THE GENEROSITY OF A GREAT ARTIST

My friend Kris Bauwens will be one of the great collectors of jazz paper ephemera — and he already has an astonishing collection.  He recently purchased this  gem, and generously shares it with us.

The envelope is an unassuming document in itself, but what is inside is astonishing:

SID Envelope

We don’t have Jack’s admiring letter to Sidney Catlett, but it says so much about Sid that he would take the time to write a five-page letter to a young drummer, and take him so seriously, with such great humility:

SID ONE

and

SID TWO

and

SID THREE

and

SID FOUR

and

SID FIVE

“P.S.  Photo coming up.”

SID photo for Jack 1941

I have shared this with a dear jazz percussionist friend, who says that the advice is wise and deep.  But for me, the most moving sentence in these beautifully written and generous pages is this: I assure you I will do my best to hold the admiration you express toward my work.  That is a sweet and humble statement, nearly Shakespearian, with Sidney saying to his young fan, “I will strive to be worthy of the picture you have created of me,” which shows an openness of heart, with Sidney reversing the roles of Master and Student . . . deep humility and generosity of spirit.  And if you wonder what Sidney was doing in Chicago, he was midway through his emotionally stressful period as drummer to Benny Goodman.  That he would have the time and desire to write to Jack in this fashion speaks so highly of his character.

Here’s some more evidence of Catlett generosity: recorded on January 16, 1944 at the Metropolitan Opera House: a quartet of Sid, Barney Bigard, clarinet; Art Tatum, piano; Oscar Pettiford, string bass — playing ROSE ROOM — as well as Sidney’s spoken introduction to the V-Disc:

Sidney Catlett wasn’t just tall: his spirit was Big.

May your happiness increase!

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9 responses to “THE GENEROSITY OF A GREAT ARTIST

  1. Fascinating-wish it was a bit darker!!But great stuff!!!!

  2. “Your hands will only do what your mind tells them so don’t acquire a one track mind”

  3. Michael P. Zirpolo

    A bit hard to read Michael, but a lovely shred of history. Dig Sid’s beautiful cursive, and his marvelously expressive language. Sid was as expressive in his writing as he was with his drums and cymbals, very much like Dave Tough and George Wettling.

    Sid was an extremely sensitive person who, unfortunately, was not equipped to deal with the darker side of Benny Goodman’s personality. Before Sid left BG, Benny reduced him to tears on at least one occasion. I am sure that episode was entirely unnecessary.
    Mike Zirpolo

  4. Oh boy; I would have given a right arm for this treasure!

    Sid’s penmanship alone speaks to elegance, style, caring and sensitivity – reflected – surprise, surprise – in his unmatchable drumming.

    Is your friend planning on a ‘show’ at any time Michael? It sounds like he is sitting on quite the repository.

  5. Don "Zoot" Conner

    Words and music by Big Sid and the magnificent Barney Bigard,certainly the most underrated clarinetist ever.

  6. Don "Zoot" Conner

    Wow! great music from Big Sid and Barney Bigard,certainly the most underrated clarinetist of all time.

    Sid

  7. Beautiful…the letter and the music – some quartet! How did they manage to keep Art quiet for so long?

  8. What a touching and lovely letter – wow.

    IMHO Big Sid was the most tasteful – and talented – jazz drummer, the likes of which we will probably see no equal. His letter shows how gracious and sensitive to others he was, while another aspect of it jumps out: his penmanship. Somehow its elegance mirrors the melodic elegance of his drumming where – like Pops’ phrasing – every solo has a beginning, a middle and a (most satisfying) end. As Bing Crosby said of Pops – “Louis Armstrong was the only musician who ever lived who can’t be replaced by someone.” – the same, I feel, could be said of Big Sid.

  9. A transcription, to the best of my ability:

    8-23-1941

    Dear Jack,

    I do trust you will forgive me in such a long delay. I find it quite impossible to do all of the things you would like to in such a short time mainly when one is at home. So I hope you understand. Now about the left hand you will just have to work on it more than anything else. In the meantime don’t neglect either hand [illegible]. Practice a single rebound stroke, start slow like this. Rat-Tat-Rat-Tat & increase until out of control then start over, left hand only. Then compare the speed of the both until the left gets up there with the right. You will find that will help your single stroke. About solos that must come to you or it’s a machine working not your heart just hit what you think will sound good & watch the reaction. Regardless to what you make if you don’t like it, it don’t mean much. Concerning the hands that will come to you the more you play don’t worry about it. Now speaking of rudiments as bad as I hate to I would advise you to forget that while playing. The time for that is in study or practice or set rudimental solos. Your hands will only do what your mind tells them. So don’t acquire a one track mind. You may have two good hands use them. Well Jack that’s about all for now. I really appreciate your correspondence & also your compliments. I assure you I will do my best to hold the admiration you express toward my work. Thursday is our last day try & get down. Please make yourself known.

    Your Pal
    Big Sid Catlett

    P.S. Photo coming up

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