Tag Archives: Art Blakey

IN A SPIN, TWICE: CLUB BOHEMIA OFFICIALLY OPENS! (October 17, 2019) and FAT CAT MATTHEW RIVERA’S HOT CLUB!

You might be walking along Barrow Street, on the Bleecker Street side of Seventh Avenue South (all this conjecture is taking place in Greenwich Village, New York City, New York, the United States); you could look up and see this sign.

You might just think, “Oh, another place to have an ale and perhaps a burger,” and you’d be correct, but in the most limited way.

Surprises await the curious, because down the stairs is the sacred ground where the jazz club Cafe Bohemia existed in the Fifties, where Miles, Lester, Ben, Coltrane, Cannonball, Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, and Pettiford played and live sessions were recorded.

Here’s the room as it is now.  Notice the vertical sign?

This isn’t one of those Sic Transit Gloria Mundi posts lamenting the lost jazz shrines (and certainly there is reason enough to write such things) BECAUSE . . .

On Thursday, October 17, yes, this week, the new Cafe Bohemia will open officially.  This is important news to me and I hope to you.  So let me make it even more emphatic.

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 17, THE NEW CAFE BOHEMIA OPENS. 

That is as emphatic as WordPress permits.  I was there on September 26, for the club’s trial run (more about that below) and I was delighted to find very friendly staff, good food and drink, pleasing sight lines and a receptive crowd, so it was a nostalgic return to a place I’d never been.

But back to current events.  On this coming Thursday, there will be two shows, an early show at 6:45 and a late one at 9:30.  These shows will be, as they say in retail, “value-packed”!  Each show will feature wonderfully entertaining and enlightening record-spinning of an exalted kind by Fat Cat Matthew Rivera, bringing his Hot Club to the Village on a regular basis, AND live jazz from the Evan Arntzen Quartet including guitarist Felix Lemerle, string bassist Alex Claffy, and drummer Andrew Millar.  Although the Bohemia hasn’t yet posted its regular schedule, their concept is both ambitious and comforting: seven nights of live jazz and blues music of the best kind.

Evan Arntzen, photograph by Tim Cheeney

Buy tickets here for the early show, here for the late one.  It’s a small room, so be prepared.  (I am, and I’ll be there.)  And here is the Eventbrite link for those “who don’t do Facebook.”

If you follow JAZZ LIVES, or for that matter, if you follow lyrical swinging jazz, I don’t have to introduce Evan Arntzen to you.  And if, by some chance, his name is oddly new to you, come down anyway: you will be uplifted.  I guarantee it.

But who is Matthew Rivera?

I first met Matt Rivera (to give him his full handle, “Fat Cat Matthew Rivera,” which he can explain to you if you like) as a disembodied voice coming through my speakers as he was broadcasting on WKCR-FM a particularly precious musical reality — the full spectrum of jazz from before 1917 up to the middle Fifties, as captured on 78 RPM disks.

It isn’t a dusty trek into antiquity: Matt plays Miles and Bird, Gene Ammons and Fats Navarro next to “older styles.”  Here’s Matt in a characteristically devout pose, at Cafe Bohemia:

and the recording (you’ll hear it on this post) that is the Hot Club’s theme song:

About two weeks ago, I visited the Fat Cat in his Cafe Bohemia lair and we chatted for JAZZ LIVES.  YouTube decided to edit my long video in the middle of a record Matt was spinning, but I created a video of the whole disk later.  Here’s the nicely detailed friendly first part:

and the second part:

and some samples of the real thing.  First, the complete WHO?

DEXTERITY, with Bird, Miles, and Max:

and finally, a Kansas City gem featuring tenor player Dick Wilson and Mary Lou Williams and guitarist Floyd Smith:

Cafe Bohemia isn’t just a record-spinning listening party site, although the Fat Cat will have a regular Hot Club on Monday nights.  Oh, no.  When I attended the club’s trial run on September 26, there was live jazz — a goodly helping — of the best, with Mara Kaye singing (acoustically) blues and Billie with the joyous accompaniment of that night’s Cafe Bohemia Jazz Band: Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Evan Arntzen, clarinet and tenor saxophone; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Brian Nalepka, string bass.  Here’s their opening number, ST. LOUIS BLUES:

The first word Mara utters on that video is “Wow,” and I echo those sentiments.  Immense thanks are due owner Mike Zieleniewski and the splendid Christine Santelli as well as the musicians and staff.

See you downstairs at Cafe Bohemia on Thursday night: come over and say hello as we welcome this birth and rebirth to New York City.

May your happiness increase!

WE INTERRUPT OUR REGULARLY SCHEDULED BLOGGING

No, JAZZ LIVES is not going away.  Nor is there some crisis.  Nor am I asking for money.  However, I would like my viewers to devote themselves to what follows, which will take perhaps ten minutes.

That man is pianist Junior Mance, born in Evanston, Illinois, in 1928.  Before he was twenty, he had begun recording with the stars we revere: Gene Ammons, Howard McGhee, Lester Young, Sonny Stitt, Dinah Washington, Clark Terry, Paul Gonsalves, Clifford Brown, Maynard Ferguson, Israel Crosby, Chubby Jackson, Art Blakey, Johnny Griffin, Cannonball Adderley, Sam Jones, Nat Adderley, Jimmy Cobb, Carmen McRae, Wilbur Ware, Bob Cranshaw, James Moody, Jimmy Cleveland, Bill Crow, Art Taylor, Dizzy Gillespie (he’s on the duet with Louis of UMBRELLA MAN), Leo Wright, Harry Lookofsky, Lockjaw Davis, Johnny Coles, Ray Crawford, Paul Chambers, Bennie Green, George Coleman, Eddie Jefferson, Louis Jordan, Irene Kral, Joe Williams, Coleman Hawkins, Zoot Sims, Ben Webster, Kenny Burrell, Mannie Klein, Shelley Manne, Etta Jones, Benny Carter, Jim Hall, Joe Newman, Milt Hinton, Richard Davis, Frank Wess, Wilbur Little, Jimmy Scott, Marion Williams, Les McCann, Dexter Gordon, George Duvivier, Carrie Smith, Ken Peplowski, Howard Alden, Milt Jackson, Harry “Sweets” Edison, Al Grey, Houston Person, Joe Temperley, Benny Golson, Jay Leonhart, Jackie Williams, Andrew Hadro . . . and I know I’ve left two dozen people out.

Next, in the world of jazz, one would expect a tribute.  Or an obituary. Or both.

But not a love story, which is what follows.

A few days ago, I was contacted by Sarit Work, co-producer of SUNSET AND THE MOCKINGBIRD, a not-yet-finished documentary about Junior and his wife, Gloria Clayborne Mance.  They have created a Kickstarter to help them finish the documentary.  The headline is “The love story of jazz legend Junior Mance and Gloria Clayborne Mance. As he loses his identity to dementia she reckons with her own.”

Being a man (although this may not be typical of my gender) I have less ability to cope with illness than women I know.  It’s terribly irrational, but I cringe at visiting people in hospitals, visiting the ailing, the dying . . . and so on.  There must be a name for this — call it “testosterone terror”? — which makes people like me hide under the couch, if possible.  Or in the car.  And dementia is especially frightening, because I am closer to being a senior citizen than ever before.  But Sarit was very politely persuasive, so I watched the trailer.

And it hit me right in the heart.

Junior has a hard time remembering, and he knows this. But he knows he loves Gloria.  And Gloria, for her part, is a lighthouse beacon of steady strong love.  It is not a film about forgetting who you are so much as it is a film about the power of devotion.

So I urge you — and “urge” is not a word I use often — to watch the trailer, and if you are moved, to help the project along.  It will be a powerful film, and I think that helping this project is very serious good karma.  Maybe it will protect us a few percent?

Here is the link.  Yes, the filmmakers need a substantial amount of money.  But anything is possible.  And, yes, I’ve already contributed.  And from this day (or night) the filmmakers have only EIGHT days to raise the sum they need.  So please help — in the name of jazz, in the name of love, or both.  In my dictionary, the two are synonyms.

May your happiness increase!

IN THE MAIN STREAM: HOWARD ALDEN, EHUD ASHERIE, FRANK TATE, PETE SIERS, RANDY REINHART, DAN BLOCK, BILL ALLRED at CLEVELAND (September 10, 2015)

Long-playing high fidelity turned into song by Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler:

as-long-as-i-live-cotton-club-parade-24th-ed-1

and performed here at the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party (formerly known as the Allegheny Jazz Party) on September 10, 2015, by Howard Alden, guitar; Frank Tate, string bass; Ehud Asherie, piano; Pete Siers, drums; Dan Block, tenor saxophone; Bill Allred, trombone; Randy Reinhart, cornet.

“Mainstream” was the term invented by jazz critic Stanley Dance to describe this easy, uncluttered, floating kind of improvisation — a music that had carefully dismantled all the boundaries created by sectarian listeners and journalists to take a wide-ranging approach to jazz without ruling anything out if it drank deeply of melody, swing, and harmony.  Hank Mobley and Buster Bailey could talk about reeds; Tommy Benford and Art Blakey could discuss calfskin versus plastic.  You get the idea: a sweet world that no longer saw “Dixieland” and “bebop” as hostile antitheses.

Music of this free-breathing variety happens all the time in the places I frequent, but one of the most comfortable places for it is the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, which will happen again this September 15-18, 2016.  Get in the Main Stream.

May your happiness increase!

THE IMPROBABLE MADE BEAUTIFUL (1977)

What if?

The Anachronic Jazz Band in 2012

The Anachronic Jazz Band in 2012

I hope all JAZZ LIVES readers are familiar with the Anachronic Jazz Band — loosely translated, that’s “going against time” — a beautifully-rehearsed and inspiring jazz ensemble that plays modern jazz standards in the styles of the Twenties and Thirties.  With sincerity, accuracy, and wit they not only imagine worlds that never existed but translate those worlds into glorious music.  The AJB is a joyously playful band but also an exact one; they don’t just play music in a vaguely historical style; rather they take, perhaps, a Mingus composition and reimagine it as a Luis Russell recording.  They admire and they do not satirize.

They began in 1976 as a nine-piece orchestra led by pianist Philippe Baudoin and multi-instrumentalist Marc Richard, made several inimitable recordings, and then the members went their separate ways — reuniting in 2013.  Here ‘s my review of that CD.  And their website and Facebook page.

I want everyone to admire a particular AJB performance: a July 16, 1977 rendition — recorded and televised at the Nice Jazz Festival (“La Grande Parade du Jazz”) — of Thelonious Monk’s ballad ASK ME NOW.

Monk’s first recording, 1951, with Al McKibbon, bass; Art Blakey, drums:

But where Monk’s original is both passionate and spiky, the AJB reimagined this lovely ballad as played by Louis Armstrong (Louis, in this case, being Patrick Artero) with equally touching solos by Daniel Huck on alto saxophone and Philippe Baudoin on piano.

Patrick Artero, trumpet; Daniel Barda, trombone; Marc Richard, alto saxophone; André Villéger, tenor saxophone;  Daniel Huck, alto saxophone; Philippe Baudoin, piano; Patrick Diaz, banjo; Gérard Gervois, brass bass; Bernard Laye, drums.

Ricky Riccardi, who lives Louis in his waking hours and dreams Louis in the three or four hours he’s allowed to sleep, would tell us that Louis indeed had a Monk record in his library — and transferred it to tape, his highest tribute.  Who knows that the two men didn’t cross paths in 1941 or 1942 or later?  But the AJB doesn’t simply write this as a musical science-fiction story; their rendition of ASK ME NOW sends love all around: to Monk, to Louis, to anyone with ears.

It gives me great pleasure to know that such things are possible.

May your happiness increase!

THE JAZZ BOOKSHELF: “JAZZ BEAT: NOTES ON CLASSIC JAZZ” and “MR. B”

A quarter-century ago, in actual bookstores, I could find shelves devoted to books on jazz.  That reassuring sight still exists (I saw it in the Strand in New York last week) but the great era of print publishing is, understandably, over. Thus it’s always a pleasure to encounter new books on jazz, and the two below are quite different but will both reward readers.

Jazz-Beat-review--195x300

JAZZ BEAT: NOTES ON CLASSIC JAZZ, by Lew Shaw (AZtold Publishing) is a very amiable collection of profiles written by an admiring, long-time fan and former sportswriter.

What makes these brief affectionate portraits different from the norm is that all (except one) the musicians in this book are living.  Not all of them are stars, but they have devoted followings — from the youthful Jonathan “Jazz” Russell, Pete and Will Anderson, Josh Duffee, Michael Kaeshammer, Ben Polcer, Molly Ryan, Bria Skonberg, Andy Schumm, Stephanie Trick, to the veterans Bill Allred, Jim Cullum, Bob Draga, Yve Evans, Chet Jeager, Flip Oakes, Bucky Pizzarelli, Richard Simon, Mike Vax, Pat Yankee, and Ed Polcer — the book’s inspiration, whose picture is on the cover.

Shaw also profiles other regulars on the festival circuit, Tom Rigney, the Uptown Lowdown Jazz Band, the Natural Gas Jazz Band, the New Black Eagles, Igor’s Jazz Cowboys.

His emphasis is on musicians exploring older jazz forms and repertoire, but the book is happily free from ideological bickering (with one exception, and the words aren’t the author’s*.  The book is comfortable and easy: I sense that the musicians are delighted to find someone sympathetic, interested, willing to get the facts right for publication.

I was pleased to find a number of my jazz friends and heroes profiled, among them Clint Baker, Kevin Dorn, Banu Gibson, Nicki Parrott, Carl Sonny Leyland, Randy Reinhart, Hal Smith, Rossano Sportiello, and the late Mat Domber.  I know I’ve left several people off this list, but readers will have fun seeing some of their favorites here.

Shaw’s method is simple: he establishes the musician’s place in the world of contemporary traditional jazz, constructs a brief biography — a story rather than a collection of dates and a listing of names and places.  Some comments from a writer or blogger offer different insights (I’m even quoted here a few times) and the musician speaks for him or herself.  The result is a fast-moving collection of short pieces (somewhere between journalistic features and extensive liner notes) that capture their subjects’ personalities in only a few pages.

Shaw is frankly admiring — from a literate fan’s perspective.  For instance (I picked this at random), the opening of his piece on Bob Draga: “Clarinetist Bob Draga is considered the consummate entertainer, having mastered the art of pleasing an audience with musical talent, classy appearance and entertaining repartee.”  That’s Bob, to the life.

One particularly moving episode in this book is the profile of drummer Joe Ascione — and his life with multiple sclerosis since 1997.  If Shaw had done nothing but allow Joe to speak for himself, JAZZ BEAT would still be well worth reading. Many fans come up to musicians at gigs, concerts, and festivals, and ask questions; it is reassuring to see that Lew Shaw has willingly shared his energies and research with us.  The 211-page book is nicely produced with many black-and-white photographs, and copies can be ordered here.

*Chet Jaeger, of the Night Blooming Jazzmen, told Shaw about playing in a Disneyland marching band when Dizzy Gillespie was also performing there, and his reaction: “I decided I would attend and try to learn something about modern jazz, but I gave up after a few numbers.  I always say that when I hit a bad note, everyone knows it’s a bad note. When Miles Davis hits a bad note, people will say, ‘Isn’t that creative.'”

MISTER B

Cary Ginell, author of a fine book on the Jazz Man Record Shop (reviewed here) and a rewarding biography of Cannonball Adderley (here) has produced another first-rate book in the same series: MR. B: THE LIFE AND MUSIC OF BILLY ECKSTINE (Hal Leonard, 228+ pages).  Ginell may turn out to be this generation’s model for jazz biography, for he doesn’t indulge in pathobiography (chronicling every time his subject is supposed to have left no tip for a waitperson or some other example of bad behavior) and he isn’t a secret Destroyer (appearing to write admiringly of the subject then deflating the Hero(ine) chapter after chapter).

His books are tidy, graceful, compact affairs — full of stories but never digressive, sticking to chronology but never mechanical.

Eckstine has been treated gingerly by the jazz community: yes, he was Earl Hines’ band vocalist, bringing the blues to a larger audience with JELLY, JELLY, then someone given credit for his “legendary” band featuring Dizzy, Bird, Fats Navarro, Art Blakey, and others . . . but once Eckstine comes to even greater prominence as an African-American balladeer (think of I APOLOGIZE), the jazz audience loses interest and the naughty word “commercialism” enters the dialogue.

Ginell doesn’t over-compensate, and he — unlike Mister B — doesn’t apologize, but he makes a serious case for Eckstine being one of the important figures in the slow struggle for White Americans to respect people of color.

One of Eckstine’s sons remembered, “Until the day he died, whenever he ordered a sandwich, he always separated the two pieces of bread and gently ran his fingers over the meat, because on a number of occasions while touring the South, they would send the band boy. . . to pick up food from a white restaurant. When they got the sandwiches, they would discover finely ground glass, or vermin feces mixed in with the tuna, chicken, egg, or potato salad.”  We also learn about the repercussions of a LIFE magazine photograph where Eckstine was captured amidst young White female fans — a horrifying example of racist attitudes in 1950. Stories such as that are invaluable, and make a book both readable and memorable, no matter who its subject might be.

The band business was difficult even when the enemy wasn’t trying to poison you so directly; Ed Eckstein also recalled that the critic Leonard Feather subtly attacked his father’s band because Eckstine refused to record Feather’s compositions.  Eckstine and Dizzy Gillespie created a parody — sung to the tune STORMY WEATHER, with these lyrics:

I know why, we can’t get a gig on Friday night, / Leonard Feather / Keeps on makin’ it hard for me to keep this band together, / Talkin’ shit about us all the time . . .  

We learn about the relationship between June Eckstine and the promising young Swedish clarinetist Stan Hasselgard; we learn of Eckstine’s close friendship with Dr. King, his devotion to his fans, his generosities.  And as for Eckstine’s apparent “selling-out,” he had this to say, “Some creeps said I ‘forsook’ jazz in order to be commercial. So I saw one of these creeps, a jazz critic, and I said, ‘What are you, mad at me because I want to take care of my family?  Is that what pisses you off? You want me to end up in a goddamn hotel room with a bottle of gin in my pocket and a needle in my arm, and let them discover me laying there? Then I’ll be immortal, I guess, to you . . . It ain’t going to work that way with me, man. I want to take care of my family and give them the things that I think they deserve.'”

And we learn that Eckstine’s last word was “Basie,” which should go some distance in supporting his deep feeling for jazz.

It’s an admirable book.  Although nearly everyone who worked with Eckstine is dead, Ginell has had the cooperation of the singer’s family and friends; he has done thorough research without allowing minutiae to overwhelm the narrative, and the book moves along at a fine 4 / 4 pace.  With rare photographs, as well.

Ginell’s work — and this series in general — is very fine, and these books fill needed spaces in jazz history.  Who’s next?

May your happiness increase!

OSCAR PETTIFORD, FOUND

OP front

Bassist, cellist, and composer Oscar Pettiford is in the odd position of being both legendary and forgotten (as Whitney Balliett wrote of Pee Wee Russell). If you ask any aficionado of jazz string bass playing to name a dozen favorites — living and dead — it’s likely that the names will come easily.  But Pettiford’s is often not among them.

Yes, he died young, but not before performing and recording every famous musician (with some notable exceptions) in a short career.  An incomplete list would include Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, Miles Davis, Billie Holiday, Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, Art Tatum, Django Reinhardt, Les Paul, Charlie Christian, Gil Evans, Sonny Rollins, Art Blakey, Woody Herman, Coleman Hawkins, Ray Charles, Stan Getz, Lucky Thompson, Charles Mingus, Zoot Sims, John Coltrane, Sonny Stitt, Julius Watkins, Ben Webster, Sammy Price, Ruby Braff, Mel Powell, Ellis Larkins, Max Roach, Shelly Manne, Billie Holiday, Red Norvo, Clifford Brown, Buddy De Franco, Phineas Newborn, Kai Winding, Roy Eldridge, Ray Brown, Lionel Hampton, Don  Byas, Clyde Hart, Earl Hines, Budd Johnson, Joe Thomas, Pee Wee Russell, Jimmy Giuffre, Martial Solal, Attlia Zoller, Lee Konitz, Warne Marsh, Billy Eckstine, Cozy Cole, Shadow Wilson, Charlie Shavers, Johnny Hodges, Rex Stewart, Cootie Williams, Ed Hall, Lawrence Brown, Sonny Greer, Maxine Sullivan, Dick Hyman, Eddie Bert, Joe Derise, Ike Quebec, Jonah Jones, Buck Clayton, Helen Humes, Benny Harris, Boyd Raeburn, Serge Chaloff, Howard McGhee, Sir Charles Thompson, Wynonie Harris, Vic Dickenson, Red Rodney, Tal Farlow, Denzil Best, Jo Jones, Leo Parker, Al Haig, Al Hibbler, Nat Pierce, Bill Harris, Howard McGhee, J.J. Johnson, Art Taylor, Wynton Kelly, Lockjaw Davis, Jackie McLean, Kenny Clarke, Dave McKenna, Milt Jackson, John Lewis, Chris Connor, Hank Jones, Earl Coleman, Thad Jones, Tommy Flanagan, Donald Byrd, Billy Taylor, Chuck Wayne, Roy Haynes, Art Farmer, Gigi Gryce, Al Cohn, Frank Wess, Jimmy Cleveland, Barry Galbraith, Joe Morello, Joe Wilder, Harry Lookofsky, Jimmy Jones, Urbie Green, Ernie Royal, Herbie Mann, George Barnes, Clark Terry, Dave Schildkraut, Helen Merrill, Jimmy Raney, Horace Silver, Doug Mettome, Quincy Jones, Duke Jordan, Hank Mobley, Kenny Dorham, Cecil Payne, Toots Thielmans, Red Garland.

This suggests that Oscar’s peers respected him and called him for gigs and recordings.  It’s not as if he was obscure: his career was longer than, say, Blanton’s or Steve Brown’s.  But, oddly for jazz, which loves to mythologize the musicians who die young and abruptly (and Pettiford died as the result of a 1960 automobile accident) he hasn’t received the benefit of the weird reverence fans and writers have for the young dead.

Of course, it could be that bass players don’t get the respect they and their instruments deserve, but it is and was hard to ignore Pettiford on a session. He offered a rhythmic foundation that was powerful rather than obtrusive, but when he soloed, his lines have the solid eloquence that any horn player would aspire to — while seeming light rather than ponderous.  And as the list of players above suggests, his musical range was exceedingly broad: he wasn’t captured on record in free jazz or ragtime, but he elevated every other variety of jazz and jazz vocal performance he was part of.  Had he lived longer, he might have enjoyed the visibility of a Milt Hinton or a Ray Brown, but we have only brief moments of him on film (the 1945 THE CRIMSON CANARY) and a few seconds of his speaking voice.

Surely he should be better known.

Enough words and keystrokes for the moment: listen to his 1960 feature on WILLOW WEEP FOR ME:

and here he is, playing his own BLUES IN THE CLOSET — from a little-known 1953 television broadcast — on cello (which he took to for a time after breaking an arm in a baseball game):

And his stirring solo on STARDUST:

Now, two pieces of good news that might go some distance in making Oscar’s name and music known to a larger audience.  One is that there is a YouTube channel, PettifordJazz, with sixty videos of Pettiford solos, ensembles, and compositions.  That means that no one has to start collecting Oscar’s music — it is being made available to all for free.

Oscar (or “O.P.”, as his colleagues called him) also spent the last two years of his life in Europe (mostly in Scandinavia and Germany), and recorded often there.  Sessions with guitarist Attila Zoller have been issued and reissued on a variety of labels (in the vinyl era, they appeared on Black Lion) and a famous 1960 concert in Essen with Bud Powell, Kenny Clarke, and Coleman Hawkins was available forty years ago.  Recordings made in 1958-59 for the German radio network have now been issued for the first time on compact disc, in beautiful sound, as OSCAR PETTIFORD: LOST TAPES — GERMANY 1958 / 1959, on SWR Music.

American expatriates Lucky Thompson (on soprano sax for a gorgeous, melancholy SOPHISTICATED LADY) and Kenny Clarke (drums on the final five performances of the disc) are the “stars,” but Zoller stands out as a beautifully measured guitarist.

OP cover rear

And although some US critics of the time might have been condescending to European players, this disc shows their equal mastery. Trumpeter Dusko Goykovich duets with Oscar on the opening BUT NOT FOR ME.  Other notable players here are clarinetist Rolf Kuhn; light-toned tenorist Hans Koller; baritone saxophonists Helmut Brandt, Helmut Reinhardt, Johnny Feigl; altoist Rudi Feigl; guitarist Hans Hammerschmid; drummers Jimmy Pratt and Hartwig Bartz.  The songs are a mix of standards and originals: BUT NOT FOR ME / SOPHISTICATED LADY / A SMOOTH ONE / O.P. (Hans Koller) / MINOR PLUS A MAJOR (Kuhn) / POOR BUTTERFLY / ANUSIA (Hans Koller) / MY LITTLE CELLO (Pettiford) / THE NEARNESS OF YOU / YESTERDAYS / ALL THE THINGS YOU ARE / BLUES IN THE CLOSET (Pettiford) / BIG HASSLE (Hammerschmidt) / ATLANTIC (Helmut Brandt) / ALL THE THINGS YOU ARE / BLUES IN THE CLOSET — the last two are live performances.

And just because it’s accessible and stirring, here is that film clip — from an otherwise undistinguished 1945 murder mystery, THE CRIMSON CANARY, which features Hawk, Pettiford, Howard McGhee, trumpet; Sir Charles Thompson, piano; Denzil Best, on a fast SWEET GEORGIA BROWN line by Hawkins called HOLLYWOOD STAMPEDE:

Ultimately, I think if you’d asked Coleman Hawkins, Duke Ellington, or any number of jazz luminaries, “What about this O.P. fellow?  Should I listen to him?” the answer would have been a very strong affirmative.  So let us do just that. These tapes were lost, but have been found: spread the word about Oscar.  Remind those who have forgotten; introduce those who never knew.  “Learn it to the younguns!” as the youthful protagonist of Ellison’s INVISIBLE MAN hears at the start of that novel.

May your happiness increase!

TAKE A DEEP BREATH. IN FACT, TAKE TWO!

Look closely at the faces of the people you pass on the street or at your workplace.  See how many of those faces are full of tension; how many people look as if they would like to relax but are putting it off for their two weeks off.  Now focus on yourself: are you taking it easy?  To bring it to the more familiar subject of JAZZ LIVES, do you feel as if you are the sound of Freddie Green’s guitar or of Jo Jones’ hi-hat?  Do you float along as if you were a Benny Carter solo?  Or is your inner music ORGY IN RHYTHM by Art Blakey and colleagues?

I am writing this post to nudge my readers in the direction of a new blog, full of compassionate, easy-to-swallow wisdom . . . affectionate thoughts to help anyone get through the day with sweetness rather than strain.

It’s Lorna Sass’s new blog, REFLECTIONS OF A LIFE COACH, and you can read about breathing easily here:

http://lornasassreflectionsofalifecoach.wordpress.com/2011/11/30/breathing-into-a-new-day/

And if all of this sounds oddly digressive to you and you wish I would go back to posting videos and writing about Boyce Brown, I do understand.  But let’s never forget that the lovely music we so admire — say the voice of Lee Wiley singing SUGAR — requires proper breathing.  Had Lee been as tense as some of us are, we’d never listen to her records.  Purr, don’t gnash!

JAZZ FOR FREE: 2011 SAVANNAH JAZZ FESTIVAL (Sept. 18-24, 2011)

I’m not a big fan of “free jazz,” but “jazz for free” is entirely a different matter.  And it’s happening this September in Savannah, Georgia.  The festival has been going on since 1983, built by local talent (Teddy Adams and Ben Tucker) and has featured international jazz stars as well, from Carmen McRae and Lionel Hampton to Jimmy Knepper and Art Blakey . . .

All events are free and open to the public.  Here’s the schedule:

Sept. 18 — 5-8 p.m. – Jam Session led by Teddy Adams  

Sept. 19 — 7-9 p.m. – “Ninety Miles” — a movie on Cuban Jazz (cosponsored by Psychotronic Film Society)

Sept. 20 — 7-10 p.m. – Howard Paul Quartet w/Scott Giddens & Jody Espina

Sept. 21 — 7-10 p.m. – George Petit 4 & Bob Masteller & Jazz Corner Quintet

Sept. 22 — 7-11 p.m. – Forsyth Park BLUES NITE

Bottles and Cans, Eric Culberson and Super Chikan

Sept. 23 – 7-11 p.m. Forsyth Park

Huxie Scott & Friends (Hall of Fame Members), Stan Killian Quartet and UNF Band w/Allan Harris

Sept. 24 – 4-11 p.m. Jazz Composers Sextet

Robert Lewis, Sax; Randall Reese, Sax AASU; Bill Schmid, Trumpet GSU; Dave Springfield, Piano VSU CofC; Frank Duvall, Bass CofC; Steve Primatic. Drums AASU; JB Scott/Lisa Kelly Quintet and Deborah Brown Quartet

Savannah Jazz Orchestra Featuring Wycliffe Gordon & Ron Wilkins, Pat Martino Trio w/Pat Bianchi (B3) and Shawn Hill (Drums)

For more information, visit http://www.savannahjazzfestival.org/main.html

FIRST-HAND: PAUL NOSSITER REMEMBERS JO JONES and SIDNEY BECHET

My favorite character of all the drummers was Jo Jones.  Jo was at a Newport Jazz Festival convocation of jazz drummers, and all of the big names were there, including Art Blakey.  There had been a Basie reunion that year, 1957  — Lester and Jo had played with the band.  At the afternoon session, Jo was last.  All of the big names had played the shit out of the drum set, and Jo put the sticks aside and played finger drums for ten minutes.  And then he stopped and smiled and walked off.  It was a lesson for the kiddies.  Less is more.   

I sat in with Sidney Bechet in Juan-les-Pins when he was playing with Claude Luter.  Much to Luter’s annoyance.  But I knew Sidney for a long time, because he and my brother chased the same Australian girl in 1942 or so!  He was very sad being in France, though, because he was treated like a god.  People approached him like a deity.  And there was nobody to hang with.  He was afraid of going back to America because the woman who ran the Savoy in Boston was suing him for non-appearance.

THE “POTATO HEAD” MYSTERY SOLVED AT LAST!

The genial man to the left doesn’t exactly resemble Sherlock Holmes or even Dr. Watson, but he’s helped me solve a nagging mystery.  He’s Dr. Julius “Boo” Hornstein, longtime resident of Savannah, Georgia, and chronicler of its varied jazz scenes.  His research, memories, and appropriate photographs have been published in his book, SITES AND SOUNDS OF SAVANNAH JAZZ (Gaston Street Press).  In it, I found more than I’d expected about King Oliver’s last days and his benefactor Frank Dilworth — and anecdotes about Jabbo Smith, Johnny Mercer, Ben Tucker, and other improvising natives.

But that’s not the reason I’m writing this post.  Exhibit A:

Recorded by Louis Armstrong and his Hot Seven in 1927, POTATO HEAD BLUES has been a mystery to many for nearly eighty years.  The music itself isn’t mysterious — exultant, rather — but the title has puzzled jazz enthusiasts forever.  Some plausibly have thought it came from the teasing way New Orleans musicians made up names for each other based on essential physiognomy — and one of my readers, Frank Selman, wisely suggested that the title was a sly dig at Clarence Williams, whose cranial structure resembled an Idaho Russet.

Eighty pages into Dr. Hornstein’s book, we meet Sam Gill — not the Brooklyn-born bassist who recorded and played with Randy Weston, Monk, and Blakey, but a Savannah-born trumpet player who (as a young man) had met the down-on-his-luck Joe Oliver. 

But I’ll let Dr. Hornstein lead us back to POTATO HEAD BLUES:

Sam Gill is the kind of guy who likes to tell a story.  Consider this.  We’re sitting around City Market Cafe one early summer afternoon, and Sam is holding forth.  “You ever heard the expression ‘potato head’?  You know, ‘So-and-so is nothing but a potato head?’  No one in our group can rightly say that we have, so Sam proceeds to set us straight.  ‘Well, the expression goes way back in time and has to do with the parades which frequently took place on West Broad Street.  If you were an important figure in the black community, say, a businessman, it was expected of you to have your own band to march in the parades.  The bigger the band, the better in terms of your the image.  So, every now and then you would beef up your band with one or two good-looking men.  The problem was, a lot of the time these fellows looked good, but they couldn’t play.  So, you’d put a potato in the bell of their horns and let them march.  Of course, no sound came out, but that was okay ’cause you only wanted the guys to look good.  That’s how they got to be known as potato heads.” 

You have no idea how relieved I am by this riddle, now unraveled for all time.  And how prescient of Louis not to have turned to his band and said, “Boys, I have a new song for us: it’s about those street parades in New Orleans.  You’ll never forget it: BLUES FOR THE CATS WHO COULDN’T PLAY SO WE HAD TO MAKE SURE WE COULDN’T HEAR THEM PLAY A NOTE EVEN THOUGH THEY WERE SHARP-LOOKING CATS.  One, two!”

Thank you, Sam Gill; thank you, Dr. Hornstein — we’ll all sleep better tonight!

HERBIE NICHOLS: A JAZZIST’S LIFE

Two biographies of jazz musicians have recently gotten much well-deserved media attention: Robin G. Kelley’s study of Thelonious Monk, Terry Teachout’s Louis Armstrong book. 

The Mercury Press has just published jazz scholar Mark Miller’s biography of pianist-composer Herbie Nichols.  It’s a small paperback, 224 pages, without accompanying fanfare. 

But HERBIE NICHOLS: A JAZZIST’S LIFE is, in its own quiet way, equal and perhaps superior to the larger competition.  It could fascinate a reader who had never heard Nichols on record or in person: Miller is that fine a writer and researcher. 

At this point, “full disclosure” is essential: I have admired Miller’s books before; my praise of his Valaida Snow biography is on the back cover here; I also tried to help him speak to New York musicians who might have played alongside Nichols, among them Leroy “Sam” Parkins and Joe Muranyi.  But if I had received a copy of this book with its author’s name erased, I would have been mightily impressed. 

But more about that later.  Who was Herbie Nichols?  “Dead at 44 of leukemia” is one answer.  “Brilliantly original but underacknowledged in his lifetime.”  “Peer of Monk, not a disciple.”  “Inimitable pianist and composer.”  “He could work with Danny Barker and Roswell Rudd and please them both.” 

Nichols rarely made his living playing the music he had created.  The paying gigs were with rhythm and blues bands or playing for cabarets, chorus lines, and shows, and most often “Dixieland.”  In fact, I first heard him on records with Rex Stewart and Joe Thomas.  (Nichols’ last record was the Atlantic MAINSTREAM session.) 

But Nichols knew a wide variety of music, and didn’t bring his own ideology to the gig, even though the jazz critics were busily pitting “Dixieland” against “modern.”  He was a fine stride pianist, choosing Jelly Roll Morton’s THE PEARLS as his feature when he played with a traditional band. 

But he retained his identity, and the players who worked with Nichols understood that he was going his own way in the traditional ensembles of the time, not always easily.  Dixieland gigs proliferated, even though writers might now see the Fifties as the era of cool jazz or hard bop.  He worked in bands led by drummer Al Bandini (a friend of Pee Wee Russell) at the Greenwich Village club The Riviera, which may still be active, although without music, on Seventh Avenue South.  Buell Neidlinger recalled what I hope wasn’t a typical scene: “I can’t tell you the number of times I trudged over there with my bass just to get a chance to play with Herbie, even with Al there — just to make Herbie feel better.  Al was nasty to Herbie.  Herbie’d be playing one of his tunes and Al would say, ‘Let’s stop that shit now!  Right in the middle of the tune!  Let’s stop that shit now.  Let’s play When the Saints Go Marching In.‘ He’d say that real loud and the audience would scream, ‘Yeah!  Go, man, go, go, go!” 

Nichols’ brief life, the scant recognition he got, and such scenes might encourage a writer to depict him as a victim.  One imagines the Down Beat headline: JAZZ MODERNIST FORCED TO PLAY “ROYAL GARDEN BLUES.”  Intrigued by Nichols the man, Miller avoids the conventional portrait of the suffering jazzman, and shows us that Nichols — refiined, intellectual, chess-player, poet, and painter — was not self-destructive, an alcoholic, an addict.  African-American, he was not victimized by racism — no more than any man of his race in those decades.   

Rather, Miller is sympathetic without being idolatrous, candidly describing the missed chances, the system of jazz-stardom that put Thelonious Monk on the cover of TIME but had Nichols playing the piano for female impersonators.  Nichols is a particularly challenging subject for a biography because the evidence that exists nearly forty-five years after his death is slim. 

However, readers who are intrigued by famous names and the people a working musician might encounter will be delighted by the players Nichols worked with or knew: Louis Armstrong, Jack Teagarden, Sidney Bechet, Dick Rath, Ed Polcer, Conrad Janis, Wilbur deParis, Illinois Jacquet, John Kirby, Charles Mingus, Roswell Rudd, Sheila Jordan, Dave Frishberg, Cecil Taylor, Max Roach, Art Blakey.  We find him on a Turkish cruise ship playing traditional jazz with Steve Swallow.  A Nichols melody caught Billie Holiday’s ear and was retitled, with lyrics, LADY SINGS THE BLUES.  He helps a ten-year old Phil Schaap negotiate the New York subway system. 

Miller knits together all these incidents, bits of hearsay and anecdotage without making his book seem like a banquet of crumbs.  The biography moves chronologically, but Miller isn’t tied to the calendar (some jazz books read as if the author wanted to follow the subject gig by gig, month by month); Miller is both expert and free, so the book moves sideways when the material needs it, without losing the thread.  The biography is compact (Miller considers that not every artist needs a five-hundred page monograph) but it is both dense and quickly-paced. 

And in the essential small things, Miller is splendid: he has a fine emotional intelligence that allows him to be fond of Nichols (as everyone except Bandini was, apparently) without idealizing him.  Although the evidence is often sketchy, Miller doesn’t hypothesize excessively; he avoids psychoanalyzing his subject; he doesn’t get irritated by Nichols, nor does he pad the biography by quoting large excerpts from Nichols’ prose.  His musical analysis is pointed but not over-technical; Miller captures the flavor and sensibility of Nichols playing, composing, and imagination.

Another writer might have made himself the subject of the book: “Look how much detective work I had to do to find out this shred of information about that neglected pianist — I forget his name.”  Someone might have shaped the facts of his subject’s life to fit a particular ideology.  Because Miller illuminates Nichols and gently stays out of the way, his subject’s personality shines through, even when the evidence is most thin.  I began the book with great eagerness because I admire Miller’s writing, his perspective, and his research — but very soon I was forcing myself to read it more slowly, because I did not want it to end.  That may be the best tribute a reader can pay — to Nichols and to his chronicler.       

COPYRIGHT, MICHAEL STEINMAN AND JAZZ LIVES, 2009
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.  Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael Steinman and Jazz Lives with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
 

JAZZ TREASURES IN CYBERSPACE

I spend more than enough time in front of the computer (my neck can testify to this) but I’ve recently encountered two websites that might prove promising for jazz fanciers.  One, Wolfgang’s Vault, initially awakened all my snobbery: lips that touch Black Sabbath will never touch mine.  And I’m not terribly interested in Grateful Dead backstage passes.  But the Vault has just opened the jazz door a crack for three performances from the 1959 Newport Jazz Festival — audio only — featuring the Basie band, Dakota Staton, and Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers.  And more from 1959 is promised on November 17.  See for yourself at http://www.wolfgangsvault.com/concerts/support/newport-jazz.html.

The other site is much more welcoming — it seems to be the official French government video site — my understanding of this is hampered by my stale rudimentary French — called INA.FR.  Visit their site and search for “jazz,” about 600 videos come up.  Some of them are powerfully irrelevant, and much of the “jazz” here is beyond my admittedly narrow interests.  But there are live performances by Ella, Duke, Louis, Lucky Thompson, Bill Coleman, Vic Dickenson, Byas, Bechet, Hawkins, Getz, Gillespie, and long compilations from French jazz festivals — all in evocative black and white.  You’ll be delighted by what this site has to offer: http://www.ina.fr/.

EDDIE HIGGINS (1932-2009)

My good friend Bill Gallagher was lucky enough to know the late pianist Eddie Higgins.  With Eddie’s help, Bill became his discographer as well.  Here is Bill’s beautiful elegy for Eddie:

Eddie Higgins: 2/21/1932 – 8/31/2009

The world of jazz has lost one of its most talented pianists and I have lost a good friend.  Eddie Higgins’ life was brought to an end by complications of lymphatic and lung cancer, an event that seemed to have developed in a matter of a few months.  I had seen Eddie perform in Sacramento in late May, had dinner with him, and he showed no evidence or indication of what was to come in a few brief months.

Eddie was a generous and talented person in so many ways.  He not only played great piano, but he could write well and discuss matters outside of music in ways that were thoughtful and revealing.  Although he could be generous with his time, it took a while to crack the veneer of New England reserve that was part of his persona.  But the effort and the result was worth it.  Underneath was a man who was a gentleman in every sense of the word, a man of taste, a highly developed wit, and one hell of a pianist.

His career was established in Chicago during the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s where his longest running gig was a 12 year stint as the resident trio at the London House.  Eddie could play just about anything and with anybody, but he mainly stuck to Mainstream.  He once described Free Jazz as sounding like “a fire in a pet store.” Over the course of a number of years, he played with Stan Getz, Dizzy Gillespie, Coleman Hawkins, Jack Teagarden, Freddie Hubbard, Lee Morgan, Wayne Shorter, Al Grey and Eddie South. And that’s just the short list. Other well known piano trios that performed at the London House were intimidated by Eddie’s group. Some of the tales that came out of his London House experience were more than entertaining, such as the one involving Buddy Rich. Buddy was drumming like crazy but the customers were leaving because of the volume. The manager asked Eddie to turn down the amplifiers before everyone had left and Eddie did so – but Buddy caught him at it. Accusations were hurled at Eddie, Buddy drummed louder and threatened to get Eddie after the set. Sure enough, he came after Eddie and Eddie hightailed it into the restroom and locked himself in a stall. Buddy found the locked stall and proceeded to do a limbo under the door while Eddie vaulted over the top of the door and out the building. Later, each would avoid bringing up the event when their paths crossed.

Also during his Chicago years, Eddie was invited by Art Blakey to join his Jazz Messengers. Eddie refused because he had two young children at the time and it wasn’t a good time to go on the road. He also had an offer to become Carmen McRae’s accompanist but he turned down the opportunity for the same reasons and the job went to Norman Simmons. When further pressed for his reasons for turning down Blakey, he said that he didn’t want to be the odd man in the group. Eddie would have been the only white musician, the only non-user and Blakey had a habit of paying his connections before he paid his musicians.

Eddie’s versatility was amazing. During the 70’s he was exposed to some of the early recordings coming out of Brazil and was taken by the new rhythms of the Bossa Nova. Many of his albums include a track or two of a South American composition, but he also produced one of the finest albums of Jobim compositions that exists, “Speaking of Jobim.” If you haven’t heard it, you must.

There will be some who read this who will have no idea who Eddie Higgins was or how brilliantly he played. This won’t surprise me because Eddie traveled in certain jazz circuits and was probably better known in Japan and Korea, where his recordings on the Japanese Venus label are among the top jazz sellers. However, Eddie enjoyed deep respect among fellow musicians who admired him as a consummate professional. So, to those who might say, “Eddie, we hardly knew ye,” I understand. But to those who did know him, he was a national treasure and will be missed more than words can express.

Bill and Eddie at Sacramento

Bill and Eddie at Sacramento

About Eddie: he was one of those rare musicians who can make a melody, apparently unadorned, sing.  Any of his Venus recordings (solo, trio, or quartet) demonstrate that he was someone working beneath the surface of the music, giving himself fully to the song.  I also can testify to his gracious nature: having reviewed a Venus CD in Cadence (I believe it was his quartet with Scott Hamilton) I got a letter from Eddie, thanking me for what I had written in the most perceptive way.  I hope that more people come to his music as the years pass.

Jazz photographer John Herr, another Higgins devotee, captured Eddie at the leyboard during the April 2006 Atlanta Jazz Party:

Eddie Herr 406

Eddie’s widow, the singer Meredith D’Ambrosio, sent along this piece on Eddie from the Chicago Tribune — http://www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/music/chi-obit-ed-higgins-02sep02,0,1489219.story — a fitting tribute to a man who brought so much music to that city.  We send our condolences to Meredith and to Eddie’s family.  Thanks to Judith Schlesinger, Bill Gallagher, and John Herr.

ON TREASURE ISLAND

No, my title isn’t a reference to Robert Louis Stevenson, or the 1935 pop song recorded by Louis and Wingy Manone.  It’s how I think of the back quadrant of the antiques-and-collectables shop called CAROUSEL on Warren Street in Hudson, New York.  In a previous post, I happily showed off the Jelly Roll Morton HMV 78 I had uncovered . . . but I hadn’t bothered to look down.  What I found was two boxes of 10″ and 12″ 78s and a few 10″ lps — many of them suggesting that their previous owner had far-ranging and excellent jazz taste.  Here are my latest acquisitions, arranged in rough chronological order for the purists out there . . .

Let’s begin with some classic acoustic blues: two Columbias by a famous pair:

78s from Carousel 001

78s from Carousel 002

78s from Carousel 003

78s from Carousel 004

78s from Carousel 005

This one was fairly dull, but I didn’t expect roaring improvisation.

78s from Carousel 006

Well, we live in hope. SUSAN has some faux-hot playing in its final chorus, where potential buyers might not be scared away, but nothing memorable.

78s from Carousel 007

I recall this tune from Mildred Bailey’s little-girl version, but don’t know the vocalist.

78s from Carousel 008

This 78 is cracked, but this side’s a real prize.  With the song taken at a slower tempo than usual, there’s a good deal of growling from Bubber Miley in the last minute of the record, out in the open and as part of the ensemble.  A find!

78s from Carousel 009

What first caught my eye was the lovely UK label . . . then when I saw this and the next ones were mint Bings from 1933, I couldn’t resist.  And Eddie Lang is added to the Royal Canadians.  Legend has it that the British pressings are quiet and well-behaved.  Is this true?

78s from Carousel 010

Not a memorable song, but I can hear Bing becoming pastoral as I type these words.

78s from Carousel 011

78s from Carousel 012

And my favorite of the four sides — a jaunty naughty song about love-addiction, and perhaps other things, too.  I always knew that “I must have you every day / As regularly as coffee or tea,” didn’t entirely refer to Twining’s Earl Grey.

78s from Carousel 013

Now you’re talking my language!  We jump forward into the Forties (I left aside a number of familiar Commodores and Keynotes, because of the economy) — with a record I’d only heard on an Onyx lp compilation.  Here’s the original 12″ vinyl pressing, with “Theodocius,” as Mildred called him on a 1935 record, who was under contract to Musicraft at the time.  A wonderful quintet!

78s from Carousel 014

And a tune that only one other jazz group (Benny Morton-Red Allen, 1933) ever recorded.

78s from Carousel 015

For whatever reason, 10″ jazz lps are even more scarce than 78s, so this one was a real surprise — even without its cover.

78s from Carousel 016

Just as good!

78s from Carousel 017

The other side of the ideological divide, but equally thrilling.

78s from Carousel 018

Did Mingus overdub his bass lines on this issue, I wonder?

78s from Carousel 019

Take it on faith that side 2 is exactly the same except for the altered digit.  Now, to conclude — a pair of oddities!

78s from Carousel 021

I can see myself listening to this two-sided piece of history once, if that — but the near-mint record and the original sleeve made it an essential purchase.  I’ll also send this photo to my friend, poet Amy King, who isn’t abdicating her throne any time soon.

78s from Carousel 022

Finally, a real gamble and entirely irresistible for that reason.  The logical half of the brain says that what looks like “Hawk” will turn out to be “Hank,” singing about his girl Nona, accompanying himself on the musical saw.  The hopeful side of the brain says “Coleman Hawkins, of course . . . ”  Stay tuned!  My next purchase, obviously, has to be a three-speed turntable.

And two antique-store stories, both cheering.  In Carousel, the gentleman behind the counter saw me come puffing up with my armload of precious 78s.  I could be wrong, but I don’t think the store does a brisk business in 78s, so he was happy to see me.  “I have twelve,” I said, with that hopeful expectant canine look on my face that says, silently, “Can you give me a break on the price, especially if I don’t haggle with you?”  His intuition was splendid.  He grinned at me and said, “Looks like ten to me.”  I was pleasantly flustered and said, conspiratorially, “You knew I was hoping for some sort of discount, didn’t you?” and his smile got bigger.  “No,” he said, “I just count better than you do.”  Very sweet indeed!

And a few days before this, the Beloved and I had spent some time in a store in an odd location — where, I don’t exactly remember.  Its owner was even more amiable, even when we couldn’t find a thing to buy in his place, including gardening books and a small stash of vinyl records.  But we had an exceedingly amusing and thoughtful conversation with him about the changing nature of the area, and how it affected local businesses.  We exchanged friendly good wishes at the end, and went outside to get in the car.  A few beats later, we saw him emerge from the store.  “Did I tell you my clown joke?” he said, and we said no, he hadn’t — hoping for the best but expecting something positively weird or terrifying.  (One never knows, do one?)  “Two cannibals are eating a clown, and one of them looks at the other and says, suspiciously, ‘Does this taste  funny to you?”  It caught me by surprise and, after a moment for cogitation, we were laughing loudly.  Now you can tell it to someone else.

PSST! WANT TO BUY SOME RARE JAZZ RECORDS?

tom-madden

RECORD GURU KEEPS JAZZ’S GOLDEN AGE SPINNING (from the San Francisco Chronicle, 1/14/09)

When Tom Madden was 12, he started going to jazz clubs in San Francisco. The best of them, the Black Hawk, had a food license, which meant that minors could attend as long as they didn’t drink. 

“I saw the two house bands, which were Dave Brubeck and Cal Tjader,” Madden says. “I saw Coltrane, Miles, Cannonball, Bill Evans.” Those were golden years for live jazz. Madden, a San Francisco native, was lucky to catch them. Today, he’s keeping the flame alive as owner of Jazz Quarter, a record store in the Sunset District. Arguably the city’s resident expert on jazz recordings, Madden, 69, sees his customer base getting older and, inevitably, shrinking. “They’re mostly old and gray,” says Madden, a 6-foot-5-inch bearded hipster with a long, dreaded ponytail. Several of his regulars are too old to visit the store. “A couple of them had hip operations and don’t like to go anywhere. And they can get stuff on Amazon now.” An old, overhead heater groans and rattles as Madden speaks. The counter spills over with yellowed jazz magazines and piles of CDs. One wall is papered with newspaper obits on jazz musicians, others with old concert posters. His inventory, arranged in a maze of bins and stacks and boxes, is two-thirds LPs, one-third CDs. Madden opened Jazz Quarter in the late ’80s, after years of working at the Magic Flute and other long-gone record emporia. On 20th Avenue near Irving, the store doesn’t feel like a business so much as a cluttered, unkempt, musty salon for Madden and his clientele. “You walk in there and see this tall, imposing figure,” says August Kleinzahler, a San Francisco poet and Jazz Quarter habitue. “Not at all friendly initially. He doesn’t smile or say, ‘Have a look around.’ He just sort of shambles around. “If you ask him a question, he might give you a direct answer,” Kleinzahler says. “But often as not he’ll give you a sideways answer. He’s certainly not the Chamber of Commerce Man of the Year.” Madden was wearing a Jules Broussard T-shirt, polyester vest and sneakers when Kleinzahler visited the store recently. He put on a CD of Sacha Perry, a New York bebop pianist, and poured a glass of Diet Pepsi from a jumbo-size container. During a one-hour conversation, only one customer entered the store. Madden’s stock is low right now. In September, a Japanese collector flew into town and bought 900 LPs for $3,500. “Some of my regular customers say, ‘The bins are low!’ ” Madden says. “Like I’m just gonna turn up new records, abracadabra.” The store is full of treasures, covering a wide range of jazz idioms. “He stocks what he likes,” Kleinzahler says, “not what he thinks will move.” If Madden doesn’t like a customer or notices that “they buy all kinds of crap,” he’ll refuse to sell them his good stuff. “There are people who shouldn’t even deserve records that good,” he says. “Everyone has this enormous respect for Tom’s knowledge,” says Larry Letofsky, a longtime friend and fellow jazz enthusiast. “He’s also kind of a record detective. He’ll go to Amoeba on his hands and knees and go through all the cheap stuff and find some obscurity that’s just phenomenal.” Enigmatic and sleepy-eyed, Madden doesn’t say much when asked about his past. He joined the Merchant Marines as a teenager, worked part time as a process server, drove a cab “for about an hour.” His dad, an attorney who worked for Pillsbury Madison & Sutro, was a Fats Waller fan who turned him on to jazz. Madden says he’s never married, “but there’s a few women who still talk to me.” Once a month, Madden meets with a group of jazz lovers at Letofsky’s Sunset District home. “It’s called the Second Thursday of the Month Club,” Letofsky says. Twelve or 15 guys show up and each takes a turn playing a selection of five to 10 minutes. “You pay a dollar to get in and then we vote at the end of the evening for the best selection. Whoever wins gets the money. We make it into a big deal; it’s bragging rights more than anything.” Most of the regulars are geezers, Letofsky says. But two guys are in their 30s. “Fortunately one of them’s a physician, so in case anybody collapses …” There’s an intensity, a competition among serious record collectors. One day in the ’70s, Letofsky was combing through an obscure record store and found a rare, mint-condition album by Tina Brooks, a tenor saxophonist who recorded a handful of records in the late ’50s and early ’60s. “I didn’t know who Tina Brooks was,” Letofsky says. “I told Tom about it over the phone and he started screaming at me. He got really upset that I had found it and he hadn’t. Finally, after he had calmed down I said, ‘Well you can have the album. It’s not that important to me.’ ” Madden says he has no plans to close Jazz Quarter, “unless something happens. I’ll be 70 soon.” He pays $1,500 rent – there isn’t a lease – and says the proceeds from the store rarely cover the rent. “I have some money left over from my folks.” Jazz is in bad shape today: Clubs are closing, musicians can’t make a living and young audiences have no interest in the form. It’s heartbreaking, but Madden seems resigned. He’s got his record collection, his fellow enthusiasts. He’s still a fixture at most Bay Area jazz events. He’s hanging on. “Art Blakey said, ‘Jazz washes away the dust of everyday life,’ ” Madden says. “What he didn’t say is that it doesn’t sell a lot.” In the Jazz Quarter, the enormous overhead heater continues its mechanical drone. The phone rings. “That’s someone I don’t hear from much,” Madden says after hanging up. “He wants to know if I’m still open.”

E-mail Edward Guthmann at eguthmann@sfchronicle.com

Thanks to Barb Hauser for sending this story: it reminds some of us of the days gone by when you looked at, inspected, and considered the jazz records you might buy — rather than ordering them online.   This summer, I visited a few stores like this in Portland and Orono, Maine: I’m reassured to know that such dens of improvisatory iniquity exist on both coasts. 

Photograph of Madden (top) by Mike Kepka.