Tag Archives: Cary Ginell

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.

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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!

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THE JAZZ BOOKSHELF: CANNONBALL, MINGUS, and DOCTOR JAZZ

The jazz library expands in rewarding ways: three different kinds of reading matter, each one an unusual experience.

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Cary Ginell’s WALK TALL: THE MUSIC AND LIFE OF CANNONBALL ADDERLEY (Hal Leonard) is a refreshing book.  Reading it, I wondered why Cannonball had had to wait so long for a full-length portrait, but was glad that Ginell had done the job.

Even though Adderley was seriously influential in his brief lifetime — and the influence continues, although usually uncredited — his life was more businesslike than melodramatic.  WALK TALL is not a recounting of Cannonball’s encounters with the law, or self-destructive behavior.  It is a swift-paced, admiring narrative of Julian Adderley’s life and times, from his beginnings in Florida to his “discovery” at the Cafe Bohemia in New York in 1955 to stardom and a his death only twenty years later.

Ginell has had the cooperation of Adderley’s widow Olga, who contributes several personal narratives to the book, as does Capitol Records producer David Axelrod.  But the biography is compact (slightly more than 150 pages of text) with introductions by Dan Morgenstern and Quincy Jones — and its briskness is part of its charm, as the book and its subject roll from one recording session to the next, from Miles to Nancy Wilson to the famous Quintet.

Adderley himself comes through as an admirable character as well as a marvelous improviser and bandleader, and Ginell avoids pathobiography, so the book is not a gloating examination of its subject’s failings.  (Aside from keeping candy bars in his suitcase, Adderley seems to have been a good-natured man, husband, and musician.)

WALK TALL is also properly focused on Adderley, rather than on his biographer’s perceptions of his subject.  Ginell is at work on another book — a biography of Billy Eckstine — and I hope he continues to profile these “known” but underdocumented figures in jazz.  (I knew and admired Ginell’s work because of HOT JAZZ FOR SALE, his delightful book on the Jazz Man Record Shop, the music and personalities around it — read more here.)

MINGUS SPEAKS

MINGUS SPEAKS, taken from 1972-74 interviews conducted by John F. Goodman, is an invaluable book.  But the experience of reading it is entirely different from what one encounters in WALK TALL.

Reading MINGUS SPEAKS is rather like being dropped into hours of uninhibited monologue by Mingus on every subject that appeals to him, including race, the Mafia, Charlie Parker, sex, his own music, contemporary social politics, the avante-garde movement in jazz, Mingus’ colleagues on the bandstand and off, his emotional relations with Sue Mingus, theology, philosophy, his own fictionalized selves, and more.

It is as close as any of us will get to spending hours in the company of an artist we admire — and once again we are reminded of the distance between the artist and his / her creations.  Mingus comes across as a maelstrom of ideas, words, and theories, which is only apt, whether that was his reality or a self he inhabited for Goodman’s benefit.  (The book is, however, much more lucid and less fragmentary than RIFFTIDE, the transcription of Jo Jones’ swirling recollections published a year or so ago.)

Interspersed between the lengthy interview sections are commentaries by Sy Johnson, who orchestrated Mingus’ later music (he also provided some beautiful photographs), Dan Morgenstern, George Wein, Max Gordon, Paul Jeffrey, Teo Macero, editor Regina Ryan (who worked with Mingus on BENEATH THE UNDERDOG), documentary filmmaker Tom Reichman, and others.   The book has its own website, which is illuminating; here is the publisher’s website as well.

Journalist Goodman has done jazz history an immense service; would that there had been people with tape recorders following other heroes around with such energy and devotion.  I find it odd, however, that he is credited as the book’s author, not its editor: he asked the questions and recorded the responses, had Mingus’ words transcribed . . . but this is a book by Mingus, even posthumously.

DOCTOR JAZZI had not heard of the Dutch jazz magazine DOCTOR JAZZ, which I regret — it has been publishing for a half-century — but it is not too late to make up for the omission.  What might put some monolingual readers off is that more than half of the prose in the magazine is in Dutch, but its reach is wide, both in genres and in musical styles.

There most recent issue contains wonderful photographs of modern groups (Les Red Hot Reedwarmers) and heroic figures (a drawing of Ma Rainey and her gold-coin necklace, taken from a Paramount Records advertisement), reviews of CDs on the Lake, Rivermont, and Retrieval labels, as well as DVDs.  DOCTOR JAZZ reaches back to the “Oriental” roots of ragtime at the end of the nineteenth century and forward to pianist Joe Alterman, with side-glances at Dan Block’s latest CD, DUALITY, and the late singer Ann Burton.

Particularly enlightening are the profiles of musicians who don’t always receive the attention they deserve, from trumpeter Avery “Kid” Howard to gospel pioneer Herbert L. “Pee Wee” Pickard, as well as musicians new to me — guitarists Robby Pauwels and Cor Baan and string bassist Henny Frohwein.  There’s also the fourth part of a historical series on jazz in India.  Because my Dutch is poor, I haven’t made my way through the whole issue, guessing at cognates and intuiting meaning through context, but DOCTOR JAZZ appears to be well worth investigating: thorough, well-researched, and informative.  And it’s from the people who brought us the very satisfying DINNERTIME FOR HUNGRY COLLECTORS, so I can vouch for their good instincts.  More information here.

May your happiness increase!

HOT JAZZ FOR SALE: HOLLYWOOD’S “JAZZ MAN” RECORD SHOP

That’s the title of an irresistible new book by Cary Ginell.

If I’m going to spend time with a new jazz book, I want it to be original, not a recycling of other writers.  An ideal book is full of first-hand narrative, it’s well-documented, without a limiting ideology, enjoyably written, full of surprises.

Ginell’s book was particularly interesting to me because I knew something about West Coast jazz (the pre-Chet Baker variety) but not much about this fabled record shop.  From the years I spent in New York record stores, I know that each one was its own anthropological microcosm, an eccentric cosmos in itself.  So I was prepared to learn a great deal about this manifestation of jazz culture when I opened this book.

But I didn’t expect to enjoy myself quite so much.

On the surface, Ginell’s book is the story of a record shop — as it passes from one set of owners to another, a dozen moves, from 1939 to 1984.  But that record shop also had its own label, a spiritedly unusual clientele, and it was a thriving part of the West Coast jazz scene.

The book floats along from one first-hand story to another, and some famous names pass through its pages (not simply as casual mentions): Orson Welles, Jelly Roll Morton, Kid Ory, Bunk Johnson, Nesuhi and Ahmet Ertegun, Dave Stuart, Don Brown, Lu Watters, Reb Spikes, Bill Russell, Marili Morden (the seductive although restrained amorous cynosure of the traditional scene), Duke Ellington, Turk Murphy, George Avakian, the Firehouse Five Plus Two, Joe Venuti, the Rolling Stones, Bukka White.

But some of the most satisfying moments are frankly impossible to imagine: the story of Stravinsky coming to the Jazz Man Record Shop, listening happily to King Oliver (and not buying anything).  The tale of Harry “the Hipster” Gibson and his son — the only anecdote in the world bringing “the Hipster” and “Hare Krishna” into the same paragraph.  And then there’s the terrible story of Don Brown, a Johnny Dodds’ Black Bottom Stompers record, and a hammer . . . avert your eyes.

Ginell is a clear, enthusiastic writer; his narrative moves eagerly along.  It’s clear he isn’t a chronicler-for-hire (we all know those people, who assemble the facts without having their heart in the subject); he is someone deeply involved in the shop, the music, and the scene from 1971 on.  But the book isn’t about him, nor is he trying to prove a particular point.

The book concludes with a useful bibliography, discography of the JAZZ MAN label, and an index.  It’s beautifully illustrated with clear reproductions of many rare photographs, advertising flyers, letters, and fascinating paper ephemera.

Better yet — in addition to the book, Ginell has put together a fine CD anthology — including Morton, Bunk, Watters, Johnny Lucas, Pud Brown, Ory, Pete Daily, Darnell Howard, Bukka White (a previously unissued recording), George Lewis, Joe Venuti, Jack Teagarden, Jess Stacy, and others.

I found the book / CD combination a delightful experience and predict that you will, too.  To purchase the book, you can visit http://www.lulu.com; for the CD by itself, visit http://www.originjazz.com (which has a link to Lulu), or contact the author directly at originjazz@aol.com.

And thanks to Bob Porter for pointing me to this book.