by Bonnie Mager, OLLI Member

A young man was born in the mountains of Northern Appalachia, in eastern New York State, surrounded by the music that filled his home and his community. A musical environment followed the family to Gloversville, in the Adirondacks. The boy grew up playing guitar and learning the tunes of rural eastern America.

This young man, Jeffrey Callen, knew early on that music was a central part of his life. After high school he went to New York City to explore another world of music and began to learn blues and jazz.

After a few years in the Big Apple Jeff went to the West Coast to start college, eventually getting a degree in Social Work from UC Berkeley. However he found that a career in his field was not satisfying. He continued to play music while exploring other opportunities. He and a friend started a business in paralegal research. He developed a journalistic career, writing articles about music, particularly jazz and world music, for the Beat Magazine in LA, East Bay Express, and for in New York.

Finally his wife convinced him that he should pursue his real love more seriously. It was time to go back to graduate school:  a Masters in Music from UC Santa Barbara, then a Ph.D in Ethnomusicology from UCLA in 2007.  For his M.A degree he did research on the West Coast Blues.

For his Ph.D research Jeff lived in Morocco for a year. He enjoyed Algerian music, in fact learned to play the Oud, a large-bellied stringed instrument. But Algeria at that time was not a safe place for Americans, so he found a place in Casablanca. His Arabic was good, but that which was spoken in Morocco is very different. He listened and learned the language and the music, and was introduced to yet another world of music and culture. In an article for the East Bay Express Feb 17, 2010 he discusses the folk-rock fusion of the Malian Toureg people of the Southern Sahara. His knowledge of and enthusiasm for this musical form is clearly evident in the article.

For his OLLI class he will return to the subject of his research for his M.A., the development of the West Coast Blues. Emergence of the blues from the days of Reconstruction and evolution of the music as it traveled from the South northward and westward will be examined. Different areas of the country produced different sounds. In West Texas there was the influence of the cowboy music and swing. In Chicago, the guitar-based sound was harder, showing its Mississippi roots. When the blues came to the West Coast, the piano moved into the front line. As the blues moved up the coast, new blues scenes sprang up throughout California.

One of the most influential was in North Richmond where there grew a culturally rich mixture of blues and jazz in a predominately black community. . The dinner clubs and blues joints and churches provided the backbone of a diverse African American population, many from the Southwest who had come to work in the shipyards. From 1946 until 1970 this community flourished. The changes that led to the decline of the popularity of the blues will be part of the history presented in his class. He will include directed listening of these styles.

Jeff admits to owning a huge collection of music in all forms—from CD’s to classic old phonographs, which he believes are not dead yet. He keeps current with the musical scene in the Bay Area and continues to write and teach in various venues. He is looking forward to teaching his first OLLI class. And when he needs to kick back and chill for a while, he listens to his favorites: John Coltrane, Miles Davis---and Bach.