Tonawanda News

October 5, 2012

ADAMCZYK: Bebop in the morning

By Ed Adamczyk
The Tonawanda News

— Sometime between the moment I am provided with a research grant and the moment I’m dead, I’d like to investigate why and how music impacts thinking and cognizance. To wit, you’re in some fog or funk or rotten mood and you hear a song on the radio (or TV, MP3, download, load it into the CD player, whatever) and suddenly your head is clearer, the sky is bluer, the traffic is lighter, the kids in the back seat are absolute little angels, and it’s all because you heard some music.

The song triggers a memory, or perhaps a promise, a promise of what’s out there besides whatever is testing your coping skills. 

The current gadgetology of music delivery suggests on-air radio is a dying medium, at least for access to one’s favorite tunes (the radio is more the place to find blowhards named Rush, and less the greatest hits of Rush), and perhaps it’s true. Then again it may not be the medium’s fault.

It astounds me to observe how many people I know listen almost exclusively, when they listen to radio, to Canadian radio. Current rock, oldies rock, jazz, news, sports talk, classical – your format of preference is available from Buffalo radio stations, but those who find the material beamed from over the border seem to stay with it. Somehow the advertising is less repetitious, the programming is fresher (Canadian content laws require stations to play music by Canadian artists occasionally, making for a format familiar yet with a few surprises tossed in) and the entire experience seems aimed at pleasing the listener instead of informing him/her of opportunities to spend money.

The crowd with which I run tends to offer varying levels of hipness, and if the majority of them find something preferable in the atypical model of another country’s radio stations, well, they’re onto something.

And so am I. Your morning head-clearing routine is your business, but for me, the other day, it was “Salt Peanuts,” a bebop tune originally recorded by Dizzy Gillespie, this time played by saxophonist Joshua Redman on a Canadian station. (That elderly, plain-looking guy in the unremarkable car at Delaware and Sheridan the other day, trying to drive into the turning lane so he could grab a Burger King breakfast? That was me, and air around me was filled with complex and glorious saxophone music.) One moment I’m doing the motorized version of stumbling around, with the schedule of the day’s mundane events in my head, the next moment I’m sailing on the wings of bebop. Amazing, how it can do that to a person.

(Bebop, incidentally, is what beatniks listened to. Its hallmarks included small ensembles playing fast chord changes and lightning-fast arpeggios up and down the scale for the lead instrumentalist. Play it like you’re getting paid by the note. The counterpart in rock music is “shredding” or “speed metal,” a revved-up style to which you may not want to exercise, but if you respond to the aforementioned lights-off lights-on effect of certain songs, this stuff will blow the cobwebs from your head as you marvel at the performer’s dexterity and ponder that these jazz guys and rockers are doing something other than heroin. Like practicing.)

Canada is the place to find this stuff, as well as hockey. (My colleague on these pages, Mr. Confer, recently urged people suffering with Sabres withdrawal symptoms to consider local college hockey, and for once I agree with him, and don’t forget the game is played nightly — hell, constantly — over the border. If you buy into Mr. Don Cherry’s admonition that hockey is the blood and soul of Canada, be assured the fountain of it all can be found any night in Niagara Falls, in Welland, in St. Catherines and other points west in the Great White North. Tickets prices approximate those of movie theaters and when they find out you’re American, you’re treated like a beloved cousin.)

Some people need coffee from a convenient, Canadian-owned coffee franchise. I seem to need their radio stations.

Ed Adamczyk is a Kenmore resident whose column appears Fridays in the Tonawanda News. Contact him at