Tag Archives: alcoholism

“DID YOU EVER KNOW ART TATUM?”

HUMPH book

From Humphrey Lyttelton’s posthumous “Autobiographical Medley,” LAST CHORUS:

Ben Webster was ejected by the police from the Nottingham club where he was appearing as star soloist, and asked the young policeman who had him in an armlock, “Did you ever know Art Tatum?”  Ben Webster was part-Red Indian and, below a certain specific gravity, the sweetest man who ever walked.  When flash level was reached, he developed a suicidal tendency to attack anyone in official uniform.  Stories of Ben ending a foray with a squad of policemen or hotel night staff sitting on his protesting head would always get the same affectionate but gleeful response from Buck [Clayton], “Yeah, that’s Ben” (197).

That’s one man — indiscriminately dangerous when intoxicated.

Here’s the other side of the human coin:

We are mysterious to each other and, if we can admit it, mysterious to ourselves. Tales of Ben’s murderous drunken behavior — to women, to musicians he ordinarily respected — are many.  Yet that same man made the most beautiful music.  I draw no conclusions and offer no analysis, except to present Ben, Art, Red Callendar, and Bill Douglass, making the music of the spheres for all time.

And you can read and see more about Humph here — it’s a gorgeous site.

This just in: some invaluable words from Dan Morgenstern on the subject of Ben:

The wildness may have been true in his early and middle years, but he changed. Ironically, I well remember Ben doing his best to keep a very drunk Oscar Pettiford (now there was a problem drinker) from harming himself and others at the Copper Rail, eventually almost carrying him out into a cab (Ben was strong, also at Copper Rail, he caught me eating some soul food seldom consumed by ofays and lifted me off the counter stool and held me up, shouting “He’s eating pig’s ears!”)
I’ll never forget taking a stroll with Ben on a summer night, we were at a party on Central Park West, where at the time Ben was sharing an apartment with Joe Zawinul–odd couple if there ever was one. Ben knew that I was European-born and bred and wanted ti talk to me about going abroad for the first time in his life. He was most concerned about communicating, and I was happy to assure him that most people in Western Europe understood and even spoke English and that he would have no problems.* It was amazingly, and charmingly naive. Of course he not only visited, but stayed in Europe until his death. Last time I saw him, he was leaning out the window of his Copenhagen apartment, which I’d just left after a visit during which he lamented the recent loss of Charlie Shavers, and of other dear friends. and we left a bunch of empty beer bottles, waving goodbye. I loved Ben, he really was what his music says. (Among the many treasures in the Mary Lou Williams Collection at IJS, there is a ca. l939 love letter from Ben, and an acetate of him singing “Prelude to a Kiss”. there thanks to Fr, Peter O’Brien, S.J., a dear man whom we just lost.)

Thank you, as always, Dan.

May your happiness increase!

Advertisements

“A SHIP WITHOUT A SAIL: THE LIFE OF LORENZ HART,” by GARY MARMORSTEIN

The biographer’s chosen task is either difficult or impossible.  Any competent researcher can amass a proliferation of facts, beginning with the subject’s grandparents and concluding with the coroner’s report.  The more public the biographical subject, the easier the task, apparently.

But although readers want to know the facts of the subject’s many lives — creative, philosophical, emotional, quotidian — the questions we want answered are deeper.  I think we ultimately want to know what it felt like to be the person under scrutiny; why did he behave as he did; what choices did he make; what drove him?  And since most of us are puzzles even to ourselves, the answers to these questions are often beyond our reach.

These speculations are the result of my reading A SHIP WITHOUT A SAIL: THE LIFE OF LORENZ HART, by Gary Marmorstein (Simon and Schuster), just published.  Marmorstein does several things very well.  For one, he has taken stock of everything written about Hart — a fourteen-page bibliography and hundreds of endnotes.  He is admirably diligent and more thorough than the two Hart biographies that proceeded this book.

The book moves along at a swift pace, although Marmorstein has chosen often to show that he is as clever as his subject, as witty, as colloquial — often adopting his own version of Thirties slang, where a man gets punched in “the kisser” and a failing business goes “flooey.”  I wish his editor had told the author that referring to the troubles Richard Rodgers had with his collaborator as “Hart-aches” was not wise.  That same editor might have limited Marmorstein’s usage of “must,” as in “Larry must have reacted with a jolt” when watching the sound film THE JAZZ SINGER when there is no evidence to support the speculation.

To his credit, Marmorstein is more candid than his predecessors, although he does not dwell on scandal-mongering.  He is fair to Hart’s collaborator, Richard Rodgers, who on one hand tried to protect Hart from himself and on the other, referred to him as “the shrimp” while Hart was alive and “that little fag” twenty years after Hart’s death.  And where there is room for speculation, Marmorstein painstakingly balances opposing narratives.  In these things, A SHIP WITHOUT A SAIL seems ideal.

But Hart would not have been an easy subject under the best of circumstances, and the facts and myths of his brief life lend themselves to mythologizing.  One such encapsulation of Hart’s hectic, creative, unhappy life is as (in Marmorstein’s coinage) the “lovelorn dwarf.”  Hart was short, under five feet, and although he made and permitted jokes about his height, it was apparently not something he accepted, and it added to his perception of himself as irredeemably physically unattractive.

Hart was a gay man in a profession where homosexuality was more common, but he seems not to have had long-term emotional attachments  He kept no diary and had a habit of disappearing — at night and other times.  Biographers before Marmorstein have speculated where Larry Hart got to, and with whom . . . but all the people who might have told us stories are dead.  Commendably, Marmorstein shuns ancient homophobic formulations, suggesting that Hart drank himself to death because his sexual preference made him miserable, or that Hart chose to be gay because he was unattractive to women.

Any book about Hart also must record his alcoholism, which ultimately contributed to his early death.  But Hart was also incredibly creative — not just in terms of writing new lyrics for show after show, but being someone who could go off with an envelope and pencil and create two new choruses of lyrics while others were taking a break.  (Hart’s creativity makes the author’s choice of title somewhat strange, ill-fitting.)

I was eager to read A SHIP WITHOUT A SAIL in hopes that it would be a satisfying synthesis.  What would its author make of the combination of Hart’s creativity and unhappiness?  What was it like to be a man in public view who thought of himself as unattractive?  What was it like to be a gay man who wrote memorable paeans in praise of heterosexual romance, to be sung in public by men to women and vice versa?  What might this book tell us about Hart’s apparently self-destructive behavior?  Having recently read and admired Michael P. Zirpolo’s MR. TRUMPET, his biography of the alcoholic genius Bunny Berigan, dead at 33, where Zirpolo successfully puts forth plausible explanations of Berigan’s drinking, gently and ruefully, I hoped that Marmorstein would do the same and more.

Alas, the book ultimately is only a collection of engaging anecdotes in chronological sequence.  One can learn what the Hart’s housekeeper and cook, Big Mary Campbell, said to Josephine Baker.  One can read how Hart would not let anyone else pick up the check.  One could buy Hart an overcoat in the boys’ department of Wanamaker’s.  We learn the name of the nurse who might have been at his deathbed.

Famous loyalties — Hart for Vivienne Segal — and emnities — Rodgers and Hart versus George M. Cohan — are entertainingly delineated here.  And the book rolls on, page after page, year after year, show after show, from Hart’s lyrics in summer camp to his final words on his deathbed, “What have I lived for?”  But the reader, closing this well-documented book, may feel that Hart, elusive in life, took his secrets with him.

Ultimately, Mary Cleere Haran’s rendition of THIS FUNNY WORLD sums up Hart far better for me — searching, wise, grieving — than Marmorstein’s book:

May your happiness increase.

“MR. TRUMPET: THE TRIALS, TRIBULATIONS, AND TRIUMPH OF BUNNY BERIGAN” by MICHAEL P. ZIRPOLO

Even people who know little of jazz or the Swing Era have probably heard trumpeter, singer, bandleader, and mythic figure Bunny Berigan (1908-42) in some context.

His Victor recording of I CAN’T GET STARTED is used in film soundtracks and elsewhere as a quick way of summoning up days gone by.  Other touchstones are Berigan’s solo on MARIE with Tommy Dorsey and on 1936 Billie Holiday sessions.

Those of us who know that music well have heard Berigan on his own, with Goodman, the Boswell Sisters, Mildred, in jam sessions and airshots.  Like Bix Beiderbecke, he became a mythic figure quickly, and people regard him with a mixture of love, admiration, and pity.

Here is a rare film clip of Bunny in summer 1936, singing and playing with the Fred Rich band:

In that performance, one hears Berigan’s astonishing adaptation of Louis — with his own sound and majesty, as well as his charming singing.  Bunny remains a monumental figure, someone who threw himself into every solo, leading the section when he wasn’t playing: someone who seems to have given his life to the music.

The other fact of Berigan’s short life is his alcoholism.  Other narratives have compressed his existence into two parallel assertions: he played splendidly and he drank himself to death.

But Michael Zirpolo’s new biography of Berigan goes beyond the formulaic.  It is a great accomplishment and an addictive pleasure.

And it’s not great merely because it contains new information on every one of its 500-plus pages.  Zirpolo had access to the lifework of Bozy White, who had been collecting information about Berigan for more than half a century.  MR. TRUMPET makes wise use of that mountain of information.  Often biographers are content to arrange their material in chronological order and unload it on the reader, who smothers under the avalanche.  This book moves judiciously through Berigan’s life — his personal entanglements, his economic mistakes, his glorious recordings — without getting bogged down in any one aspect.  Zirpolo’s book has a powerful predecessor, Robert Dupuis’ 1993 biography of Berigan, which gave us much more insight into Berigan the musician and the husband than we had had before (taking into account the subjectivity of an embittered spouse).  But with all respects to Dupuis, this is the Berigan book: I think no one will surpass it.

From the start, this book shows us someone who decided, early on, to broaden the scope of his investigations into Berigan’s life: Zirpolo is curious about not only Berigan but the musical, emotional, and financial world in which he lived.  Rather than simply lining facts up one by one, peanuts in a row, Zirpolo loves to ask HOW and WHY and (even better) IS THIS TRUE?  Many myths have attached to Berigan, and Zirpolo examines them closely.

Of course, the biography follows Berigan through his brief life as thoroughly as possible.  If a reader wants to know where Berigan was on August 8, 1938, (s)he will have a good chance of finding out not only where but what was happening: not only that, but how the events of that day stand in relation to the past and future.  One of the greatest assets of this book is the substantial number of first-hand narratives: Bozy White seems to have assiduously interviewed everyone who ever played once in a band where Bunny was present, and these recollections constantly bring human voices into the book.

Thus we have Bunny not only as the superb trumpet player, the bandleader concerned about how his band should sound, the terrible businessman, the man in thrall to alcohol, the playful, childlike individual — serious about very little except his music.

And what music!  Here is one of my favorite Berigan solos — fearless and impassioned — with Bud Freeman, Claude Thornhill, Eddie Condon, Grachan Moncur, and Cozy Cole:

Zirpolo’s book is a fine mixture of all the things I’ve mentioned, sustained by his own admiration for his subject.  The biography is never idolatrous — when Bunny does something disastrous, Zirpolo presents the facts and their consequences — but it’s always charming to see a biography where the writer, in the best old-fashioned way, loves his subject in particular, is passionate about history, and (as a useful sidelight) is thrilled by New York City, where Berigan spent so much of his life.

Even a reader who knows Berigan well will find surprises (not the least of them being rare photographs) but the novice might use this book as an introduction to the musical life of the United States in this period: endnotes give us brief biographical sketches of everyone whose path crossed Berigan’s.

As an interlude, here is a Disney song from 1938 — with a vocal by Gail Reese, two solos by Bunny (one muted, one open), and drumming by Dave Tough:

Zirpolo began this book through a childhood experience — watching his father in tears listen to Bunny’s music.  Later he learned that his father had seen the Berigan band and remembered it clearly.  One of the aspects of this book that I find most endearing is Zirpolo’s understanding that we all have deeply complicated inner lives.  So rather than decide early on to insert the facts into one conceptual framework — Berigan “the tortured soul,” the “doomed alcoholic,” a man who could never “get started,” he has watched Berigan from angles that change as the chronicle moves on.

Ultimately, the biography chronicles the triumph of Bunny Berigan: cirrhosis ended his life, but his music has its own lasting existence.  You can find out much more about Berigan and this remarkable book (including a photo gallery full of marvels) here.

YOUNG MISTER TOUGH: LOOK CLOSELY

My dear friend Uwe Zanisch is a generous fellow, as his website SATCHMOTUBE proves — on it he collects television appearances of Louis Armstrong, some of them never seen before.

But this post, for a change, isn’t about Mister Strong.

It’s about the New Yorkers — the “New Yorkers Tanzorchester” made up of hot players including George Carhart and Danny Polo and one other, who made some wonderful Goldkette-inflected records in Berlin in late 1927 / early 1928.  Here’s the label of one of the more incendiary sides, OSTRICH WALK:

And something even better — although how many of us have seen a picture of that 78?  Here’s a formal portrait of the band, with young David Tough to the right. 

As a typical Twenties band portrait, it is oddly diffuse: the young men in their tuxedoes look as if they did not know one another, as if their clothing fit very poorly.  Three of them are gazing off to the left — two skeptically, one far away; one stares challengingly, coldly at the camera; one takes its measure.  And then there’s Mister Tough — not even identified by name in the Bear Family booklet from which this picture comes (thanks to Uwe!). 

His hair threatens to explode from its pomaded state; his light eyes are both searching and even suspicious.  Do we read into this face the one that William P. Gottlieb captured in the basement of the Greenwich Village club — amused, mournful, rueful, trapped?  When we see two pictures, two decades apart, we might play the game of IS IT THE SAME PERSON — but all we know of him is the lovely singular music he had in front of him, his intelligence, and the sadness of short life and helpless self-immolation.   

When I think of Tough, I think of his cymbals and bass drum accents on FORTY-SEVENTH AND STATE, of his solo on the Charlie Ventura Town Hall Concert, his relentless playing behind Hot Lips Page on THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE, and those are exaltations of body and spirit.  But it’s impossible to think of him without grieving for him.  And I may assume too much, but sadness and distance are in the early photograph as well.

 

REMEMBER! JACK ROTHSTEIN RECALLS BOBBY HACKETT

Bobby was born and raised in Providence, Rhode Island.  He told me that he became an alcoholic playing at Portuguese weddings there in his early teens.

In the 40’s after a concert, a few members of the Boston Symphony decided to walk a couple of blocks to the Savoy for a drink and persuaded Roger Voisin — the first trumpeter — to go with them.  Hackett was playing.

Some time later George Poor (a Hackett admirer, a cornetist himself) asked Voisin what he thought of it and he replied, “I do not much care for jazz, but Bobby Hackett – he is an artist.”

MORE ABOUT JIM GOODWIN

 

 

Life Story: Jim Goodwin

Posted by Joan Harvey, The Oregonian June 01, 2009 09:59AM

Musicians say Jim Goodwin taught them how to play music — and how to live.

He was a musician’s musician, largely unknown to the public but legendary among jazz cognoscenti and to those who played with him. His authoritative, stunning cornet leads and spontaneous outpouring of original, appropriate ideas awed other musicians and inspired them to play better.

His music reflected his soul — he was a gentle person with an oddball, oblique wit; he was brilliant, generous and unerringly true to himself. He was charismatic and immediately charmed everyone he met. Friends stayed friends forever; no one knows of an enemy he ever had.

Jim died April 19 of alcoholism at age 65.

Jim enjoyed a 40-year career as a cornetist.

 

The outpouring of grief after his death is made more bitter by the realization that such a happy, life-absorbing personality could self-destruct. But most of all, it is grief that his music is silent.

Jim’s music echoed that of Louis Armstrong, Wild Bill Davison, Bix Beiderbecke and Henry “Red” Allen.
He was a natural musician who learned to play by ear and never wanted to taint his spontaneity by learning to read music. He could pick up any horn and make it sing. He also was a well-known piano player and earned money playing drums and vibraphone.

Jim wasn’t interested in fame or fortune. He turned down an offer to tour with the Freddy Martin Band, among other offers, and refused to promote himself. He cherished his freedom.

Once he got out of the National Guard, he was never tied down. He often left for Europe with his underwear and toothbrush stuffed in his cornet case and $40 in his pocket. He returned the same way.

Jim never had a backup plan or the stability of a day job, health insurance or any regular source of income. He lived with friends, rented here and there and sometimes, especially when he was young in Europe, slept outdoors.

Still, he lived well. He had a series of cars, including a 1954 Jaguar, a Triumph TR3 and a 1950 English Singer Roadster, that he traded, swapped or adopted out as his cash fluctuated.

Jim was adamant about never owing anybody money and paid back every nickel he ever borrowed. He liked to pick up the tab when he could.

He had an innate sense of style. Aspiring musicians copied his look, a 1970s version of the 1930s, including wool newsboy caps, L.L. Bean duck shoes and thrift store tweed jackets. He was proud of his Northwest lumberjack clothes but also knew cashmere when he saw it.

He was organized; everyplace he lived, everything was orderly and filed away. And every friend has a story about Jim’s humor. Once, he and a fellow musician put their shoes on the wrong feet and, in the middle of a set, splayed their feet in front, never knowing whether anyone noticed. He had long discussions about how to tie shoes. He built mannequins and placed them on his front porch or in a darkened room complete with lit cigar and a glass of wine. They were so realistic that people were often fooled. He once recorded a tape of himself painting a fence — the only sound was an occasional car rolling by.

He and friends started Portland Brewing Co. just as microbrewing took hold. He asked to be bought out early because he didn’t want to be tied down to a business. Instead, for years he played regularly at the company’s Flanders Street Pub with Dave Frishberg.

He was raised in Hillsboro. His father was a stockbroker, and Jim earned money at his firm as a “board boy.” This led him to stockbroker school in New York right out of high school and a brief stint as a stockbroker in Portland. He liked to say that he was the country’s youngest stockbroker and youngest retired stockbroker.

Jim and his high school band, The Riverboat Six, once climbed over a fence at the Oregon State Fair to play for Louis Armstrong. Armstrong asked who the trumpet player was, and told Jim, “Make sure you floss your teeth.”

 

He served in the Oregon National Guard (playing drums and horn), and that took him to Fort Ord, Calif., where he became absorbed into the nearby Bay Area music scene. He played in all the legendary jazz haunts and, for a long time, in the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco. He played for the Oakland A’s pep band and went with them to three World Series.

Jim was athletic. Besides playing baseball for Hillsboro High School and softball for musicians’ teams for years, he climbed to the summit of Mount Hood several times. He once bicycled and ferried from Holland to London to visit a friend and another time walked from Berkeley to Concord, Calif., for dinner. For years, he took long walks through the forest early every morning. Portland’s Forest Park was a favorite.

He was married once, to a Dutch artist. He later lived with Aretta Christie off and on for 25 years, mostly in Brownsmead. After they separated, she kept him going through the final years of his life.

This last picture of Jim was taken aout a week and a half before he died April 19.

He was devoted to jazz and knew it upside down and backward. He and Ray Skjelbred played for years at the Bull Valley Inn in Port Costa, Calif., and could play for weeks without repeating a song. Still, Jim loved listening to classical music, particularly Charles Ives, Edvard Grieg and Jean Sibelius. He was clueless about rock.Most of his life was filled with music and friends. Parties lasted for days without an incident. Jim never used drugs or smoked. He was never known to tell an off-color joke or to use foul language.

But somewhere along the line, he crossed the “point,” as he said. Alcohol was no longer fun but dominated his life. He refused to take care of himself.

He told friends that he didn’t like what drinking was doing to him but that he didn’t want to stop. He refused help to see a dentist, lost a tooth and could no longer play the cornet.

People still ask his musician friends: “What’s going on with Jim?” “Do you hear anything from Jim?” He was, says Skjelbred, everyone’s favorite musician.

–Joan Harvey; joanharvey@news.oregonian.com