Tag Archives: ageism

HOW DO THEY AGE SO WELL? (WILD BILL DAVISON, TOMMY SAUNDERS, GEORGE MASSO, CHUCK HEDGES, DAVE McKENNA, MARTY GROSZ, MILT HINTON, JOHN BANY, RUSTY JONES, WAYNE JONES: “Eddie Condon Memorial Band,” Elkhart Jazz Festival, July 1988)

Sometimes a JAZZ LIVES post is the result of a record I’ve heard, a musician I’ve been thinking about, or a particular idea.  Other times, it takes a village, which I define as members of my emotional jazz-family to make something coalesce into print.  In this case, I am grateful to adopted-brothers Bernard Flegar and Mark Cantor, who may never have met in person — that’s the way my extended family works.  (I also have Brothers Hal Smith and Mike Karoub: someday we can all have Thanksgiving together!)  Others, less beloved, who acted as stimuli, are the late Andre Hodeir and a sour YouTube armchair critic who will not be named.

About a week ago, to celebrate George Wein’s 95th birthday, I posted an eighteen-minute video featuring Barney Bigard and friends playing at Nice, and you can see the video here.  Barney was 71.  He sounded beautiful.

But the first YouTube comment was a dismaying “Not Barneys finest hour ?” I gently replied that Barney couldn’t be expected to play as he had in 1940, and did take a swipe at the commenter — without correcting his punctuation, “Your comment says more about you than about him.”  His vinegary response came right back:  “I’m 83 and an avid jazz fan ; there’s a time to leave your instrument in its case if you can’t keep up ! Just like boxers who hang on too long ; singers who hung on to long ( Frank was a classic example) Barney would have agreed . Unrepentant !” Someone else chimed in to echo the unrepentant avid fellow.

I sighed and didn’t write any of the things I could have about the irony of people of 83 being ageist.  “Don’t insult my musicians!” is my credo, and I would rather hear Lester Young in Paris in 1959 than not at all.

Then, the splendid film scholar Mark Cantor and I conversed online about the French jazz critic Andre Hodeir.  I was delighted to find that I had written about Hodeir in 2011 here.  In his first book, Hodeir had rhapsodized over the “romantic imagination” of Dicky Wells as displayed in his memorable 1937 recordings.  Dicky then came to France in 1952, but he was no longer the player he had been.  Hodeir attacked him in an essay, “Why Do They Age So Badly?” stating that Wells had no reason to keep on playing, that his work no longer met Hodeir’s standards.  I saw Dicky playing splendidly in the early Seventies, but Hodeir’s criticism stung not only him but readers like myself.

Yesterday morning, the wise drummer-scholar Bernard Flegar (whose eyes are open to the good stuff) led me to something that, in the fashion of Edgar Allan Poe, had been hiding in plain sight: a video shot by Bob Byler at the 1988 Elkhart Jazz Festival, a tribute to our mutual deity Eddie Condon, two sets featuring Wild Bill Davison, Tommy Saunders, Chuck Hedges, George Masso, Marty Grosz, Dave McKenna, and (set one) Milt Hinton, Rusty Jones; (set two) John Bany, Wayne Jones — nearly two hours of extraordinary music.

Wild Bill could sometimes coast, but not here.  And he was 82 and a half.  Please consider that number for a moment.  By the standards of Hodeir and YouTube critics, he should have stopped long before.  But he’s so charged; the rest of the band, including younguns Hedges and Grosz, is also.  A viewer who looks for double chins and thinning hair will find them.  But the music — inventive, surprising, and fun — is anything but geriatric.

Bob Byler (with his devoted wife Ruth) shot many videos — some of them are cinematically flawed, but this one is fine.

Here’s the roadmap.

The first set [afternoon turning into evening, outdoors] offers leisurely swinging improvisations on LADY BE GOOD, SOMEDAY YOU’LL BE SORRY (Saunders, vocal), ‘S’WONDERFUL (Bill tells a joke) I’M CRAZY ‘BOUT MY BABY (Marty Grosz), IF I HAD YOU (Masso and Hedges out), INDIANA (Milt, at a beautiful tempo), NOBODY ELSE BUT ME (Masso) SKYLARK (Hedges), AM I BLUE, I NEVER KNEW.

The second set [evening, indoors}: I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME, SEPTEMBER IN THE RAIN (at a sweet tempo), AS LONG AS I LIVE, KEEPIN’ OUT OF MISCHIEF (Masso and Hedges out), TEA FOR TWO (Masso), RUNNIN’ WILD (ending with a spectacular solo from Wayne Jones).

We listen with our ears and our hearts, not our actuarial tables, I hope.

And if anyone wants to tell me I am too old to be blogging (I started in February 2008) tell me to my face and I’ll throw my pill bottles at them.  That’ll do it.

Many thanks to the true heroes, here and elsewhere: Bill, Tommy, George, Chuck, Dave, Marty, Milt, John, Rusty, Wayne, Bernard and Mark, Hal and Mike.  Their life-force cheers me and gives me strength.

May your happiness increase!

 

EARS TO HEAR WITH, EYES TO SEE WITH

The eyes, we are told, are the windows of the soul.  They protect us from falling downstairs, from the weaving car in the next lane; they help us pick out the Beloved in a crowd at the airport.  Surely they are precious and have enough to do.  So I propose we do not turn them into ears.

Here, to the right of Count Basie, is one of the finest singers of all time, practicing Mindful Eating:

countbasiejimmyrushing

In his prime, he was a mountainous man.  “Little Jimmy Rushing” was surely a self-mocking sobriquet; “Mister Five by Five” was more to the point. There is a Chuck Stewart photograph of him, in profile, that suggests a contemporary physician might calculate his body mass index and dub him “clinically obese.”

Oh, how he could sing!

Yet in this century, though, would Jimmy Rushing get a record contract?Would he be an opening act at a jazz festival?  My guess is that he would have a hard time, because audiences are fixated on what their eyes see than what their ears hear.

Look at the cover photograph of any CD featuring a singer or instrumentalist.  The star is beautifully arrayed, coiffed, resplendent in clothing (casual or formal) — an ensemble that was the result of serious planning.  The credits for such CDs thank hair stylists as well as arrangers.

We have been accustomed to the notion that Public People, to be Worthy, must appeal to our eyes.  I can’t trace the lineage of this, but at some point our notion that film stars were the ideal took over the world: so that politicians decked themselves out carefully — and musicians in the public eye were expected to do so as well.  For men, the beautiful suit, the jewelry, the costly watch; perhaps the personal trainer.  A hairpiece. (Toni Morrison’s THE BLUEST EYE is based on this as well as other painful delusions.)

For women, it was and is even more complicated, going beyond eliminating one’s graying hair and perhaps choosing cosmetic surgery.  I am not about to go on about the patriarchy with its male gazing, but for a woman instrumentalist or singer to appeal to the larger public, it seems that she must display and festoon herself as a sexually alluring product, accessible in some fantasy realm.

I thought we wanted to listen to players and singers, rather than to imagine what they would be like in bed.  Once again, I was naive.

I don’t recall who told the story — was it Charles Linton? — of bringing a teenaged Ella Fitzgerald to audition for Chick Webb in 1934.  We need not dwell on Webb’s physical appearance, hidden somewhat behind beautiful clothes.  But legend has it that Chick looked at Ella, neither svelte nor conventionally alluring and quickly said, “No.”  The Girl Singer had to be Glamorous.  The people who had heard Ella sing had to insist that Chick listen to her voice.  And then, happily, he was convinced.  But Ella was wildly popular with her hit record of A-TISKET, A TASKET — and it took approximately three years more for her to appear in a film, and if I recall correctly, it was a Western-musical from a second or third-tier studio, and she sang about her lost basket on a bus.  She wasn’t Pretty; she didn’t Count.

Imagine a world where Ella Fitzgerald and (let us say) Mildred Bailey or “Little Louis” couldn’t get a job because someone was convinced that they didn’t fit conventional notions of what was alluring.  Or they looked too old.

Youthful singers and players can swagger for a photo shoot: women can reflect Fifties ideals of cheesecake — be slim, show this or that body part to best advantage.  What of the artist, male or female, who has a beautiful series of recordings and performances . . . but is Getting Older?  A discerning audience came to see Mabel Mercer, Rosemary Clooney, Doc Cheatham, without the least thought of sex appeal — but do those audiences still exist?  There has always been a special niche for the Venerable (think Barbara Cook, Eubie Blake), or the Joyously Freakish (Fats Waller, Sophie Tucker, Mae West) — but so many fine artists are ignored in this vast desert between Young and Dewy and Better See Him / Her Now Because He / She Won’t Be Here Forever.

I have been to many concerts, clubs, festivals; I have watched many videos. Because of JAZZ LIVES, I am asked to approve of (and publicize) shiny, trim, nearly gorgeous men and women who present themselves as musicians.  When I begin to listen, I close my eyes.  It helps me actually hear the artist rather than concentrating on her shapeliness, her cuteness; to hear rather than watching the beautifully cultivated lock of hair falling over his forehead, his expensively tailored suit.  Listening and ogling might be simultaneous but they are not the same act.

I know this habit makes me seem even more of a distant and snobbish listener, when I say to someone rapturous over X, “You know, I agree with you that X is so perky / cute / handsome / charming, but I don’t think X is a great ______.”    And as an extension of this, when I say to other people, “Have you heard Y?” there is this politely glazed look on their faces, because Y hasn’t met their idea of what a Star should look like.  Y — oh my goodness! — looks like a Grownup rather than a Ripe Love Object.  Heavens.  Close the curtains right now.

Too bad.

The cover of a CD makes no sound.  Some of the finest musicians in the world don’t have as many gigs as they should because they don’t drape themselves as enticingly as lesser talents do.

Do we really, irrevocably love surfaces so much?

Now, I’m going to go back and listen some more to Jimmy Rushing.  I want to hear him sing, not get him on a scale.

Thanks to Bruno, Amy, and the Roo for various inspirations.

May your happiness increase!