Tag Archives: conversation

WFMT, CHICAGO, ILLINOIS: JUNE 24, 1962, 2 AM

Thanks to Albert Haim, we can now hear a precious conversation: Studs Terkel talking to Louis Armstrong after his nightclub appearance has ended — some thirty-three minutes of conversation originally broadcast on WFMT, a tape held by the Chicago History Museum.

The interview was new to me, and I hear Louis returning to familiar subjects but also fielding questions in his own way (and asking for his lip salve).

For those who appreciate absurdist commentary, a line-by-line phonetic “transcription” of what is being said appears on the Pop Up Archive page . . . it is hilariously incorrect, and I hope it is computer-generated rather than the result of someone’s actual listening.

We can listen to Louis and Studs, old friends, talking in the early morning here.

May your happiness increase! 

JOEL PRESS, MICHAEL KANAN, TAL RONEN, STEVE LITTLE at FAT CAT (July 5, 2011)

FAT CAT (located at 75 Christopher Street in New York City, just off Seventh Avenue South) is, at first glance, an odd place to hear rewarding jazz.

You climb down a steep staircase, meet up with someone who asks for proof of age and three dollars, stamps your hand with a blue-ink drawing of a grinning feline, and you turn a corner . . . into what resembles a Fifties rec room at a huge scale.  Past a bar (with an intriguing selection of beers on tap — I had Old Speckled Hen, a UK favorite — and wines) into a large basement filled with chess tables, billiard tables, ping pong tables, foosball tables, shuffleboard, and more.  In fact, one of Fat Cat’s two sites asserts proudly that it is “NYC’s best-equipped gaming center” and  “best pool hall.”

It’s far from dreary and ominous — perhaps a youthful Minnesota Fats and Eddie Felson might be doing battle here — on my most recent trip to Fat Cat, two young couples were playing pool with more enthusiasm than skill.  There is a good deal of late-adolescent shouting when someone makes a great shot or a disastrous move, but it’s all cheerful.  (One night, behind me was a chili-cookoff, or so it seemed, with aluminum tins of chili for a birthday party, a cake, and a long version of HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU.)  And I understand that it is jammed at 1:30 AM.

Here’s the “gaming site” for the skeptical:

http://www.fatcatmusic.org/gaming.html

What the youngbloods at their Scrabble boards might not know is that Fat Cat is a secret jazz hangout as well.  How do the names Frank Wess, Ned Goold, Terry Waldo, Grant Stewart, Ehud Asherie, Corin Stiggall, Alex Hoffman — and more —  sound to you?

The other Fat Cat website has all the musical information you need:

http://www.fatcatmusic.org/

On Tuesday, July 5, a quartet gathered (there are soft couches — the sort of furniture it is difficult to leap up from) in a smaller quadrant not far from the bar.  The corner was dark in portions, gleefully lit in primary colors near the back.  A large sign announcing FEATRING _______________ and HIS ORCHESTRA (approximately, with the leader’s name never filled in) hangs over the proceedings.

But even given the shouts of joy or disdain from the players (not at all critical comments on the music), the quartet accomplished great things and brought wonderful lilting sounds to Fat Cat.

The players?

On tenor and soprano saxophone, the whimsical monument, the Swing Explorer, Joel Press . . . . making his own way, often sideways, in the great singing saxophone tradition bounded on one end by Eddie Miller and on the other by Steve Lacy.  Although Joel says it’s impossible for him, given his origins, I hear a deep Southwestern moan and lope in his playing.  He bounces when he plays, and you would hear the bounce with your eyes closed.  His sound is tender yet burry: I thought of a favorite rough blanket, cozy but assertive, as he glides from one idea to the next.  Lester Young peeks in approvingly over Joel’s shoulder, although Joel is much more than a purveyor of Prez-isms.

Pianist Michael Kanan never does the expected, yet when his notes and pauses have settled in, they seem exactly right — with the epigrammatic power and amusement of a Nat Cole, a Jimmy Rowles — although he, too, covers the entire spectrum from Willie the Lion Smith to Ray Bryant and Red Garland.  Michael makes wonderful sound-clusters come out of the piano: rippling trills and tremolos, single-note stabs, chords that seem lopsided but fit just right.  He and Joel float on a wave of loving respect, and several songs feature a sweetly chatty interlude, where ideas are tossed back and forth in polite yet eager conversation.

I hadn’t met Tal Ronen before, although I’d admired his work on a variety of CDs.  And I was delighted by the big warm sound he got — even when tuning his bass.  His pulse was absolutely right, although never obtrusive, and his solo lines were worthy of being transcribed.  Although some players bridle at being compared with the Great Dead, Tal made me think — many times during the evening — of both George Duvivier and Paul Chambers.

Steve Little and Joel go back a long way — and this session was a reunion of sorts after a thirty-year hiatus.  Steve’s gently prodding drums make a band sound better, and his movement around his set (from brushes on the snare to a variety of cymbal strokes) leave us enlivened rather than somnolent.  Hear how deeply he pays attention to what’s going on within the band — but never letting his commentaries obscure the other players.

Some highlights:

Charlie Parker’s DEWEY SQUARE, a New York landmark as well as a musical statement:

YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY — in the best Kansas City tradition — turned the corner into MOTEN SWING before it finshed.  Here’s the first Kanan – Press chat, too:

Joel named his variation on the chords of OUT OF NOWHERE “LAST EXIT” in honor of Warne Marsh, who died onstage while playing his own improvisation on the same changes:

LOVER MAN, for Billie Holiday and Ram Ramirez:

LIKE SOMEONE IN LOVE, taken at an easy romantic trot, was a real pleasure:

INDIANA was the occasion for another Press – Kanan conversation:

Joel turned to his soprano sax for Thelonious Monk’s improvisation on LADY BE GOOD chord changes, which Monk called HACKENSACK:

And Joel closed the two sets with an easy Bb blues — the line, written by Sonny Rollins (but reaching back many generations before him) was called RELAXIN’, and it was an apt title:

Beauty and fervor and whimsy in the darkness.

A LITTLE SOFTER, PLEASE?

Although I am not traditionally religious, I think jazz and creative improvisation are holy.

One of the great puzzlements for a devout jazz listener like myself is that some people in bars and clubs where musicians are playing talk through performances. 

Given the greater formality (and higher ticket prices) of a concert hall, this is less likely to happen.  Of course, there are the coughers and unwrappers of candy.  I once met an erudite devotee of classical music who told me that coughing in a concert hall was the response of those who could not endure that the artist was on the stage and that they were not.  To him, it was the revenge of the untalented, a belligerent assertion of their egos.

But in a club, where drinks, food, conversations are the rule, the talk flows freely.  This bothers me because I come to hear the music.  

I didn’t come to a club to hear someone hold forth about his diverticulitis.  In another context, I can sympathize, but I’d rather hear the band.  Although I celebrate romance, I don’t want to hear loud flirtations. 

But I know that the world is not my private salon, so I confine myself to eye-rolling and occasional grimaces.  Neither response is subtle or adult, I admit, but they are preferable to direct confrontation.  On rare occasions, when I am videotaping and am entrapped by loud talkers, I have said, as sweetly as possible, “I hate to bother you, but I am doing this for YouTube, and your conversation is going online.”  That usually works.

Some may perceive my behavior as that of a spoilsport, and I apologize if I have ever really ruined someone’s fun.  But I think that some of the rudeness I encounter is cultural ignorance.  If you and your Beloved make a pilgrimage to The Ear Inn or Carnegie Hall at a specific time to hear a particular group of players, that establishes a purpose.  You might not be silent, but you understand what paying attention means. 

But I think that many people are looking for a place to have a beer, a burger, and a chat.  They choose a likely-looking bar.  And — surprise! — there’s live music.  Five or six people are playing jazz.  I imagine the interior monologue, “Live music?  What’s that?  Do I have to stop talking simply because there are people with instruments over there?  Hey, fellows, pipe down so that I can hear what Charles has to say!”

But live musicians are not human versions of Muzak or an iPod, and they deserve respect and love for what they are attempting for our pleasure and theirs.   

I won’t fulminate about the silent yet tangible disrespect afforded artists by those people — not always young — who hunch over their iPhones and text throughout the evening while the players are performing.  I want to ask such people, “Why did you leave your apartment if that was all you wanted to do?”  I know that the club or bar provides — in its lights and population and rustling — a semblance of community hard to find otherwise, which I think is sad — a subject for another meditation.

Then there are the people who talk loudly through the whole performance only to whoop loudly at the end.  How much can they have heard, even given their splendid multitasking?

What I’ve written isn’t purely Luddite.  Sixty years ago, when John Hammond, who loathed Hazel Scott, conspicuously read his newspaper while she was playing, it was an equally distasteful, even aggressive act of contempt.

In conversations now and in the past that I’ve had with musicians, I thought, perhaps stubbornly, that they would agree.  Perhaps they would be even more irate.  Improvisers, creating beauty, working hard, deserve respect, and respect was shown in listening: being present, paying attention. 

But I have been surprised.  I submit for your consideration the voices of three respected musicians with whom I’ve spoken in the past weeks about the subject.  My question — or statement — usually runs, “Gee, that woman who insisted on singing along with the band / the couple who were drunk and loud / the guy arguing with his date . . . doesn’t it drive you crazy?”

Musician 1:  “Yes, he / she / they were loud, but that’s OK.  I don’t want to play in total silence.  If I screw up or make a mistake because I’m taking a chance, then it’s not like everyone hears it.  A little noise is OK: it’s relaxing.”

Musician 2:  “I heard the woman singing BLUE SKIES along with me, but that’s fine.  I like people to be talking and having a good time.  It doesn’t bother me.”

Musician 3: “I never let that bug me too much.  They were out to party and didn’t know what we were planning so what the heck.  The other thing I’ve learned — it’s a good thing the clubs don’t count on the spending of the dedicated “listeners” to pay for the band.”

The first comment is self-protective.  The jazz club isn’t a recording studio — silent, nearly sterile, where every inhalation can be heard, every imperfect note saved for posterity.  If the audience is chatting, then Musician 1 is free, relaxed: if no one is listening hyper-closely, it’s easier to experiment, to take chances.

The second comment might sound rueful, reisgned — the jazz player’s version of the Serenity Prayer: adapt to the circumstances you can’t change — but it was said to me with the sweetest of smiles, no irony, no edge.  Music, for this player, creates a loving atmosphere, so it would be futile or unkind to force people into silence.  

The third comment echoes the first two but highlights a truth that many clubowners and bartenders know.  Some jazz-lovers (although there are certainly exceptions) are so intent on the music that they forget or don’t care to spend money on food and drinks.  To Musician 3, reverent silence means less in the cash register and the band isn’t invited back. 

Two small codas need to be stated here in the name of accuracy and candor.  One is that musicians chat among themselves while on the stand during someone else’s solo.  Jokes, everyday chatter about the car repair, about getting one’s horn fixed, about the lousy meal just consumed, are part of the gig, perhaps to break up the long spaces when someone else is playing.  When I went to the last “Eddie Condon’s,” it took me a long time to get used to the undercurrents of dialogue on the stand.  I was hardly about to attempt to shush Ruby Braff. 

And if you listen to the recordings of radio broadcasts: “Dr. Jazz” at Eddie Condon’s; the Ellington band at the Cotton Club; Fats Waller at the Yacht Club, Bird and Diz at the Royal Roost — the audience is not shouting, but they are audible, they’re shifting in their seats, quietly chatting. 

Was there ever a properly hushed environment in which the holy art of jazz could flourish?  Or is my desire for near-silence — the better to hear the glories of the music — unrealistic?  I wonder.  I dream of a club or bar filled with people who love the music as much as I do and are as a result quiet . . . but until that happens I think I’ll have to learn the lesson of patience and save my glaring for the truly egregious cases of high-decibel rudeness.