Tuesday, February 18, 2014
Awhile back I started rehearsing with a trio of old friends and new friends (a couple of the bass players I met for the first time). I started off way back in the seventies as a blues piano player but one night while drinking at a bar where I knew the band's leader, he came up to me, I was already three sheets to the wind and heading fastly into the fourth, and asked me if I could sing. My rather bibulous reply was, "No, but if I could sing, I could sing better than your singer." Immediately, this cat pulled me up off the bar stool and dragged me up on stage, put a mic in my hands, and said, "Sing." And I sang. I don't recall what I sang but whatever it was, a blues I'm sure, it went over big enough that I got a roaring and impressive round of applause from the bar's music patrons. From that day on I became a singer.
In the first bands I was in here in New York City, I still played the piano, but from that time on I also sang. I played and sang with a series of downtown Manhattan cult bands, bands that covered everything from the blues, r and b, rock 'n roll, to original tunes by some of the most talented bunch of musicians I would never have met had it not been for that night in that bar when I was hit on to sing.
I worked as a singer/pianist (and later as a harmonica player) in the New York City area pretty steadily during the late seventies all the way up into the early 2000s when suddenly most blues and jazz venues were closed down for good or at least closed to my kind of what had then become to younger musicians old fogie music.
My last steady gig went south around 2004 and from then on if I worked I would guest with bands I knew doing a couple of tunes and getting paid in camaraderie, free beers, and occasionally free meals.
I haven't done any steady gigging for quite a while now though I'm still working on my music, keeping my chops up on the piano and harmonica and trying to learn to play the guitar. I also produce my own CDs in my own recording studio, CDs covering a gamut of venues from blues on up to my more serious and elaborate compositions.
More than a year ago, a drummer friend of mine called me and said he and a bass player and pianist had started rehearsing once a week at the Local 802 Union Hall and he invited me to drop in if I felt like it and sing a few with them. That initial drop in soon had me invited as a regular member of this rehearsal group, as their vocalist.
Things evolved so well, that after one rehearsal while the leader, the piano player, and I were sipping cold pints of Bass ale at Hurley's Bar, it was decided that we'd try to book some gigs.
Previous to these rehearsals, I had been pretty cynical about the jazz situation here in New York City. I had commented on how what few jazz venues were still around had been captured by a few old has-beens who were still humping the system by depending on their past associations with jazz superstars to get gigs, even though those associations were of perhaps a one-gig moment or as a back-up musician on one album.
Well, anyway, here we are a bunch of old cats from the old school deciding we can't give up. We gotta forge on no matter the odds against us. We're all of us still powerful executioners of several aspects (genres) of jazz. We rehearsed an all-Horace Silver show the other day and were surprised at how many Silver tunes we knew. And, though you don't usually think of Horace in terms of vocals, he recorded quite a few albums with vocalists Andy Bey and Oscar Brown, Jr., for instance.
So one fine afternoon a month or so back, the drummer and leader of this rehearsal group went out looking for gigs. He came back depressed. Even though the jazz magazines still being published around New York City, and there are quite a few, list club after club still catering to the jazz crowd, his experience found that these clubs were first of all not paying anything and second of all the better ones, the more established ones, wanted groups or individuals who were being recorded or had signed on with record labels and had CDs released. That stipulation left us out in the cold.
As a result of NO GIGS (how can old cats like us compete with a beautiful young Asian pianist? or a young man who has just graduated with honors from a college music program?), our rehearsals went the way of all flesh and our little group broke up.
The drummer got into flamenco and he works now with a flamenco pianist from Spain, a flamenco singer, a flamenco dancer, and a bass player friend at a small Spanish bar down in the East Village.
The piano player has become a church organist at an Episcopal church in New Jersey.
And I? I have become a writer currently editing a novel I recently finished. I stay at home (I can't afford to go out...except I do have a friend who works for Jazz at Lincoln Center that treats me to a jazz concert occasionally), I read a lot, and I collect CDs of those jazz albums I once owned back when I was young and open minded and able to get a gig every now and then. I also have put together quite a collection of Lester Young 78s, photos, and posters. I still listen to 78s trying to convince myself that they are as close to the performer as I'll ever get, though some of the players I have on 78s, like Lester, moved on into the LP years and recorded on EPs and LPs, though I still nostalgically hold that their sounds on 78s are still just a step away from them blowing directly into the microphone while the master waxes are having their grooves cut as they are playing. Maybe the young cats are right. I'm just an old fogie on my way to the jazz and blues boneyard. Still, I miss the stages and atmospheres of the bars and joints and dives in which I used gain wonderful applause and loving kudos.
Recent CDs I've bought that I find worthy of multitudes of listens are:
Grant Green's amazing Idle Moments Lp from the 1960s (a truly finely done jazz classical performance); Jimmy Rushing singing so fine with of all people Dave Brubeck and the Quartet (Desmond, Gene Wright, Joe Morello), a recording from 1960; and coming closer to now, Bill Charlap (with Kenny and Peter Washington) playing the music of Leonard Bernstein (I love Lennie's tune "Ohio" done masterfully by Mr. Charlap).
An Old Jazz Cat Who Still Remembers When Louie, Bird, Klook, Budo, J.J., Fats (Navarro), Rich, Diz, Miles, Blue, Mingus, et. al., were still alive and innovating.
My last paid gig...I'm the vocalist:
Monday, February 10, 2014
I often ask Fab Four fanatics, how can you compare the Beatles to the much more talented American performers whose careers they didn't necessarily ruin but drove them lower in the charts and drove down their record sales?
I've often said that the Beatles were the White American record promoters' "Great White Hopes" against the domination of American music by an onslaught of innovative and overwhelmingly better Black performers like Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Aretha Franklin, Larry Williams (from whom the Beatles ripped off "Slow Down"), Paul Williams (the man who made "the Huckle-buck") (who?), B.B. King, the Howlin' Wolf (who when he recorded with a Brit band in England said on hearing the results, "That's dog shit music"), Sonny Boy Williamson #2, the great Muddy Waters (one of the most embarrassing idiot performances I've ever seen is when a stone junked up Mick Jagger gets up on stage with Muddy and tries to out-Black him (and, folks, I met Mick Jagger once and he was a damn nice guy)), Ruth Brown, T-Bone Walker, J.B. Lenoir, Otis Redding, Billy Preston, Bo Diddley, Little Johnny Taylor, Hound Dog Taylor, the great Jimmy Reed, the overwhelmingly great Ray Charles (a versatile blues, r and b, rock, and jazz musician and entertainer), the ultimate great James Brown, Johnny "Guitar" Watson ("The Gangster of Love"), the great songmaster and musician Stevie Wonder, Magic Slim, John Lee Hooker (one of the great songsters and one of the best guitar players ever), Jimi Hendrix (I know, he had to go to England to find fame), Patti LaBelle, Fontana Bass (who?), The Mighty Hannibal ("Hymn #5), Solomon Burke, Frank Motley (the cat who played two trumpets at once), Lightnin' Hopkins, Manse Lipscomb, Mercy Dee Walton ("One Room Country Shack"), Ike Turner, Sly Stone, King Curtis, Gatemouth Brown, Charles Brown ("Driftin' and Driftin'"), Prince, Larry Graham ("Release Yourself" one of the greatest albums ever recorded), Al Green, et. al.
Here's something on this subject I wrote back in 2002:
November 24, 2002, Interesting discussion between an older musician and a couple of musicians from the Detroit, Michigan, area--it had to do with influences, the old musician talking about purity, nurturing a seedling garden of musics that came about in the US of A full force right after World War II. Kids in the late forties and early fifties were of a special generation. That generation had no designation, like the Lost Generation, the Beatniks, or Generation X; in fact, a good designation for that generation would be the Forgotten Generation, or for an even crueler appellation, how about the Never-Heard-of Generation. The old musician's generation, a generation that turned its back on Swing, Jump, Boogie, a generation like the Beats there when Be-bop up and changed the mainstream of jazz, which is all Swing was, a white interpretation of black jazz out of New Orleans, Harlem, Chicago's Mafia jazz clubs, and the Middle American big band jazz coming out of the Midwest, especially Kansas City, truly out of which came Charles Parker, Junior, and in New York advanced by a bunch of super musicians coming out of the Deep South, like Dizzy and John Coltrane, though their southern-style of music learning had been heartily refined after these geniuses settled in the confines of the New York City scene during and after WWII. Miles was from the Midwest. What a gathering. And it happened at the same time the old musician was learning music, taking piano lessons and being classically trained in the rudiments of ancient music. Listening to the early bop was quite a revealing experience. Some of the Swing charts had been hairy, sure, but the bop charts were head arrangements, spontaneous blowing, taking off on a riff and improvising through measure after measure of crescendo and diminuendo--oh, the freedom of it--blow, man, blow, that was the order of the day in jazz. Just blow. Yeah, you knew all the notes, the chords, the forms, shit, those were engrained in your head--everybody had music lessons in those days--if you were into music. Most homes had pianos. Guitars were not yet the most dominant omnipresent instruments they are today. Bands had guitars but they were chordal strummers. Even the earliest be-bop guitarists started off the chordal strum, evolving single-note lines as they had to revamp to catch up with the horns and pianos, fuck the bass and the drums, though they were fighting for attention, too, to fit into be-bop, like Max Roach, a very young man, figured it out; then Blakey, Philly Joe, dudes like that. Jo Jones with Basie had the right idea, but he was a foundation on which Roach and the other boppers built a whole new music of the drums. The old musician could go on for decades describing growing up musically at such a time. Such an all-American time, too. Music right out of the American soil and soul. Black origins, yes, but whites gloriously favoring it, even though they made a minstrelsy mess out of it when they made a mockery out of the music while at the same time being madly in love with it [Bing Crosby, for example; minstrelsy in order to make a living, but enchanted by the black aspect of the music at the same time]. It's like when one day you would as a white man have to take sides, say in another Civil War--either stay with the blacks and face annihilation, or get behind the whites you basically despise and save your ass. Artists can't save their asses no matter the color of their skin. Art exits the human soul as art, no matter the race of the artist. Art is universal. Life is universal. It was only natural that this pure American music as art would become universal.
It was hard for the old musician to admit such a point. He was progressive, so he had to admit it, but...it was hard. He was a purist when it came to American music. That was his bias, his ethnocentric bias. He was extremely jealous of the way others learned his precious music after the music did become universal.
One of the guys from Michigan said, "Hey, I understand what you are saying, old dude, and I must admit I never considered the subject from your point of view. I assumed all guys my age learned jazz and blues and such the same way I did." The other Michigan guy agreed. "What he means is, at least I speak for myself being from the same hometown, you dig, I came to jazz through bands like the MC5, or the Detroit Wheels. I heard the Beatles before I really knew jazz. I accepted the Beatles." The old dude growls. "God, the Beatles...shit, they ruined jazz especially. They did respect our black rhythm and blues and rock. Their first album was a rip off of all American black tunes, like 'Slow Down,' a tune by Texan Larry Williams that really flip-flopped-and-flew, man, whereas the Beatles did it like a kids tune. They turned our classical music into children's tunes, like Barney...I mean, you ever watch Barney, man, play the piano?--hell, yeah, Barney plays hinkity, rinky-dink, sloppy jazz piano, man--a child's respect for jazz. Am I making sense? The Beatles, hell, as Ray Charles said, 'I had to do their tunes because of their popularity, but I never did dig their music.' Their music changed the modal aspects of rhythm and blues and rock. Took it out of the traditional homemade mode or whatever blues idiom you were coming to the music from...and you had to know the blues in order to properly construct say a be-bop tune. An old original type blues guy, John Lee Hooker, was one of the best at it; he could hold a measure open for what seemed like minutes, getting the full flavor out of a line, out of a musical point, their guitars as much a part of their voice as anything, their pianos jumping and dancing with the vocals--12/4 times, 32/4 slow draggy hully-gullies and things. Fuck the Beatles. I never listened to 'em, never studied them, though I admit, I did do their stuff when I was a piano bar pianist, or playing once in a bowling alley restaurant in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I had to play what bowlers wanted to hear."
One of the young guys said, "Come on, Mr. History, the Beatles wrote some good tunes." The old musician pondered. "Wanna know the truth, and this applies to classical music as well as pop, everything that is British is stolen--when they were an empire, they stole all of the musics from their colonies, or they Anglicized them like they did American music in the sixties. Boring fucking modes. Boring fucking music, like Sir Eddie Elgar. Benjamin Britten stole everything American. Hell, at one time, St. Martin of the Fields was doing more American stuff than American orchestras, certainly the boring New York Philharmonic, which since Lenny Bernstein was their most famous conductor, they haven't hired an American-born conductor, preferring instead the rigorous Nazi conduction of guys like this last Viennese dude, Kurt Von something or the other. I remember when Pierre Boulez, who thought he was so fucking modern, came here--he was a total flop. And this is the guy who found errors in Stravinsky's scores."
Peter Pounder [not his real name]
for The Daddy O'Daily
Friday, April 26, 2013
Recently, a dude in Providence, Rhode Island, put up several photos he had from the collection of the late jazz-session photographer and album-cover designer, Burt Goldblatt. I found them all very interesting but especially since I collect anything having to do with the Prez there were three I really wanted badly, two proof sheets of Prez blowing and one a photo of Prez with Buck Clayton and Jack Teagarden blowing at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival. Several others, including two of Billy Strayhorn and two headshots of Duke, I was ready to go after in case I didn't get the Prezes.
Luckily I stood steadfast with my bidding and won the first Prez proof sheet, a contact sheet showing Prez blowing though in two shots he's standing with Jimmy Rushing.
The second Prez proof sheet evidently found by a new audience, and was immediately swept up out of my price range, ending going for $202.00. Disappointed, I decided, dammit, I was going to get the Prez at Newport no matter what it cost me and I threw a substantially high maximum bid on it and in the meantime noticed that the Duke headshots weren't attracting much attention at all and one was closing at $20 and the other one, the one I decided I really wanted, was closing at a measly $12. Obviously, shots of Duke aren't very well appreciated. I ended up getting a head shot of Duke, an unusual one to boot, for $14.00.
In the meantime, the Prez at Newport was closing and I still had it, even though it was rising in bids up close to my maximum. Finally it closed and I won it.
Others this guy had for sale included a great shot of Ray Nance practicing his violin backstage somewhere that I let get away for a lousy $9.00. There was a great old shot of Paul Chambers (Mr. P.C.) that I was going to bid on but just as I did, the bidding shot it up to over $100 so I bailed out.
All in all, this dude from Providence cleaned up pretty damn good. A couple of Miles Davis proof sheets sold for around $250 each. Those shots of Billy Strayhorn eventually sold for $150 and $180. Two great photos of John Coltrane topped $300 each (I had dropped out on these at $100). A shot of James P. Johnson with Mezz Mezzrow sold for way over $100. A shot of 52nd Street sold for a reasonable $50. A couple of Dizzy Gillespie shots went reasonably, too, one for a mere $16.00. But the surprise of the show turned out to be a photo of the blues pianist and singer, Peter Chatmon, better known as Memphis Slim. This photo, who I as a blues aficianado figured wouldn't sell for much at all ended up selling for over $1,000.
(not his real name)
Monday, November 26, 2012
I've admitted often of having met Mick Jagger in McAnn's Bar on 48th Street back in the 1980s and how I found him a very nice guy, friendly, not pretentious at all. However, anyone who knows me well knows I hate Mick's and the Rolling Stones' music...but then as an American musician from the pre-1964 British Invasion of American music I despise all Brit music...even its classical music. The Brits have no originality; they've stolen their culture from their colonies. The Beatles and the Rolling Stones stole their music, their styles and everything, from the American music that evolved out of ragtime, Dixieland, Swing, boogie-woogie, country & western, country and urban blues, jazz of all venues: Cool, Funk, Be-Bop, etc.
What set me off on this jag against Jagger? A PBS (Public BritishBroadcasting System...our taxpayer-backed public television network on which most shows are from the BBC) special featuring a film made back in 1981 at the famous Checkerboard Lounge in Chicago, when Mick and some of his pals (Ron Wood and Keith Richards) showed up at a Muddy Waters gig and it was filmed by someone in the audience. After Muddy does a few tunes, he calls Mick and his pals up on stage and oh how embarrassing the show becomes from then on. Muddy Waters is cool, this is before he fell into poor health, lookin' good, and singing so fine, but soon this all diminishes into chaos as Mick Jagger and Ron and Keith come on stage...Jagger acting the White fool and singing way off key...though Muddy tolerates these Brit goofballs...Ron and Keith with unlit cigarettes in their mouths as they play passable but boring blues riffs on their guitars (?)...did they show up at this gig with their instruments? And later, Muddy invites his protege Junior Wells up on stage...when Junior first started off on stage as a teenager, Muddy advised him on how to get over his stage fright telling him to take several shots of gin to calm him down...Junior is obviously not too sober and does a semi-OK job on Muddy's classic "Got My Mojo Workin'"---I've seen Junior better---and then Buddy Guy's invited up and he tries to banter around with Ron and Keith with a big smile on his face, trying to keep the White boys in the groove...all the while Mick Jagger overtries to impress a performer he obviously respects...I mean the Rolling Stones took their name from a Muddy Waters classic. I mean, it was OK until Mick and his jack-offs joined the fun and then I got so sick at my stomach, I flipped it the bird and then flipped it off and put on a Muddy Waters video I have from a Canadian TV show called "Blues Masters" where Muddy does one of the damnedest "Got My Mojo Workin's" ever done (in 1966), with James Cotton blowing his harmonica-playin' ass off...and the groove, well Mick Jagger never managed such a groove in his Brit fop over-the-top life...this is the YouTube version of my video...click off the Ties Around the World commercial (don't you hate when YouTube overlays those god-damn commercials on such pure music?)...
Peter Pounder (not his real name)
for The Daddy O'Daily
Tuesday, September 18, 2012
THELONIOUS MONK INSTITUTE OF JAZZ ANNUAL COMPETITION AND GALA, MADE POSSIBLE BY CADILLAC, WILL BE HELD IN WASHINGTON, D.C. SEPTEMBER 22-23
FESTIVITIES WILL HONOR FIRST FEMALE UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF STATE MADELEINE ALBRIGHT
Cast features Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Jimmy Heath, George Duke, Patti Austin, Nnenna Freelon, James Carter, Ingrid Jensen, Jane Ira Bloom, James Genus, Lee Ritenour, Geri Allen, Vinnie Colaiuta, Ada Rovatti, Claire Daly and special guests Aretha Franklin and Chris BottiRoll, Monk, Roll
I don't get it. What the hell does Monk have to do with that old geezer Madeleine Albright? Was she a Civil Rights worker? NO. Does she play jazz piano? I honestly don't know. And, God, there's Chris Botti on the bill. I'm honest and forthright in stating consistently that I can't stand Chris Botti. Herbie and Wayne are there; that's OK with me, though they were Miles' boys; Jimmy Heath, he doesn't bother me; but George Duke and Patti Austin? And Lee Ritenour? I mean are all of Monk's men dead? I'd rather see Fred Hersh and Joel Forrester (who I can't stand) there; at least they tried to mimick Monk. And Steve Lacy? Where's he. And it's sponsored by Cadillac!! They should. Jazz men bought enough Cadillacs in there golden days that Cadillac should pay them back.
That's an amazing thing, the Monk Institute honoring Madeleine Albright. Blows my friggin' mind. And how commercial can this event be? George Duke and Patti Austin? Lee Ritenour? Even why Aretha? And some of those cats I don't know from Adam. And why is Jane Ira Bloom there? Sorry, folks, I just don't get this one. How 'bout Paul Shaeffer? Why wasn't he invited? Or Sir Paul? Elvis Costello?
I'm busting out my old Monk stuff and listening to several hours of the High Priest doing his unique thing with Charles Rouse, Frankie Dunlop, John Ore, John Coltrane, Little Johnny Griffin. I just this morning listened to one of the great jazz albums of all time, the Bird & Diz album Norman Granz put out on Mercury back in the early 50s with Monk on piano and Buddy Rich on the drums and Curley Russell on bass. Pure jazz.
There are words to "'Round Midnight" so maybe Madeleine's gonna sing it with Aretha playing piano and Chris Botti imitating Miles with his slow draggy self.
Sugar Boy Crawford Passes
I loved the Sugar Boy. First heard him back in the 80s. Loved him so much I put three of his tunes in my repertoire when I was a blues pianist and singer. "Watch Her" (I changed Sugar Boy's lyrics which were pretty brutal but understandable), "Sing Out for Joy," and "I Bowed on My Knees." Sugar Boy gotten beaten up pretty bad years ago and had quit the music biz, but he had come back out and was doing the New Orleans Jazz Festival with his grandson...but, hey, all our times are gonna come.
Give a listen to the Sugar Boy gettin' down: www.youtube.com/watch?v=yDPHwuVPeXM
(not his real name)
for The Daddy O'Daily
Wednesday, September 5, 2012
Our US PBS loves all things British. They especially love Sir Paul, the old wizened Beatle. Coming up on PBS is Sir Paul singing American standards "he heard as a kid." Oh CRAP, please tell me it isn't true. Sir Paul singing our U.S. standards. Elvis Costello, that drab piece of crap old rocker (yeah, we liked "Psycho"), surely has something to do with this; his wife and her band are going to back old Sir Paul up in this adventure. I've got a video of the late Chet Baker filmed in London shortly before he died and he's blowing trumpet and singing in his unique style and then suddenly in pop Elvis Costello and Van Morrison singing U.S. standards and mucking them up--but poor old Chet was desperate for work so I guess he had to allow this Brit fop and Irish fop to F up his video.
I will not watch Sir Paul sing anything, especially his own crap, and I damn sure won't watch him butcher up US standards that I grew up with--I grew up hearing them sung by Ella, Sarah, Billy Eckstein, Old Blue Eyes, Mel Torme, Bill Henderson, Johnny Hartman, Carmen McRae, Chris Connor, my old pal Johnny Gilbert, etc. Sir Paul's efforts are a mockery of the great songs out of which came some of the greatest singers of all time. But of course Sir Paul and the Fab Four got filthy rich off ripping off U.S. r and b and Black rockers and now we know, U.S. pop songsters.
What's next from Brit-loving PBS, Mick Jagger doing Porgy and Bess?
(not his real name)
for The Daddy O'Daily
Thursday, August 23, 2012
I'm a jerk. I know that. But, dammit, I just can't listen to jazz today, no matter who's playing it. Roy Haynes is still alive and there's the Charles (I can't call him Charlie) Christopher Parker, Jr., Jazz Festival that just flew by here in New York City; started August 17th in venues all over the city ending on the 25th in Tompkins Square Park where it used to only be for two days when it started because Parker used to live in a building across from the park with Chan, but still I did not go. Like who were these people reproducing Parker with Strings? Miguel Atwood-Ferguson? This guy's an L.A. classically trained viola-violinist who dabbles in all kinds of music from hip hop to what he calls avant-garde jazz and claims he's played with --damn, you name them, Miguel's played with them--including Ray Brown and Billy Higgins. My God, I see he's played with Hall and Oates.
Today's jazz stars when I look at eJazz I see are mostly White guys. A lot of Asians are into jazz. Very well-trained White musicians and I'm sure they are very knowledgeable when it comes to their college courses they've taken in jazz history, but what has pissed me off since the 1960s, is that the Beatles put an end to the jazz I knew in depth and loved and these young jazz cats probably think the Beatles were cool or probably don't see them as I see them. The Fab Four put an end to many jazz careers when they came to America to make money in 1964. They came to this country to put Black r and b and blues stars out of commission because Blacks were invading White homes and luring White kids into Black music, including jazz, and White rockers in this country had come out of jazz (via blues). I once had a long discussion about this with Lester Bangs the ultimate rock critic before his death from being hooked on cough syrup in the late 1970s and Lester said growing up in Southern California in the 60s jazz had definitely influenced him and his contemporaries that included Zappa and Captain Beefheart.
Is it jealousy on my part? Maybe. Jazz is dead in New York City...and I know, some cats are going to tell me, hey there's jazz all over the city. But when I moved to NYC in the late 60s, there was a jazz club on every corner with the originators of jazz playing in them...and by originators, I mean Dizzy, Little Jazz, the Hawk, OP, Sam Jones, Newk, Cecil Taylor, Monk, Miles, Raashan Roland Kirk, Mingus, Louis Hayes, Billy Higgins, Chico Hamilton, Lou Donaldson, Zoot Sims, Little Jimmy Rushing, Buddy Rich, the Modern Jazz Quartet, etc. I mean names that had been in my life since I first heard jazz back in the early 1950s. The Bird was still alive when I was a kid learning jazz. Coltrane was making his classic albums. Clifford Brown was still alive and working with Max Roach and still alive and cooking were Booker Erwin, Eric Dolphy, Kenny Dorham, Wynton Kelly, Sun Ra, Ray Charles, Sal Salvador, Art Pepper, Gene Ammons (the Jug), Paul Desmond, Serge Chaloff, Jaki Byard, Horace Silver, Stan Getz, Teddy Kotick, Dannie Richmond, Sonny Stitt, Herbie Nichols, Tadd Dameron, Nat "King" Cole, Louis Armstrong, Jack Teagarden, Jimmy McPartland, Fatha Hines, Bud Powell, Paul Barbarian, Bob Brookmeyer, Gerry Mulligan, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Johnny Hodges, Phineas Newborn, Lennie Tristano, Tony Scott, Jimmy Guiffre...I could go on for the rest of the blog listing the jazz originators that were still alive and cooking when I was growing up in jazz. Now they are gone and most of them are forgotten.
I'm listening to Errol Garner's famous (in my day) late 1950s recording titled "Concert By the Sea" and it still to this day amazes me. Errol was so original. He reeked of originality. Nobody played the piano like Errol did; nobody has since played it like Errol did. I can't stand imitators. Copy cats, Prez called them. At one time, when I was actively rebellious, I used to harass players like Joel Forrester, a pianist who tried to play like Monk. No, dude, you don't try and play like Monk, you play like yourself--FUCK imitation. Like Bird imitators. Charles McPherson was a Bird imitator, and though I liked Charles as a person, it used to jar my senses to hear Charles struggling to sound like Bird. Art Pepper respected Bird but he took his knowledge of Bird and developed his own sensitivity, his own style.
As I've written before on this blog, Jaki Byard is to me one of the greatest pianists of all jazz time. Jaki taught his students to learn to play in all styles, which Jaki could do, but to use that to form your own style. I am not a piano virtuoso because as a piano student I rebelled against playing Bach and Chopin and doing my Czerny scales in order to first play boogie-woogie and as a young man I became a little boogie boy a la Sugar Chile Robinson. Out of boogie I evolved into a bop pianist and by the time I got to college I had developed my own fingering and set of chordal patterns that to this day distinguishes me from other pianists. One of the greatest compliments I ever got from a dear friend of mine who is a much more all-round pianist than I am in taking a listening test with me and I stuck in one of my own compositions was to immediately identify it as me by saying, "Man, I'll say one thing for you, you got your own bag down pat." Even as a blues pianist in the 1980s, I was popular because I had a flare of my own; I played raw. And that's what I find missing in modern-day jazz students, rawness. Errol Garner had it. Jaki Byard had it all over the place. Bud Powell had it. And certainly Monk had it. One reason I never got deeply into Herbie Hancock was that though he's a brilliant pianist, he was never raw enough for me.
I was listening the other day to the Buck Clayton Jam Sessions put out by Columbia in the early 1950s, 1953-54, and on them is an altoist named Lem Davis. When I first heard these sessions, I bought "Huckle-Buck and Robin's Nest" and "How Hi the Fi" in 1954, I had no idea who Lem Davis was. But on hearing him blowing on the first jammed LP, "The Huckle-Buck and Robin's Nest," I was hooked on Lem. I'm listening now as I write this to the first tune on the second Buck Clayton Jam LP, "How Hi the Fi," a head arrangement called "How Hi the Fi" and I am still intrigued by Lem's playing, from the minute I hear his alto take a release in the opening intro riff. Off that riff that becomes the head melody comes Buck Clayton's first trumpet solo followed by Woody Herman (a raw clarinet player if there ever was one--not slick like Benny Goodman or Artie Shaw but full of off-minor wails)--and Woody's followed by another favorite of mine, Julian Dash, from out of the Erskine Hawkins band--Julian got a little fame in the original r and b instrumental world with his recording of "Zig Zag" in the late forties/early fifties (for those of you who don't know, Zig Zag cigarette papers were the preferred papers for rolling mezzrolls or joints or reefers)--and Julian was followed by a wild old half-Dixie-half-bop trombonist named Henderson Chambers--followed by a Lester-copy-cat Al Cohn (who was with Zoot Sims, Jimmy Guiffre, and Serge Chaloff one of the original Four Brothers in the Woody Herman Herd of the late 40s)--and Al's followed by a trumpet solo from Basie Band trumpeter Joe Newman (he created the Jazz Line in New York City in the 1970s), who's followed by a weird wonderful underplayed piano solo by pianist Jimmy Jones (Sarah Vaughan's accompanist), followed by trombonist Urbie Green, and finally, out of nowhere comes this haunting alto, riding on a riff as delicately as a ballet dancer on point--it's Lem Davis, and his solo expands, widening into a raw tour-de-force that dances into heavy riffing that brings us back to Buck Clayton who leads up to releasing the tune into its final bars--that's Papa Jo Jones punching the whole band into the theme again with Woody wailing out into one his strange out-of-this-world crescendo expressions. And as a young kid, I played and replayed that Lem Davis solo over and over...and fortunately, Buck kept Lem on all three of his Jam Session LPs.
Lem was a mainstay in the Eddie Heywood band during Eddie's heyday in the mid-forties. Lem also worked with Coleman Hawkins briefly. Lem, born in 1914, only lived 56 years, he died in 1970, and except for those Buck Clayton Jam Sessions, has passed on into the obscure jazz world. But Lem was a unique altoist--yes, influenced by Bird, but in his own way flying away on the other side of Bird.
Lost cats like Lem, like Chu Berry, like Hot Lips Page, like Willie Smith (another raw altoist), like the wonderful Clyde Hart (us old cats loved Clyde Hart and he was only with us for a very short time), like Jess Stacey ("Mr. Stacey, ring dem bells!"), like Henry "Red" Allen (as a kid he was taught by Lester Young's father Billy), like the uniquely individual Pee Wee Russell...and once again I could go on and on dropping names like the old jazz cat I am. But I must resign myself to being jealous of the young cats who are getting to play jazz today and making recordings and working what venues there are left for jazz--they are lucky--they are blessed--I hope they are respecting the spirits of the old cats that are still hovering around haunting this city that was at one time the cradle of the best jazz in the world--52nd Street--and 131st Street--and the jazz clubs in the Village--I surround myself with my hundreds of CDs thankful that I'm still able to listen to the best of those cats who elevated me into truly the USA's original classical music--I think I'll put a Duke CD on and wallow and holler in the music of what's now called the Golden Age of Jazz...and like gold, jazz never tarnishes.
An Old Jazz Cat
for The Daddy O'Daily