Daily Archives: January 15, 2009

FEELING PECKISH? HOW ABOUT A FEED?

 spoonWhen I was a boy, we didn’t have RSS feeds. (We did have shoes and my elementary school was very close by). So it has taken me about ten months to understand how to install an RSS feed on this blog. 

But if you notice at the top of the right-hand column, there’s a small orange gizmo next to the words JAZZ LIVES.  Click on it and it will enable you to receive this blog on your Google home page without clogging up your email inbox. 

As for me, I’m going to lie down and bask in my triumph, although I am not quite sure how I accomplished it.  Rather like improvising!  But now let no one go away from this blog and say I didn’t offer something for them to munch on.

DICK SUDHALTER, CELEBRATED

Marianne Mangan sent in her heartfelt note about last week’s memorial concert in honor of Richard M. Sudhalter, a man so missed that one evening couldn’t hope to do him, his music, and his memory justice:

In the two hours that we were able to be at the Richard Sudhalter Memorial (lovingly arranged by Dan Levinson this past Monday) there were riches enough for many evenings–spoken and sung, played on the piano (Marian McPartland, impossibly frail, still incomparably gifted; Steve Kuhn, teenage band brother and lifelong friend), and jammed by various configurations of musicians in numbers from two to many–the best talent in town. All in the name of one outstanding horn player, scholar, jazz historian, and, quite apparently, friend.

It seemed especially fitting that the passing of this man of prodigious talents, so good at showcasing others’ talents (who could forget the Paul Whiteman recreations and the 1979 Hoagy Carmichael concert?) should be the occasion for several notable partnerships to shine once more. Peter Ecklund rejoined co-Orphan Newsboy Marty Grosz for “Jubilee”, and it was a swinging affair, propelled from the first by Marty’s rhythmic guitar to Peter’s final rousing high notes. With Dan Levinson and Scott Robinson on bass saxophone jubilating along… Sam Parkins was “revered in the Sudhalter household” sister Carol said and in a sort of ghost reunion, the wily reedman and musical sibling put their heads together for an utterly charming “My Baby Just Cares For Me”. As is his wont (“Someone!”), Sam literally passed the baton to Howard Alden, Dick Katz, Bill Kirchner and Ray Mosca… And then there were two: Marty Grosz and Joe Muranyi, sans Dick(s) Wellstood and Sudhalter, playing lustily on “Louisiana” (with verse) and “Way Down Yonder In New Orleans,” making us miss the The Classic Jazz Quartet, making us glad they’re still here…

Dick Sudhalter recognized what good jazz was and how to make it live again, and it seems he’s still at it.

PSST! WANT TO BUY SOME RARE JAZZ RECORDS?

tom-madden

RECORD GURU KEEPS JAZZ’S GOLDEN AGE SPINNING (from the San Francisco Chronicle, 1/14/09)

When Tom Madden was 12, he started going to jazz clubs in San Francisco. The best of them, the Black Hawk, had a food license, which meant that minors could attend as long as they didn’t drink. 

“I saw the two house bands, which were Dave Brubeck and Cal Tjader,” Madden says. “I saw Coltrane, Miles, Cannonball, Bill Evans.” Those were golden years for live jazz. Madden, a San Francisco native, was lucky to catch them. Today, he’s keeping the flame alive as owner of Jazz Quarter, a record store in the Sunset District. Arguably the city’s resident expert on jazz recordings, Madden, 69, sees his customer base getting older and, inevitably, shrinking. “They’re mostly old and gray,” says Madden, a 6-foot-5-inch bearded hipster with a long, dreaded ponytail. Several of his regulars are too old to visit the store. “A couple of them had hip operations and don’t like to go anywhere. And they can get stuff on Amazon now.” An old, overhead heater groans and rattles as Madden speaks. The counter spills over with yellowed jazz magazines and piles of CDs. One wall is papered with newspaper obits on jazz musicians, others with old concert posters. His inventory, arranged in a maze of bins and stacks and boxes, is two-thirds LPs, one-third CDs. Madden opened Jazz Quarter in the late ’80s, after years of working at the Magic Flute and other long-gone record emporia. On 20th Avenue near Irving, the store doesn’t feel like a business so much as a cluttered, unkempt, musty salon for Madden and his clientele. “You walk in there and see this tall, imposing figure,” says August Kleinzahler, a San Francisco poet and Jazz Quarter habitue. “Not at all friendly initially. He doesn’t smile or say, ‘Have a look around.’ He just sort of shambles around. “If you ask him a question, he might give you a direct answer,” Kleinzahler says. “But often as not he’ll give you a sideways answer. He’s certainly not the Chamber of Commerce Man of the Year.” Madden was wearing a Jules Broussard T-shirt, polyester vest and sneakers when Kleinzahler visited the store recently. He put on a CD of Sacha Perry, a New York bebop pianist, and poured a glass of Diet Pepsi from a jumbo-size container. During a one-hour conversation, only one customer entered the store. Madden’s stock is low right now. In September, a Japanese collector flew into town and bought 900 LPs for $3,500. “Some of my regular customers say, ‘The bins are low!’ ” Madden says. “Like I’m just gonna turn up new records, abracadabra.” The store is full of treasures, covering a wide range of jazz idioms. “He stocks what he likes,” Kleinzahler says, “not what he thinks will move.” If Madden doesn’t like a customer or notices that “they buy all kinds of crap,” he’ll refuse to sell them his good stuff. “There are people who shouldn’t even deserve records that good,” he says. “Everyone has this enormous respect for Tom’s knowledge,” says Larry Letofsky, a longtime friend and fellow jazz enthusiast. “He’s also kind of a record detective. He’ll go to Amoeba on his hands and knees and go through all the cheap stuff and find some obscurity that’s just phenomenal.” Enigmatic and sleepy-eyed, Madden doesn’t say much when asked about his past. He joined the Merchant Marines as a teenager, worked part time as a process server, drove a cab “for about an hour.” His dad, an attorney who worked for Pillsbury Madison & Sutro, was a Fats Waller fan who turned him on to jazz. Madden says he’s never married, “but there’s a few women who still talk to me.” Once a month, Madden meets with a group of jazz lovers at Letofsky’s Sunset District home. “It’s called the Second Thursday of the Month Club,” Letofsky says. Twelve or 15 guys show up and each takes a turn playing a selection of five to 10 minutes. “You pay a dollar to get in and then we vote at the end of the evening for the best selection. Whoever wins gets the money. We make it into a big deal; it’s bragging rights more than anything.” Most of the regulars are geezers, Letofsky says. But two guys are in their 30s. “Fortunately one of them’s a physician, so in case anybody collapses …” There’s an intensity, a competition among serious record collectors. One day in the ’70s, Letofsky was combing through an obscure record store and found a rare, mint-condition album by Tina Brooks, a tenor saxophonist who recorded a handful of records in the late ’50s and early ’60s. “I didn’t know who Tina Brooks was,” Letofsky says. “I told Tom about it over the phone and he started screaming at me. He got really upset that I had found it and he hadn’t. Finally, after he had calmed down I said, ‘Well you can have the album. It’s not that important to me.’ ” Madden says he has no plans to close Jazz Quarter, “unless something happens. I’ll be 70 soon.” He pays $1,500 rent – there isn’t a lease – and says the proceeds from the store rarely cover the rent. “I have some money left over from my folks.” Jazz is in bad shape today: Clubs are closing, musicians can’t make a living and young audiences have no interest in the form. It’s heartbreaking, but Madden seems resigned. He’s got his record collection, his fellow enthusiasts. He’s still a fixture at most Bay Area jazz events. He’s hanging on. “Art Blakey said, ‘Jazz washes away the dust of everyday life,’ ” Madden says. “What he didn’t say is that it doesn’t sell a lot.” In the Jazz Quarter, the enormous overhead heater continues its mechanical drone. The phone rings. “That’s someone I don’t hear from much,” Madden says after hanging up. “He wants to know if I’m still open.”

E-mail Edward Guthmann at eguthmann@sfchronicle.com

Thanks to Barb Hauser for sending this story: it reminds some of us of the days gone by when you looked at, inspected, and considered the jazz records you might buy — rather than ordering them online.   This summer, I visited a few stores like this in Portland and Orono, Maine: I’m reassured to know that such dens of improvisatory iniquity exist on both coasts. 

Photograph of Madden (top) by Mike Kepka.  

LESLIE JOHNSON, JAZZ HERO

Jazz is full of people who burn brilliantly for only a short time.  Then there are heroic figures who keep on keeping on for decades, selflessly giving. 

Leslie Johnson has been the editor and publisher of THE MISSISSIPPI RAG since 1973.  Today I received an email from Leslie saying that she could no longer go on in those demanding roles because of her illness: she’s been fighting cancer for three and a half years.  You can read her farewell at www.mississippirag.com., but I just wanted to add a few words that perhaps Leslie herself would read. 

I started to write reviews for the RAG in 2000, and became the paper’s New York correspondent in 2007.  In the early days, I often picked up the phone and called Leslie when I had a question — because it was such a pleasure to talk to her, and because she worked such long hours putting out the paper that she didn’t always get to her hundreds of emails.  She was fervent, cheerful, determined, and genuine.  And I think she worked the longest hours of anyone I’ve ever encountered.  For thirty-five years, mind you.  It wasn’t for the money: operating a traditional jazz paper is not the Way to Wealth that Benjamin Franklin had in mind.  It was because she loved the music, believed in it, and believed in the people who played it, those who produced the CDs, put on festivals, and wrote about it. 

She believed in jazz in a practical way.  And this came through in the first conversation I had with her about the house style, or what she expected from reviewers.  I don’t remember exactly how she said it, but she made it clear that hers was not a paper that delighted in putting artists down.  To her, traditional jazz was having a hard enough time.  Her paper’s mission was to celebrate and praise rather than to carp about faults.  Fair enough, I remember saying, “But what if I think a CD is really an inferior piece of work?”  Well, she said, she would return it to the musicians and say that she didn’t think the CD was up to their usual standard and the RAG would rather not review it.  That was Leslie’s tough-minded kindness all out — and readers of the paper will note we reviewers were encouraged to tell the truth, but to check our razors at the door. 

Our phone conversations were also delightful for me — a born-and-bred New Yorker — because Leslie spoke what I think of as pure Minnesotan.  I remember (and I can hear her voice now) responding to some statement of mine that she seconded, “That’s for darn sure!”  It’s not a typical Manhattan form of agreement, and it gave and gives me great pleasure.

I said above that Leslie believed in jazz.  Many people I know would make the same statement of themselves, but their belief takes shape as pure enjoyment: “I believe in jazz, therefore I listen to _________ every night when I get home.”  Leslie’s belief went beyond a set of speakers out of which music came, although she loved to listen to the music.  It wasn’t an abstact reaction to jazz, either.  She worked for thirty-five years FOR jazz, and the RAG has been the result, month after month. 

It’s been a privilege, and honor, and an education to work with and for Leslie Johnson — a true jazz hero.