[JPL] Runnin' Scared A Darling of Jazz Who knew the Mets announcer could tell bebop from bunting?

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Runnin' Scared
A Darling of Jazz
Who knew the Mets announcer could tell bebop from bunting?
by Allen Barra
September 11th, 2007 6:36 PM

A few weeks ago, I was startled when, in the middle of a broadcast, pitcher
turned commentator Ron Darling declared, "I'm a huge Coltrane fan." Baseball
Prospectus hasn't confirmed this yet, but it seems likely that this was the
first time these words were ever uttered on air during a Major League
Baseball game.

Was the Mets broadcaster‹the only Yalie ever to play for the blue and
orange‹faking it? Was one of the most popular Mets in the team's history,
the heartthrob referred by Mets fans of all stripes as "Ron, Darling," just
trying to earn himself some cheap cultural credentials with the intellectual
crowd? Did he have the chops when it came to jazz? Or did he think the words
"Take the A Train" are just bad advice on how to get to Yankee Stadium?

I spent several days boning up for our interview and watching Ken Burns's
Jazz on DVD. If the man who won 99 games for the Mets in his career and
kicked Red Sox butt in the 1986 World Series laid down a false note, I'd be
sure to catch it. I started him off with a brushback.

"Do you remember the interview I did with you for The Village Voice in

"Uh . . . what did we talk about?"

"Just baseball," I assured him. "But if I had known you were such a jazz
buff, I'd have led us into a discussion of bebop or jazz-rock fusion."

"Well, I don't know about buff. I would describe myself as a huge jazz fan,
and I would say that for certain artists, I come close to being a buff. But
I find that, unlike kids listening to songs on iPods, I go back to a time
when artists expressed themselves in albums‹ entire albums‹not just in a
song or two." "Speaking of albums," I asked, "how do you feel about Kind of

"I've listened to Kind of Blue, I don't know, 40 or 50 times, and each time
it's like I'm hearing it new," he said about the famous Miles Davis album.
"There's always something I didn't hear before."

Born, as all Mets fans know, in Honolulu to a French-Canadian father and
Hawaiian-Chinese mother, Darling grew up, in his words, "with the clanging
of dishes being washed and the vacuum run to music." His mother, who was
only 15 when he was born, liked pop‹Darling recalls one of her favorites was
"Be My Baby" by the Ronettes‹and he listened along with her; before long,
they were listening to the Beatles, too. As he got older, he started to pick
up on jazz. His introduction to the more sophisticated world of music was
John Coltrane. "My father was in the military in Hawaii for many years, and
he and an old Navy friend would go to hear John Coltrane. Coltrane was in
the Navy, stationed in Hawaii, and had a kind of Hawaiian-style ensemble for
a while. So there was a love of music in our house that rubbed off on
me‹definitely a love of jazz.

"I can listen to jazz from just about any period, but my favorite is the era
from 1946, a year after the war, to the mid-'60s. I like a lot of
avant-garde jazz, like Coltrane and Miles Davis. To me, that music never
seems nostalgic. It always sounds current."

"Which artists?" I asked. "Were you thrilled by the energy and
aggressiveness of Lee Morgan's trumpet? What pianists? Did you groove to
Bill Evans's cool introspection? Were you moved by Tommy Flanagan's
resourcefulness? Soothed by Oscar Peterson's elegance?"

"Yes to all of the above," he answered. "And lots of others, too‹Red
Garland, Hank Jones, Ahmad Jamal; I got to where I could identify many of
them from a random solo. But as far as I'm concerned, John Coltrane and
Miles Davis are in a separate universe."

"Even the late-period Coltrane stuff?" I asked. "Doesn't some of it get a
bit too abstract to all but the converted?"

"That's to my taste, too," Darling replied, "but sometimes I feel unworthy.
I find that sometimes in his late period, it seems like noise and I can't
make it out‹but in the middle of it, I kind of understand the beat; it
sounds right to me. I always figured it's not Coltrane's fault that I don't
get it right away, it's just my lack of sophistication. It all depends on
where you are. Something that doesn't make sense today might make perfect
sense 10 years from now."

"Did you ask them to play Coltrane riffs for you when you came to bat at

"No, they chose the music for us. I think they used to play the Beach Boys'
'Darling' for me, which I thought was pretty good. Funny thing‹a lot of the
music they play at the ballpark now is '80s pop and rock. A lot of it's the
same stuff they played when I was still playing ball."

"Does it make you feel nostalgic?"

"Naw. I don't get it‹I thought it was trash then." Allen Barra

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