Tag Archives: The New Yorker

“THESE ARE MY PEOPLE”: LOUIS and ENRICO at the BATLEY VARIETY CLUB, 1968

This is an amazing and sweet documentary, something I never expected to see and hear, a portrait of Louis in unusual surroundings, with deep commentary from Enrico Tomasso, whom I admire greatly, as musician and humane being.  It will all become clear:

The twentieth century had its horrors; some continue, intensified, today.  But Louis Armstrong — our spiritual beacon — could come to Batley, in Yorkshire, and play for several weeks.  Such a fact suggests that, as THE NEW YORKER’S Harold Ross said in a different context, “Talent doesn’t care where it resides.”

May your happiness increase!

AN ISLAND OF BEAUTY: CONAL FOWKES and DAN BLOCK (Chez Josephine, June 6, 2015)

Island palm tree

You would hardly expect musical beauty to be so generously evident in a busy New York City restaurant on a Saturday night, but it happened again on June 6, 2015.  The creators were Conal Fowkes, piano; Dan Block, clarinet. The unlikely spot is Chez Josephine on West 42nd Street in New York.

And here are six charmers.

Never mind the darkness, the waitstaff crossing back and forth (it’s what they are paid to do and diners want their food and drink right now), the occasional tendency to use the top of the piano as a service area.  Instead, concentrate on the lovely music.

Harold Ross — beloved and idiosyncratic editor of The New Yorker — once said, “Talent doesn’t care where it resides.”  We bless Conal and Dan for filling the air with such lovely sounds . . . for those who can hear them, subliminally or directly.

The videos are odd, but the sound of the piano and clarinet is clear and distinct. And I’ve given up hopes of an Oscar for cinematography, for 2015 at least.

IT’S THE TALK OF THE TOWN (the first song of the night, and I caught it in progress, as they say):

I’LL GET BY:

MY IDEAL:

MAKE BELIEVE:

PRELUDE TO A KISS (I think playing a ballad in a rather conversational place is a heroic act; see what you think):

A SHINE ON YOUR SHOES:

May your happiness increase!

“THE FIRST KIND OF MUSIC”

When I first began to search out New York live jazz performances, the news of who was playing where and when was often available in my local newspaper, the New York Times, The New Yorker, even Down Beat.  Some of the information, accessed weeks in advance, was no longer accurate by the time the gig happened, so there were some disappointments.  And much of what I learned was by word-of-mouth: “Do you know that Buddy Tate has a gig on Saturday at The Onliest Place?” and that bit of information could be investigated by telephone.

It would seem that jazz fans have it much easier in 2014.  The sources I’ve mentioned above still publish gig announcements, and several other periodicals — including The Wall Street Journal and New York — have joined in. I am very fond of Hot House Jazz Magazine (their first-rate website is here) and The New York Jazz Record (their website here) and both journals — free, published monthly — can be found at a variety of jazz clubs.

So that’s fine for someone who wants to plan out the next month’s gigs.  But what if you are especially fond of X and her Urbanites, and want to know when they are making music?  Of course, some media-wise creative types have their own websites; others have Facebook pages and event listings.  Each is quite valuable.

But you might have to be a Facebook friend of X and the Urbanites (or X herself) and it is possible that X might be so busy writing charts and rehearsing that she hasn’t kept her website current.

There is a new cyber-resource in addition that I’d like to call your attention to: David S. Isenberg’s weekly music blog — THE FIRST KIND OF MUSIC (its title comes from the Ellington comment that there are only two kinds of music; you can imagine which one David is praising): see it here.  I don’t entirely understand how it works: it Tumbles and Tweets at the same time?  That sounds exhausting. But it’s a truly worthy effort to get more information out to an eager public about the gigging of people we love and love to hear.  So do investigate.  It’s so much nicer to know about the gig in advance than to hear about what-happened-last-night-that-you-missed.

May your happiness increase!

JAZZ WORTH READING: “THE BOSTON JAZZ CHRONICLES: FACES, PLACES AND NIGHTLIFE 1937-1962”

Some of my readers will already know about Richard Vacca’s superb book, published in 2012 by Troy Street Publishing.  I first encountered his work in Tom Hustad’s splendid book on Ruby Braff, BORN TO PLAY. Vacca’s book is even better than I could have expected.

VACCA book

Much of the literature about jazz, although not all, retells known stories, often with an ideological slant or a “new” interpretation.  Thus it’s often difficult to find a book that presents new information in a balanced way.  BOSTON JAZZ CHRONICLES is a model of what can be done.  And you don’t have to be particularly interested in Boston, or, for that matter, jazz, to admire its many virtues.

Vacca writes that the book grew out of his early idea of a walking tour of Boston jazz spots, but as he found out that this landscape had been obliterated (as has happened in New York City), he decided to write a history of the scene, choosing starting and ending points that made the book manageable.  The book has much to offer several different audiences: a jazz-lover who wants to know the Boston history / anecdotal biography / reportage / topography of those years; someone with local pride in the recent past of his home city; someone who wishes to trace the paths of his favorite — and some obscure — jazz heroes and heroines.  (Vacca’s book could become the ULYSSES of jazz Boston, although we’d have to settle on a day to follow the paths of, perhaps Sabby Lewis or Frankie Newton through this vanished terrain.)

I found the proliferation of new information delightful, even though I was familiar with some of Boston’s “hot spots of rhythm” and the musicians who played there: Newton, Max Kaminsky, Dick Twardzic, Serge Chaloff, Bobby Hackett, George Wein, Jaki Byard, Toshiko Akiyoshi, Vic Dickenson, Ruby Braff, Alan Dawson, Jaki Byard, Herb Pomeroy, Nat Pierce, Charlie Mariano, John Field, Buzzy Drootin, Joe Gordon, and others.  I’d known about the Hi-Hat, the Savoy, Mahogany Hall, and the various permutations of Storyville.  But on every page I read stories that were both new and illuminating (filling in gaps in the lives of musicians I had known as well as obscure ones) and learned a great deal about place and places.

And Vacca has an old-fashioned respectfulness, which is rare in this century.  True, there are stories of low life and bad behavior, for some of those night spots were run by and populated by people who gave way to their impulses — but Vacca is no tabloid journalist, savoring wicked or illicit behavior.  And his amused, gentle forgiveness makes the book especially charming.

Topography — whether substantial or vanished — has a good deal to do with experience.  When I could visit Your Father’s Mustache in New York and realize that its floor space was that of Nick’s circa 1944, it made something click: memory met tangible reality.  Knowing more about the Savoy — as a place, run by real figures in a genuine historical panorama — adds to my experience of listening to broadcasts taken from there.

The photographs — almost all of them new to me — and the maps (a delight) add to the pleasure of this book.  As well, I learned about musicians I’d never heard of, or from, who played major roles in Boston’s jazz life: Dean Earl, Al Vega, Mabel Robinson Simms, as well as places I’d heard little of — Izzy Ort’s Bar and Grille, for one.  james Reese Europe puts in an appearance, as does Sam Rivers; George Frazier, Nat Hentoff, Father Norman J. O’Connor, Symphony Hall, Symphony Sid, Teddi King, Jake Hanna, Leroy Parkins, Fat Man Robinson, John McLellan, Charlie Bourgeois, the Newport Jazz Festival, and the Berklee College of Music pop in and out.

But what makes this book rise above the information and stories collected within it is Vacca’s skill as researcher, editor, writer, and presenter.  The first thing a reader will notice is his lively but not flashy writing style: I’d call it refined, erudite journalism — fast-moving but never superficial.  He is a great storyteller, with a fine eye for the telling detail but someone who leaves a reader wanting more rather than feeling as if one was trapped at a party with an Authority on some bit of arcana.  (The writer Vacca reminds me of is THE NEW YORKER’S Joseph Mitchell, and that is not a compliment I utter lightly.)  He has a light touch, so the book is entertaining without ever seeming thin or didactic.  I would hand this book to an aspiring writer, researcher, or reporter, and say, “This is one admirable way to do it.”

In addition, the book is obviously the result of diligent research — not simply a synthesis of the available books that touch on the subject, although there is a six-page small-print bibliography (and a discography, a generous touch) but much of the information here comes from contemporary newspapers and magazines and Vacca’s interviews with Bostonians who were there, whether they were musicians, fans, or interested onlookers.

I’ve finished reading it, but it remains on my desk — an irresistible distraction, a book I have been returning to often.  It’s a remarkable accomplishment — literate, vivid, accurate, and animated.

To find out more about the book, click here. I predict it will provide more pleasure, and more lasting pleasure, than its price — which is roughly that of one compact disc.

May your happiness increase!

THOMAS McGUANE’S JAZZ COLLECTOR

Thomas McGuane’s short story, THE CASSEROLE, published in the September 10, 2012 issue of THE NEW YORKER, is short, sharp, and hard.  It begins on page 93, with the nameless narrator and his wife — and by the end of 94, the story is over, the narrator is by himself, not knowing what has hit him.

I was so struck by the story — and I mean that phrase in the literal sense — that I may bring it with me tomorrow morning when my semester begins and read it to my students.  But what also struck me is this short passage early on in the story, which I reprint here:

I had an extensive collection of West Coast jazz records, including the usual suspects, Gerry Mulligan, Chet Baker, Stan Getz, and so on — not everybody has  Wardell Gray and Buddy Collette, but I did — and if I’d had a bit more dough I could have added a room on to our house specifically to house this collection, with an appropriate sound system.  But when I complained about things like this to Ellie, she just said, “Cue the violins.”

Now, if you read this without any context, it may well seem that our sympathy is with the narrator.  Poor fellow, his unsympathetic bitch of a wife doesn’t understand his love for jazz.  But the hubris of his boasting to himself that he knows what the real stuff is — I own Wardell Gray records! — comes to bite him a page later, for he is one of those characters (modeled on real people) who don’t see the train coming until it had flattened them.

I don’t present this as an example of how jazz collectors are represented in fiction, nor do I see it as an overarching commentary on marital relations when the soundtrack is jazz music.  (By the way, the narrator still has his records at the end of the story: this is not a fictionalized reading of BLACKBOARD JUNGLE.)

Incidentally, trusting the author is slippery business, but McGuane said this in a brief interview (on the magazine’s website), after calling the narrator a “twit,” “I think he has nearly everything wrong. He is a peevish fault-finder who gets what he deserves.”

This passage simply caught my attention not once but twice, and I suppose it is worthy of note when Wardell Gray shows up in THE NEW YORKER now that Whitney Balliett is dead . . .

I am sorry I cannot reprint the story for everyone to read, but you surely can find this issue in your local library or find someone who subscribes to the magazine.

May your happiness increase.

“AM RICELY AND CHICKENLY YOURS”

Thanks to Will Friedwald for pointing this out — courtesy of “Letters of Note” (http://www.lettersofnote.com/search?updated-max=2010-09-28T14:18:00%2B01:00&max-results=6).   (Will told me that Nancy Franklin of THE NEW YORKER brought it to his attention, so thanks, Nancy!)

The original source was a Sotheby’s auction (http://www.sothebys.com/app/live/lot/LotDetail.jsp?lot_id=47TQW) where this and four other latters to the singer Gina Gardner sold for  £1440. 

‘Yea Man’ . . . . . . . . !

A THREE-WEEK GIG

Jim Eigo (of Jazz Promo Services) sent this along — from 1973, by Stan Hunt in THE NEW YORKER: