MJQ's Porgy and Bess | OPINION: Prized Possessions | Indy Week
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MJQ's Porgy and Bess 

Like most teenagers, I started getting interested in music in a serious way when I was in middle school and in my high school years. I was heavily invested in taking classical piano lessons, and my parents had no interest in popular music. So there was really very little exposure to a wide range of musical styles. And because of my interest in classical music, I developed an interest in Gershwin along with Mozart and Bach. And so I enrolled in something that doesn't exist anymore, one of those record clubs, and there was this record advertised, it was the Modern Jazz Quartet plays Porgy and Bess.

Well, I liked Porgy and Bess and somewhere along there I thought, "Well, that sounds interesting, I'll order that." I really had no expectation as to exactly what it would sound like, what it meant for the Modern Jazz Quartet to play Porgy and Bess, but I figured I might as well take a chance on it. So I ordered this record, and I listened to it, and it became something that I listened to a great deal.

Since I had played some Bach, I was intrigued by the way that there were musicians who were improvising very similarly to the way that a Bach two or three part invention would be written, and it was a sound unlike any sound that I had heard growing up. It was for me the first introduction to the possibilities of jazz. By the time that I left high school there were lots of scratches and gouges, and this record had become considerably less high quality. And then of course I bought other jazz records, and other records by the Modern Jazz Quartet. But that was the first record, and the one that I knew forwards and backwards. I went 28 years without listening to it.. Every once in a while I would still put the old one on and try to listen to it, but...

So starting in the early 1970's, I started looking for a new copy of it. I started frequenting used record stores, and I could never find another copy of that record. So it became something of a personal quest, to try and get a copy of that record. It never came back into print, in fact it's still not in print, I mean I even heard someone say after some particularly unmemorable record had been re-issued as a CD that he thought every scrap of recorded sound was going to find its way onto a compact disk, but this one never has.

A couple of years ago, as I was opening my Christmas presents, my son, Martin [who was 15 at the time], knowing that this was something I had always wanted, waited 'til the very end and presented me with a copy of the album. It was so lovely, and he was so excited that he had found it at one of the local used record stores. The only problem was that it wasn't in much better shape than the one I already had.

The summer before last, I stopped at one of my favorite places in the whole world--Kansas City, Mo., which is a wonderful city. And there's a wonderful record store there, and in a record bin was a really wonderful copy of this record in fairly good condition. I thought my quest had ended. I now had a copy that was listenable. So I brought it home and made Martin listen to it. He's such a nice boy. So for Christmas this year, Martin decided to surprise and delight me, and he had hooked up his computer to the record player when I wasn't paying attention, and I now have a compact disk version of my record, which I listen to over and over again. It's music that I continue to love.

The Rev. Brooks Graebner is rector of Saint Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Hillsborough

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