Tag Archives: Joe Smith

GUESS WHO’S IN TOWN? THE CHICAGO CELLAR BOYS at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST: ANDY SCHUMM, JOHN OTTO, PAUL ASARO, JOHNNY DONATOWICZ, DAVE BOCK (Nov. 24, 2018)

The Chicago Cellar Boys are a lovely band — not only the easy swing, the ringing solos, the choice of material, the consistent lyricism, the faith that melody, played with feeling, is essential — but they have an ensemble conception, so that something pleasing is always going on.  Five pieces make a wonderful portable orchestra, where sweet and hot balance and show each other off by contrast.  People unfamiliar with this group might think it landlocked — a quintet devoting itself to Twenties and very early-Thirties music — but they would be wrong, because this is one of the most versatile groups I know: tempo, approach, arrangements, instrument-switching, and more.  They give great value!

I suggest that any listener who is deeply involved in creative improvisation, not only solos but ensemble timbres, the possibilities of a small group that transcend soloist-plus-rhythm, and the beauty of imaginative arrangements could study any one of these performances with the attention normally given to a hallowed OKeh or Oriole disc and be both enthralled and enlightened.

I’ve posted other videos of them herehere, and (with Colin Hancock sitting in) here.

The individual heroes are Andy Schumm, cornet, tenor, clarinet, arrangements; John Otto, clarinet, alto; Paul Asaro, piano, vocal; Johnny Donatowicz, banjo, guitar; Dave Bock, tuba.  Here they are at the 29th San Diego Jazz Fest, in a set performed on November 24, 2018.  They began with one of the classic late-Twenties songs about the glory to be found below the Mason-Dixon line:

and from the Clarence Williams book, by Maceo Pinkard, PILE OF LOGS AND STONE, another song glorifying the joys of rustic home life:

Thanks to Irving Berlin, Bing, and Ethel Waters:

Bless Don Redman is what I say:

LET’S DO THINGS is one of those songs I’d never known before (typically, I go away from a CCB set with new discoveries).  I was unable to find the composers, but I did stumble into a 1931 Hal Roach comedy of the same name starring ZaSu Pitts and Thelma Todd, in which the then new song THEM THERE EYES figures happily and prominently.  Here is the link to the film.  Now, the ingenious song (is it a Schumm concoction? Youth wants to know):

Another song I associate with Clarence Williams, NOBODY BUT MY BABY (IS GETTING MY LOVE):

Finally, James P. Johnson’s GUESS WHO’S IN TOWN — beloved of Ethel Waters and Max Kaminsky on Commodore:

There are many CCB videos (about thirty — yes!) still for me to share with you: I think I missed at most one and one-half of their sets at this jazz weekend.  So watch this space for more good news.

May your happiness increase!

Advertisements

SWING FOR ROMANTICS (1931)

When the conversation turns to the great swinging bands before “the Swing Era,” the names that are mentioned are usually the Luis Russell Orchestra and Bennie Moten’s Kansas City aggregations, Henderson, Ellington, Goldkette, Calloway, and Kirk.  Each of these bands deserves recognition.  But who speaks of McKinney’s Cotton Pickers?  (Is it the name that so embarrasses us these days?)

mckinneyscottonpickers

The song and performance that so enthralls me is from their last record date in September 1931 — DO YOU BELIEVE IN LOVE AT SIGHT? — composed by Ted Fio Rito and Gus Kahn. I am assuming that it was originally meant as a love ballad, given its title and world-view, but the band takes it at a romping tempo. (Was it played on one of their “coast to coast radio presentations”?  I hope so.) Several other marvelous features of this recording have not worn thin: the gorgeous melody statement by Doc Cheatham; the incredible hot chorus by Rex Stewart; the charming vocal by Quentin Jackson; the tenor saxophone solo by Prince Robinson, the arrangement by Benny Carter, and the wondrous sound of the band as a whole — swinging without a letup.

The personnel is listed as Benny Carter, clarinet, alto saxophone, arranger / leader: Rex Stewart, cornet; Buddy Lee, Doc Cheatham, trumpet;  Ed Cuffee, trombone; Quentin Jackson, trombone, vocal; Joe Moxley, Hilton Jefferson, clarinet, alto saxophone; Prince Robinson, clarinet, tenor saxophone; Todd Rhodes, piano, celeste; Dave Wilborn, guitar; Billy Taylor, brass bass; Cuba Austin, drums. Camden, New Jersey, September 8, 1931.  (The personnel offered by Tom Lord differs, but I think this one is more accurate.)

Here, thanks to our friend Atticus Jazz — real name available on request! — who creates one gratifying multi-media gift after another on YouTube — is one of the two takes of DO YOU BELIEVE IN LOVE AT SIGHT?:

I love Doc Cheatham’s high, plaintive sound, somewhat in the style of his predecessor, Joe Smith — and how the first chorus builds architecturally: strong ensemble introduction, trumpet with rhythm only (let no one tell you that tuba / guitar doesn’t work as a pairing), then the Carter-led sax section — imagine a section with Carter, Hilton Jefferson, and Prince Robinson — merging with the brass.  By the end of the first chorus, you know this is A BAND. (I’m always amused by the ending of the chorus, which exactly mimics the end and tag of THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE.  Nothing new under the sun.) And whose idea — Carter’s? — was it to so neatly use orchestra bells throughout this chart?  Lemon zest to the ear.

But then there’s Rex Stewart’s expert and hilarious solo — he wants to let you know he is here, immediately.  I always think of him as one of those bold trumpeters who, as the tempo speeded up, he played even more notes to the bar, rather than taking it easy and playing whole and half notes.  In this chorus, he seems like the most insistent fast-talker, who has so much to say and only thirty-two bars in which to say it.  Something else: at :56 there is a small exultant sound. It can’t be Rex taking a breath and congratulating himself (as he does in WILD MAN BLUES on THE SOUND OF JAZZ) so I believe it was one of his colleagues in the band saying without the words, “Yeah, man!”

Then a gloriously “old-fashioned” vocal from Quentin Jackson, but one that no one should deride.  He told Stanley Dance that he learned to sing before there were microphones, so that you had to open your mouth and sing — which he does so splendidly here.  He’s no Bing or Columbo, wooing the microphone: this is tenor singing in the grand tradition, projecting every word and note to the back of the room.

The final chorus balances brass shouts and the roiling, tumbling Prince Robinson, who cuts his own way amidst Hawkins and Cecil Scott and two dozen others: an ebullient, forceful style.  And by this chorus, I always find myself rocking along with the recording — yes, so “antiquated,” with tuba prominent, but what a gratifying ensemble.  Yes, I believe!

Here is what was to me the less familiar take one:

It is structurally the same, with the only substantial difference that Rex continues to play a rather forceful obbligato to Quentin’s vocal — almost competing for space, and I suspect that the recording director at Camden might have suggested (or insisted on) another take where the vocalist was not being interfered with.  How marvelous that two takes exist, and that they were recorded in Victor’s studios in Camden — a converted church with fine open acoustics.

There is a third version of this song, recorded in 1996 by Doc Cheatham and Nicholas Payton — sixty-five years later, but for me it is a descent from the heights.  You can find it on YouTube on your own.

Whether or not you believe in love at sight (that’s a philosophical / emotional / practical discussion too large for JAZZ LIVES) I encourage you to believe in the singular blending of hot and sweet, of solo and ensemble, that is McKinney’s Cotton Pickers.  One has to believe in something.

May your happiness increase!

“HIS TALE NEEDED TELLING”: THE ODD BRILLIANCE OF P.T. STANTON

PT STANTON

I am fascinated by those great artists whose stories don’t get told: Frank Chace, Spike Mackintosh, and George Finola among many.  I revere the heroes who have been celebrated in biographies, but where are the pages devoted to Quentin Jackson, George Stafford, Danny Alvin, Dave Schildkraut, Gene Ramey, Joe Smith, John Nesbit, Denzil Best, Vernon Brown, Shad Collins, Ivie Anderson, Walter Johnson, John Collins, Allan Reuss, and fifty others?

But there are people who understand.  One is Andrew Sammut, who’s written beautifully about Larry Binyon and others.  Another scholar who has a great love for the worthy obscure is Dave Radlauer.  Dave’s diligence and willingness to share audio evidence are remarkable.  He has done noble work on the multi-instrumentalist Frank “Big Boy” Goudie on his website JAZZ RHYTHM, an apparently bottomless offering, splendidly intimidating in its munificence — with webpages and audio programs devoted to many luminaries, well-known (Louis, Goodman, Shaw, Carter) as well as the obscure (Jerry Blumberg, Benny Strickler, Bill Dart, and three dozen others).  It’s not just music, but it’s cultural context and social history — close observation of vanished landscapes as well as loving portraits of characters in unwritten jazz novels.

Here’s a quick example.  For me, just to know that there was a San Francisco bar called BURP HOLLOW is satisfying enough.  To know that they had live hot jazz there is even better.  To hear tapes of it delights me immensely.

And listen to this, another mysterious delight: a quartet from the MONKEY INN, led by pianist Bill Erickson in 1961, with trombonist Bob Mielke and a glistening trumpeter or cornetist who had learned his Hackett well.  Was it Jerry Blumberg or Johnny Windhurst on a trip west?  I can’t say, but Unidentified is a joy to listen to.

But back to P.T. Stanton. I will wager that his name is known only to the most devoted students of West Coast jazz of a certain vintage. I first encountered him — and the Stone Age Jazz Band — through the gift of a Stomp Off record from my friend Melissa Collard.

STONE AGE JAZZ BAND

Radlauer has presented a rewarding study of the intriguingly nonconformist trumpeter, guitarist, occasional vocalist Stanton here.  But “here” in blue hyperlink doesn’t do his “The Odd Brilliance of P.T. Stanton” justice.  I can only warn the reader in a gentle way that (s)he should be willing to spend substantial time for a leisurely exploration of the treasure: nine pages of text, with rare photographs, and more than fifty otherwise unknown and unheard recordings.

Heard for the first time, Stanton sounds unusual.  That is a charitable adjective coined after much admiring attention.  A casual listener might criticize him as a flawed brassman. Judged by narrow orthodoxy, he isn’t loud enough; his tone isn’t a clarion shout. But one soon realizes that what we hear is not a matter of ineptitude but of a different conception of his role.  One hears a choked, variable — vocal — approach to the horn, and a conscious rejection of the trumpet’s usual majesty, as Stanton seems, even when officially in front of a three-horn ensemble, to be eschewing the traditional role in favor of weaving in and out of the ensemble, making comments, muttering to himself through his horn. It takes a few songs to accept Stanton as a great individualist, but the effort is worth it.

He was eccentric in many ways and brilliant at the same time — an alcoholic who could say that Bix Beiderbecke had the right idea about how to live one’s life, someone who understood both Bunk Johnson and Count Basie . . . enigmatic and fascinating.  And his music!

In the same way that JAZZ LIVES operates, Dave has been offering his research and musical treasures open-handedly.  But he has joined with Grammercy Records to create a series of CDs and downloads of remarkable music and sterling documentation. The first release will be devoted to the Monkey Inn tapes; the second will be a generous sampling of Stanton and friends 1954-76, featuring Frank “Big Boy” Goudie and Bunky Coleman (clarinets), Bob Mielke and Bill Bardin (trombones) and Dick Oxtot (banjo and vocals). Radlauer has plans for ten more CD sets to come in a series to be called Frisco Jazz Archival Rarities: unissued historic recordings of merit drawn from live performances, jam sessions and private tapes 1945-75.

I will let you know more about these discs when they are ready to see the light of day.  Until then, enjoy some odd brilliance — not just Stanton’s — thanks to Dave Radlauer.

May your happiness increase!

“EVERY NICKEL HELPS A LOT”

If you’ve been reading the dolorous saga of the Red Knapsack, you know that I have come to a decision.

Against the advice of my invisible accountant and my nonexistent financial staff, I have ordered another (identical) camera, batteries, tripod . . . the minimum.

Frankly, I have become so attached to the idea of video-recording the best music for JAZZ LIVES and for posterity that if I thought I couldn’t do it, I would be seriously depressed.

More than a dozen of my pals have suggested that I should start a Kickstarter program to raise money; I should solicit contributions.  “If there’s anything I can do, please let me know,” a number of dear people have written.

I am so uncomfortable asking people for money that it is nearly a phobia.  It may be that I am truly aware that I am a member of a privileged class, and that millions of people across the world would consider my privations to be an indescribable luxury.  How many people, after all, don’t have computers, cameras, blogs — you can finish the list.  A video camera is a serious luxury to people who aren’t warm or well-fed or well-housed.

But enough people have asked me to set something up, so I have.  It is a PayPal account, and I’ve seen that it works.

Now — in deep seriousness and sincerity — I am not counting friendship and love in dollars.  I will love you no less if you can offer nothing.  But I can promise you gratitude for anything you can do, comfortably.

So here it is.  And I will say no more about this subject.  Except THANKS TO EVERY ONE OF YOU.

Extra credit if you can identify the source of the title, too.

Here’s an appropriate soundtrack, I think — Henderson’s jaunty 1925 MONEY BLUES — with help from Louis, Joe Smith, and Hawkins:

TO MAKE A DONATION, PLEASE CLICK ON THE LINK BELOW!

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

And my readers and listeners and emailers have already increased my happiness a millionfold, so it is natural to write

May your happiness increase.

“WHAT A HEAVENLY DREAM”: PAUL ASARO and THE FAT BABIES PLAY FATS WALLER AND HIS RHYTHM (Rivermont Records)

Fats Waller left us in 1943.  Both he and his swinging little band — his Rhythm — are inimitable.  But jazz musicians have a good deal of fun trying, in their own ways, to evoke their joyous spirit.  And their efforts give us joy, too.  Dick Wellstood had his Friends of Fats; Mark Shane has FATS LIVES!

2222pic

The most recent — and highly successful — effort is captured on a new Rivermont Records CD: PAUL ASARO and THE FAT BABIES: WHAT A HEAVENLY DREAM / THE FATS WALLER RHYTHM PROJECT (BSW-2222). Paul Asaro has been a sweetly propulsive pianist and equally fine singer for some years now, and this CD captures him in great form with a band of musicians who are working on his level — the hot Chicago band led by string bassist Beau Sample, with Alex Hall (drums); Jake Sanders (guitar); John Otto (reeds); Andy Schumm (cornet).

How good is this session?  Two critical reactions will have to suffice here.  One is that I received the disc in the mail (a holiday present from a jazz friend!), listened to it last night and this afternoon, and am impelled to let you know about it as soon as possible.  The second is a small experiment I conducted — and it’s one of those you can indeed try at home in complete safetly.  I put the CD into the Beloved’s computer (two rooms away) and let it start up.  “Is that Fats?” she said immediately.  When I explained that it was a modern band in the Waller spirit, she said, “Wow, they are swinging like mad.”  And the Beloved knows Swing.

On the surface, this project looks familiar: fourteen songs, all but one of them recorded by Fats and the Rhythm between 1934-1941.  But there is nothing formulaic about this disc.  For one thing, there’s no lengthy renditions of AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’, KEEPIN’ OUT OF MISCHIEF NOW,  or HONEYSUCKLE ROSE.  Some of the songs are familiar — YOUR FEET’S TOO BIG, TRUCKIN’, BLUE TURNING GREY OVER YOU — but the majority are lesser-played, and some are deliciously obscure: YOU’RE MY DISH, ABDULLAH, GOT NO TIME, and WINTER WEATHER. Paul sings on several of the songs, but he is wise enough not to attempt Fats’ particular brand of theatrical jocularity.  And the players are on their own to tell their own stories — a great thing.

What distinguishes this disc from other Waller-inspired evocations is its overall gentleness and sweetness.  Yes, a number of the performances are up-tempo romps so that Paul can show off his considerable stride chops and the band can make any good-sized building sway back and forth, but much of the disc is devoted to sweet-tempered rhythm ballads — coaxing rather than stomping. Paul is responsible for this musical worldview, which makes the CD easy to love rather than difficult to endure (many CDs, however well-meant, grow tedious because of a sameness of approach) but the players here offer their most friendly selves.

The rhythm section of Hall, Sample, and Sanders chooses simplicity over virtuosity; they glide rather than push, and the music breathes beautifully.  John Otto is characteristically subtle on tenor and clarinet, with none of the dramatics Fats’ reedmen sometimes drifted towards.  And then there’s Andy Schumm — making the whole enterprise glow with a delicate sound that of course recalls a mid-Thirties Bix . . . but I thought more often of the young Bobby Hackett on the Decca Dick Robertson sides and, at times, what would have happened if Joe Smith had lived.

This edition of the Rhythm — 2012 style — is precious, and I  can only hope that Paul and company achieve their next dream,  which is a CD of songs Fats never recorded done in this blissful way.

Here’s  the Rivermont Records Facebbok page, and their website.  (Visit the website and hear excerpts from the disc.)

But wait!  There’s more.  This recording is available both as standard audio CD and also as an audiophile-grade vinyl LP limited to 500 copies (in your choice of crystal clear or standard black vinyl). BONUS: Each LP includes a complimentary CD copy of the entire album.  Enjoy the album on vinyl and CD for the same price as the CD alone.

Yum yum yum, to quote Mr. Waller.

May your happiness increase.

THE HIGH SIERRA JAZZ BAND with MARC CAPARONE at DIXIELAND MONTEREY (March 5, 2011)

First off: the High Sierra Jazz Band is color-coordinated.  They have red shirts for one gig, teal (or is it mint green?) for another.  Very snappy.  Nattily dressed.  It also makes it easy to identify the guest star, who has different plumage.  In these five performances from Dixieland Monterey 2011, that stellar personage was our friend, cornetist Marc Caparone, standing next to Bryan Shaw to give the music a wonderful Louis (Armstrong) and Papa Joe (Oliver) flavor.

The High Sierra Jazz Band is led by reedman Pieter Meijers — very articulate and witty, even when he is measuring out the amount of applause he expects for the next song and threatening the audience (gently) that he will speak more if the applause is inadequate.  The front line is filled out by the beaming Howard Miyata on trombone, euphonium, and vocals.  Clint Baker calls Howard “the happiest man in Dixieland” and that might be an understatement or it might unintentionally restrict Howard’s range: he glows like the sun.  The rhythm section is a fraternal affair, with Bruce Huddleson on piano and Stan Huddleston on banjo and guitar.  Then there’s the singing tubaist Earl McKee and drummer Charlie Castro.

All aboard!

This session began with a nicely rocking ALEXANDER’S RAGTIME BAND, in what I think of as Joe-and-Bessie Smith tempo (and it is one of the lesser-known Louis Deccas):

Then, after an elaborately funny Pieter Meijers shaggy-dog-in-Dixieland announcement, we had FIDGETY FEET:

Howard came into his own with a soulful A KISS TO BUILD A DREAM ON: another Louis-homage, full of sweet feeling:

We never did find out Pieter’s explanation of what Mabel was dreaming of, but the band played MABEL’S DREAM (with its down-home hymnlike trio strain) with mutes in, passions to the forefront:

Finally, a romping CAKE WALKING BABIES FROM HOME:

They do take the cake, don’t they?  And Marc Caparone is the fellow who’s not wearing a red shirt.  All hail the rest of the band, but the interplay between Bryan and Marc brings tears to my eyes.  I don’t know which of them is Little Louis and which is Papa Joe (my guess is that the roles, after nearly ninety years, have fused into one Mobius strip of hot cornet / trumpet) but they sound lovely!

SWING OUT TO GENEROSITY: CLICK HERE TO GIVE SOMETHING BACK TO THE MUSICIANS YOU SEE IN THESE VIDEOS (ALL MONEY COLLECTED GOES TO THEM):

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

BLANK PAGES AND SILENCES

Serious jazz scholarship (as opposed to reviews) began more than seventy years ago: early books by Robert Goffin, Hughes Panassie, Charles Delanay, Wilder Hobson, Charles Edward Smith and Frederic Ramsey come to mind, as well as essays by Ernst Ansermet, Otis Ferguson, and Roger Pryor Dodge. 

In 2010, there is no scarcity of books on jazz, from musicology to polemical ideology.  Biographies and autobiographies — from Armstrong to Zwerin with perhaps one hundred subjects between — the autobiographies of Buck Clayton, Sammy Price, Bob Wilber, biographies of Monk, Mingus, Holiday, Fitzgerald, Parker, Paul Desmond, Ellington.  Books have been published about musicians who are still relatively obscure: Mark Miller on Herbie Nichols, Anthony Barnett on Henry Crowder.  

John Chilton’s studies of Bechet, Hawkins, Eldridge, and Red Allen are models of the form.  Ed Berger and his father did right by Benny Carter; Ed devoted a book to George Duvivier and is working on one about Joe Wilder.  My shelves are full, and I’m not listing criticism and discography. 

Most of what I have noted above (with admiration) is jazz scholarship from the outside — by enthusiastic listeners who have immersed themselves in jazz.  I would be the last to disparage that as an art form, as writers who do it include Martin Williams, Dan Morgenstern, Gene Lees, Chris Albertson, Frank Driggs, Nat Hentoff and two dozen others.  A few musicians — rare souls — who were also fine writers: Dick Wellstood, Richard M. Sudhalter, Rex Stewart, Dick Katz.    

But even given all of this, how often have jazz musicians been asked to tell their stories? 

I know that there is a history of popular journalism — early on in urban Black newspapers — of getting quotations from musicians, but I wonder how many utterances that were attributed were actually spoken by the musicians themselves.  Later on, one had DOWN BEAT and METRONOME, and smaller magazines — Art Hodes’ THE JAZZ RECORD, here and abroad.  Some of this “journalism” perpetuated the stereotype of the musician as an eccentric character who spoke an unintelligible hipster gibberish.     

There are, of course, the pioneering recorded interviews of Jelly Roll Morton done in 1938 — mythic in many ways — that might be the first oral history of a jazz musician.  Whether you take them as an extended piece of performance art or as first-hand narrative / reportage, they remain invaluable.

Others have attempted to let the players speak — the Oral History Project had musicians interviewing their peers and friends, Stanley Dance’s series of books, the Shapiro / Hentoff HEAR ME TALKIN’ TO YA, Gitler’s SWING TO BOP, the diligent work of Bill Spilka, Hank O’Neal’s book THE GHOSTS OF HARLEM, collections of interviews and profiles by Whitney Balliett, Peter Vacher, Max Jones.  Phil Schaap has done extensive, rewarding radio interviews for forty years now.  Lester Young spoke to Chris Albertson and Francois Postif.  And irreplaceable video-documentaries focus on Ben Webster, Lester, Goodman, Phil Woods.  Fifty years ago, Riverside Records recorded Coleman Hawkins and Lil Hardin Armstrong telling their stories.             

But all of this is outweighed by the invisibility, the unheard voices of musicians. 

Who thought to ask Kaiser Marshall or Walter Johnson anything after they had finished a set with the Fletcher Henderson band?  Who interviewed Ivie Anderson?  Allen Reuss?  Jimmy Rowles?  Dave McKenna?  Al Cohn?  Shad Collins?  Barry Galbraith?  Shorty Baker?  Did anyone ask Denzil Best or Nick Fenton about what it was like to play at Minton’s?  Who spoke with Joe Smith or Joe Nanton about their experiences?  George Stafford, Tiny Kahn, Nick Fatool, Dave Tough?  (I know some of these figures were interviewed or analyzed by my hero Whitney Balliett, but the burden of jazz history of this sort shouldn’t have to rest on one writer’s shoulders.)

Granted, many stellar musicians were once anonymous sidemen and women, and the leaders of bands got all the attention.  So there are more interviews of Ellington than of Johnny Hodges, more of Goodman than of Vido Musso, more of Basie than of Jack Washington.  But Swing Era fans knew every member of the reed section in their favorite orchestras.

Thus claims of “obscurity” have to be taken less seriously: there was a time when Cootie Williams was nearly as well known as Jackie Robinson would be — you may substitute names you prefer in this equation of “famous jazz musician” and “famous sports figure.” 

I can imagine a number of reasons for musicians being ignored.

Some musicians would rather play than talk about their playing; some are even taciturn, although articulate.  And sometimes even the most garrulous players are not the best interview subjects.  “What was it like to play with Big Boy Smith?” one asks.  “Oh, it was a ball!  We had a great time!” the musician answers.  The interviewer waits for more.  “Do you remember any specific incidents?”  “Oh, no.  It was a lot of fun.  We couldn’t wait to get on the bandstand.”  And so on.  I’ve had this happen to me with the most sophisticated players here and in Europe.  They wereen’t reluctant to talk, but they weren’t intuitive novelists themselves.

Although cordial to outsiders, many musicians also don’t see the point of discussing serious matters — like music — with them.  Too much explaining.  Life is short; the next set is coming soon.   This does say something about the unseen wall between themselves and fans — people who don’t know what it is to play, to improvise professionally, come from a different planet.  Nice folks, but aliens.  Even sweet-natured Bobby Hackett referred to the audience as “the enemy.”  “Fans” and “academics” are friendly, “critics” and “writers” might be useful, but none of them really know

And oftentimes, musicians are ambushed by people who want to talk wishing to talk at inopportune times.  A musician asked to comment on the music she’s just played after a forty-five minute set may well be drained by the effort.  When they’re not playing, musicians talk of other subjects, including the cost of things, their most recent car repair, health care proposals.  Anything is more interesting than responding to “What inspires you when you take a solo?”  Some may want to be left in peace, to eat their scrambled eggs while they’re somewhat hot.  And who could blame them?       

When some venerable musicains are finallyinterviewed when they have become venerable, they have forgotten the details.  What they did forty years ago wasn’t musical history, but a way of making a living.  And even those who have sharp memories may not want to tell all: candor might mean losing friends or gigs.  And some aren’t interested in reliving their pasts: autobiographies and interviews are career-ending landmarks: what musicians do when they can no longer play.  Doing beats talking and theorizing.      

Others are “saving it for their book” — books that might get poublished posthumously if ever.  And when musicians die, sometimes their spouse discards “all that old clutter,” including letters and memorabilia.  Sometimes a divorce means that possessions get thrown out, or a son or daughter believes that Papa’s papers are worth millions and refuses to let anyone make money from themsee them.    

Having said all that, I want to put it aside. 

There were all the reasons that musicians might not want to be asked. 

But so many, I have to believe, would have been delighted to tell their stories.  Why weren’t they?

Much comes from the earliest perception of jazz as entertainment, hardly serious.  It was played at night in places where people talked loudly, smoked, drank, and danced.  Real art could be found in museums and in concert halls.  Jazz players weren’t ordinary people; they existed outside polite society; some thought them licentious madmen working themselves into ecstasies on the bandstand.  Who would be so bold as to ask one of them a question?  And what savage reply would result? 

The subject of race can’t be pushed aside.  If both White and Black listeners thought that jazz was primarily dance music, why study it?  Why take its players seriously?  And the early preponderance of White jazz scholars and critics — some Europeans and White Americans — can be traced to the idea that jazz was no more than “good-time music,” denying Afro-Americans proper dignity.  Would you want your daughter to marry a jazz musician?  Would you want your African-American child to concentrate his or her academic efforts on Cab Calloway, on Louis Armstrong?  But the initial racial imbalance did shift, and I suspect that Joe Nanton would have been happy to speak with a White college student if the student was both sincere and aware.  As would Rod Cless have been.       

I think of Emerson in “The American Scholar,” delivered in 1846, urging his audience to study their own culture — only in this way could a nation exist.  Many years after Emerson’s death, an American college student couldn’t expect to do advanced study about the authors of his time and place: a college education required German, Chaucer, rather than James T. Farrell and Charlie Chaplin.  To say nothing of Sidney Catlett.  And so it was for jazz.  By the time that academia caught up with it, so many of the progenitors were dead, their stories untold. 

The losses are irreparable.  To urge readers to interview a jazz musician today won’t replace what has been lost. 

What might Frank Teschmacher or Freddie Webster have told us, have someone thought it sufficiently important to ask them?

Those pages remain irrevocably blank.

COPYRIGHT, MICHAEL STEINMAN AND JAZZ LIVES, 2010
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.  Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael Steinman and Jazz Lives with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.