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Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

Herb Benham

I don't like jazz. There, I said it. I don't like it and no one is going to convince me that I should.

For a long time, I thought I had to like it. Jazz. The word itself denotes cool.

A word with two z's. That's an automatic yes. Jazz would be the ultimate Scrabble word if Scrabble had two z's.

I started to listen to jazz in college. I laid the groundwork by playing tenor saxophone in the Emerson Junior High marching band until Mr. Meeks, the band leader, heard me honk my way through a patriotic number without the cover of the trombones, trumpets and tubas and gradually my position was outsourced to another saxophonist. One day, my tenor sax was gone and I was playing basketball in the Make Milk Mine league.

All saxophone players pointed to John Coltrane, who is to the saxophone what Orville Redenbacher is to popcorn.

I went to college in Philadelphia. It was almost a given that if you lived in a Philly or a New York you would like jazz.

There was always the opportunity to duck into a jazz club. I liked the sound of ducking into a jazz club. When people ducked into a jazz club, invariably they would be wearing an overcoat, a pork pie hat and a pair of black glasses that made you look like a jazz critic.

The Bitter End, the Blue Note, the Village Vanguard. It was into one such place that I ducked and saw Chick Corea and Return to Forever play.

Chick Corea was good and when he played with Stanley Clark, Lenny White, Joe Farrell and Al Di Meola (not all at once), the music was almost ethereal.

"Light as a Feather" was one Corea's signature albums, and having it in your collection marked you as cool beyond words.

Flora Purim, her husband Airto Moreira (both Brazilian) played with Corea and then recorded on their own. Antonio Carlos Jobim, he was good. That South American thing was exotic. You could almost see the butterflies fluttering in the rainforest.

I went through a Miles Davis phase, mainly because I felt I had to. I kind of liked "Kind of Blue," but I also liked it more when I told people I listened to Miles Davis, or just "Miles" and the respect factor zoomed off the charts.

Who is this guy, they'd think. I better take him seriously because he likes Miles Davis.

Later on, there was the great jazz fusion saxophone player John Klemmer, who played those shimmering chord sequences that sounded like waterfalls of sound.

I don't know why everybody hated Kenny G. Maybe because he was one of the first people in jazz who didn't seem to be living out of his car or under a lean-to in Clark Park.

Wayne Shorter, I liked him too. Charles Mingus, Charlie Parker and Art Blakey, with the impressive-sounding Jazz Messengers. Joe Farrell, who put together some of the most thrilling saxophone riffs I'd ever heard on "Moon Germs." Al Jarreau, one of the great jazz singers of all time, who sounded as if he had a musical implant between his third and fifth molars.

Norah Jones, she's incredible. I guess you could call her a jazz singer too. Billie Holiday, what am I going to argue with that? Wynton Marsalis -- is there something wrong with him?

It may be time to put on "Light as a Feather." Chick Corea. Now that's a good album. Even if you don't like jazz.