Edward Bride — co-founding chairman of Pittsfield CityJazz and co-founding president of Berkshires Jazz — credits his passion for jazz to a high school pal who played a recording of Stan Kenton and his band for Bride one afternoon after school. He was hooked.
At Villanova University, the Bristol, Conn., native was student chairman of the Villanova Intercollegiate Jazz Festival, which included a host of jazz giants in its annual adjudication panels. Among those giants was Kenton.
In adulthood, Bride — a media relations consultant specializing in information technology and the arts — continued what he had begun at Villanova. He was among the founders of Pittsfield CityJazz Festival in 2005. Four years later, in 2009, Bride and core co-founders Andy Kelly, Megan Whilden, Art Niedeck and Tracy Wilson created Berkshires Jazz. Berkshires Jazz presents concerts throughout the year and is active in the county's schools with demonstrations, workshops, discussions and performances.
Bride and his artist wife, Marge, are 26-year residents of Pittsfield and the parents of three grown children, living in Cohoes, N.Y., Uxbridge, and Petaluma, Calif.
In this Take Five, Bride talks about his love for jazz; why jazz matters; and how Berkshires Jazz fits into Berkshire County's cultural landscape.
1 How would you define "jazz"?
Louis Armstrong famously (or infamously) said, "If you have to ask what jazz is, you'll never know." That might have been his way of saying that he couldn't define it. Guess what: nether can I. I do know that it has certain elements, like melodies that matter (contrasted with a lot of what passes for music on today's airwaves), a certain structure, but mainly, freedom to improvise. It is fun to play and fun to hear. The freedom in jazz exemplifies America, and is what Hitler hated so much that he banned jazz from Germany. Musicians and purists may offer other technical answers, such as being based on the blues scale, but that just gets in the way of appreciating the music. Duke Ellington, perhaps America's most prolific composer of any ilk, used to say that there are only two kinds of music: the good kind, and the other kind. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart did us all a favor declining to define obscenity: "I know it when I see it." So, I favor that approach: I know it when I hear it. But, that doesn't always work, either.
2 Why should jazz matter? What drew you, personally, to jazz in the first place?
Jazz has been called "America's classical music." It is our only indigenous art form, and has played an inspirational role in our culture since slavery. It is part of who we are. Of course, not every jazz aficionado likes that comparison, because "classical" implies that it's a museum piece, whereas it is still evolving.
What drew me to it, personally? Hearing it. That may seem a little smug, but it's true. Back in the era of going to friends' houses after school and playing records, we'd be listening to Bill Haley and the Comets, Elvis Presley, and the like. And then a buddy put Stan Kenton on his turntable, and I was hooked. I remember the moment. And, that's why it is so important to expose youngsters to all kinds of music while they're still young, their brains are still developing, and their tastes are still evolving. They may not take to it, but at least they'll have had the opportunity.
3 Are there any jazz artists and/or jazz styles that appeal to you in particular?
I gave a hint to that in the last question. Big bands. Ellington, Basie, Kenton, Herman, Buddy Rich. I got to see a good many of them when growing up in Bristol, Conn., where Lake Compounce, an amusement park, would have bands play every Saturday all summer-long. Dave Brubeck's "Take 5" brought me into the world of smaller bands, and the list of my favorite piano players would be very long. Sax players: Charlie Parker and his musician offsprings Phil Woods and Grace Kelly (for starters); Stan Getz; Gerry Mulligan. Then, there are groups that straddle genres like Ray Charles, Harry Connick Jr., Dr. John (and, of course, Frank Sinatra) that take space in my record/CD cabinet.
4 How do you see Berkshires Jazz' place within the broader Berkshires cultural landscape?
We have a three-fold mission of presenting world-class jazz artists, encouraging jazz education, and promoting the local jazz scene. Except for the word "jazz," that mission could describe most of the performing arts institutions in the Berkshires. We help fill out the landscape. We have been fortunate to have partnered with many of the presenting venues (e.g., the Colonial Theatre; Barrington Stage; Mahaiwe) to bring this music to as wide an audience as possible and, thanks to generous underwriting support, at accessible prices. That's the same story with other cultural institutions; if we had to rely on ticket prices alone, we'd never be able to afford world-class artists.
5 Jazz has taken on a variety of forms and styles over the course of its long history. Where is it now, do you think, and what do you see as its future?
My personal tastes were developed in the 1960s-'80s, and the music that held sway during that era is still being played today. Bands like the Squirrel Nut Zippers and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy are reprising the "jump" era of the war years; Bossa Nova was imported mid-century and is still being performed by new, young artists. But even with those styles still vibrant, the music is still evolving, indeed. The New England Jazz Ensemble recently recorded an adaptation of "Peter and the Wolf," with a "hip" libretto by Giacomo Gates. The instrumental portion of that recomposition included maybe a dozen types of jazz, blues, ska, samba, etc. There's always something to discover. So, perhaps jazz is not America's classical music, in that sense, but our neo-classical improvisational music.