128 W Howard St. Bellefonte, PA 16823
By Serge Bielanko
One of the beautiful things about music is the fact that it can be born in one place but thrive anywhere. Take west coast jazz for example. That very name conjures up something hip but cool, doesn't it? Especially here in a faraway land like Pennsylvania, where many people have never traveled to California, and more than likely never will. West Coast, in many of our minds, is synonymous with the American Dream even now, long after the Gold Rush conjured up the term 'Go west, young man."
Hollywood became the new gold rush early in the 20th century. Americans born on the edges of swamps and in the middle of cornfields, small town-ers from backwater podunks, they all grew up staring at the settling dusk and wondering what it might be like to get out of dodge, to head west to the land of sunshine and fortune and dreams coming true.
Of course, it's all just a bit more snake oil to swallow now, isn't it? The notion that we can uproot our lives and travel far away to a better place is, more or less, only a bill of goods we have sold ourselves for a long time now. In the end, history cruelly dictates, way more people have fled their hamlets on Greyhounds pointing west only to run out of money and hope long before they ever struck gold....or anything close.
Still, the American spirit is resolute if nothing else and that's probably why we had a gold rush and Hollywood to begin with. We are natural born dreamers even when we're doomed to be let down. In that light, the music that local saxophone legend, Rick Hirsch, and his band, West Coast Cool, plays is an epic tip of the cultural cap to a moment in time that has never faded away. Hirsch, who graciously shares his talents with everyone from Millheim's fantastic Erin Condo and the Hoofties to his own Big Ol' Band, plus a lot more in between, has been a musical composer, educator, and arranger as well as a leading saxman in these parts for some time now.
And local folks who have never heard him do his thing are lucky this weekend because he's heading out to Bellefonte to give t away for free.
This Sunday, as part of Bellefonte Historical and Cultural Association's ongoing Sunday Afternoon Chamber Music Series, Hirsch on alto sax will be bringing West Coast Swing, which is Barry Long on trumpet and flugelhorn, Joshua Davis on bass, and Kevin Lowe on drums, to Trinity United Methodist Church, 128 West Howard St. Starting at 2:30pm, they will playing a full set for everyone and anyone, no charge whatsoever.
Now, if at this point you are still trying to figure out what the heck West Coast Cool really means...and whether or not you'd dig it as music or not, let me help you out. Back in the post-war 1950's when many American eyes were once again focused on metaphorical California as land of milk and honey, a group of jazz musicians began to play a style of music that was subtler than much of the harder, faster bebop that had become so popular in jazz circles around much of the nation, and the world.
Chet Baker was one of those musicians. Baker was a trumpet player whose latenightearlymorning sound was a unique, part Miles Davis, part dimly lit bar set up in the back of a 747 high above the planet and going anywhere, nowhere, and everywhere at once. Baker, and others who spearhead the movement with him (unconsciously of course/ no good movements are ever started by someone announcing, "Okay, and now I'm starting a movement!"), they all bottled an essence that was heavily influenced by a scene that existed few would ever experience. Talking about music is kind of like singing about a heart attack, there's just no way to really get people to understand what you're on about, but whatever. Toss Chet Baker into your Google search. Listen to his trumpet. Listen to his voice; unlike many jazz cats, Baker eventually discovered that he could sing, that he was gifted with a voice that more or less SOUNDED like it feels to cruise down the 101, the Pacific crashing into the steep drops beside you, as the sun rises on a day that has been four days long for you, my friend.
In other words, Chet Baker, and all of that 1950's west coast jazz music: it sounded like the dream of going west, young man, and falling astray from the straight and narrow in time. Like the best of our nation's canon, it was the Great American Novel written in vapor trails, in songs instead of books.
Listen, go see Rick Hirsch and West Coast Cool this Sunday, will ya? Take your kids, take your mom.
Go watch a band that knows how to play timeless music the way it was meant to be played, in a room with a bunch of people gathered to forget the mad world for a little while.
Oh and one more thing. You might think you hate jazz, but guess what? You are wrong about that. Jazz is the most American music there ever was and ever will be. And Hirsch and his band have known that all along.
Believe them, people.
Show up, sit back, close your eyes, smile and just believe them.
BHCA Sunday Afternoon Chamber Music Presents: Rick Hirsch and West Coast Cool
Sunday, January 12, 2020. 2:30pm.
Trinity United Methodist Church, 128 West Howard St., Bellefonte.
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