The Journal of Provincial Thought
jptArchives Issue 18
lildiamond1-Iss18-luminancediamond2_18 Pigasus- Cogito ergo nix iss18- c2007 Schafer
Jazzterisk Jazz Lines special
Resuming our presentation of Prof. Jones's richly detailed memoir
Previously: Prelude
jpt installment #2 Part 1 (jpt Issue #17)
Prof. Lawrence Jones
‘Why’r ya always playin’ that n****r music?’:
Confessions of a Jazz Fan


     Graduate school at UCLA and marriage left little time and money for jazz. But Mike’s parents had given me for graduation a very good stereo (earned by my mother with all that washing and cooking she did when Mike came to Los Angeles with me for weekends), so our little flat above the garage in West Los Angeles was often filled with recorded music, both the classical records that my wife Marion liked and my jazz.  I had hoped that she, a cellist, would at least like the Chico Hamilton pieces such as ‘The Sage’ featuring Fred Katz’s lyrical cello and Buddy Collette’s pure-toned clarinet, but she didn’t.  However, we did share a taste for some classical music, and I learned fully to appreciate the classical repertoire for cello: the Bach suites for unaccompanied cello and the Haydn and Dvorak concertos were my special favorites.  As for clarinet, Reginald Kell’s version of the Mozart Clarinet Quintet was also a favorite.  I found that I enjoyed listening to it both for Kell’s tone and execution and for the logic and clarity of Mozart’s structure.  To follow the sonata-form or the rondo or the minuet and trio of a classical piece gave a formal pleasure analogous to following the variations within a 32-bar aaba song structure or the 12-bar blues structure of jazz pieces.  Days when I had no classes and studied at home while Marion was away at work I would play the by now thoroughly known lps of my collection for study breaks and enjoy them hugely.  The woman in the flat next door, who kept a booth at fairs, liked truly terrible country and western music and would sometimes play it loudly, which I would take as an invitation to turn up the jazz.  The Herman Third Herd could drown out any yodeling or soppy ballads, but Chico Hamilton, alas, couldn’t really compete any better than could the Mozart quintet.

     Our budget, especially tight in the first year-and-a-half when Marion was getting her teaching credential while I was getting my MA and we were living on my fellowship, didn’t allow for many luxuries beyond the occasional dinner at a local Italian family restaurant or the weekly ice cream cones at the cooperative grocery down the street.  However, although I steered clear of the temptation of record shops, I was able to buy the occasional mail-order record from Jazztone or Columbia.  Of live jazz I could take in almost none, although I did hear Brubeck give a concert at UCLA.  I found it very exciting, for he had just got Joe Morello as drummer and was doing more rhythmically interesting things, from Basie-type  4/4 swing to pieces in 3/4 and 5/4, and the audience was very responsive (except for poor Marion, who had a headache, not in a state to enjoy ‘Take Five’).  But music provided only occasional diversion in a five-year process of building up intellectual capital by a disciplined program of reading and writing.

    If the five years of graduate school were very hard work, the three years of teaching at Linfield College in Oregon that followed were a lot harder, both because of preparing classes with no previous repertoire to fall back on for 15 contact hours a week and because of the births of Robin and Eric in those years. Listening to music was a rare luxury, and the best live musical experience was hearing Marion and two other young faculty wives playing Mozart divertimenti in our campus apartment and hearing visiting artists in the college’s concert series.  Time out together with Marion other than those concerts was only the hour of silence at Quaker Meeting in Salem, 25 miles down the Willamette Valley, on Sundays, with the drive back home either over the hills or along the river, and the occasional night out for a film (especially Ingmar Bergman) in Portland, 40 miles up the valley (or later at the college, when the Fine Arts Committee that I served on brought some good foreign films to campus), with a student baby-sitter taking care of Eric and, in the third year, Robin.  Because of the liberal arts tradition, music was good at Linfield, but the only area of consistent excellence was in sport, and, as we lived in an apartment building on campus, across the street from the football stadium and only a block from the baseball field and the basketball gymnasium, I often ducked out to take in a game (and noted that the only black people in the otherwise all-white town of McMinnville were the black athletes, there from the east coast on athletic scholarships).  Listening to jazz was only an occasional activity, and the only resource was those well-worn lps, augmented by a few mail order ones, for McMinnville had no retail outlet that carried jazz records.  Even for ordinary household items, everything that the supermarket or the one five-and-ten did not carry had to be ordered via the Sears and Roebuck catalogue outlet.


     The opportunity to hear jazz was definitely not a reason for shifting to New Zealand in 1964.  Viewing ourselves as nuclear refugees, getting out of a dangerous country, we did not complain about a sparse jazz menu just as we did not complain (at least not at first) about the mutton, potato and two veggies diet that was standard in the New Zealand of those days.  A democratic, egalitarian country that was not really involved in nuclear power games and that had good state educational and medical systems, a country in which your children might grow up without being nuclear pawns, that was something for which to be grateful.  And, like Maurice Gee’s European refugees in his Live Bodies, we could at least bring the music with us, so that a crate of recordings accompanied the many crates of our books in the seagoing freight that arrived some time after we did.

     We soon discovered that Dunedin was very well-served for live classical music, with the programs of a strong Music Department, the Chamber Music Society, the Dunedin Symphonia, and the visits of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra.  Jazz was not so evident, but I was surprised when the Chamber Music Society brought in Thelonious Monk for a concert in 1965.  As it happened, that same night there was a discussion group at the Friends Meeting House and Marion was keen for both of us to take part.  I reluctantly let slip the chance to hear Monk and went to the discussion group, telling myself ‘Next time…’.  But of course there was no next time, it was a once in a lifetime chance and I had missed it.  My English Department colleagues who did go to the concert were baffled, saying that Monk gave out a list of pieces from which he would select his program, and left it to his audience to recognize which ones he chose; they could not identify the pieces and were mystified by his mode of playing them.  We would have been better off swapping places that evening.  There was talk of bringing the Modern Jazz Quartet the next year, but the Chamber Music Society never again experimented with having an evening of chamber jazz.  Through the years it became clear that with the exception of a few local groups, such as those led by Trevor Coleman, which sometimes appeared at the Music Department’s weekly lunchtime concerts, there was little live jazz.  The concerts by overseas performers were rare oncers, and you had to grab the opportunity when it came to see and hear the likes of Stephane Grappelli, Jacques Loussier, or, an especially memorable evening, Art Hodes.

    Generally, though, I had to go outside Dunedin to hear good live jazz.  The International Festival of the Arts in Wellington usually has a jazz component, and when I was on sabbatical leave in Wellington in 1995, working mostly at the Alexander Turnbull Library, I was able to take in parts of the music and literature programs.  I was able to hear not only a Rostropovich recital but also a Sarah Vaughan concert, but a mix-up in the ticket order meant that I had to miss the sell-out Wynton Marsalis concert.  However, I was able to hear Marsalis the next time he was in New Zealand, in Christchurch, where Robin and her husband Paul were then living.  Paul and I went to the concert (Paul is a good musician, but like many of his generation, his musical language is rock, not jazz), and I remember being impressed by the range of music Marsalis played, a kind of repertory performance.  When Paul at one point asked what they still might play, I answered that they had not yet played any early bop and the next piece turned out to be Charlie Parker’s ‘Billie’s Bounce’.  But the most memorable ‘Billie’s Bounce’ I heard was 7000 miles away some years later.  I was visiting my parents in Oceanside and Kim was there.  He had heard and met Charles McPherson in New York and McPherson had told him that he sometimes played at a club in San Diego.  He happened to be there while Kim was in Oceanside, so we went down to hear him.  He was playing with a local rhythm section, and the pianist looked as if he were still in his teens, but they kept up with McPherson well as he played his way through a whole set of Charlie Parker pieces, ending the set with a fine ‘Billie’s Bounce’.

      On occasional visits to New York I have been able to get together with Kim to hear a lot of good jazz.  Once George gave me a twenty-dollar bill in California and said that Kim and I should have on evening on him at Jimmy Ryan’s when I got to New York.  The band the night we went had Joe Muranyi on clarinet with the house trombonist Marshall Brown alternating between bass trumpet and valve trombone, along with a rhythm section, and it played an interestingly contemporary version of traditional jazz  On a visit some years later we went to a piano bar to hear Mulgrew Miller.  It was a small place, and the only seats available were stools at the bar, where we could sip beer as we swung around to be able to see Miller’s large muscular back only a few yards from us as he played a very vigorous piano.  And Kim himself had an amateur/semi-pro jazz group, and I remember going to the West End Gate to hear them.  One of my regrets was that on one visit after a busy day Kim had suggested we go to a local club to hear Russell Procope, but I was really hit with travel fatigue and had to give it a miss for an early sleep.  As I look back on it, I regret not hearing Procope playing with his own group rather than as a part of  Kirby’s or Ellington’s groups, and I wonder if he would have played any of his New Orleans style clarinet as well as his fine alto.  One thing I have no regrets about is the time a few years ago when Kim arranged for us to go to the International Association of Jazz Educators convention in New York (one of the last ones). There were more interesting things to hear than we could ever get to, especially as some were held simultaneously, but we took in a great quantity of them, hearing exciting young musicians from around the world, hearing Phil Woods sit in with a Swiss group, hearing a marvellous demonstration of bass techniques by Eddie Gomez, a lecture on Bobby Hackett’s methods of improvisation, and a concert by the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, among others.

     Compared to the riches available in New York, Dunedin could offer only occasional chances to hear live jazz.  However, there were other ways to see and hear jazz in Dunedin.  The annual film festival offered the best substitutes for live performance with usually at least one jazz film on their program, usually on an off afternoon in one of the smaller venues, so that I could see such films as Jazz on a Summer’s Day, or that sometimes maddening and sometimes intensely moving portrait of Monk, Charlotte Zwerin’s Straight No Chaser, or, the rather indulgent Let’s Get Lost on Chet Baker, or, the two best, Notes of a Jazz Survivor, a sympathetic but balanced picture of my favorite among the West Coast musicians, Art Pepper, and Keeping Time, on Milt Hinton, the latter showing that you didn’t have to be addicted, schizophrenic or narcissistic to be a great jazz musician.  Some of these films also showed on the one jazz program on television in the 1980s, but unfortunately as New Zealand television became more commercially oriented it was discontinued.


     But concerts and films and television were only occasional means of experiencing jazz in Dunedin: recordings were the primary resource.  A new academic job with a rather different set of teaching responsibilities and the family demands of sharing in the care of three small children did not leave a lot of time for listening to music in the later 1960s; it was chiefly an accompaniment to doing exercises or the dishes.  And even then the music often was not jazz, for among my records the children preferred Pete Seeger or Joan Baez or Simon and Garfunkel, and when she was small Robin had a special liking for Debussy’s La Mer, and would perform her own rolling-round-the-room dance to it.  But at least some of the time those well-worn American jazz lps came into play again.

     At first it was very difficult to obtain any additions to those American lps, since New Zealand then had a very restrictive import licensing policy, and you could not obtain overseas recordings unless you had access to overseas funds.  Otherwise, the only imported records that were available were those brought in under license by a few privileged commercial importers, none of whom seemed to be interested in jazz.  The few jazz records that did enter the country seldom made it as far south as Dunedin.  I still remember my excitement in the late 1960s when I turned up in the music section of Dunedin’s main department store a Delmark recording of Barney Bigard and Art Hodes in Chicago.  When I brought it up to the counter to purchase it, the clerk said he did not know that they had had such a thing, he did not know how it got there, but as the cover was rather worn and shop-soiled he would give me a discount on it.

    Some years later, in the 1970s I discovered that the World Record Club, the leading mail-order supplier of classical records in New Zealand, also did some pressings of overseas jazz records.  They had a very restricted catalogue from which to choose, with a few records appearing each month, and I could never detect any pattern or rationale for their choices, but they did have some interesting things by such as Coleman Hawkins, Gerry Mulligan, Miles Davis, Hank Mobley, Horace Silver, Django Reinhardt (a whole chronological series), Jacques Loussier.  They provided a window that opened up, seemingly at random, and offered glimpses of what was happening in jazz in the rest of the world.  Then, after the utter reorientation of the New Zealand economy post-1984, with the disappearance of the last vestiges of import licensing, the whole wall through which we had had a few windows came down.  The change to cds brought a huge number of jazz re-issues and these began to appear on the New Zealand market along with new jazz from around the world.  At first these were expensive, but at least they were available.  Then the appearance of the Warehouse (a Wal-Mart-type chain) with their policies of parallel importing and high-volume buying flooded the New Zealand market with European re-issues of classic American jazz at unprecedentedly low prices.  For some years in the 1990s a great range of inexpensive cds from the International Music Company AG in Hamburg, parts of various series and sets, kept turning up at the Dunedin Warehouse.  Bits and pieces of a chronological set of all the Ellington recordings from the beginning up to about 1950 appeared over a period of time and I snapped them up, gradually filling out a collection.  I remember a weekend when I had to go to Napier for a literary presentation ceremony and I looked up the Napier Warehouse near my motel and was overjoyed to find many of the cds that filled gaps in my collection – perhaps there were not so many jazz fans there seeking them out. 

     I found my education into jazz history increasing by leaps and bounds as I put together these sets, for the documentation was good, with dates and full lists of the personnel, and I came to hear what it meant to the Ellington band when Hodges joined, or Ben Webster or Jimmy Hamilton.  Or, with other sets that were not at all documented I learned a lot by working with online discographies to do my own documentation.  There was a 10-cd set of Reinhardt that was collected in no observable order and that listed only the titles and the year of recording.  It was a great joy to work out just who was playing with Reinhardt and to get to know the work of the various clarinetists who filled the gap in the quintet left by Grappelli’s departure, including Hubert Rostaing, Maurice Meunier, Gerard Leveque and Alix Combelle.  I began to get a sense of a whole world of French jazz of which I had known little, increased by the appearance on the market of a bargain bi-lingual Jazz in Paris series and by the gift of a wonderful set, Tresors du Jazz a Saint-Germain des Pres, sent to me by a French translator of Janet Frame whom I had helped with some details concerning Janet Frame’s New Zealand in her novel Daughter Buffalo.  Incidentally, both sets of cds have some very fine recordings done by Albert Nicholas during his sojourn in Paris.

concluding next issue with installment #3 ed.
jptARCHIVE Issue 18
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