Tag Archives: jazz musicians

SWING, YOU CATS?

Mr. Todd, making a theoretical point. Photograph by Michael Steinman

Mr. Edward Todd, of San Geronimo, California, is a devoted reader of JAZZ LIVES.  He is also deeply thoughtful.  I received the following missive from Mr. Todd just the other day.

Dear Michael,

If I may.

I have noted with great interest the long-standing connection between the jazz musicians you celebrate and the members of the apparently domesticated Feline tribe.

This, at its simplest level, takes its utterance in the desire to call said musicians CATS.  This nomenclature is not to be taken casually; it is as great a mark of respect as can be bestowed on humanity. 

Permit me to speculate on some of the similarities.

Jazz musicians are notably independent.  They may appear modest and even self-doubting, but deep down they are exceedingly proud creatures who know their worth.  They will join together in groups for their common happiness and interest, but they are truly reluctant to be led unless they truly respect and love their leader.  Even then, it may take some time to assemble them into an apparently obedient group.  They have a fine disdain for the ordinary.

They are individualistic.  They do not resemble one another, nor do they sound alike. 

Treat them badly and they do not forget.  The offender may get swatted, scratched, nipped, or satirized.  Treat them kindly and they may permit you a small space on the pillow.  They are particular about whom they love but their loyalty is powerful.

They are capable of an unimaginable variety of sounds; with voices and instruments, they purr, hiss, meow, and caterwaul.  They like warmth — thus, the expression GET HOT.  Just as we Felines can find comfort in the smallest of spaces, the best jazz musicians can find memorable ways to express themselves in a rimshot, a four-bar break, a tonal shading.  They have many lives — not merely in calendar years, but in variety.  They land on their feet.  A few of them are known to scatter litter all around, but most pride themselves on being clean.  Like Kittens, they love to play, and many enjoy fast tempos, racing around when the mood strikes.   

We Felines prize these jazz musicians and admire their efforts to emulate us.  At their most highly evolved, they approach some small portion of our majesty.  Hence, CATS. 

Thank you, wise Mr. Todd!

May your happiness increase.

LIZA, MAGGIE, PHYLLIS, and EDDIE. ESSENTIAL READING: “HOUSEDEER,” Issue No. 1

I am always fascinated by the music that my beloved players and singers make — how do they do that? — but I am also intrigued by them as people.  Since many of my older heroes are now dead, I have occasionally tried to speak to their spouses and children to find out more about the mysteries of creativity.  I realize that some of this is the sweet silly fantasy of a born hero-worshipper, that if I knew what Bobby Hackett liked to eat for dinner I would understand just a little more about how he made those sounds.

My questing hasn’t always been rewarding.  Many of the spouses of jazz musicians have understandably been reluctant to retell “the good old days” at length because the memory of all those who are no longer here is mixed with the awareness of their age and pain . . . making them blue.  And the children of jazz musicians (with some lovely exceptions like Leo McConville, Jr.) have often been reticent.  I once spoke to the daughter of one of my heroes and asked if she would be willing to talk about her father to me, someone who admired him greatly.  She was truly puzzled.  “What would there be for me to tell you?” she asked, and when I made some suggestions, she politely said she would have to think about it,  which we all know is a sweet way of saying No.  And the conversation never happened.

Eddie Condon is one of my demigods — small in stature, deaf in one ear, but the catalyst for some of the greatest moments of the last century (if you think I hyperbolize, please listen to any recording of his Town Hall Concerts or — if you have only three minutes, try TAPPIN’ THE COMMODORE TILL) and someone who made racial harmony possible two decades before Jackie Robinson.  I have met and talked with his older daughter Maggie — and am honored by her conversation and grace.  I never spoke to Eddie’s Phi Beta Kappa wife Phyllis, and I only saw Eddie’s younger daughter Liza (she died in 1999) at a distance, when she was photographing the Sunday afternoon jam sessions at Your Father’s Mustache in 1972.

All this is long prelude to an announcement.  Romy Ashby (writer and artist) sat down with Maggie in early 2011 — in the Washington Square North apartment that was once Amy Vanderbilt’s, then Eddie and Phyllis’s — and the two of them spoke at length about the Condon family and especially Liza, beautiful, creative, mysterious, irreplaceable.  It has been published as the first issue of a magazine called HOUSEDEER (that’s another story) and it is available for six dollars here: http://www.housedeer.com.

Much of what is called “memoir” has a certain self-absorbed rancidity.  People who have not been able to accept the past as in some ways past use their pages to punish the dead, to settle old scores — or to explain their own unhappiness.  The essay on Liza and her family in HOUSEDEER is free from rancor.  It is full of feeling but not formally sentimentalized.  Liza’s beauty and strangeness and generosity of spirit comes through.  At the end of my first reading, I felt so sorry that I had missed her (even though my nineteen-year old self would not have known the right thing to say) but I felt as if she had been brought back, living and supple, to enter my thoughts.

For those of you who live for jazz gossip. there’s a-plenty here as well.  You can visit or eavesdrop or spy on Eddie shaving, on Phyllis lying on the bed reading the newspaper, on Eddie as a domestic sculptor, of dinner with Johnny Mercer and ice-cream sodas with Lee Wiley . . . and it develops into a full-scale portrait of Liza, someone who always insisted on taking the scenic route.

If you love this music and you are fascinated by how human beings try to progress through this world, you will want to read the first issue of HOUSEDEER.

ONE MORE TIME! THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE

I am doing the unusual thing of sending this blogpost out again because it seems to have stalled somewhere in cyberspace. 

It is a very important posting for me and perhaps for the music.  I hope you understand my earnestness. 

Thank you for reading it and following JAZZ LIVES! 

P.S.  I have indeed started the process with a new PayPal account.  It’s working!  People have sent money: the money will go to the musicians.  Hotter than that!   

Michael Steinman

“You gotta pay the band,” according to Abbey Lincoln.  

This isn’t a post about putting more than a dollar bill in the tip jar: that’s for another time.  

This post is about responding with open hearts to the marvels the musicians create for us.   

Because of JAZZ LIVES, I have been having the time of my life recording live jazz performances and sharing them in cyberspace for free.  I am so happy that people who can’t get to a New York club or Chautauqua or Whitley Bay can now enjoy what the musicians do so brilliantly.  And my readers tell me regularly how these videos enrich their lives.    

Without intending to take advantage of a soul, I have made it possible for people to see hours and hours of live music for free.  But the last two words of that sentence have come to seem an unfairness.   

Have no fear: I do not plan to stop videorecording jazz performances.  To do so would break my heart.

People have told me, “You are acting as an unpaid publicist.  These musicians are getting great publicity and exposure!”  Maybe that is true, but I think that even politely asking musicians to work for nothing isn’t right. 

When some New York City listeners tell me, “I don’t have to go to ____ club because I can watch the performances on your blog,” that’s not right, either.   

So, THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE.  You know the song.

want to make JAZZ LIVES a medium for generosity and appreciation so that people all over the world can send the musicians tangible recompense for their creativity.  

A few musicians I’ve spoken with have dissuaded me from the iTunes model (putting a set price one must pay to view each video). 

I like the idea of a PayPal DONATE button.  People could donate what they choose as the spirit moves them.  I know that my readers would be generous!   

Let us give back to those who give us so much joy.  It’s only fair!

UPDATE: HERE’S THE LINK!  TRY IT OUT!  ONE CLICK MOVES MOUNTAINS (as the musicians move us!)

https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=VBURVAWDMWQAS

THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE!

“You gotta pay the band,” according to Abbey Lincoln.  

This isn’t a post about putting more than a dollar bill in the tip jar: that’s for another time.  

This post is about responding with open hearts to the marvels the musicians create for us.   

Because of JAZZ LIVES, I have been having the time of my life recording live jazz performances and sharing them in cyberspace for free.  I am so happy that people who can’t get to a New York club or Chautauqua or Whitley Bay can now enjoy what the musicians do so brilliantly.  And my readers tell me regularly how these videos enrich their lives.    

Without intending to take advantage of a soul, I have made it possible for people to see hours and hours of live music for free.  But the last two words of that sentence have come to seem an unfairness.   

Have no fear: I do not plan to stop videorecording jazz performances.  To do so would break my heart.

People have told me, “You are acting as an unpaid publicist.  These musicians are getting great publicity and exposure!”  Maybe that is true, but I think that even politely asking musicians to work for nothing isn’t right. 

When some New York City listeners tell me, “I don’t have to go to ____ club because I can watch the performances on your blog,” that’s not right, either.   

So, THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE.  You know the song.

want to make JAZZ LIVES a medium for generosity and appreciation so that people all over the world can send the musicians tangible recompense for their creativity.  

A few musicians I’ve spoken with have dissuaded me from the iTunes model (putting a set price one must pay to view each video). 

I like the idea of a PayPal DONATE button.  People could donate what they choose as the spirit moves them.  I know that my readers would be generous!   

Let us give back to those who give us so much joy.  It’s only fair!

UPDATE: HERE’S THE LINK!  CLICK ON IT, WON’T YOU?

https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=VBURVAWDMWQAS

IT’S HOW YOU PLAY THE GAME

Two scenes from contemporary life in and around jazz, April 9 and 10, 2010:

Last night I made a pilgrimage to the Knickerbocker Bar and Grill on University Place in New York City to hear the remarkable banjoist / singer Cynthia Sayer and the noble pianist Mark Shane.  The two large rooms that house the Knickerbocker were crowded, although I found a table near the piano. 

Cynthia and Mark played beautifully — mostly up-tempo romps: LINGER AWHILE, WOLVERINE BLUES, YOU ALWAYS HURT THE ONE YOU LOVE, CALIFORNIA HERE I COME, and a sweet stroll through APRIL SHOWERS and a funky boogie-inflected YELLOW DOG BLUES.  Cynthia’s single notes hit like gunshots; she slid up and down the fingerboard in chordal glissandos; she kept the rhythm going.  Mark, a peerless accompanist and soloist, evoked Wilson and Waller and Flanagan and Hines, all splendidly woven together into Shane. 

The volume of conversation was so high that I had to strain to hear the music.  At the end of the set, Cynthia said to me, “Gee, I had a hard time hearing myself!” and Mark noted, “The noise level in this room is worse for your ears than gunfire.”  People walked so close to Cynthia while she was playing that she had to bend the neck of her banjo back to avoid getting knocked over.  Someone accosted her while she was soloing to request a tune; she kept playing and spoke to the inquirer politely. 

But it was apparent that almost no one was listening.  Perhaps eight people applauded.  Perhaps ninety-five percent of the diners didn’t keep quiet, didn’t know that there were live musicians (people!) creating music in front of them, or didn’t care.

I applaud the courage of Cynthia and Mark and their colleagues who keep creating in the face of indifference and noise.  I couldn’t do it — when I’m teaching, I ask my students to stop talking and to pay attention.  Jazz musicians, cast as “entertainers” at best or an odd version of a large iPod at worst, rarely say, “Would you all have the decency to keep it down a bit?” and I admire their heroism and restraint.  I don’t expect a restaurant to become a concert hall, and I do think that people have a right to eat their dinner and talk to their friends.  But I wonder who won or lost during that hour of combat between art versus loud self-absorbed talk at the Knickerbocker. 

On a more personal note: a writer’s voice is much like his or her speaking voice — individualistic, perhaps idiosyncratic.  I saw today’s batch of Google Alerts — one of them for Jo Jones — and began to read a memorial essay on Jake Hanna published on someone else’s blog (call it JAZZ IS FOREVER, not its name).  I saw that someone I don’t know had “written” a piece on Jake Hanna, most of which was one I had written, word for word without credit. 

I commented on this post politely, pointing out to the blog’s creator that it was not good manners to take someone else’s prose without crediting the writer.  I appealed to his courtesy while being courteous; I signed my name, appended my blog information and email address.  About eight hours later I returned to my computer and, out of curiosity, clicked on this site.  Had the gentleman printed my comment?  Had he ignored the whole thing?  Had he credited me?  None of the above: he had removed my words silently.  

Did I win a victory for intellectual property, against online plagiarism, or did I lose the opportunity to have my thoughts on Jake Hanna spread to even more readers — without my name, which frankly means less than honoring Jake?

I know that it matters not if you win or lose; it’s how you play the game.  But Cynthia, Mark, and I are trying to play by the rules.  It’s not always easy. We keep trying.