The Journal of Provincial Thought
jptArchives Issue 17
lildiamond1-Iss17-Jazz-Jonesluminancelildiamond2-Iss17-Jazz-Jones Pigasus- Cogito ergo nix iss17- JazzJones c2007 Schafer-
Jazzterisk-Issue 17 Lawrence Jones Jazz Lines special
jpt is honored to host a visit into the jazz sanctum of the figure recognized as "the preeminent critic and historian of New Zealand literature."
(Schafer, William J. Mapping the Godzone: A Primer on New Zealand Literature and Culture. p.61. 1998. University of Hawaii Press.)
Dr. Lawrence Jones
‘Why’r ya always playin’ that n****r music?’:
Confessions of a Jazz Fan
Prelude:  This personal account of my experience with jazz is dedicated to the memory of Bill Schafer. For some years he encouraged me to write such an account, and I planned to write it as one in a series of personal essays on such topics as emigration to New Zealand, participation in political protest movements and university teaching.  It remained on my ‘to do’ list, but it took Bill’s sudden and unexpected death to make me finally get started.
     It was May 1970, I was on sabbatical leave, staying with my parents in Oceanside, California, working on some research essays, and I had taken a break to listen to some music on my old stereo set that I had left behind when we emigrated to New Zealand.  The asker of the title question was my Uncle Howard’s friend (I’ll call him ‘Will’), and he had just walked in the door.  Will was an unreconstructed redneck who had made good, at least in my uncle’s eyes: his claim to local fame was that he owned a Lincoln Continental.  He had used it to drive my uncle, who had never owned a car, up the hill to my parents’ retirement community from the trailer park that was his and my aunt’s ‘retirement community’.  My uncle, who in his younger days had played guitar in a dance band, had met Will years before in Las Vegas,  and the friendship had been resumed when they both ended up living in the Oceanside area.  Will’s taste in music was definitely Las Vegas: it might stretch to Tony Bennett or Frank Sinatra, but it would never reach (or stoop. he might have said) to what was on the turntable – the Oscar Peterson trio playing ‘Little Pea’s Blues’ (even if it was a rather adulterated version with the accompaniment of Russ Garcia’s band).  Because of import restrictions, jazz records were hard to come by in Dunedin in the 1960s, and I had picked up at the Oceanside mall some lps that I would not have been able to get in Dunedin, including The Oscar Peterson Collection.

     So Will was right in one regard  – it was black jazz that I was playing.  But I didn’t ‘always’ play it: in those days it would have been more likely for me to have had a Dave Brubeck record on the turntable, for my jazz education had been in Southern California  in the 1950s, where and when mostly white West Coast jazz reigned supreme.  Most of my favored musicians then would have been white: Art Pepper, not Charlie Parker; Stan Getz, not Sonny Rollins; Gerry Mulligan, not Harry Carney; Chet Baker, not Miles Davis; Frank Rosolino, not J.J. Johnson; Shelley Manne, not Max Roach. 

     I had first encountered jazz-flavored music as a child during World War II when my father’s two young female cousins lived with us while their husbands-to-be were away in the Air Force.  Annie and Geraldine loved big band swing, and our old 78 changer played it out through the speakers of the big Philco radio in the front room while the young women danced with each other.  They played the records of the great white swing bands of 1935-45: Glenn Miller, Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman, Harry James and Tommy Dorsey – ‘In the Mood’, ‘The Jersey Bounce’, ‘A String of Pearls,’ ‘Begin the Beguine’, ‘The Sunny Side of the Street’, or Helen Forrest singing ‘I Don’t Want to Walk without You’.  There was no Duke Ellington, Count Basie or Jimmie Lunceford.  The only black jazz I heard was an anomalous John Kirby album that my father brought home one payday to my mother’s dismay  – she said ‘I don’t like it, and we can’t afford it anyway’.  However, in the area of jazz-flavored pop, there were the Mills Brothers and the Ink Spots, both among my father's favorites.  There was also an ancient thick shellac 78 single with two minstrel-show-type dialogues by Two Black Crows, but that wasn’t music and it wasn’t ‘really’ black.

     Our home was a moderately musical one.  My mother played a minimal piano, her repertoire restricted to simple songs for the six-year olds she taught at primary school and ‘Shine on Harvest Moon’ for the late evening singalong at the occasional block party.  My father had met her through music – he had had a summer holiday job playing guitar in the band on a cruise ship that plied the waters between San Pedro, Los Angeles’ port, and Honolulu.  His best friend, George, who was a professional musician, had got him a six-week job during the summer season and he shared it with his two brothers, Howard and Walter, each using his summer holiday from a regular prosaic job in Los Angeles to be in the shipboard band.  My mother was using part of her schoolteacher’s long summer break to go on a holiday cruise with her attractive, tennis-playing, black-haired friend, Alice.  As my father told the story, he and George looked over these two unescorted young women and George said to him, ‘I’ll take the black-haired one, you go for the blonde’.  My father must have taken the hunt seriously, for when my mother returned from Hawaii and he was back on his regular job (he had returned with the ship on its turn-around while she and Alice remained in Hawaii for a few weeks), he met her at the dock (and discovered there were also two other young men there to meet her). 

     My father soon won out over his rivals, married my mother and, these being Depression days, music became only an occasional hobby in the midst of the serious business of raising a family  in straitened times.  Years later he would get out his banjo or guitar a few times a year, usually during beach holidays, and he would strum chords for singalongs and sometimes play his party piece, an uptempo banjo version of ‘The World is Waiting for the Sunrise’.  The swing band records in the house all belonged to his cousins.  The Mills Brothers (‘Paper Doll’), the Ink Spots (with Ella Fitzgerald on ‘Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall’), Bing Crosby or Andre Kostelanetz were more to his taste, and as for guitar music, he had never heard of Charlie Christian and in his later years he liked Chet Atkins.  My favorite among his records then was a twelve-inch 78 Kostelanetz medley of Stephen Foster songs.

     From the songs of Foster or Victor Herbert down to those of such contemporaries as Richard Rodgers, my father loved the Great American Songbook.  Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, George Gershwin, Harold Arlen – he had his roll call of recognized masters.  And there were songs that in his book were indisputable classics such as ‘Stardust’, ‘Body and Soul’, ‘The Man  I Love’, or ‘Deep Purple’.  I grew up knowing the melodies and the lyrics, and I drank in their distillation of American myths – the optimism and self-help of ‘Look for the Silver Lining’ or ‘The Sunny Side of the Street’, the centrality of romantic love – ‘surely the invention of a wedded onanist with seven kids’, Maurice Duggan’s Buster O’Leary was to call it in ‘Along Rideout Road that Summer’ in New Zealand twenty years later.   In the songs romantic love was almost invariably the source of the greatest happiness and unhappiness – life as a perpetual courtship.  The quite different attitude to sexual relationships in the blues was unknown to me.

     The only blues-flavored black music I heard was some years later in the late 1940s when my friend Ted and I would catch a street car that linked up with the Manchester Avenue bus to take us up Central Avenue to Wrigley Field (Los Angeles’ reduced version of the Chicago Cubs ballpark) at 42nd and Avalon, where on Saturdays we could get in to see the Los Angeles Angels’ Pacific Coast League games for a quarter if we arrived before 1 p.m.  The street car, with its windows open, ran right by the record stores and other shops that had loudspeaker systems, all blaring out music we had never heard before, with hoarse tenor saxophones, brassy singers, and electric guitars sliding some of the notes.  It was all part of that strange world of black Los Angeles into which we otherwise never went, a place where the grocery stores advertised fatback, catfish, collard greens and other foods we had never encountered and there was a noisy and active street life.  The exotic, slightly dangerous feeling was part of the excitement of going to the ball game, as much part of the heady atmosphere as the smell of fatty hamburger frying in portable grills outside the stadium and the hot dogs cooking, along with sharp odor of mustard and pickle, and the smells of spilled beer and cigar smoke, within.  ‘Progressive’ jazz I also heard at a distance, in different circumstances.  During our father’s summer holidays, which we always spent at Crystal Cove, near Laguna Beach, my brother Kim and I would go night-fishing with him off Balboa Pier, and sometimes on those moonlit summer nights we could hear Kenton’s nine-man brass section playing at the Rendezvous Ballroom, about a quarter-mile away, the place where Kenton had first made his reputation and to which he often returned.  The high trumpets especially carried clearly over the sound of the surf.  My father thought it pretty strange music, and we agreed. 

     About the same time, when I was in junior high school, I switched over to the clarinet, away from the piano lessons with Miss Beulah Liggott, a middle-aged white southern spinster under whose supervision I had learned to read music to the point where I could mangle Chopin, but from whom I had learned nothing of music theory and very little of music history.  Her star pupil was my best friend, Bob, who could play imitation Rachmaninoff  (‘The Warrior Song’) very loudly and dramatically, much to my admiration.  Our elementary school principal was the aunt of Alfred Wallenstein, the conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and  my favorite eleventh birthday present was their album of orchestrated selections from Oklahoma, signed by him (at her instigation).  With the principal’s encouragement, Bob and I went to the Philharmonic’s Saturday afternoon concerts for kids, and she even got us in as participants in the music quiz that was held onstage during the interval.  As I remember, I never answered a question, but Bob made a brave attempt at the question ‘Name three great composers whose last names begin with “Sh”’, answering ‘Schubert, Chopin and Shakowski’.  A brave try, but he won no prizes.


     All this musical orientation changed when I began clarinet lessons with George, who with the advent of a family had left the dance band and night club music circuit to work in studio orchestras in Hollywood, but who still played in a suburban dance hall on weekends.  George’s musical taste ran to mainstream jazz, and could sometimes be narrow.  He called New Orleans music ‘moldy fig’, he couldn’t stand Sidney Bechet on the ‘fish horn’, and he thought Parker and Gillespie and co. broke up the rhythm too much and played wrong notes.  He told me once that when he was playing in Johnny Richards’ band they had had a sawed-off trumpeter who was always bringing his own arrangements to Richards for the band to try out.  George asked Richards why he humored this guy by making the band play his weird arrangements and Richards answered that George didn’t hear in those ‘weird’ things what he did. The trumpeter was Shorty Rogers.  At the centre of George’s musical pantheon were Coleman Hawkins (tenor sax was his favorite instrument) and Benny Goodman.  He bemoaned that often the weekend band he was in had to play ‘ricky-tick’ music to please  both the customers and (naturally) the owner of the dance hall, who if the band began to swing would come out of her office and say ‘Calm down, boys’.  He knew the quality he preferred:  Hawkins’ ‘Body and Soul’ and Goodman’s ‘The World is Waiting for the Sunrise’ were about as good as it gets.  There wasn’t any color bar to his jazz pantheon, but most of the music he had me play was associated with white musicians, perhaps because it was most readily available.  I remember his getting me to listen repeatedly to Artie Shaw’s Gramercy Five recording of ‘Smoke Gets in Your Eyes’ to learn Shaw’s solo; I eventually got the solo note perfect, but could never get Shaw’s easy, fluent swing.  I could hear that my rhythm was wooden and my phrasing four-square, but I just couldn’t get it to sound like what I heard in my head.  Similarly, George gave me transcriptions of some of Charley Barnet’s saxophone solos; I could read them and play them ‘correctly’ on clarinet, but without any of Barnet’s driving swing.  But I then had no idea that Barnet was imitating Ellington’s band, and I hadn’t even heard of Johnny Hodges. 

     I remember in those years saving up my weekly allowances to buy my first record albums, after my parents had given  my younger brother Kim and me a desk-top radio-phonograph combination for our birthdays (our birthdays were only a month apart).  My first purchase was a four-record 78 album of Shaw’s greatest hits, and I especially loved ‘Stardust’ with the famous Billy Butterfield  trumpet solo.  The second one was Jimmy Dorsey’s ‘Dorseyland’ band-within-a-band.  They played mostly their swing versions of dixieland warhorses,  but my favorite was the less traditional ‘South Rampart Street Parade’ which Dorsey’s drummer Ray Bauduc had written originally for the Bob Crosby band.  Kim and I shared the record player, but I was scornful of his records – Spike Jones’ novelty pieces, which seemed to me to fit with his favorite films, Abbott and Costello comedies (I was a superior Gary Cooper fan), and Perry Como, who was intolerable: it was bad enough that my friend Bob liked Bing Crosby, but at least Crosby swung (I had never heard Louis Armstrong and had no idea where Crosby came from), while Como to me just seemed soporifically sentimental.  Good jazz records were hard to get in those immediately postwar days, and my father and I used to go to a dusty shop that had unsorted bins full of ex-juke box 78s.  We would go through hundreds of records in plain heavy paper sleeves trying to find one by Shaw or Goodman. I still remember my joy on discovering Shaw’s recording of ‘A Foggy Day’; I didn’t know the tune and neither did my father, but I told him that if it was Shaw playing anything by Gershwin it had to be good (and it was).

     I played clarinet in the band in junior high school and discovered that I had a good lip and a fairly full tone and could read music well.  I was perfectly equipped to play the clarinet parts for Sousa marches (except that my marching was terrible –  'Hayfoot, strawfoot' Bob used to call out); the marches were all right but not exactly my favorite music.  I continued for a couple of years after that playing clarinet in the high school band, which was fun, as we got great seats for all the football games and bus transport to them (with even police protection when we were playing at some of the rougher East Los Angeles schools).  I very briefly held the first chair, when we were auditioned behind a curtain so the director couldn’t see who was playing, and I impressed him with a sight reading of ‘Fingal’s Cave’ (which I had played before, but I didn’t tell him that).  But I soon voluntarily gave the chair over to my friend Jim, who was not a great sight reader but who had a terrific sense of rhythm, fine tone and technique, and could improvise and swing, things I could never do.  There was another clarinetist who had memorized Shaw’s strange virtuoso pastiche, ‘Concerto for the Clarinet’, and had the lip to play the ending (C above high C), but he was all show, so far as I could see and hear.  Jim was the first of my contemporaries to make me feel that he was a real musician, and I used to go to his ‘gigs’ (he had a quartet that played for occasions like high school club and church youth group dances) just to listen to him.  We also listened to a lot of records together, and he was especially keen on Shorty Rogers, whose harmonies seemed to us excitingly modern.  My mother used to complain that every time Jim came over we would play Rogers' ‘Walk, Don’t Run’ repeatedly.  We loved that Shorty Courts the Count album (by this time on 45), but neither of us had ever heard the Basie originals that Rogers was taking off from.  A walking bass we associated with Leroy Vinnegar or Curtis Counce, not Walter Page. 

     Another friend, Ray, who played in the orchestra rather than the band, was a first-rate oboist who probably would have had a symphonic future if he had chosen it; he was  really talented – as well as a musician, a left-handed pitcher who might also have had a baseball future (I loved to watch his curve ball, but I couldn’t emulate it).   But he was  also the best science student in a  class of 500 and ended up an astrophysicist, his only post-high-school pitching being for Caltech, where he was the star player on a pretty feeble team, but good enough when he pitched to beat the Pomona College team for which I was an occasional desperation pitcher.  Another acquaintance, a not-very-good saxophonist in the high school band, did become a professional musician, and I remember when I was in university going to a dance at the Palladium and seeing him sitting in the sax section with Freddy Martin’s band.  He looked proud when he caught my eye, but I thought of playing for Martin as, if not quite a fate worse than death –  that would have been playing with Lawrence Welk or Guy Lombardo – yet not something to be envied. But when I told George, he said he respected Freddy Martin: the music was pretty trite, but his standards as to execution were high and the band played that music very well.

     Partly through high school I encountered a scheduling clash: you had to take ‘band’ as a subject if you wanted to be in the band, you had to take journalism as a subject if you wanted to be on the newspaper, and the two classes came at the same hour.  The newspaper won over the band, and my days of trying to play music were over within a year.  But listening to music remained a big part of my life.  George Washington High School was big (3000 students), all-white, almost all middle-class, and powerfully conformist, with fraternity-and-sorority-type off-campus clubs that served to rank the hierarchies of coolness.  It was run by a club-centred social elite to whom being seen as cool was everything; not only was being a good student uncool (and it was even worse if you were actually interested in some things), but so was even taking sport seriously – looking cool in the right kind of blue suede shoes was much more important than being good in baseball or track spikes.  Even the city high-jump champion Ernie Shelton (who became the best high-jumper in the country) was uncool because he really strove for excellence. 

     An entirely uncool person who was frustrated by school mainly because the classes were not challenging enough, I hated the school culture’s dominant attitude.  And part of being cool was to like the right music.  It was as important to own and know the top 10 pop records as it was to have the right cashmere sweater.  And this was the early 1950s, the era of the absolute worst kind of pop music, with scarcely  a remnant of those heady days of swing when pop music incorporated jazz.  The top 10 were usually sentimental drivel that was musically simplistic (but over-arranged), rhythmically soporific, with lyrics that were poetically idiotic.  My friend Gary, George’s son , liked to tease me about this music, singing “How Much Is that Doggie in the Window?’ and asking me with mock seriousness if I didn’t think that Patti Page was really a better singer than Joni James.  My jazz friends and I refused to listen to this stuff and would not be caught dead owning any of the top 10 records (except when a rhythm and blues ‘sport’ would make it, such as Earl Bostic’s ‘Flamingo’).   

     My jazz friends and I defined ourselves as different by our music.  We went to jazz concerts (from Louis Armstrong to Woody Herman to Stan Getz); we went to the Palladium when there was a jazz-flavored band such as Harry James or Les Brown or, preferably, Stan Kenton; we even went to a jazz club on graduation night to hear Buddy DeFranco.  We bought records from the few shops that carried good jazz, glorying in getting the 45 album of Goodman’s Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert or, a rare one that my baseball-friend-cum-jazz-fan Art found, an album of Lionel Hampton’s 1947 Pasadena Civic Auditorium Concert with the wonderful ‘Stardust’ with memorable solos by Willie Smith, Charlie Shavers, Corky Corcoran, Tommy Todd and Barney Kessel, culminating in the extended Hampton solo (drawing, I later realized, on a Charlie Christian solo when he and Hampton were both in the Goodman sextet) that knocked us out.

     Yet we were really ignorant of the local black jazz culture and its history.  We knew almost nothing of the Central Avenue scene, its jazz clubs, dance halls and recording studios, its local heroes such as Teddy Edwards, Charles Mingus, Dexter Gordon, Wardell Gray, Sonny Criss, Hampton Hawes and Art and Addison Farmer.  We competed against mostly-black Jefferson High School in football, track, basketball and other sports (and usually got wiped out), but we knew nothing of the school’s rich musical culture from which many of the Central Avenue musicians emerged. We had a vague sense that when the Hampton band came to Los Angeles they did not play at the Palladium but rather played an entirely different kind of dance music some place around Central Avenue, but all of that was just not in our world. 

      While we were ignorant of what was happening on the other side of the city, we were very aware of jazz on the popular media.  We found the few programs on the radio and television that played it: there was one local radio program that played traditional jazz half an hour a week; there was a national network program sponsored by Treasury Bonds that came live from New Orleans, with the bands of Papa Celestin (with Alphonse Picou on clarinet) and Sharkey Bonano; there was Gene Norman on KLAC, who organized local ‘Just Jazz’ concerts (including the Hampton one) and would sneak into his disc jockey show a few jazz records.  A local television station had Red Nichols and his band (with Reuel Lynch on clarinet) for half an hour a week; another half-hour program sponsored by a local supper club featured musicians visiting Los Angeles clubs – that was where I first saw and heard Muggsy Spanier, who was sporting a beautiful black eye while he did those wonderful things with a horn and plunger.  I would even watch Lawrence Welk on television when he would feature Pete Fountain, feeling it was worth sitting through Welk’s depressingly cheerful, bouncy music (which my parents’ friends loved) to hear at least one good clarinet solo. And I remember watching a western band in order to see Ziggy Elman; I was embarrassed for a man who had been a soloist with Goodman to have to wear a cowboy hat and boots and play western music (the hat looked especially absurd above his big, New Yorkish nose), but he was worth hearing, even in that environment (and western swing did swing, even if we thought it corny).


      In music, as in many other things, Pomona College in the mid-50s was a revelation.  It had an excellent Music Department and I benefited greatly from a first-year course in listening to classical music, learning something about music structure as well as music history, and being exposed to a great range of good music that I had never heard before.  There was also a very fine concert series on campus and I relished the chance to hear musicians such as Walter Gieseking or  Tossy Spivakovsky, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic came for one concert a year.  If classical music was an important official part of a liberal education, jazz was an unofficial part.  The college turned out to be full of jazz fans and musicians.  In my first year in 1952-53 I was fortunate to have two suite-mates who were keen on jazz.  Mike was a pre-med student and doctor’s son from Illinois, an enthusiastic amateur pianist who loved jazz   He played piano by ear, in only two keys, but it was a useful skill, and when he came home with me to Los Angeles some weekends (he also had the inestimable advantage of a red Ford convertible) he taught that skill to Kim, who within a few years was helping to work his way through Pomona by playing cocktail lounge piano and by doubling on piano and alto sax with his own small group for various gigs. 

     Mike and I in the next few years went to a lot of the jazz that could be heard on campus, such as the Dave Pell Octet or George Shearing.  The most exciting was a memorable full concert by the Dave Brubeck Quartet, who were happy to have a chance to stretch out after having just finished a cross-country tour as part of a show in which they were given only limited time on stage.  We also took in some good music during weekends in Los Angeles, going out to hear such groups as the Lighthouse All-Stars or the Gerry Mulligan Quartet with Chet Baker (with Baker surrounded by spaced-out groupies).  The other suite-mate, Lowell, was also a pre-med and doctor’s son and a keen fan of traditional jazz (which Mike didn’t much like), and he and I went in to Hollywood to hear George Lewis on his annual visits to the Beverly Caverns and Kid Ory when he came down there from his base in San Francisco.  Lowell and I would nurse along 75-cent cokes (expensive for me, at least – root beers at the Pomona Co-op were 10 cents) and then, when we were asked to either buy another round or move on, we would head in to the restaurant counter from where you could still hear the music and get glimpses of the musicians, and we would nurse along a shared plate of french fries, liberally doused with the free catsup.  The Chinese cook there, like an unbelievably stereotyped Chinese cook in a bad film, used to ask us if we wanted ‘flench flies or flied lice’.

     My second year I lived next door to John, the best trumpeter in the school, and we would happily argue over jazz trumpeters.  His trumpet hero was Harry James, and when I said that I preferred the mellower and more lyrical Ruby Braff, he said ‘But how can you like someone who is actually trying to sound like Armstrong?’  He told me that another trumpeter we often heard playing with the school’s best traditional band had told him that he would prefer to play modern jazz, but he hadn’t the lip to do it, and that his favorite trumpeter was Maynard Ferguson, who amazed us all with his high notes when he played with the Stan Kenton band (even if his taste was sometimes suspect, as when he performed ‘Hot Canary’ on trumpet).  When the David Rose orchestra came to play a concert on campus I wouldn’t go, saying rather snobbishly that I didn’t have money to waste on dinner music. But John said that Rose used only first-rate musicians, and he wanted to hear them, whatever the music.  He later told Mike and me how after the concert he went backstage and looked up the lead trumpeter and said somewhat condescendingly that the music wasn’t terribly interesting but that he thought the man played the trumpet parts really well.  Just then one of the other trumpeters came up and said to the lead man, ‘And where are you playing tomorrow, Maynard?’. The penny dropped that he had been condescending to Maynard Ferguson, who had been sitting in with the orchestra, and he offered his apologies and told Ferguson how he loved his jazz work.

    There were all kinds of jazz snobbery and bias around.  One student a year or two senior to me used to write scathing reviews of campus jazz concerts.  He especially disliked Shearing and said his music stood to real jazz like Tex Mex stood to real Mexican food.  He later became a top executive at Warner Brothers Records and probably made a lot of money out of music that he must have recognised as really ersatz.  There was a marvellous jazz clarinetist in my class who wouldn’t play with most groups because he approved only of genuine New Orleans music, and sometimes kicking around with him and seeming to agree with him was a stubby guy with a perennial five o’clock shadow, Ed Michel.  He never seemed to like what anybody else liked and I considered him to be some sort of jazz snob.  But he must have known something, for he became a top jazz producer who was responsible for a great range of albums from Turk Murphy to Albert Ayler, including some of my favorites by Hawkins, Hodges, Dexter Gordon, Art Pepper, Red Norvo and the Modern Jazz Quartet, and I have come to recognize his name on a record as a pretty good indication of quality.  Years later I was pleased to discover in a Dunedin shop his 1996 compilation of Coleman Hawkins playing the blues, and to appreciate his rejoinder in his album notes and in his selection to those who said that Hawkins was too tied up in playing arpeggios on complicated chord changes to be any good at something as basic as the traditional blues.   Laurie Pepper’s epilogue to Art Pepper’s autobiography, Straight Life, makes clear just how much creative input Michel had to those wonderful late Pepper albums such as Goin’ Home and Winter Moon.  Another couple of more openly amiable purists lived next door to me my junior year.  One was a jazz guitarist, the other just a fan, and they had a campus radio disc jockey show called No Strings Attached on which they played only jazz string music. Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli were especial favorites.  I think they made an exception for the Red Norvo trio, for in no way could Norvo be considered a string musician, but at least he was a percussionist of sorts and there were no horns, while Charles Mingus and Tal Farlow were most definitely inspired string musicians.

     For a couple of years I had a weekly campus radio jazz program of my own.  The first record I played on the first program was Hawkins, Billy Taylor, Milt Hinton and Jo Jones doing Honeysuckle Rose, a piece from a jazz sampler I had just received from a new mail-order company, Jazztone Records.  I remember thinking that everything on that record was worth sharing, from Bechet and Wild Bill Davison to Rex Stewart and Albert Nicholas to Jack Teagarden and Pee Wee Russell to the Art Tatum trio to the Norvo All-Stars with Parker and Gillespie to Parker and Wardell Gray on Relaxin’ at Camarillo.  It was fun to have the whole range of jazz from which to choose: New Orleans, Chicago, swing, bop.  The mid-50s was a great time to hear all kinds of jazz: the New Orleans revival was still going; freed from the restraints of big band arrangements, the great swing musicians such as Hawkins or Vic Dickenson or Buck Clayton were doing wonderful things with small groups; bop was developing into hard bop in the East and cool jazz in the West – and it was all happening at once.   One of my best programs was when John and his saxophonist roommate came along and shared their enthusiasm for Brubeck and Paul Desmond on Jazz Goes to College, which I had not yet heard and found quite exciting, with the extended improvisation really suited to the space an lp allowed.   Those were the days! 

     A fitting close to my undergraduate experience with jazz came the summer after graduation when Kim, best man at my wedding, took me to a club in Hollywood the night before the wedding to hear Billie Holiday.  She was bad that night, having had altogether too much of something, and she kept missing her entrances or coming in in the wrong key, giggling, and asking her pianist to start again.  We thought that this was evidence that she finally had destroyed herself as a singer (as it turned out, she had only three years to live), but I discovered years later in looking at the documentation for one of my favorite late Holiday records that only the day before we heard her she had made in a Hollywood studio her definitive version of ‘Sophisticated Lady’, accompanied by Ben Webster.  And it was memorable to hear her even on a bad night, and, as Kim said, it was worth coming anyway just to hear the local musician Pete Jolly playing intermission piano.         

continued next issue with installment 2 of 3 ed.
jptARCHIVE Issue 17
Copyright 2010- WJ Schafer & WC Smith - All Rights Reserved