In the spring of 2002, I was 20, studying music performance at the University of Idaho and interviewing for a job as a camp counselor at Birch Creek Music Performance Center, a music camp in Door County, Wisconsin. During my interview, I learned that Harold Jones would be instructing the drummers for a week during the jazz sessions.
TONY BENNETT The Paramount Theatre, 911 Pine St., 467-5510, stgpresents.org. $32.25â€“$122.25. 8 p.m. Sat., Dec. 17.
Jones made a name for himself on Count Basie classics like Basie Straight Ahead, as well as on Natalie Cole's bajillion-selling Unforgettable . . . With Love and Robbie Williams' big-in-Japan record, Swing When You're Winning, and he recently helped Tony Bennett top the charts with his Duets II album. He was a favorite drummer of my professor/percussion teacher/life coach Dan Bukvich. I mentioned the opportunity to Dan, and he got dead serious: There are two drummers in the Midwest named Harold Jones, he said. But if it's the Harold Jones, "go there on your knees." Sure enough, it was, and I was off. Not on my knees, but in a CRV.
My brother was going to college in the area, and he left his Honda in Chicago for me to borrow over the summer. It was meant to be a simple drive from the Windy City to Door County, located on that little finger of land bounded by Green Bay to the west and Lake Michigan to the East. An hour after I was supposed to have arrived, I started getting nervous. A few minutes later, I crossed a bridge and saw a sign that said, "Welcome to Michigan." I was in the wrong state.
Several hours and two states later, I made it to camp. I was tired, my ass hurt, and I was getting my first real taste of humidity. I was a sweaty mess in a ride with no air conditioning. I stepped out of the car in front of a farmhouse that would be my home for the next three months. On the second story, a beautiful brunette with an ear-to-ear grin was leaning against the balcony, happier to greet me than any stranger I'd ever met. She'd already heard what had happened on my journey, and she took pity on me, and not for the last time.
Jones instructed the drummers for a week toward the end of the summer. And from the time I picked him up at the airport, I followed in his shadow. He couldn't have been more generous. I re-introduced him to Pabst Blue Ribbon during a thunderstorm, and he told me stories about pistol-whippings and hijinks in the Basie band. When the faculty band rehearsed, I sat beside him with my tape recorder rolling. I've still got the tapes.
But I left Wisconsin that summer with more than a tape recorder full of conversations and drum solos. Seven years ago, the beautiful brunette I laid eyes on that first day married me, and last year she gave birth to our son.