Born and raised in Little Rock, John Bush traces his foray into music back to his mother and father, as well as the local, tight-knit jazz community he discovered. “My mother played piano and my uncles and older cousins all played instruments and were in bands,” he recalls.
He first started playing live shows in high school, when he and a group of friends began playing jazz and R & B. Even then, he formed a strong opinion on live music, specifically jazz as it was intended to be played by its founders. “The particular kind of music I aspire toward is live music,” he explains, “it’s fundamentally live.”
During the 50s and 60s he played with jazz musicians in Little Rock that he calls “world-class” who “sacrificed everything to play.” Among these Arkansas artists were John Stubblefield, Jimmy Witherspoon, Claudine Meyers, James Leary, Teroy Betton, and more. “We all played together,” he remembers.
Beyond those around him, he had many influences, including what his parents were listening to at the time, but he fixated on one musician in particular. “When I finally went in my own direction I really got into John Coltrane. I didn’t start with him, but he certainly was a primary influence,” he says.
For the tenor saxophonist who spent nearly 25 years outside of the Natural State, coming home to play the South on Main stage is a breath of fresh air, as he is focusing on music now more than ever. However, he’d love to see more support for what he calls real jazz – “For the kind of music that I aspire to identify with, this Little Rock scene is pretty slow, pretty lean … and I’m not talking about that pop, soul-funk,” he says.
He remembers when jazz had its heyday, when 9th street was alive and well with musicians. “Little Rock has a hell of a history as far as jazz musicians, the thing is, they usually leave,” he says.
As he’s here to stay, Bush wants to see more jazz, more often. “It’s a chicken and an egg situation,” he explains, “is it unpopular because it’s offered so infrequently, or is it infrequent because it’s unpopular?” Either way, South on Main offers the perfect venue for Little Rockians to come see what true jazz is all about, and to begin to dispel its unpopularity.
Head to SOMA tonight at 7:30 p.m. to catch the John Bush Group. On stage with Bush will be a fabulous group, including vocalist Kelley Hurt, Bill Huntington (bass), Chris Parker (keys), and Brian Withers (drums). As always, local live programming is free and open to the public.