Monday, May 30, 2016

Free Range in Fleet Week

Publicity for Fleet Week 2016 reminded me of a long-ago visit I made to New York City with my sister Jane. The purpose of the visit was for me to interview radio host Al "Jazzbo" Collins for my school newspaper. Jane agreed to go with me, and we two young teenagers found ourselves in a city thronged with sailors.

In retrospect, the trip was unusual because nowadays allowing two girls to travel to the city on their own would be tantamount to child neglect. It is so unusual for children nowadays to have such autonomy that they are labeled "free-range" and may be picked up by police for walking to school or to a park alone. Going to New York when the "fleet's in" was probably even more hazardous, though we didn't know until we got there that we would see sailors on leave all over the place.

Nobody bothered us and we did get to our destination and back to New Jersey without incident.

I can't pinpoint the year of this trip, but it was in the early 1950s. Collins did not begin broadcasting from the "purple grotto" on WNEW until 1950 and I was in the Class of 1956.
 In 1953, Collins recorded Steve Allen's versions of children's fables such as Little Red Riding Hood and Three Little Pigs in the lingo of bebop musicians. I was already an aficionado of cool jazz and liked the idea of musicians creating their own language. Even though I was pretty hip for a New Jersey teenager, I'm sure I came across as a little bridge-and-tunnel bumpkin to Al "Jazzbo" Collins, but he was very nice and humored me with an interview for my school newspaper.

Regarding Fleet Week, the practice of ships docking in New York for a celebratory visit dates back to 1898, although the modern history of Fleet Week is only in its 28th year. Today's events include tours of ships.

Bebop master Charlie Parker died in 1955 at the age of 34, a loss to the music world comparable to that of any contemporary genius such as David Bowie or Prince. Parker's music lives on in modern formats including YouTube videos. The custom of musicians creating their own language also lives on.

Collins died in September 1997, at the age of 78, after a long career in radio and television.

The most striking societal change from the 1950s may well be the way young people are kept close to home, although they still manage to go far afield (and sometimes get in trouble) on their smartphones and online.


1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing this. I truly appreciate yours and doc's personal stories from your youth.