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