Rambling through eBay, visiting one of my favorite spots, the intersection of “jazz” and “Entertainment Memorabilia,” I found this. To some, it will be simply an antique jazz concert program, nearly eighty years old, or an example of paper ephemera for sale. For me, it is Ali Baba’s cave, Pandora’s box with no horrors, an auditory Fort Knox. And, no, it wasn’t recorded. But bless Specs Powell for his imagination and ambition, the energy to plan and put on this concert at New York City’s Town Hall.
I will now step aside to let the marvels blossom before your eyes. The Best in Modern Jazz for sure.
The front cover:
The first page, inside:
The program itself:
The back cover was blank, for “Autographs,” which the owner — the person who placed the precious keepsake in a notebook or binder — did not get.
A few obvious comments. Yes, that Bill Cullen, born in 1920, who was at the time a CBS staff announcer — which is how he and Specs Powell crossed paths — but most people will know him better as the host of THE PRICE IS RIGHT.
And the program speaks to the happy ecumenicism of the times in jazz. I would wager that Buster Bailey and Charlie Parker talked about reeds backstage with Don Byas. Bill Coleman and Frankie Newton, I would guess, knew each other well from Cafe Society and Asch Records. And please notice that the representatives of “modern jazz conceptions” aren’t Bird and Al Haig, but Buster Bailey and Al Hall.
It was a Sunday, so this might well have been an afternoon concert. You can look up what the weather was in New York City, should you care to. I will, instead, delight in imagining the hanging-out that went on backstage and behind Town Hall. Alas, when I was in that hall circa 1972, the echoes had died down. But I did hear and speak to Teddy Wilson and Al Hall, so I consider myself immensely fortunate.
And just to give Specs his proper place . . . here he is, talking with great articulateness, to a younger percussionist and inventor, in 2002. And at around 15 minutes, he talks about the Town Hall concerts, which weren’t economically successful, although Specs pointed out that he preceded Norman Granz and Jazz at the Philharmonic.
A final postscript: the program sold for $25, and the item is headlined as “early CHARLIE PARKER,” amusing to me because young Charlie was not the star of the concert alongside the more heralded players.
History enlarges and deflates reputations. Jazz Studies classes revere Bird; have they heard of Specs? I vote for expansive curricula.
And if you’ve never heard Specs, you’ve been deprived of pleasure:
A little aural digging online will lead you to more Specs, and I hope, curiosity about the names on the program whose sounds might be unfamiliar.
May your happiness increase!