Daily Archives: October 11, 2011

THE RETURN OF “SEARCH ENGINE TERMS”

It’s that time again: when I share with JAZZ LIVES readers the delightful and often perplexing phrases that readers online have used — like tiny inflatable rafts — to drift towards this blog.  I don’t know what they were thinking to begin with or whether they found solace on the shores of this blog, but I collect these verbal and logical oddities with a mixture of affection and puzzlement.

The first two leave me without an appropriate response:

dressed as a girl by my mother

green and purple flying insect

This search term is a little more relevant, but one wonders what the seeker had in mind: an ordinary picture of someone playing a large brass instrument, its coils wrapped around the player’s head, or someone with his / her head stuck in the instrument.  All suggestions entertained:

head in tuba

The next one makes me think of Zutty Singleton’s ability to play the melody — often in press rolls — on his drum set.  But could Zutty convince us of BODY AND SOUL or perhaps YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT LOVE IS?  I wonder:

ballad snare drum

Jazz musicians have social lives, spouses, houses, pets, and more — but why didn’t anyone tell me about this young lady?  I’m at Sofia’s to hear Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks fairly often.  Peter, you could bring her over to say “Hello,” couldn’t you?

peter yarin’s cute girlfriend from iowa

The next artifact is something I must have; I’ll file it next to the Buddy Bolden iPhone app:

joe oliver’s first cd

Louis Armstrong sang that OLD MAN MOSE was dead (a sad thing); here I think we have someone in the grip of phonetic spelling who connects the song to an All-Stars version after 1950.  All right, so I’m trying to make something logical out of this.  (Frankly, it’s “the old man mous” that gets me.):

the old man mous is dead cozy cole

Real estate questions, no doubt, concerning the most popular woman in jazz necrology:

billi holiday’s hous in harlrm

Is this a reference to OSTRICH WALK, or perhaps to a picture of an ostrich playing a plunger-muted trumpet a la Cootie Williams?  The mind reels:

ostrich muffled trumpet music

He didn’t look that large or imposing in the few photos we have of Mr. Beiderbecke, but perhaps the writer is referring to his psychic presence, which is admittedly huge.  At least it’s not the cornet-playing arachnid, Big Spider Back:

big beiderback jazz

I know why the next search engine term makes me rancorous.  It suggests a student in a jazz history program in what we call the Academy looking for a quick answer to a homework assignment / oral presentation / paper.  Plagiarism is the most common and least curable ailment of our times!  And I am also sure that the approved answer is No, because everyone knows that Goodman stole his clarinet technique from Noone and his arrangements from Henderson.  Now I have to lie down:

did benny goodman offer any thing new to jazz

I am amused by this Zionist approach to someone I admire, even though I think Albert Edwin Condon never had a bar mitzvah:

eddie condon jewish

Spelling counts:

mike the knife buddy tate

Does “Swat And Lowdown Low-Down” have anything to do with”green and purple flying insect“?

woody allen benny goodman swat and lowdown low-down

Here’s a pharmacy student who loves jazz, I think:

what drugs billie holiday

The references to Billie make me write, once again, that there is a worldwide fascination with her last husband, Louis McKay, which I would like someone to explain to me.

Until the next batch of SEARCH ENGINE TERMS accumulates, may I wish you all happy searching?

RIFFTIDE: FRAGMENTS FROM A DRAMATIC MONOLOGUE BY JO JONES

I’ve never before seen a YouTube video promoting a book, but if any book deserved one, it would be RIFFTIDE: THE LIFE AND OPINIONS OF PAPA JO JONES (University of Minnesota Press, 2011), edited and compiled by Paul Devlin from taped conversations that drummer and raconteur Jo Jones had with writer Albert Murray:

Like its subject, RIFFTIDE is simultaneously enthralling, elusive, irritating, and unsettling.  Jones (1910-85) was a great innovator and an equally great synthesizer of percussion technique, someone who understood that the drummer could liberate both himself and the band by rethinking jazz rhythm, by creating a flow rather than a series of demarcations.  Although Henderson drummer Walter Johnson was working towards similar goals, Jones’ great sound was that of the floating, whispering hi-hat cymbal, carrying any band forward and upwards — but most especially the Count Basie band in its most glorious years.  Behind the drums, at his best, he was both Loki and Dionysus — unpredictable, boyish, shape-changing, his sound always right.  Away from the drums he was someone else, a monologist who rarely let his listeners know the plot of his play.

Jo Jones would have been furious if described as “normal.”  That condescending description was for the “nine-to-fivers.”  A self-described “nut,” he was a cosmos unto himself: elliptical, often enraged in conversation, given to diatribes that served to push most listeners away, the result seeming at best irritating, at worst irrational.  (On that score, many have theorized that Jones’ behavior was the result of syphilis contracted early and not entirely cured.)

In the Seventies and early Eighties, Jones was eager to get his stories on paper, and he spoke to (rarely “with”) the African-American scholar Albert Murray, while Murray was working on another “as told to” book, the unsuccessful autobiography of Count Basie, GOOD MORNING BLUES.  (Either Basie was too modest or he didn’t entirely trust Murray; the real stories went with Basie to the grave.)  The tapes of Jones’s “autobiography” came to Devlin when Murray was too ill to edit and transcribe them, although the two men discussed what Devlin had come up with.

RIFFTIDE is made up of several short parts: an informal essay by Devlin, part reminiscence, part explanation of his editorial method, part graduate-school essay on Jones.  What closes the book is a more effective (although cliché-ridden) twenty-two page essay by Phil Schaap, who knew Jones for the last thirty years of Jones’ life.  Those two sections contain some fascinating information: Devlin’s comments on editing the tapes reveal much about Jones, although I wished Devlin had been willing to incorporate the stories Jones categorized as “private stock” to Murray.  Schaap’s section is characteristically windy, he was a first-hand observer and participant: for example, musicians as mild-mannered as Buddy Tate and Doc Cheatham refused to ride in cars with Jones; Cheatham going so far as to purchase a small car because it would make it impossible to have Jo as a passenger.  The book closes with useful footnotes and rare photographs.

The center of this paperback is, of course, Jones’ recollections, rants, enthusiasms, stories, anecdotes, score-settling . . . fervent yet digressive.  I’m not sure if Jo was at this stage unable or unwilling to narrate a conventional autobiography in chronological sequence.  I think his mind went in violently associative ways, so that everything reminded him of something or someone else he couldn’t bear to leave out.  Early on in RIFFTIDE I felt as if I had signed on for an often airless monologue by someone with great energies and purposes known only to himself.

That, however, is the beauty of RIFFTIDE: Jo spoke at me several times in this period, when I met him at Frank Ippolito’s drum shop or asked for an autograph or the like, and the book captures those experiences.  One listened while he spoke; one did not converse or attempt to direct the flow of conversation.   The book is most readable in Jones’ brief portraits of people he knew, liked, or detested as fraudulent. He praises Ralph Ellison, Duke Ellington, the Harlem Globetrotters, Louis Bellson, his colleagues in the Basie band, the jockey Isaac Murphy, Bill Robinson, violinist Claude Williams, Basie’s manager Maceo Birch; scorns James Baldwin and John Hammond (the latter is a “R.P.P.,” a “Racist Prejudiced Prick”), is ambivalent about Count Basie in the present.

Here is a brief sample of his voice, digressive, oratorical: “Take me forty-something years to earn my keep.  I’m fifty-six years in show business.  I have earned my keep.  There won’t be but two people in the United States can tell you.  Now ask the president of France.  I got my picture with the president of France.  You know what I’m saying?  But I’m into something heavy.  Like when I go down with Grace Kelly; she’s got Josephine Baker’s thirteen children!  I’m with the policeman that held the umbrella overhead when they’re dispossessing her.  See, I’m kinda odd out here.  I sleep with my door unlocked: me and my Bible.  My friend comes in, she locks the door.  I’ve never locked my door in fifty-six years.  Everybody understands how I play: I play free.  I’m not afraid of a living person. I fear God: I got four hundred religions and five hundred cults. There are two people that give me strength: Billie Holiday and Lester Young.”

These excerpts and portraits are both elusive and invaluable: as close to hearing Jo Jones as most will ever come.  If at times I thought I had wandered into a Beckett play or reborn into a Browning dramatic monologue, that was the feeling that an encounter with Jo in the flesh created.

We are lucky to have RIFFTIDE, although its fragmentary nature makes me wish that a more comprehensive oral history had been taken and made accessible while Jones was eager and able to tell his stories.

For those who wish to read about my own encounters with the great man, here is SMILING JO JONES: https://jazzlives.wordpress.com/2009/06/17/smiling-jo-jones/ — complete with the photograph I took of Papa Jo in action at the West End Cafe in New York City, circa 1981.