, therefore I am!
A big thanks to Chris Taylor and his band-mates for stretching my musical sensibility and to Tommy and Shelly Martinez for both organizing the entire PCHS Reunion and allowing an interloper in their midst. And to you alumni who didn’t participate, you missed out. Try not to ever make that mistake again!
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and has been an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social scenes for more than 40 years.