I believe I was in the second row for this, the first concert of the 1975 Newport Jazz Festival in New York (its fourth in this city and its twenty-second, for those keeping track) and I had my cassette recorder and better-quality microphone, the wire concealed in my blazer sleeve. Not everything I recorded was priceless and not all of it has survived, but the rescued music has its own happy power. The concert was a tribute to Bix Beiderbecke, featuring Marian McPartland, Johnny Mince, Warren Vache, John Glasel, and Bix’s replacement in the Wolverines, Jimmy McPartland, as well as veterans of the Jean Goldkette orchestra Spiegle Willcox, Bill Rank, and Chauncey Morehouse.
But the explosive high point of the evening for me was a right-here-right-now version of Joe Venuti’s Blue Four, featuring Zoot Sims, tenor saxophone, Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar, and the surviving member of that ad hoc group, the durable Vince Giordano, bass saxophone. Here’s how they sounded on CHINA BOY and no doubt an unscheduled encore, C JAM BLUES, with Venuti doing his unique “four-string Joe” party piece. Dan Morgenstern tells me that he isn’t doing the introduction, so the cheerful announcer is mysterious to me, although it might well be Dick Sudhalter. The photograph below comes from the Chiaroscuro Records compilation, JOE AND ZOOT AND MORE, also glorious:
There is a good deal of history within and around the live performance you are about to hear. However, the sound is not ideal — which I will explain — so sonically-delicate listeners may want to come back tomorrow.
It might be difficult for younger readers to imagine the excitement that I and my jazz friends greeted the Newport Jazz Festival in New York in 1972. It was the Arabian Nights — a cornucopia of concerts where we could see and hear musicians who, for the most part, had been sounds coming out of a cloth-covered speaker grille or posed on the cover of a long-playing record. My friends and I, specifically Stu Zimny, bought tickets to the concerts we could afford — we were college students — and I brought my cassette recorder with the more exotic Shure microphone attached. I don’t remember the ticket prices at Radio City Music Hall, but for people of our class, it was general seating which required climbing flights of stairs. I looked it up today and the hall seats just over 6000.
I think we might have scored seats in the front of the highest mezzanine. Our neighbors were two exuberant women from Texas, younger than I am now, understandably ready for a good time. They’d brought Scotch, offered us some, which we declined, and they politely declined our offer of Cadbury chocolate. I kept silent because I had a cassette recorder in my lap; the Texas contingent gave out with appropriate exultations. The audience in general was excited and excitable, although they paid attention to the solos. (One of the women, commenting on the applause, can be heard to say, “You like something, you tell ’em about it,” and who would disagree?)
The players were a constellation of heroes: Gene Krupa, drums; Larry Ridley, string bass; Teddy WIlson, piano; Jim Hall, guitar; Red Norvo, vibraphone; Bud Freeman, tenor saxophone; Benny Carter, alto saxophone; Vic Dickenson, trombone; Bobby Hackett, cornet; Roy Eldridge, trumpet.
The first set offered four long songs, and HONEYSUCKLE ROSE / JUMPIN’ WITH SYMPHONY SID were the closing pair, with Gene, whose health was not good, playing only those two, taking over for the younger Bobby Rosengarden. (Gene would die fifteen months later.) There is some distortion; my microphone was not ready for 6000 people; the engineers seemed only partially aware of how acoustic instruments might sound in such a huge hall. The ensembles are not always clear, and the applause can drown out part of a solo, although this excitable audience is tame when compared to some recorded at JATP concerts. Even in substandard sound, the music comes through, the individual voices of the soloists, and their pleasure at being on this stage together. Our pleasure you will have to imagine, but it was substantial then, perhaps more so now.
Consider for yourself, with or without Scotch or chocolate:
The Festival concerts were reviewed regularly in the New York Times. Here are the opening paragraphs of Don Heckman’s review, “MIDNIGHT JAM SESSION AT MUSIC HALL,” in the New York Times, July 5, 1972:
The jam session, that most venerable of institutions, is still at the very heart of the jazz experience. Rare though it may be in these days of musical eclecticism, it continues to be a kind of proving ground for musicians, in which they can test and measure themselves against their contemporaries.
The Newport Jazz Festival had the first of two scheduled Midnight Jam Sessions at Radio City Music Hall Monday at midnight. The first group of the session, a mainstream‐oriented ensemble, included Bud Freeman, Gene Krupa, Bobby Rosengarden, Jim Hall, Larry Ridley, Vic Dickenson, Benny Carter, Roy Eldridge, Teddy Wilson and Bobby Hackett. They bounced happily through a passel of swing standards, with Carter, Eldridge and Freeman sounding particularly energetic.
Then the old gladiator of the swing drums, Gene Krupa, was announced and the proceedings went rapidly down hill. Krupa dashed buoyantly on stage and proceeded to hammer away in a style that would have been more appropriate for a Blaze Starr strip show than for the backing of some of the finest jazz players in the world. Yet his reputation and his flair for showmanship sustained him, and every tasteless clang of the cymbal was met with shouts of approval from the overflow audience.
I know Mr. Heckman (born 1932) is widely-published, has a musical background, and is well-respected. Several of my readers may know him; others may find nothing extraordinary in his prose. After all, “Aren’t we all entitled to our opinions, Michael?” But I am amazed at what he heard — balanced against what readers in 2021 can hear even on my murky tape — and by his positioning himself above the artists and above the audience. His three sentences read as contempt for Krupa — a hammering gladiator who would have been more appropriate playing for a stripper — and for an audience too foolish to know, as did Mr. Heckman, that they should have sat silent in disapproval.
That kind of self-aggrandizing disapproval makes good copy, but it is to me a repellent attitude towards the art one is supposed to depict and evaluate. I know that if I had been able to ask Gene his reaction, he might have sighed and said, “Chappie, these fellows do it to sell papers. I don’t take them seriously,” and he told Harriet Choice that the wild applause was because the young audience perceived him as an icon of marijuana culture — which I think says more about his deep modesty than anything else.
At this late date, I am offended by Heckman’s paragraph, for the sake of this holy art. Sneering is not art criticism.
It was and is a blessing to be in the same room with these players.