Daily Archives: March 20, 2009

WE LOVE GEORGE AVAKIAN! (PORTRAITS BY LORNA SASS)

These four photographs are the handiwork of Lorna Sass.  Camera at the ready, she captured moments in the darkness at Birdland last Wednesday, when we gathered to celebrate George Avakian’s 90th birthday, each photograph a small essay in itself. 

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At first, this might look like a typical study of the band in action, but Lorna captured Randy Sandke’s exultant shout, cheering Anat Cohen on in the midst of her hugh-flying solo.  Jazz camaraderie!

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 Wycliffe Gordon, intense and serene, at one with the music sweeping through him.

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Happy to be here!  Left, Michael Steinman (your humble correspondent); right, George himself.

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I hope with all my heart that George gets whatever he wished for at that moment.  Certainly he’s made so many of our jazz dreams come true.   

Photographs copyright 2009 by Lorna Sass.  All rights reserved.

WISE COUNSEL

In 1929, Mezz Mezzrow was on the edge of a nervous breakdown:

I used to sit huddled up on my [subway] seat, shrinking into a corner, my head shoved down between my knees and my arms wrapped tight around it, to keep from screaming.

One day, just as the train pulled into 110th Street, I felt a gentle tap on my shoulder, and when I worked up enough courage to raise my head, there was a nice-looking old colored man with a thick crop of snow-white hair, looking down at me with the kindest, most sympathetic expression I ever saw.  “Son,” he said to me real soft, “if you can’t make money, make friends,” and with that he stepped out on the platform and drifted away.  He saved my life that day.

from REALLY THE BLUES (1946).

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THE MILLS BROTHERS, 1932

You’ll see that in this 1932 short film, made my Max Fleischer, the animated portion satirizes “television” and “channel surfing,” long before those were commonplace.  The Fleischer sense of humor wasn’t gentle: every ethnic stereotype gets mocked here, along with the metamorphosing cats, dogs, and frying eggs.  But when the ball starts bouncing at the end, I defy you to keep from singing along.  These “four boys and a guitar” are truly original, truly irreplaceable.  (Louis, Coleman Hawkins, and Vic Dickenson loved them, and they swung more cohesively than many jazz groups.)