The power of memory:
That girl, and the story of that girl, are both imperishable. Not only does Mr. Bernstein recall her, but everyone who has ever seen CITIZEN KANE recalls him recalling her. Or so I hope.
Music, so powerful and so multi-layered, is more slippery in the memory, giving us a mixture of sensations and emotions. Of course people remember Louis playing 250 high C’s, but how many people can recall with clarity a performance full of lights and shadings that happened once, on the spot, and then was over?
Fortunately we have recording equipment of all kinds, and to think of what would have happened to jazz without it is impossible. But here’s a New York story with gratifications attached, not simply narratives of what happened.
Exhibit A, “The Big Easy”:
Exhibit B, courtesy of eBay:
Exhibit C, self-explanatory:
In 2005, when I was once again free to explore, I discovered The Cajun, a traditional-jazz club in New York City’s Chelsea neighborhood. It closed in late summer 2006, and it was obliterated to become luxury housing, alas.
The owners were Herb Maslin and Arlene Lichterman (Arlene is still with us) and at our first encounter I offered to help publicize the club, even though I had not yet imagined having a jazz blog. I was writing for The Mississippi Rag and other jazz periodicals, and offered help with press releases. She was eager to have what festival promoters call Asses in Seats, so I could come anytime and make notes on performances and the general ambiance. I was free to modestly of generic food. (I worked my way through the menu, an explorer looking for edible land.)
I have said elsewhere that I’d seen people of my vintage shooting videos of their grandchildren and the ducks on the pond, and it dawned on me that I could buy one to document the music I and others loved. Exhibit B was, after Flip, my first real video camera. It recorded on 30-minute mini-DVDs, difficult to transfer, but it worked in the odd lighting and the built-in microphone was acceptable, especially when I sat close to the band. At the time, I did not know what I might do with the discs — YouTube was only allowing postings of no more than ten minutes and my editing skills were not even rudimentary — but the thought of capturing what would otherwise be evanescent was entrancing.
Thirteen years later, I uncovered a number of videos from 2006: a small stack of mini-DVDs in plastic cases still sits in a bookcase as I write this. Some videos, when I shared them with the participants (I ask permission first, the videographer’s “informed consent”) created hot-jazz-PTSD, and will remain unseen. But the four sets of the Manhattan Ragtime Orchestra pleased my hero John Gill, and the trumpeter Jon-Erik Kellso, who encouraged me to post them so that this splendid band would not be just a memory or a record. I canvassed the musicians, some of whom are friends, and those who responded agreed that these performances should be enjoyed now.
John continues to believe in the music: he told an interviewer long ago, “It’s music of the people. It’s open and honest and straightforward and comes to you with open arms,” and he continues to live that truth in New Orleans.
Here is the first hour of music (a set-and-a-half of four) from the Manhattan Ragtime Orchestra, playing their own warm, spirited “radical pop music”: John is on banjo and vocals, with Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Matthew Szemela, violin; Brad Shigeta, trombone; Pete Martinez, clarinet (subbing for leader Orange Kellin); Jesse Gelber, piano; Conal Fowkes, string bass; Rob Garcia, drums.
No tricks, no funny hats, no gimmicks: just real music. A woman fanning herself: it was July.
Part One, including PORTO RICO / NEW ORLEANS JOYS / TEE NAH NAH (Gill vocal) with Arlene Lichterman cameos / BUDDY’S HABITS / HOME IN PASADENA (Gill) / HIAWATHA (Lizard On A Rail) / DEAR HEART – I’M FOREVER BLOWING BUBBLES //
Part Two, including a Buddy Bolden Medley: DON’T GO WAY, NOBODY – MAKIN’ RUNS / CONGO LOVE CALL / BOUNCING AROUND / SONG OF THE ISLANDS (closing theme) / CREOLE BELLES (Gill) / A BUNCH OF BLUES //
To me, much more gratifying that a fleeting glimpse of a girl and her parasol. And there is another forty-five minutes of music to come.
May your happiness increase!