Sometimes a JAZZ LIVES post is the result of a record I’ve heard, a musician I’ve been thinking about, or a particular idea. Other times, it takes a village, which I define as members of my emotional jazz-family to make something coalesce into print. In this case, I am grateful to adopted-brothers Bernard Flegar and Mark Cantor, who may never have met in person — that’s the way my extended family works. (I also have Brothers Hal Smith and Mike Karoub: someday we can all have Thanksgiving together!) Others, less beloved, who acted as stimuli, are the late Andre Hodeir and a sour YouTube armchair critic who will not be named.
About a week ago, to celebrate George Wein’s 95th birthday, I posted an eighteen-minute video featuring Barney Bigard and friends playing at Nice, and you can see the video here. Barney was 71. He sounded beautiful.
But the first YouTube comment was a dismaying “Not Barneys finest hour ?” I gently replied that Barney couldn’t be expected to play as he had in 1940, and did take a swipe at the commenter — without correcting his punctuation, “Your comment says more about you than about him.” His vinegary response came right back: “I’m 83 and an avid jazz fan ; there’s a time to leave your instrument in its case if you can’t keep up ! Just like boxers who hang on too long ; singers who hung on to long ( Frank was a classic example) Barney would have agreed . Unrepentant !” Someone else chimed in to echo the unrepentant avid fellow.
I sighed and didn’t write any of the things I could have about the irony of people of 83 being ageist. “Don’t insult my musicians!” is my credo, and I would rather hear Lester Young in Paris in 1959 than not at all.
Then, the splendid film scholar Mark Cantor and I conversed online about the French jazz critic Andre Hodeir. I was delighted to find that I had written about Hodeir in 2011 here. In his first book, Hodeir had rhapsodized over the “romantic imagination” of Dicky Wells as displayed in his memorable 1937 recordings. Dicky then came to France in 1952, but he was no longer the player he had been. Hodeir attacked him in an essay, “Why Do They Age So Badly?” stating that Wells had no reason to keep on playing, that his work no longer met Hodeir’s standards. I saw Dicky playing splendidly in the early Seventies, but Hodeir’s criticism stung not only him but readers like myself.
Yesterday morning, the wise drummer-scholar Bernard Flegar (whose eyes are open to the good stuff) led me to something that, in the fashion of Edgar Allan Poe, had been hiding in plain sight: a video shot by Bob Byler at the 1988 Elkhart Jazz Festival, a tribute to our mutual deity Eddie Condon, two sets featuring Wild Bill Davison, Tommy Saunders, Chuck Hedges, George Masso, Marty Grosz, Dave McKenna, and (set one) Milt Hinton, Rusty Jones; (set two) John Bany, Wayne Jones — nearly two hours of extraordinary music.
Wild Bill could sometimes coast, but not here. And he was 82 and a half. Please consider that number for a moment. By the standards of Hodeir and YouTube critics, he should have stopped long before. But he’s so charged; the rest of the band, including younguns Hedges and Grosz, is also. A viewer who looks for double chins and thinning hair will find them. But the music — inventive, surprising, and fun — is anything but geriatric.
Bob Byler (with his devoted wife Ruth) shot many videos — some of them are cinematically flawed, but this one is fine.
Here’s the roadmap.
The first set [afternoon turning into evening, outdoors] offers leisurely swinging improvisations on LADY BE GOOD, SOMEDAY YOU’LL BE SORRY (Saunders, vocal), ‘S’WONDERFUL (Bill tells a joke) I’M CRAZY ‘BOUT MY BABY (Marty Grosz), IF I HAD YOU (Masso and Hedges out), INDIANA (Milt, at a beautiful tempo), NOBODY ELSE BUT ME (Masso) SKYLARK (Hedges), AM I BLUE, I NEVER KNEW.
The second set [evening, indoors}: I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME, SEPTEMBER IN THE RAIN (at a sweet tempo), AS LONG AS I LIVE, KEEPIN’ OUT OF MISCHIEF (Masso and Hedges out), TEA FOR TWO (Masso), RUNNIN’ WILD (ending with a spectacular solo from Wayne Jones).
We listen with our ears and our hearts, not our actuarial tables, I hope.
And if anyone wants to tell me I am too old to be blogging (I started in February 2008) tell me to my face and I’ll throw my pill bottles at them. That’ll do it.
Many thanks to the true heroes, here and elsewhere: Bill, Tommy, George, Chuck, Dave, Marty, Milt, John, Rusty, Wayne, Bernard and Mark, Hal and Mike. Their life-force cheers me and gives me strength.
May your happiness increase!