My Ohio: Bobby Selvaggio keeps both jazz rhythms and college students' interest in music

Selvaggio's saxophone is part of Kent State class

CLEVELAND - Rarely does a week go by that I do not think of that historic day when at the age of 17, I walked into a Cleveland jazz club and heard the unmistakable sound of the Miles Davis Quintet, when John Coltrane wasone of his sidemen.  It was my entry into jazz that summer of my high school graduation.  My high school friend, Joe Samuels, and I were decked in our best suits and ties and we each sported hats with the brims pulled low into our eyes.

The Jazz Temple was the club we visited.  Although we were of high school age, we tried to look older and put more bass in our voices as we entered the jazz spot, which was Mayfield Road near its intersection with Euclid Avenue.  

That summer in the decade of the 1960s would mark major turning points in our lives. 

That night with Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Philly Joe Jones, Red Garland and Paul Chambers were, for us, historic in every way. Joe and I became complete followers of a music which we would later learn would be heralded as "America's classical music."

I thought of that night (and thousands of others which would follow over the decades) when I heard Bobby Selvaggio make magic with his saxophone at an outdoor concert.  Ironically, Selvaggio and his No Words Quintet were playing at the Museum of Contemporary Art, which is on the grounds of the Jazz Temple, which lasted only a short while.

To be at the corner of Mayfield and Euclid and again to hear the wonderful sound of Selvaggio as he coaxed sweetness out of his alto sax was a treat.  Selvaggio is not only a student of the music but he is also a teacher.

A graduate of Kent State University, he has returned to his alma mater to direct the Kent Jazz Studies program. Selvaggio is one of the lions of jazz.  He has been a prolific recorder of the music with impressive sounds on his CD recordings.

However, to catch him in a live concert is even more of a treat. When asked what he thinks about as he plays, he is quick with the answer.  "I'm not thinking; I'm just doing."  

Selvaggio allows his soul to play the music, much of it improvised.  "If you have to go on stage and think about what you're going to do, you probably don't know what you're doing," said Selvaggio, his voice rising and falling with a beautiful rhythm.

During a break in the concert, we traded stories about jazz and many of the greats who have played on the international scene. Most of them played in Cleveland at some time. This city has been open to the music since before World War I.  For more than a hundred years, the music has found its way into the American culture.  From this country, it immigrated to places throughout the world.

"You know we have a wealth of young jazz musicians in this town," said Selvaggio.  He is a musician on a mission in telling the history of the music which continues to evolve.  When Selvaggio went back to the stage of the outdoor concert, he set the rhythm for the quintet and the guys were off and running again. 

The music lifted high into the poplar trees which surrounded the concert. It blended in with the city sounds of Cleveland on an early evening.  Selvaggio's music bounced off the concrete and steel of the buildings surrounding their venue.

Mayfield Road and Euclid Avenue pulsed just as it had done all those years ago when my friend, Joe, and I walked into the Jazz Temple, sat down, and let great musicians open a door for us which remains wide open still today.  It is the door marked "Jazz Here." 

Bobby Selvaggio must have known what I was thinking because he and the guys not only played history.  They also played today's music. The sign "Jazz Here" was lit in my mind like a flashing neon sign noting where the music is fresh, innovative, pulsing, and rhythmic.                                                                                   

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