On this blog, WordPress has kindly provided a feature “Search Engine Terms,” which lists the ways that anonymous web-searchers have landed on JAZZ LIVES. Sometimes it’s edifying, sometimes amusing. The title of this post is copied directly from a search I find infuriating.
I am going to assume that the question — translated into a literate full sentence — is “Was Eddie Condon a racist?” If one were to deal in stereotypes, it might be a plausible question. Condon, a Caucasian born in the Middle West in 1905, might have been expected to have the racial attitudes of his time. But the assumption, like all stereotypes, is insulting and wrong.
Consider this, first:
The web-inquirer wouldn’t know that Mr. Condon was the only White man in this band of Black musicians, that he is responsible for getting the session recorded. Without him it would not have happened. (Eddie’s story of how this happened is hilarious, but it also highlights his friendship with Fats Waller and his devotion to the music.)
Jump forward twenty years: Eddie had a television show in 1948-50, with live jazz and “mixed bands”: here is just over a minute of music (transferred slightly fast) featuring Hot Lips Page, a Black trumpeter, singing a celebratory blues:
I could keep on offering musical examples, but now it’s time for words. Condon was as far from being a racist as one can be. From the start of his fifty-year career in the music to the end, he continually sought out, played with, hired, and celebrated musicians of color. He speaks in print of youthful experiences watching and hearing King Oliver, Bessie Smith, Ethel Waters. When he had a club, gave concerts, made records, appeared on radio and television — his bands were race-blind.
A list of the Black musicians Eddie worked with goes something like this: Fats Waller, Louis Armstrong, Hot Lips Page, Buck Clayton, Rex Stewart, Benny Morton, Herb Hall, Edmond Hall, Leonard Gaskin, Vic Dickenson, Billie Holiday, Charlie Shavers, Sarah Vaughan, Lionel Hampton, Kansas Fields, Al Morgan, the 1929 Luis Russell Orchestra, Sidney Bechet, Willie “the Lion” Smith, Sidney DeParis, Sidney Catlett, Jonah Jones, Teddy Hale, Leonard Davis, Happy Caldwell, George Stafford, Pops Foster, Henry “Red” Allen, Coleman Hawkins, Zutty Singleton, Grachan Moncur, Cozy Cole, Wilson Myers, Clyde Hart, John Kirby, Oscar Pettiford, Billy Taylor, Sr., Joe Thomas, Johnny Williams, James P. Johnson, Jimmy Rushing, Sonny Greer, Cliff Jackson, Lord Buckley, Earl Hines, Albert Nicholas, Arvell Shaw, Hank Duncan, Thelma Carpenter, Ruth Brown, Horace Henderson, Jimmy Archey, Walter Page, Al Hall, Sir Charles Thompson, Maxine Sullivan, Sandy Williams, Roy Eldridge . . . and there must be others not covered by discographies.
(No, the singer above is not Lee Wiley. But the trumpeter to the left is Roy Eldridge.)
And another story. In 1946, after a series of very successful concerts (1943-5) that were broadcast and sent overseas to the Armed Forces, Eddie decided to give a concert in Washington, D.C., at Constitution Hall, owned by the Daughters of the American Revolution, who balked at his bringing a racially-mixed band because it might draw “undesirable” elements — draw your own conclusion. Happily, Eddie moved the concert to the Willard Hotel, where it was a huge success.
None of this sounds like racism to me. Rather, it sounds like someone who valued what human beings were, what they could create, over skin pigment. A hero to me, and to many others.
So, dear anonymous web-searcher, I hope you find this posting, that it expands your narrow vision, and that you learn to spell.
May your happiness increase!