Spoiled by music in college
Getting older, actually turning 67 yesterday, I was recently reflecting on the music I heard in college. I’ve spent a lot of time on campuses because my wife is a professor. We spent ten years with her teaching at Purdue. There were a few concerts of note that I remember there. John Cougar Mellenkamp came up from downstate. A Prairie Home Companion ran a live episode with Garrison Keillor. Dave Matthews came; I didn’t see him because I don’t like him that much but Jonah did. I don’t remember much else. I don’t remember concert series blowing me away. Now we’re at Binghamton University and they sometimes get good people. I don’t usually go but I went to see Judy Collins and Stephen Stills. I didn’t see America.
I was at Oberlin from the Fall of 1972 to the Spring of 1976. This is a partial list of who performed there when I was there, a list which in retrospect was insane, and I’ll probably miss a bunch I knew about. I missed performances I probably should have attended. I missed Bonnie Raitt. I missed two young Israeli violinists named Pinchas Zuckerman and Yitzak Perlman. I missed Doc and Merle Watson.
There were of course classical musicians. The Cleveland Symphony with Lorin Maazel came twice a year – they liked the acoustics of Finney Chapel, the building on the right in the photograph, where most of the concerts took place. We weren’t necessarily getting the world’s top classical players except in niches. The conservatory was big on Baroque music so the Baroque Orchestra of Cologne, Concentus Musicus Wien, Franz Bruggen – who was the most eminent recorder player in the world at the time – and Gustav Leonhardt – who was the most eminent harpsichordist in the world at the time – came. But most people reading this won’t be familiar with them.
There were the folk singers and musicians. The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. Pete Seeger. Ali Akhbar Khan and Alla Rakha. Leo Kottke – who I got to watch from second row center.
There weren’t too many eminent rock acts because they tended to be too expensive. They had to be selected carefully, and they were. Randy Newman. I had no idea who he was but guys I knew said I should go. Same with Loggins and Messina, just before they broke big. I heard Your Mama Don’t Dance for the first time live and they were so new they had to repeat a song for an encore. The Jerry Garcia Band.
A campus that size couldn’t afford great rock but someone there figured out that they could afford great jazz. Now the conservatory has a jazz wing. Then they didn’t. But the quality of the jazz acts was the most over the top. There will be people I forget. I think, but I’m not sure I remember, that we got Keith Jarret. The Preservation Hall Jazz Band from New Orleans. Herbie Hancock, unfortunately during the Headhunters tour. The Paul Winter Consort – which wasn’t standard jazz but probably fit into that category better than any other. Weather Report. Dave Brubeck and sons – Dave Brubeck had years before recorded Jazz On Campus at Oberlin and in doing so basically invented the college tour. Count Basie. Cannonball Adderly (with his brother Nat), not long before he died, one of the best concerts I’ve ever seen. Dizzy Gillespie. Duke Ellington – I haven’t seen sidemen that good before or since, guys in the band who should have been headliners. Like with Adderly, it wasn’t all that long before Ellington’s death either.
I can’t imagine a lineup like that on a campus now. But what’s craziest is the comparative size of the institutions I’ve spent time at. Purdue had about 35,000 students. Binghamton has about 18,000.
When I got to Oberlin it had about 2,800. It’s still about the same size.
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