Tag Archives: GUARDIAN

BIRD, JO JONES, AND THAT CYMBAL

Here, once again, is the story of a teenaged Charlie Parker, brilliant but incomplete, getting humiliated in public by drummer Jo Jones:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2011/jun/17/charlie-parker-cymbal-thrown

The tale is always told as a defining moment in the history of jazz: a youth on his own self-defined quest, being mocked and deflated by one of the aging masters — someone whom he ultimately surpasses.  It is thus a narrative of payback, of the underdog becoming the sun-god.

But every time I read it, especially since it is substantiated by Ross Russell, a notable fictionalizer, I wonder if it ever happened.  Or if it happened this way.  I met and spoke with and heard Papa Jo in his later years, and I have no trouble imagining him as a man intolerant of mediocrity, a man who spoke his mind, a man who would even be contemptuous of what he considered incompetence.

But drummers know and value and love their equipment.  They spend hours selecting the right cymbals, the right sticks.  Cymbals may be metal but they break, they bend, they become unplayable.

So I propose that what we have here is myth, inflating and uncontrolled.  Perhaps Jo made loud gonging sounds on his cymbal; perhaps his derision was palpable.  But I can’t see him throwing a cymbal, the cymbal sailing through the air, landing at the poor humiliated altoist’s feet.  You can, if you like.

UPDATE as of March 2017: all of the above might well be emotionally correct, but I must stand corrected.  I’ve learned from several sources including the very revered and reliable Dan Morgenstern that the incident of Jo, Bird, and the cymbal did happen, as witnessed by string bassist Gene Ramey.  Why am I letting this post stand, then?  Call it perversity, or call it this: anyone has the right to be wrong, and let wrongness stand as an expression of feeling, unaffected by those annoying facts.

“SECRETS OF SATCHMO UP FOR SALE”

Previously unknown private letters from Louis Armstrong to a British journalist have been unearthed

GUARDIAN, Sunday, 24 May 2009

Previously unknown private letters from Louis Armstrong to a British friend have been unearthed.  The letters, to the journalist Lionel Crane, reveal the strong conviction the American jazz virtuoso had that he should stay close to his own class, in spite of his international fame.

Crane visited the musician in his Bronx home in the late 60s and the two struck up a correspondence. The rare letters from the trumpeter, who was called Satchmo or Pops by his fans, are being put up for sale next week by Crane’s daughter, writer Rosemary Bailey.

Crane wrote about his visit, including descriptions of the impoverished area where Armstrong still chose to live. The musician replied:

“My neighbours … were very proud that you thought enough of them to mention them … they are all real people. The warmth that we have for each other is out of this world,” Armstrong writes.

Continuing in his characteristic disjointed prose style, Armstrong points out that he and his wife, former Cotton Club dancer Lucille Wilson, had the money to move away to what he refers to as a “Dickty Neighbourhood”, or a wealthier area.  “But, what about these people … the whole year that I’ve been out sick, it was my fine neighbours who love’s and understands us.”

Armstrong developed a peculiar use of grammar to give his writing a distinctive rhythm. In one touching passage he wrote: “If I miss one day warming up – calls come into Lucille asking is Pops OK?  We did not hear that today.  Man, that’s neighbours.”

A comment is necessary: Louis’s neighbo(u)rhood was far from “impoverished,” and he deserves more than this mildly condescending pat on the head.  This UK journalist could learn something about “warmth” from Louis and his letters.  However, it’s always rewarding to find more of Louis’s  prose emerging.  Will the buyer make these texts — much more “touching” than “peculiar” — to jazz scholars?  I hope so.