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How THEY Fell in Love with Jazz

In honor of our How I Fell in Love with Jazz contest, we asked a few of our favorite jazz lovers how they fell in love with jazz. Check out their responses (including from a few of this year’s talented judges), and maybe their answers will inspire you to submit your own jazz love story!

You can learn more about the guidelines and process below:

Wayne Shorter (Contest Judge 2021)

Contest judge 2021, jazz saxophonist, composer, and bandleader

To me, Jazz means “I Dare You!”

I saw Jazz as a movement, where the musicians, like superheroes, would fearlessly throw themselves into the unknown, exploring new and uncharted territories, while respecting each other’s ideas with the spirit of equality. I embraced this movement as a life mission, and within this mission, I have been trying to raise the nobility of the human condition.

Catherine Russell

Jazz singer

I really fell in love with jazz through Louis Armstrong. I learn every time I listen to him play and sing because I learn how to interpret lyrics. He was a great interpreter of story—great at storytelling. My two favorite jazz vocalists would be Dinah Washington and Billie Holiday because they’re a mixture of jazz and blues. Those two are inseparable. They also helped me to learn how I can share my love of song interpretation with my audience. This is what brings me joy: jazz, swing, and just...happiness. Happiness is what I get from jazz.

Shelley Berg

Jazz pianist, composer, arranger, orchestrator, producer, and Dean of the Frost School of Music

My father was a jazz musician, a wonderful jazz trumpeter, and there were always jazz recordings playing in the house. But when I was about 11 years old, he taught me the beginning of a song called “That’s All.” He told me to mess around with it, and so I did. It was so much fun, the freedom of it. And then, after a couple weeks, he added the next chord. Then I was hooked when I realized where jazz could go and what it could do. Between that and the Oscar Peterson records that my father had, that was all she wrote. I knew I had to spend my life in love with jazz.

Emmet Cohen (Contest Judge 2021)

Jazz pianist and composer

Music has always been part of my life. I started classical piano at age three via the Suzuki method, which involves learning audibly. My father would play jazz records around the house, and my curious ears absorbed the sweet sounds. I remember seeing Monty Alexander play when I was about 14 years old. I loved his exuberance and was convinced on the spot that I needed to chase that feeling of swing forever. I approached Mr. Alexander and basically asked him how to play jazz. He tapped his heart and said, “It all comes from here.”

Nicole Henry

Jazz vocalist and recording artist

I have been a jazz vocalist and recording artist for over 19 years now, and the crazy thing is that I fell in love with jazz literally four months before I started singing it. Two friends gave me CDs. One was a Nine Simone CD and the other was Billie Holiday’s Lady in Satin. I could just not understand the pain and angst in these women’s voices, so I kind of brushed off jazz at first. Then one year into my career, I was at a jazz club in Miami Beach, Florida. I got an opportunity to see and feel, and of course, hear jazz, and that’s what made me fall in love with it. Since then, I’ve toured around the world to 20 countries and recorded seven albums singing my beloved jazz.

Champian Fulton

Jazz pianist and vocalist

I fell in love with jazz from the moment I was born. As a baby in the hospital, my parents played Charlie Parker’s Bird with Strings album for me, and they followed it up with music like Count Basie, Clark Terry, and more Charlie Parker. I thought it was the greatest thing I ever heard, it influenced my whole life, and all I wanted to do was share that music with people. That’s why I became a musician. I moved to New York City, and I met other jazz musicians like Frank West and Blue Donaldson. I saw the wonderful community the city had made and how they were able to make people feel happy and loved, and I wanted to be a part of it. And that’s what I do.

Andromeda Turre (Contest Judge 2021)

Contest winner 2020, jazz composer and vocalist

I truly fell in love with jazz when I lost it. I spent my life growing up jazz. It’s part of my identity. I come from a family of jazz musicians, and I myself am a jazz composer and vocalist. I’ve always loved jazz, but that love reached a new level when the pandemic hit. Spending my life immersed in the world of jazz suddenly came to a halt. It was like having the wind knocked out of me. While I struggled to understand what I was feeling, and also digest what was happening in my nation racially and politically, I started to remember all these jazz stories that I heard growing up. As I began to tune into this beautiful rich history, I rediscovered how much tangible change jazz has brought about right here in America. Something clicked, it was like seeing color for the first time, falling in love. I realized my duty as a jazz child is to share these stories as well as this music with as many people as I can.

Benny Benack III

Jazz trumpeter and vocalist

My lifelong love affair with jazz started early. Jazz has been my one and only love since I was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. My parents are both jazz musicians. On my father’s side, I come from three generations of this music. My dad even pointed the bell of his clarinet at my mom’s stomach when I was in the womb. I guess you could say it started there. I’ve been performing professionally since I was 8 years old, and simply put, jazz has been the greatest gift of my life. It has afforded me the opportunity to travel the world, meet folks from different walks of life and backgrounds, share our experiences, and come together. Also, as an educator and teacher, I’ve been able to show the next generation the sacrifices that Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Nine Simone, and Dewey Gillespie all made. Simply put, jazz is the gift that keeps on giving.

Konrad Paszkudzki

Jazz pianist

I had just turned 12 and my dad took me to see Harry Connick Jr. I was completely knocked out by his piano playing, and of course, the band. Instantly hooked. Following that, I received an Oscar Peterson trio album a few months later. It was pretty much game-over right there. The sound, lilt, swagger, clarity, groove, and pure class of Oscar Peterson, Ray Brown, and Ed Thigpen just knocked me out. Those two experiences are precisely how I fell in love with jazz! I knew I’d spend a lifetime playing THAT music.

Check out how others fell in love with jazz through our gallery.

Submit your own jazz love story here.


Edited by Kristen Petronio


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