In my adolescence, I read every jazz book on the shelves of the very well-stocked suburban public library. I didn’t understand everything I read (when one reads Andre Hodeir’s harsh analysis of, say, Dickie Wells’ later style without having the musical examples at hand, it is an oddly unbalanced experience) but I absorbed as much as I could, from Rudi Blesh to Barry Ulanov and beyond.
I remember clearly that some of the history-of-jazz books (each with its own ideological slant) used diagrams, in approved textbook fashion, for readers who needed an easy visual guide. Often, the diagram was a flow chart —
Sometimes the charts were location-based: New Orleans branched out into Chicago, New York City, Kansas City (as if the authors were tracing the path of an epidemic). More often, they depicted “schools” and “styles”: Ragtime, New Orleans, Dixieland, Chicago jazz, Early Big Bands, Stride Piano, The Swing Era, Fifty-Second Street, Bebop, Modern . . .
Sectarian art criticism, if you will. You had different dishes for New Orleans and Modern; you didn’t eat Dixieland on Fridays. And you had to wait two hours before going in the water. It also supported mythic constructs: the earliest jazz styles were the Truth and everything else was degenerate art, or the notion that every new development was an improvement on its primitive ancestor.
The critics and journalists loved these fantasies; the musicians paid little attention. Although you wouldn’t find Wingy Manone playing ANTHROPOLOGY, such artificial boundaries didn’t bother George Barnes, Joe Wilder, or Milt Hinton (the latter eminence having recorded with Tiny Parham, Eddie South, Clifford Brown, and Branford Marsalis).
Happily, the musicians are able to assemble — in the most friendly ways — wherever there is a paying gig. No one has to wear a t-shirt embossed with his or her allegiance and stylistic categorization. Such a gathering took place on Sunday, August 14, 2016, in the basement of 75 Christopher Street, New York City — known in the guidebooks as FAT CAT, although there are many variants on that title.
The leader and organizer of this ecumenical frolic was Terry Waldo, pianist, ragtime scholar, vocalist, and composer. For this session, his Gotham City Band was Chuck Wilson, alto saxophone; Jim Fryer (the Secret Marvel), trombone and vocal; Jay Leonhart, string bass and vocal; Jay Lepley, drums.
And here are four examples of the good feeling these musicians generated so easily.
DIGA DIGA DOO:
MEMORIES OF YOU (starting with Terry’s elaborate homage to its composer, Eubie Blake):
EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY (with a funny, theatrical vocal by Terry):
OLD FASHIONED LOVE (sung by the romantic Jim Fryer):
Once again, this post is dedicated to the inquiring scholar from Bahia, who sat to my left and brightened the room.
More to come.
May your happiness increase!