One of the consistently thrilling aspects of sitting across from Dan Morgenstern is the immediate knowledge that here is a man who is both here now and was there then, his perceptions gentle but also sharp-edged.
A word about “immediacy.” I have written at length about John Hammond, read his memoir, read the biography of him, seen him on television, heard him interviewed, and from that collection of facts, stories, impressions I’ve made my own complex portrait of a man who was both immensely generous and intuitive, the man to whom we owe so much good music, from Garland Wilson to the last Buck Clayton Jam Sessions. I also grapple with the man who could turn cruel when not obeyed, the man who grew tired of formerly-admired artists and worked against them. So my mental portrait is complex, ambiguous, and shifting.
But as valuable as I think my study of Hammond might be, it shrinks when I can sit in a room with a man who’s heard Hammond say, “Come on with me, get in my car. We’re going up to Harlem. There’s someone I want you to hear.”
What you will also hear in this single segment (and I hope it has been evident all along) is Dan’s embracing affection for all kinds of what we treasure as jazz and blues. In this conversation of September 29, 2017, Dan spoke with warmth, humor, and insight of Hammond and the people who surrounded him: Barney Josephson at The Cookery, Helen Humes, George Benson, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Hank O’Neal, Buddy Tate, Lester Young, Mildred Bailey, Booker Ervin, and Victoria Spivey. Too many people to fit in Dan’s living room, but he brings them to life:
I found Dan’s portrait of Booker Ervin — Texas tenor and Mingus-associate — particularly touching.
We met again just a few weeks ago in December 2017, and spoke of some famous “bebop and beyond” sages, including Bird, Tadd Dameron, and Dan’s rather famous neighbor and friend Miles Dewey Davis. More to come, and we bless Mr. Morgenstern for being himself so deeply.
May your happiness increase!