Tag Archives: gratitude

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO LARRY McKENNA! (Part Two): LARRY McKENNA, SAM TAYLOR, STEVE ASH, NEAL MINER, FUKUSHI TAINAKA at SMALLS (June 23, 2019)

Larry McKenna got to the gig early, as did I and many others who knew what gorgeous music we were about to hear, created right in front of us.  He and Sam Taylor, both on tenor saxophone; Steve Ash, piano; Neal Miner, string bass; Fukushi Tainaka, drums, made castles of sound for us — two sets’ worth.  And for those who live by clocks and calendars, Larry turned 82 on July 21, 2019.  He’s not “spry”: he is in full flower right now.  Consider the blossoming evidence of the first set at Smalls here.

Before the gig. Photograph by Melissa Gilstrap.

(Incidentally, Larry and Danny Tobias have a little concert date on Sunday, September 21, at the 1867 Sanctuary in Ewing, New Jersey — details here.)

Now, for the second set at Smalls — beautiful playing by everyone!

SOMETHING’S GOTTA GIVE (as they used to say, “from the movie of the same name):

The lovely THERE’S NO YOU (hear a delighted woman in the audience say, “Oh, yeah!” once the melody registers):

The durable swing standard ROSETTA, which gives Sam a very touching opportunity to tell about his early and sustained connection with Larry:

MORE THAN YOU KNOW, a feature for Sam:

And to close, another song associated with Earl Hines [and Louis Armstrong and Lester Young!] its title a sweet reminder of the bonds we forge, YOU CAN DEPEND ON ME:

The sounds of this evening were completely gratifying, but what got to me — and you can see it in the videos — were the smiles on the musicians’ faces (echoed on the faces of people near me), expressions of  gratitude, joy, and pride — what an honor it was to be there and, to hear the artistry, to feel the delight.  How rare, how wonderful.

May your happiness increase!

TWO THANK-YOU NOTES (1947)

Heartfelt people knew to write thank-you notes.  Here’s a singular one, showing just how much love a man of feeling could fit on a penny postcard (mailed from St. Louis, May 12, 1947):

I’ve tried to trace the doctor but with no success.  However, 440o South Drexel Boulevard still can be seen on Google Earth — a pleasant small apartment building or multi-family house.

I wonder what Louis and Dr. Teplitz and family had for dinner.  May 12 was a Monday; had the Teplitzes invited Louis for a Shabbos feast?  Not improbable, and Louis would have loved it.

This was the wondrous early heyday of Louis’ All-Stars.  The other side of the postcard is a studio portrait of Jack Teagarden, which leads to this delightful illustration of gratitude.  To me, PENNIES FROM HEAVEN is a thank-you note to the cosmos, especially in this performance:

Don’t you, even for a moment, wish that Louis had come to your house for dinner?  I know I do.

May your happiness increase!

“I’LL ALWAYS KEEP THAT.”

If you are chatting with me for more than a few minutes, it is a sure thing that the name of Louis Armstrong will emerge from my lips.  Musician, man, inspiration. And I knew very well that the superb musician (he’s too large for simply “trumpeter”) Humphrey Lyttelton felt the same way.  Humph, bless him, was able to embody his love of Louis by playing in ways that honored Louis while keeping his individual self.

Doing research for a piece about Humph in the NEW YORK CITY JAZZ RECORD, I was delighted to come across the official Humphrey Lyttelton website, maintained by his son Stephen — so full of information, pictures, memorabilia, and drawings, good prose, and deep feeling, that it will take several days for me to feel that I had explored it all.

Two photographs and one story I found superbly touching — tribute to Louis’ character and to Humph’s as well.  Here is the page.

One photograph shows an ecstatic happy Louis in front of drummer Barrett Deems and near a British trombonist (who is also laughing) while a pair of arms are tenderly placing a crown on Louis’ head — the crown is labeled KING LOUIS. The handwritten caption (in very recognizable script, because Humph was also artist and calligrapher) reads “‘Crowning’ of Louis Armstrong, Empress Hall, 1956.”  This photograph was taken onstage, and Louis is in white shirt, jacket, and bow tie.  In the second shot, presumably posed for a press photographer, Louis has changed to a neat checked shirt, no tie; he sits happily while Humph, in white formal garb, carefully places the crown once again so that the inscription can be seen.  The crown itself is beyond description.

And the brief story, told by Humph:

Another indicator of the strength of Louis Armstrong’s character was his unshakable loyalty towards those he regarded as his friends. I have personal and proud experience of the warmth with which he responds to any action which he regards as a favour to him. At the end of his 1956 season at the Empress Hall in London, when my band was privileged to share the bill, I spent a couple of days making a crown out of cardboard, Woolworth jewellery and ping-pong balls, and inscribed ‘King Louis’. At the end of the show, when I was called up on stage to take a bow in the finale, I made the announcement: ‘On behalf of all British musicians, I crown Louis Armstrong the undisputed King of Jazz,’ and plonked the crown on his head. A day or two later, I saw him backstage at Manchester. I asked him casually if he still had his crown. ‘Of course I have – I had it shipped back home today. I’ll always keep that – you gave it to me.’

Why do I find that so touching?  Even if it were not an anecdote about people I deeply admire — revere, in truth — the emotions and their expression are clear and intensely valuable.

We live in an age of milkless milk and silkless silk, and for me the metaphor has nothing to do with soy beverages and rayon, but everything to do with the many layers of hurry and self-absorption many people wrap themselves and their essential selves in.

The true self feels love and responds with gratitude, which is a deep expression of love.

Although Humph’s gesture had a small element of do-it-yourself comedy in it (I especially like the gilded ping-pong balls) the deep love that animates the creation of such a crown is true and not purchasable at any store.  The love is measurable in the impulse to make such a crown for Louis, and the act of making the impulse real, and the time taken to make the object a fitting tribute.

And Louis’ understanding of the love in the gesture is simple in words, but deep in feeling.  It is the antithesis of contemporary entitlement (“Of course, I am the King! So your gesture is only what I deserve. It’s about time.”) and of checking-the-price-tag-scorn (“Oh, that cardboard crown? I tossed it away.  It would be very hard to pack, and it’s only cardboard.”)

Recognize love.  Send it back in acts and gratitude.

Stories like this are the reason I wrote WHAT WOULD LOUIS DO? — but we don’t have to play trumpet to be loving, grateful, or loyal.  It requires only that we slow down, breathe deeply, be open to feeling, and respond in fitting ways.

P.S.  This post is about the power of generosity and gratitude, and I could have no better example than an email I received from my friend, the superb jazz writer Peter Vacher, less than thirty minutes after my post had appeared:

The trombonist in the Louis picture, taken at Empress Hall, London, a boxing arena now demolished, on the occasion of Louis’s first return to the UK since 1932, is bandleader Vic Lewis. Vic, a sometime trombonist and guitarist, was leading a modern big band which alternated with Humph’s band as the introductory act on the Louis programme. Also on the bill were singer Ella Logan, Annie Ross’s auntie, and African-American dancer Peg-Leg Bates. They all set up and did their stuff in the Hall’s boxing ring, which rotated meaning that at one moment one saw Deems’s backside and at the other Louis full-on frontally. A strange experience but a memorable one as I should know as I was there on one of the nights, in Army uniform, having hitched down from Yorkshire where I was doing my basic training. Sat at ringside, I even managed a brief congratulatory word with the great man who responded as I remember with the immortal phrase, ‘Yeah, Daddy, yeah.’
And this just in — from Harvey Bard, friend of Bob and Pug Wilber:

Yes it is Vic Lewis – see the attached article with photo. He did play trombone and together with Humph, Freddy Randall and Cy Laurie he was one of the band leaders in the reception party for Louis when he landed at London airport on 3rd May 1956, so it’s seems likely he was also present at the Empress Hall. The regular trombonist with the All Stars at that time was Trummy Young and he did play the Empress Hall concert (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YcgoJkU6t7M) but maybe as Vic Lewis was around they let him sit in!

Incidentally I was on duty at The State Kilburn when Louis and the All Stars appeared there on their 1956 tour. I get as far as the corridor leading to Louis’ dressing room and glimpsed him sitting there over the shoulders of the crowd. I had hoped to get his autograph but no luck – there were too many people in the way.

May your happiness increase!

THANK YOU, DAVE GELLY!

JAZZ JOURNAL Feb

My dear friend Patti Durham* sent me a copy of two pages from the February issue of JAZZ JOURNAL  — Dave Gelly’s monthly column, “On The Other Hand,” which would have been fine reading matter any time.  I didn’t expect this bouquet, which I reprint with deep gratitude:

Swing You Cats!

Looking out for the reviews, after publishing a book or having a record released, was always a moderately nail-biting business, but at least one knew more or less where to look.  Nowadays, with websites, blogs and so forth, comment comes whizzing in from all directions and without watchful friends to tip you the wink you might miss it altogether.  One such friend of mine is Peter Vacher, who fielded a substantial review of my recent book, An Unholy Row, from a more than substantial website called Jazz Lives (“lives” being used as both noun and verb).

It is the work of Michael Steinman, who is Professor of English at Nassau Community College, Garden City, NY, although how he contrives to make time for that I can’t imagine.  Not only does his website carry reviews and opinion pieces, it comes up with an endless stream of live video recordings from clubs, parties, festivals etc. uploaded every day or so.  There are now around four thousand in his archive.  I have only been able to view a small sample of them, but they’re technically OK and most of them are musically excellent.  They also reflect the tastes of the author/editor/producer himself, which are well summed up in his list of heroes — among them Bobby Hackett, Vic Dickenson, Eddie Condon, Pee Wee Russell, Lester Young…  You get the picture.  Furthermore, they reveal a whole world of small-scale, local activity in the swing-mainstream style whose existence you would never suspect from reading the usual magazines.

There is an atmosphere about Jazz Lives, a literate, clubbable air of genuine dedication.  Each posting signs off with the motto: “May your happiness increase.” Mine certainly did when I read Michael Steinman’s glowing review of my book, which proves he’s the right man for the job! Not only that, he also sent for a copy of my previous one, Being Prez, thereby setting a good example for one and all.

Give the site a try: jazzlives.wordpress.com or email Michael at swingyoucats@gmail.com for more information.

 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

To say I am delighted would be inadequate: not only because of the praise, not only for possibly bringing this site to more people who would enjoy it, but because honest gratitude, publicly expressed, is not always easy to find. Blessings on Dave, and Patti, too.

Three postscripts: *Patti doesn’t play an instrument but she certainly does heroic work for those who do and those who appreciate: she is the kind motivator behind the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party after Mike’s death (it’s now the Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party). I’ll be there in November, grinning.

And — being a speaker of American English even though I’ve read British and Irish authors all my life — I thought it would be best to look up “clubbable,” even though I thought I sensed its meaning.  JAZZ LIVES can’t frequent coffeehouses, even though I am drinking that beverage as I write (the first citation seems to have been Boswell’s 1783 description of Dr. Johnson), but I translate “suitable for membership of a club because of one’s sociability or popularity” into “welcoming” and hope that the idea transfers undamaged across the Atlantic.

If you are swept away by Dave’s praise and would like to meet the phenomenon who does my laundry, types at my computer, and holds the camera — you’d have to be close to New York City on February 24 — here are the details.

And with even more heartfelt enthusiasm, I write:

May your happiness increase!

BRILLIANCE TIMES THREE (Part Three): TAL RONEN, MARK SHANE, DAN BLOCK at CASA MEZCAL (Oct. 26, 2014)

The bright and comfortable Casa Mezcal (86 Orchard Street, New York City) has become one of my favorite haunts for Sunday-afternoon jazz, with good food, friendly staff . . . and tremendously restorative music.  Often, our heroine Tamar Korn is in charge of the spiritual festivities, but when she can’t make it, her friends fill in superbly.

On October 26, 2014, string bassist Tal Ronen brought together two other heroes, pianist Mark Shane and reed virtuoso Dan Block.  Here are the first four videos from that magical afternoon, and this is the second offering — magical music that never calls attention to itself through melodrama or histrionics. It’s art we can be thankful for, and it’s better for you than a trip to the mall.

PERDIDO:

SERENADE IN BLUE:

TEA FOR TWO:

ILL WIND:

LADY BE GOOD (ALMOST) — with apologies for the abrupt ending, my fault entirely (and thanks to Coleman Hawkins):

It is easy to take beauty for granted, to multi-task our way through the marvelous, but consider this: if this music turned up as a set of unidentified acetates from Jerry Newman’s uptown recordings, would we not marvel at the discovery?

May your happiness increase! 

DUNCAN P. SCHIEDT (1921-2014): LIVING AND DYING GRACEFULLY

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I first met the jazz scholar / writer / photographer / researcher / pianist / all-around dear man Duncan P. Schiedt at Jazz at Chautauqua, almost ten years ago. Like many people who love this music, I already knew his name and work from dozens of photo credits and his writing.

Here is a biographical sketch for those who would like facts before proceeding.

The most significant fact and the reason for this blogpost is that Duncan died on Wednesday, March 12, 2014, at his home in Pittsboro, Indiana. He was 92.

At Chautauqua, I knew Duncan as a sweet-natured man, ready to talk about his heroes and the photographs he’d taken or collected of them. He laughed easily and was generous with his praise.

In addition, Duncan was very happy to sit down at the piano in the parlor and work his way through standards and obscure songs in a gently swinging manner which I told him reminded me of the lesser-known wonders Tut Soper and Jack Gardner.  My praise embarrassed him, but it was well-deserved.

I knew Duncan was aging, but he was cheerfully mobile and unhampered by his years. He always seemed to be having a good time (smiling and talking quietly with his companion Liz Kirk) whatever he was doing.

Last year — September 2013 — when Duncan began one of his informal recitals, I had my video camera with me.  The Beloved gently elbowed me and said, “Why aren’t you recording this?” I am grateful to her and to her elbow.  Here is the result.

The man and the music, the easy conversational style, and the plain-spoken elegance, are all the same.

Please delight in these performances before moving on: they are casual and eloquent, soft-spoken and melodic.

I took Duncan for granted and expected that I would see him again at the 2014 Allegheny Jazz Party. But I found out that this would not happen. On March 3, as the result of an email conversation with my friend Tom Hustad (the Ruby Braff scholar), Tom sent along this letter that Duncan was asked to posted on the website of the Indianapolis Jazz Club:

Ordinarily, I enjoy writing letters (so close to being a lost art), but today I am writing you with regrets, for this one bears bad news. Just within the past two weeks I have been told that I have terminal cancer in my abdomen, and survival through this year is not to be expected.

This whole thing came upon me all too suddenly. I spent 4-5 days in the hospital, as they sought the original site location, draining amounts of fluid accumulation caused by the tumor and thereby helping relieve shortness of breath and my abdominal discomfort. It became obvious to the doctors that is would not be practical to either radiate, or give chemo, considering my advanced age and the estimated time left to me. The idea is to make the best of what I have. At least I have some time to get my affairs in some sort of order.

I am quite accepting as it stands, and grateful for a long and healthy life, great parents, a loving sister who is six years my junior, my late wife Betty, who passed away in 1987, and two very special “kids,” Leslie and Cameron, of whose loyalty and genuine love I cannot say enough. Two splendid grandsons, Kalen and David Schiedt, complete the family circle I am now going to leave. A great companion for the last fifteen years or so has been Elizabeth (Liz) Kirk, whose breadth of cultural interests has served to enrich my life in my old age much as Betty complemented me in our thirty-seven years together. What luck this has all been for one man – who could have ever asked for more.

Some of you know of my other passions, photography, documentary films in fund-raising pursuits (about 100 of them over forty years) and my pet hobby, jazz photography and exhibitions. As for piano, it was a great release and comfort especially when playing in a small combo with friends. Golly, I never got around to reading music, did I?

That’s about it for now. Maybe we’ll have a chance to meet again before the man in the cloak and scythe comes a-calling. Meanwhile, my phone and e-mail is at your disposal. Next time you decide to hoist the glass, have one for me. Somehow, I have a feeling that we are going to have a reunion down the road, accompanied by a musician we both have loved.

Is it a date?

Duncan concluded this letter-to-his-friends with his two phone numbers and his email.

That morning, I read the letter to myself several times, on the verge of tears, and went to tell the Beloved the news.  I tried to read her the last sentences but didn’t have a voice to do so.

When I was sure I could speak, I picked up the phone and called the number — Duncan’s daughter picked up and after a few words, passed me over to Duncan.  I was concentrating on avoiding the usual pieties, but he was happy to speak and more at his ease than any person in his situation could have been.  

And he didn’t want to talk about himself.

No, he wanted to talk about a scrapbook of photographs and jazz memorabilia he knew I was interested in, and he was seriously concerned about what should be done with it — generously thinking of me and my desires first! — and the logistics of getting it to me and then my passing it on to the Smithsonian, where his collection will find another home.  

His easy graciousness was amazing on this telephone call, and he apologized for having the scrapbook at all.  “I was too old to take it,” he said.  In the course of the conversation, I found out that he had never seen the videos I’d taken the year before, “I saw you with your video camera,” he said. I was shocked that he had never seen what I had recorded and written, and promised to send him the link.  A day later I received this email:

Michael: A thousand kudos for the three cuts from Chautauqua. I have saved them for family and friends, and more as I think of them. Most of all I treasure the music of your prose accompanying the video.

Now I want to help you about the scrapbook [conscientious details followed]. 

Gratefully,

How loving it was for Duncan to turn the spotlight away from himself. How gracious.    

Another email — about related matters — he signed “Yours in friendship,” and his last email to me — a light-hearted one about postal matters — he sent on March 11, a day before he died.  

I look back on these events and his beautiful way of dealing with them with admiration and amazement.  How could he have taken so much painstaking loving care with what must have been a peripheral matter — at this time in his life, when other people might have understandably concerned themselves with themselves?

I don’t know how he found the grace to act this way in his final days, but I marvel at it.

Duncan P. Schiedt lived his life the way he wrote and the way he played the piano: with a delicate touch, a reverence for what was important — the deep melody of taking care of other people.  His modesty and sweet humility are remarkable. I am both lamenting his death and thinking, “How proud I am to know this man.”

I know some of you might think, “When you are that close to death, all the trappings drop away, and your true essential self emerges.” I can’t argue with that. But dying didn’t ennoble Duncan, nor did it imbue him with some new depths of feeling and spirit. He was that way in life.

Knowing how to live graciously and kindly and unselfishly — with love! — is the most valuable gift we can possess, and one we can share with others. Duncan had that gift well before I met him in 2004, and he showed it — without showing off — every time I encountered him, in person or in print.

But perhaps the gift, the skills, the delicate strengths of character necessary to live so beautifully are small compared to the rare art and wisdom of knowing how to leave the party with grace, with gratitude, with lightness.

If you think I am exaggerating or being sentimental, I urge you to reread Duncan’s original letter.  And then listen to his piano playing.

I know that Duncan has left this tangible world, and I will catch myself looking around for him at the Allegheny Jazz Party, but I will always feel that he is here with us.  And I will attempt to live up to his easy, loving model of how to behave. His light will continue to illuminate and warm.

I ended my telephone conversation with him with the only words I could say without bursting into tears, “Thanks for everything, Duncan.”

Yes.

BLISSFULLY ROCKING THE ROOM at THE 2014 JAZZ BASH BY THE BAY in MONTEREY: RAY SKJELBRED and CARL SONNY LEYLAND (March 9, 2014)

They promised they would do anything for us, and they did.

I had an extraordinarily fine time at the 2014 Jazz Bash by the Bay — the congenial jazz weekend held in Monterey, California that just concluded. Friendship and fine music blossomed in a very comfortably sweet environment.

Today I feel overwhelmed, but in the same way one feels after finishing a wonderful meal: all senses both stimulated and gratified. The good sounds and happiness from this year’s Bash will linger.

Thanks to the kind, generous people I encountered; not all of them singers or players: I celebrate Sue and Betsy and Al and Rebecca and Michele and many gracious folks.

If you were there at the Bash, no matter what bands you were listening to, you know that my enthusiastic words are more than an ad for a product, an inducement to join, to buy. If you weren’t in attendance, you might need some evidence — an initial taste of pleasure and authenticity.

Here is the final performance I caught at the Bash — Sunday afternoon, March 9 — the concluding song of an hour-long set. 

Music for Twin Pianos as Imagined, Created, and Performed by Ray Skjelbred and Carl Sonny Leyland.

Nothing less than remarkable!

The song?  Quite fitting.  Alex Hill’s declaration of love, of fidelity, of devotion — even with the MOST in the title —

I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU:

I will have much more to say and share about the 2014 Bash in the days to come. For the moment, I invite you to regard this video and share my feelings — delight and awe and delight again.

May your happiness increase!

HOT THANKSGIVING: SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (November 27 – December 1, 2013)

“Thanksgiving” is a manufactured holiday.  In this century, you can have roast turkey whenever you like, and any dish with marshmallows should be eyed skeptically.

But being thankful among friends and fine jazz intensifies the pleasure.  It’s gratitude in swing.  One particularly nifty place to have this experience is at the San Diego Jazz Fest (once known as the San Diego Thanksgiving Dixieland Festival — accurate but unwieldy) which is taking place this year between November 27 and December 1.

Many of my heroes and friends will be there!

Clint Baker, working hard at play, in the moment.

Clint Baker, working hard at play, in the moment.

How about Ray Skjelbred, Katie Cavera, John Gill, Marty Eggers, the Reynolds Brothers, Grand Dominion, Stephanie Trick, Paolo Alderighi, Kevin Dorn, Jeff Hamilton, Leon Oakley, Chris Tyle, Tom Bartlett, Orange Kellin, Conal Fowkes, Bob Schulz, Carl Sonny Leyland, High Sierra, Glenn Crytzer, Bob Draga, and many others.  Because I know I’ve left out many favorites, be sure to visit here and check out the schedule.

San Diego presents so many choices that it will require some advance planning — seven venues, big and small, offering music almost simultaneously.  (One must choose: “Do I stay in one spot and take what’s offered me or do I prance from place to place in search of Elysian sounds?”  It’s not an easy choice.)

The festival offers a wide variety of swinging sounds — from ragtime and banjo sing-alongs (think George M. Cohan and SHINE ON HARVEST MOON) to “hot jazz,” “Dixieland,” “boogie woogie,” “blues,” “gypsy jazz,” “swing dance,” and other, less classifiable experiences.  And there are many special sets: clarinet extravaganzas, piano duets (Paolo and Stephanie, a special treat), and a Battle of the Bands between Glenn Crytzer’s Savoy Seven and Stompy Jones (the latter featuring John Cocuzzi as well).  Second Line parades, dance classes, tributes to Louis Armstrong, Irving Berlin, and Bob Scobey.

It won’t sway anyone who isn’t already interested, but the Beloved and I will be there.

Five-day badges are only $105: details here.  And the rooms at the Town and Country Convention Center are surely comfortable.  I’ve even learned, after three years of practice, how to get back to my room after the last set.  Good jazz sharpens one’s navigational skills!

Here’s a song that might be the festival’s theme song — in a wonderfully sweet performance from the 2012 Fest:

So I suggest, meaning no offense to your sweet-natured relatives, that you tell them you will be available for dinner and anecdotage any weekend of the year except this one.  Walk, drive, fly, hitch to San Diego for Thanksgiving! (And late November there is positively balmy . . . wool sweaters not needed.)

And as a postscript: if you were to search JAZZ LIVES by entering the words “San Diego” in the appropriate box, you would find more hot jazz videos than you could watch in a day and a night . . . evidence of the riches that have been offered and will go on, thanks to the musicians, to Paul Daspit, and to the enthusiastic volunteers and staff (including the enthusiastic Jim McNaughton).  San Diego Joys!

May your happiness increase!

DON’T WAIT UNTIL YOU’RE DEAD

Many of us have made plans, whether vague and silent or specific and detailed, about what should happen to our STUFF (thank you, George Carlin) after we are no longer around to enjoy it.

But this post isn’t to urge people to make such plans. I would like readers to consider the idea of spontaneous philantropies while the giver and the recipient are both alive and sentient.  

Suppose you know that a jazz friend has never heard an unusual or rare record. You could make a bequest of that disc in your will . . . or you could give it to your friend NOW. If that’s too painfully a precursor of your own death, you could invite your friend over to hear it. You could send a copy now — before other responsibilities get in the way of this impulse.

If you know that your niece is playing saxophone in the school band, why not make sure she has AFTERNOON OF A BASIE-ITE, Ben Webster with Strings, and Buddy Tate records to enjoy? Again, NOW. A fledgling singer has never heard Mildred Bailey or Jimmy Rushing? You’re beginning to see a pattern.

These generosities make a number of happy results possible. Who doesn’t love getting a gift that, in its essence, says, “The person who gave this to me knows me so well and loves me”? So your gesture becomes an offering of affection and joy. In addition, acts like these are quiet ways of letting the music reverberate through the universe: jazz proselytizing, if you will.

A good deal of my musical happiness has been the direct result of the active generosity of many people, living and dead, friends and collectors who said, “You HAVE to hear this!”  Marc Caparone, Ricky Ricccardi, Manfred Selchow, Stu Zimny, David Weiner, Rob Rothberg, Bill Gallagher, David Goldin, Butch Smith, John L. Fell, Joe Boughton, Hal Smith, Wayne Jones, Bob Erdos, Bill Coverdale, Roy Bower, Bert Whyatt, Derek Coller, and two dozen others. Without them, my musical range would have been much more narrow. I remember the giver as much as I do the gift.

Much of my work on this blog is my own attempt to give gifts of music old and new. “Wait, you have never heard HAVEN’T NAMED IT YET?” “You never heard Lips Page or Tricky Sam Nanton play the blues?”

It’s a paradox, but giving precious artifacts away to someone who will appreciate them does not diminish your ownership; it intensifies your pleasure.

I am skirting the practical details of sharing; I don’t mean to suggest that you simply burn CDs, because that deprives the original artists of royalties or income. But I do urge people to open their treasure troves and share the music.

So rather than thinking about the next record or CD you absolutely must possess, why not turn the impulse on its head and think, “Who in my life would be thrilled to listen to what I so enjoy? Who deserves a gift of music, and how might I make this possible?”

In return, you will hear their pleasure and gratitude and be warmed by it. Such acts are love embodied, and the energy behind them is never wasted.

P. S.  If you’re reading this and thinking, “All that is very nice, but I have no rare jazz records to share with other people,” there are always chances to make generosity take shape without spending money. Consider the Ethel Waters principle:

If you say to someone today, “I love you,” “Thanks for everything,” “I’m grateful to you,” “I’m so sorry,” “Can you forgive me?” “What can I do for you?” or “It’s been a long time since we spoke,” those words have the ringing beauty of a Bix solo or a Lester Young chorus.

May your happiness increase!

. . . AND A DOLLAR SHORT?

Written much more in sorrow and bewilderment than in self-righteous anger:

I continue to be puzzled by the lack of generosity of jazz fans in live music venues.  Many people who are having a good time and yelling WOOHOO! at the end of a set of inspired music by live musicians slip away when the tip jar is passed or — with visible discomfort — put a dollar bill in it.  And the bill is sometimes put there under guilt-inducing scrutiny: a person (spectator, friend, or musician) moves the jar from patron to patron, waiting patiently, making eye contact.

A friend has been in charge of passing the tip jar at some gigs, and she has told me, “When I stand in front of someone with the jar, the person will take a dollar bill, crumple it up, and put his / her closed hand into the jar so that the bill cannot be seen.  When I count the money at the end of the gig, the crumpled dollar bills far outweigh any other ones.”

At some gigs, the tip jar sits in front of the band or on top of the piano, it may remain almost empty all night.  If it can be ignored or skirted, it is.

Of course there are a thousand reasons and rationalizations for this lack of largesse.

“It’s a terrible economy” is perhaps the first.  I couldn’t deny that.

“The musicians are getting paid by the club / bar / management, aren’t they?” comes in second.  One hopes so, but at what rates?

A more elaborate construction is “Tipping is a disgrace.  The musicians shouldn’t have to beg, and my way of protesting their salaries is to refuse to demean them with a gratuity.”

That last one I like a great deal, for it manages to sound noble while the speaker’s wallet is safe, untouched.

I am sure that JAZZ LIVES readers who have waited tables or served food and drink in other ways have stories of frugality (to be exceedingly polite).  For many people, “tourists” of one kind or another, the lack of generosity may result from an unfamiliarity with the customs of the country, a pervasive unawareness.  But if you come from far away to (let us say) New York or San Francisco and you have a guidebook, it does mention the subject.  Even if the commentary is most often about waitpeople in restaurants and people who carry suitcases elsewhere, a wise tourist who wishes to be gracious can understand the significance of a jar and what might be offered to creative musicians as a tangible thank-you.

Now, I know that both younger and older generations have been enabled — perhaps encouraged — to put distance between them and the music by records, radio, videos on YouTube, downloads, and more.  But when a jazz fan visits an establishment where there is one person or a dozen playing instruments or singing, it is harder to ignore their tangible reality of the artists at work.  They are PEOPLE.  They have instruments; they sing or speak into microphones.  They make eye contact.  They are much larger than earbuds, more substantial than any digital download.

To me, the person unwilling to give the musicians something as an expression of gratitude is saying wordlessly but powerfully, “You musicians are not people I have to acknowledge.  You are background music, hired to play while I eat and drink.  Philosophically, you are the barely-visible soundtrack to my pleasure.  When I go home, you might continue to exist, but not in my reality.”

Few working musicians are prospering playing improvised jazz, I think.  Many of my heroes and heroines are singing and playing their hearts out for fifty dollars an evening.  Plus tips.  Or sometimes the improvisers “play for the door,” which is not a way to go home feeling well-compensated.

I am haunted by the cheerful words one musician told me midway through a three-hour performance in a bar where the patrons were regularly consuming drinks.  “Michael, I love this gig!  It pays sixty-five dollars and a salad!”  (This was not an ironic or satiric utterance: he stated this happily.)

How many of my readers would be willing to work for three hours for this salary — and that’s before taxes?  And the musician, I assure you, was world-famous.  He was not stacking boxes in a supermarket; he was not pumping gasoline.

I would like to propose a new moral / aesthetic guideline.  Of course I have no power to enforce it, except to suggest that it is both fair and kind.

Those who download music from iTunes, for instance, pay close to a dollar a song.  And in that case only some of that money goes directly to the artist.  Wouldn’t a dollar a song be a fair starting point for compensating musicians playing live in front of you?  True, you cannot necessarily stuff them into your earbuds — Newtonian physics is against it — but they are creating something right in front of you.  Or, a more tangible model.  A seventy-five minute CD costs fifteen to twenty dollars.  Listen to an hour-plus of music; pay the band something equivalent.

I hear the objections.  “People will stay away from clubs and bars if they are expected to pay such high prices for the music.  And the owners want to see their places filled with patrons buying food and drinks to justify the expenditure of hiring jazz musicians.”  

I know that the “cover charge” drives some casual — and some serious — listeners away.  But I wonder whether musicians are happy when they are forced to push a tip jar into people’s line of sight and wait for the dollar to be dropped in.  Is this inspiring or demeaning?

What might we say to the patron who has had a few glasses of win and a meal — let us say a thirty-dollar tab or less — who then puts a dollar in the tip jar under duress.  Is it too much to say, “Put the cost of one glass of wine in the tip jar; fair to you; fair to them”?

I do my best to be generous now, but I was guilty of this in 1972.  I saw Roy Eldridge at Jimmy Ryan’s and sat the whole night nursing a $2.50 bottle of Miller beer, which didn’t taste all that good at 9 PM and was foul after midnight.  In my defense, I was a college student with a part-time job who was earning $1.85 / hour.  But I feel bad about it now, and wish I had been able to be more generous.  I wish I could apologize to Roy and the band.  I was wrong.

I am sure that some listeners and perhaps a few musicians will object to the fuss they perceive me as making here.  “It goes with the territory, and my heroes who played in the (insert golden decade here) didn’t make a great living, so why should I complain?”  The logic bothers me.  Because Johnny Dodds had a drive a taxi to be somewhere in the neighborhood of solvent, should modern musicians.

Is the artist unworthy of a living wage?

I think ultimately that listeners have some moral obligation to be generous to the musicians they say they admire.  

If they choose to lament that their favorite players are having a hard time, have they contributed tangibly to the ease and comfort of the artist?  

And, on a larger scale, those who lament the lack of places to play, artists being forced to take day jobs to survive — in fact, the very DEATH OF JAZZ — to give it the appropriate journalistic emphasis.  Are the people who look away when the tip jar comes or drop a dollar in it killing off jazz and jazz musicians by their delicate frugalities?

The Beloved, very wise, said to me, “Didn’t you write a post about this already?” She is right.  It’s one of her finest qualities.  I expect some disagreement to be expressed by both fans and musicians.  But I find the manifestations of a lack of gratitude dismaying.  And since gratitude is one of the primary engines beneath human kindness, I do not feel upset about writing this polite protest against its absence.  Words from Thoreau’s CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE, slightly edited, seem apt here:

I please myself with imagining a State at least which can afford to be just to all men, and to treat the individual with respect as a neighbor.

When the individual plays a trombone, a guitar, or sings, should we cease to be neighborly?

Ponder this, dear listeners.  Bills come in denominations larger than ONE.

May your happiness increase. 

I’M THANKFUL FOR HOT MUSIC (San Diego Thanksgiving Dixieland Festival, November 21-25, 2012)

My plans for the holiday weekend include very little turkey but plenty of hot jazz and good feeling — at the 33rd San Diego Thanksgiving Dixieland Festival.  The music begins Wednesday night (November 21) and goes breathlessly through until Sunday afternoon (November 25).  Here’s the tentative schedule, vibrating with good sounds.

Off the top of my head, I think of Ralf Reynolds, John Reynolds, Katie Cavera, John Gill, Duke Heitger, Tom Bartlett, Leon Oakley, Orange Kellin, Clint Baker, Conal Fowkes, Kevin Dorn, Hal Smith, Chris Dawson, Connie Jones, Mike Pittsley, Chloe Feoranzo, Stephanie Trick, Marty Eggers, Carl Sonny Leyland, Tim Laughlin, Lorraine Feather, Sue Fischer, Dave Bennett, Justin and Brandon Au, and about four dozen more bands and soloists.  Apologies to any of your favorites I’ve neglected to mention here . . . but the whole schedule is available for real or fantasy planning.

I feel immensely fortunate to be getting on a plane Thursday morning with San Diego as my eventual goal.  Look for me in the front row: notebook and pen, intently gazing into the viewfinder, aloha shirt . . . the JAZZ LIVES official regalia.  And for those of you who can’t make it, I will do my best to take you along through the magic of video.

So much to be thankful for!  More details here.

May your happiness increase.  

 

THANKS TWO MILLIONS, or GRATITUDE WITH SWING

Thursday is Thanksgiving in the United States, an official holiday created for us to join with family and friends to be thankful for what we have.  But I’ve been thinking about gratitude for some time now.  (The Beloved lights the way here and in so much else.)  It’s easy to take our bounty for granted: the color of the sky, a bed in a clean warm room, clean water to drink, coffee to start the day, the affection of people near to us and those in cyber-space, and so much more.  Each one of us should have no trouble making an individual little list.

Among so many other marvelous phenomena, I am grateful to the point of tears for the music we love.  Isn’t it remarkable and beyond that we should live in a time where such creativity, such joy is possible — and we can enjoy it over and over?

I give thanks to these wonderful living musicians who have learned so much about creating beauty and having the generosity to share it with us.  Behind them, of course, is that fellow Louis.  Scott Robinson told me (last Sunday at The Ear Inn) that if you listen closely to any kind of jazz, no matter how “far out” it might initially appear, it all comes from that fellow.  Hearing this — I am very constrained in what I say, as some of you will know; I never express any emotions at all — I grinned at Scott and said, “Now I know why I love you!” and we both broke up.

So here are two versions of THANKS A MILLION: for the musicians, for the prosperity that enabled me to buy a video camera and be on the scene, for the love in the air:

That’s Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Dan Barrett, trombone; Dan Levinson, reeds; John Sheridan, piano; Jon Burr, bass; Ricky Malichi, drums.  Recorded on September 15, 2011, at Jazz at Chautauqua.

There’s Ehud Asherie, piano; Dan Block, clarinet.  Recorded at Smalls on October 16, 2008.

And a footnote, nothing preachy.  I teach English — literature and writing — to four classes of college freshmen and sophomores, and I met with them this last Monday and Tuesday.  At the end of each class, I looked at them very sternly and said, “I have a Thanksgiving homework assignment for you.”  I can’t describe the collective skepticism in the room, because I never give “homework,” and asking students to “do work” over a holiday when the college is closed seems to them a violation of their basic rights.  And some of them know my deadpan humor.  (Others were simply waiting for me to stop talking so that their holiday could begin, and I understand this completely.)

I said, “I assume many of you are going off to have some sort of meal with family or friends this holiday?” and many of them agreed.

“OK,” I said.  “Here’s your assignment.  Find someone in that room, someone you love.  TELL that person you love him or her.”

Some of them giggled; they all looked relieved.  Maybe that’s the most important thing I will teach them this semester.

One more four-bar break.  I do, of course, have a secret purpose in all of this.  If everyone got in the habit of acknowledging their gratitude, it would be a world full of people saying and thinking THANK YOU! and I AM SO FORTUNATE, which would be lovely additions to the cosmic atmosphere.  And perhaps then we could move into the next phase: noticing those who have less to be thankful for, whether they are homeless people on the street, the Chinese workers who suffer to make our technology (see Mike Daisey’s play about Steve Jobs if you have a heart!) . . . the list is longer and sadder than I can say.  And we could then move from noticing to taking action.  What a wonderful world, then, indeed.

Wishing you all happiness — and not just on Thursday.  JAZZ LIVES wouldn’t have a reason to exist without you.