Jazz Fest starts in one week! With the caveat that I don't know every last act featured on Day One, my must-see pick would have to be Mark Murphy. I first heard him in my college years at SUNY Fredonia, 1986, the year his album Keroauc, Then and Now came out. I had an overnight shift at the college radio station and probably wore out track 4 on side 1. “San Francisco” is Mark's full throttle read of this snippet from Big Sur...
To complete this crazy day at 3 o'clock in the morning here I am sitting in a car being driven 100 miles an hour around the sleeping streets and hills and waterfronts of San Francisco. Dave's gone off to sleep with Romana and the others are passed out and this crazy nextdoor neighbor of the roominghouse (himself a Bohemian but also a laborer, a housepainter who comes home with big muddy boots and has his little boy living with him the wife has died) - I've been in his pad listening to booming loud Stan Getz jazz on his Hi Fi and happened to mention I thought Dave Wain and Cody Pomeray were the two greatest drivers in the world - "What? " he yells, a big blond husky kid with a strange fixed smile, "Man, I used to drive the getaway car! Come on down I'll show ya!" So almost dawn and here we are cuttin' down Buchanan and around the corner on screeching wheels and he opens her up, goes zipping towards a red light so takes a sudden screeching left and goes up a hill fullblast. When we come to the top of the hill I figure he'll pause awhile to see what's over the top but he goes even faster and practically flies off the hill and we head down one of those incredibly steep San Francisco streets with our snout pointed to the waters of the Bay and he steps on the gas! We go sailing down a hundred miles per hour to the bottom of the hill where there's an intersection luckily with the light on green and thru that we blast with just one little bump where the road crosses and another bump where the street is dipping downhill again. We come down to the waterfront and screech right. In a minute we're soaring over the ramps around the Bridge entrance and before I can gulp up a shot or two from my last late bottle we're already parked back outside the pad on Buchanan. The greatest driver in the world whoever he was and I never saw him again. Bruce something or other. What a getaway.
If you wanna stay up late, you can hear Mark's brilliant handling of that passage on my show Mystery Train on WRUR 88.5 at midnight on Saturday, or you can probably find it online somewhere. It makes you wish Mark would do an entire series of Jack Kerouac audio books, with bass and drum accompaniment. That Beat spirit of restless adventure and improvisation suits him well. I think what I like about him is you truly have no clue what he'll do next, and most of the time it seems he doesn't either. He takes wild chances that don't always work out exactly. But by the time you realize it may have gone a bit south, he is off exploring some new territory.
When he was starting out, the record company people apparently tried to market him as something of a teen idol. I found a fantastic album cover from those days at LP Cover Lover. There's a quote from the liner notes by Peggy Lee: “He phrases at times like a horn; and a horn with a modern sound. As the expression goes, you might say, ‘He blows.’”