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:
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:
“P.S. Photo coming up.”
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!