The Journal of Provincial Thought
jptArchive Issue 19
lilDiamond1-19Jazzluminancelildiamond2-19Jazz Pigasus19Jazz
jpt Jazzterisk Jazz Lines special series
The conclusion of the memoir written by Professor Jones in fulfillment of a promise to, and in honor of, the late Professor William Schafer
jpt installment #3 Previously: Prelude
Part 1 (
jpt Issue #17)
Part 2 (
jpt Issue #18)
Prof. Lawrence Jones
‘Why’r ya always playin’ that n****r music?’:
Confessions of a Jazz Fan

     In the midst of this belated burst of jazz education, Bill and Martha Schafer entered my lifeThey first came to Otago in 1995 as part of Bill’s sabbatical leave, and I first got to know them through Bill’s sabbatical writing project, which was published three years later as Mapping the Godzone: A Primer on New Zealand Literature and Culture.  We shared a love of jazz as well as of New Zealand literature and culture, and I was moved to incorporate more jazz into my teaching of American literature.  I had brought jazz into the classroom occasionally, especially in teaching Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man (another of Bill’s interests), playing for the class not only Louis Armstrong’s Black and Blue, which so memorably opens the novel, but also, as an example of the blues culture that Ellison described, Sonny Boy Blues by the Jimmy Rushing concerning whom Ellison had written an eloquent essay.  Bill introduced me to Rushing’s Harvard Blues with Count Basie and Don Byas, the recording that is the source of some of the more obscure references in Ellison’s novel, and I came to include it also.

     Soon I was putting together an entire Honors course on ‘Jazz and Race in American Literature’, a course that started with W.E.B. DuBois and ended with Michael S. Harper and Hayden Carruth, including along the way such as Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, Ellison, James Baldwin and Jack Kerouac.  A few years  after my nominal ‘retirement’ at the end of 1999, Bill and I taught a six-week intensive version of the course for the Otago Summer School‘Jazz in American Literature’.  Bill, with his love of film, suggested that we have a large film segment for the course and he provided the ideas and often the copies of a variety of wonderful jazz documentary films on Ellison, Billie Holiday, and others as well as suggestions for the use of clips from Ken Burns’ Jazz (Robin had sent me from Australia a set of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation videos of it).  It was a great pleasure to teach the course along with Bill, another step in my own jazz education.  No small part of the pleasure was the enthusiastic student response.    

     Under the Otago Summer School rules, special topics not in the usual syllabus could be offered only twice, so once  Bill and I had taught the jazz course a second time, we conceived of another one to replace it‘20th Century American Narrative: The Depression and the Cold War’.  Our political interests entered into this course more than music, as Bill focused on narratives of the Great Depression and its aftermath (Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, Harriette Arnow’s The Dollmaker and Woody Guthrie’s autobiography, Bound for Glory) and I on narratives of the Cold War (E.L. Doctorow’s The Book of Daniel, Philip Roth’s American Pastoral and Don DeLillo’s Underworld).  Music entered only peripherally as part of the social environment for the five novels, but it was central to Bound for Glory.  When we had taught that course twice, Bill and I conceived of another course that foregrounded jazz in a different way‘The Jazz Life in Text and Film: Biography, Autobiography, Oral History, Fiction’, an examination of the way the life of jazz musicians was represented (or misrepresented) in different modes.  The course started with the oral history of Nat Hentoff and Nat Shapiro’s classic Hear Me Talkin To Ya: The Story of Jazz As Told by The Men who Made It and Geoff Dyer’s But Beautiful: A Book About Jazz, a unique book that ought to be a classic, in which Dyer seamlessly combines biography, fiction and jazz criticism in what must be the best-written book about jazz ever.  These two texts gave plenty of opportunity for the use of recording and musical film clips as examples of the work of a variety of musicians.  I especially enjoyed putting together versions of ‘The Man I Love’ by Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young and Ben Webster, complemented by the Sounds of Jazz video sequence, which showed all of them along with Billie Holiday doing Fine and Mellowfine illustrations of the meaning of stylistic differences in jazz. 

     At the heart of the course were four case studies of the representation of individual musicians. Bill, having only recently published his study of Jelly Roll Morton, The Original Jelly Roll Blues, focused on Morton (using Alan Lomax’s book and excerpts from the Library of Congress tapes on which it was based) and Louis Armstrong (using Armstrong’s Swing That Music and Gary Giddins’ Satchmo and the PBS documentary based on it).  Bill’s presentation on Armstrong was a strong refutation of James Lincoln Collier’s thesis that after 1929 Armstrong sold out and ceased being true to his art.  I first took Billie Holidaycontrasting Julia Blackburn’s With Billie, with its excellent use of oral history from a variety of sources, with the film of Holidays’ ghost-written ‘autobiography’ Lady Sings the Blues, an extreme example of Hollywood’s insistence on rewriting biography (already rewritten by William Dufty, the ghostwriter) to make it conform to film clichés.  In my other part of the course, I took Art Pepper, using Laurie Pepper’s combination of  her husband’s dictated autobiography, oral history, and her story of his last years, supplemented by the film Notes of a Jazz Survivor.  My greatest hope for the course is that the students learned half as much from it as I did.  Teaching it with Bill was a rich experience.

     Bill and I offered this challenging course for what turned out to be the only time in January-February 2009.  Because Marion and I were planning for December-January 2010 a family reunion of sorts with our three children and their partners and our six grandchildren, coming to Brighton from Boston, Melbourne and Darwin, we decided not to offer the course in 2010 but to run it the second and last time in 2011.  Bill had plans possibly to  visit New Zealand in February 2010 and do some painting in Central Otago, and Marion and I looked forward to this.  As we know, that was not to be, and there will be no second time for our course.

      Looking back, I can now see that a musical party that we held at the end of Bill and Martha’s stay in February 2009 was a kind of farewell to Bill.  Kim and his wife Margrith had come to visit us in February-March, when the Summer School course was completed, and Robin came over from Australia to see them. We had arranged to have the party in the house of Don, our good friend, music lover and in possession of a good piano.  In addition to Bill and Martha and Don and Marion and myself and Robin,  Don’s step-daughter Rosamund and her partner Fred, both jazz fans, were there, as was Bill and Martha’s friend Donald.  We had a really mellow evening, sharing food, drink, friendship and music, with Kim on piano and Bill on ‘drums’, using an empty suitcase-type briefcase. Kim’s tastes ran more to bop, Bill’s to traditional jazz, but they played together magnificently. Kim, whose abilities had grown almost inconceivably since those days over 50 years ago when he played by ear in two keys, played many things from his wide repertoire, improvising fascinating variations while Bill provided a solid, unobtrusive, swinging pulse (Kim commented afterwards that it was a pleasure to play with someone with Bill’s rhythmic precision).  The music even moved our host, Don, to a delightful solo dance. We also shared some recorded music, and I remember putting on a recent discovery (from an utterly undocumented three-cd bargain set I had just acquired), Louis Armstrong’s recording of The Song is Ended, with the Mills Brothersan excellent example of Bill’s point about the virtues of the later, ‘commercial’ Armstrong.  Bill immediately recognized it and asked if the collection also had ‘My Walkin Stick from the same session; it did (in no particular order, without the Mills Brothers identified), and this song proved to be as fine as the first one, featuring on one chorus Armstrong playing trumpet obligato to an ‘instrumental’ vocal solo by one of the Brothers.


     At that last party with Bill, I heard only the music, not the ominous footsteps of Time and Mortality.  But that was my own deafness, for only sixteen months previously Patricia, Don’s wife, a good friend of ours for over thirty years, had died and her body had been laid out in the very room in which we had the party.  The overtones were still in the air for those who could hear them.  Maybe that was why Marion at one point in the evening asked Kim and Bill to play some hymns, and they happily obliged (Kim is an ordained Methodist minister but for most of his adult life has worked as a therapist).   It was as if the hymns might gently remind us of the knowledge and acceptance of mortality.   On that long summer afternoon and evening as Kim and Bill played There’s A Green Hill Far Away we  looked out the west window at Lobb’s Hill glowing in the sunlight and there was peace as well as joy.

     If on that day last year I was not fully aware of the deeper undertones of mortality beneath the music, in the year since then the music has continued for me, a celebration of life, but with a stronger underlying knowledge that that life is only part of a cycle that includes death.   As I have grown older, music forms a larger part of my everyday life, often deepened by an awareness of Time and Mortality.  I keep a mini-stereo set in the kitchen, and often play it while preparing food for meals and produce from the garden for the freezer or while I am clearing dishes. Some of the cds that stay permanently in the kitchen, mostly because they are Marion’s favorites, relate directly to those hymns played at the party: George Lewis Plays Hymns, Bill’s gift to Marion; Hank Jones and Charlie Haden’s Steal Away; Cyrus Chestnut’s Blessed Quietness.  But even the purely secular music that I play most of the time has its own whispers of mortality, for I often find myself carrying on an imaginary conversation with Bill in my head.  About a week ago I was playing an omnibus set of traditional jazz that listed only the bands, not the personnel, and I was trying to pick out the clarinetists on individual tunes by various groups led by Eddie Condon, Sidney DeParis, Jack Teagarden, Wild Bill Davison, Bunk Johnson and others.  I remembered Bill saying that it took only one or two notes to identify Albert Nicholas or Edmond Hall or George Lewis, and I replied to him in a conversation in my head that yes that was true, and it was also true of Pee Wee Russell and Barney Bigard, but that I could not be so sure of Matty Matlock or Irving Fazola or Bob Wilber or Kenny Davern, and that on a Dukes of Dixieland recording on which I had long thought that I had recognised Pete Fountain playing it turned out to be Jerry Fuller.  Bill may be gone, but the jazz conversation continues, along with my jazz education, although his contribution to it now can be only through his writings and my memory of things that he said.

     That jazz education through recordings has in the last few months involved some circling back to earlier experiences. I might have missed seeing Thelonious Monk in person back in 1965 but I didn’t miss spotting amongst a lot of Christmas music junk on a Warehouse bargain table a 10-cd Membran set of Monk at a giveaway price.  It  is an elegantly designed set, but it seems to have been put together by someone in Germany who knew little about Monk.  It has become part of my jazz education because of its undocumented state: although the series is ironically branded ‘Documents’, the set identifies nothing except track titles, composer and length; and the 10th cd, entitled ‘Friends Play Monk’ doesn’t even identify the ‘friends’.  Using a good online discography, I’ve been working out the personnel and dates of the tracks (and have been pleased to find that a whole group of them come from a relatively rare lp made in Paris in 1954), and in the process have found that some of the tunes are misidentified and that some of the tracks do not have Monk on them, so that the piano that sounded suspiciously unlike Monk turns out to have been Red Garland or Elmo Hope.

     A different circling back to early jazz experience has been offered by the recent purchase of an inexpensive Chinese record player/recorder that has a facility for burning cds from lps, 45s and tapes.  The only facility I have for playing those old lps and the even older 45s, some of them going back 60 years, has been a turntable hooked up with an amplifier and large speakers in my study.  It is anything but portable, and much of my listening is on the mini-set in the kitchen, so those lps, much used in the past, have not been played much in recent years, and the 45s not at all.  Now I have begun transferring them to cds, and, like the firewood that warms you twiceonce when you cut and stack it and once when you burn itthe re-recording has two distinct values: the joy of hearing the music once again when I re-record it, and the joy of being able to play it on the kitchen player.  I have started off re-recording some Edmond Hall Blue Notes, Albert Nicholas Delmarks  and French recordings, and Pete Fountain Corals, and look forward to digging out Herbie Hall, Buster Bailey, the Louis Armstrong musical autobiography, Reginald Kell’s Mozart and Brahms quintets, and other long-lost treasures.  Whispers of mortality again, but I sense that those shelves of  jazz, blues and classical records might very well give me a recording project to last me the rest of my life.               

     And whispers of mortality yet again: next month (March-April 2010) I will offer, possibly for the last time, a Humanities Elective for third-year medical students, and in my own mind, at least, it will be dedicated to Bill.  The Humanities Electives are six-week courses involving a two-hour seminar each week and are offered to medical students by members of the Arts Faculty to give them a brief sense of some of the perspectives of the Humanities.  In the past I used to offer one on selected New Zealand short stories and how they deal with such life-stages and problems as childhood and family relations, adolescent initiation, courtship and sexual relationship, marriage, birth and death.  But when Bill and I were planning our course on the Jazz Life I thought I would try out a brief version of that course as an Elective.  It has worked well, and I want to give it at least one more run, focusing primarily on Geoff Dyer’s But Beautiful.  The first four two-hour seminars take his chosen musicians in pairs:  Lester Young and Ben Webster, Thelonious Monk and Bud Powell, Chet Baker and Art Pepper, Duke Ellington and Charles Mingus.  The fifth seminar focuses on Billie Holiday, using the Geordie Dickson chapter (based on Holiday) from John Clellon Holmes’ novel The Horn and Matthew Seig’s film, Lady Day: The Many Faces of Billie Holiday.  The sixth seminar is simply a showing of those two contrasting jazz films that Bill provided, Gary Giddins’ The Triumph of Charlie Parker and David Berger and Holly Maxson’s Keeping Time on Milt Hinton.  The contrast between the self-destructive genius who died at 34 and the self-effacing and reliable bassist who died at 90 is a good way to end a course on the presentation of the jazz life. 

     Perhaps appropriately, the course content itself is haunted by mortality: all of Dyer’s stories except Ellington’s are tales of creativity shadowed by addiction and overcome by decline and death.  Holmes in The Horn in 1953 contrasted his  Holiday figure, Geordie Dickson, whom he saw as a survivor, with his Lester Young figure, Edgar Pool, who suffers an early death, but the stories of his models turned out differently, for both Holiday and Young died in 1959 in distressing circumstances, Young at  50 and Holiday at 44.  While Parker’s early death and its sad aftermath provide the conclusion to Giddins’ film (but the music triumphantly lives on), the ending of Keeping Time plays the mortality theme in a different, subdued key: a sequence of Hinton’s photos of famous musicians, each juxtaposing an early photo with a late one, ends with a photo of the young Hinton juxtaposed to a still made of him from the filmed interview with the simple caption, ‘Milt Hinton 1910-2000’the only indication that Hinton had died before the film was released.  Another take on mortality is offered by the book Martha Schafer had recommended to me for the courseJazz and Death: Medical Profiles of Jazz Greats, by Frederick J. Spencer, M.D., excerpts from which I have used to provide an analytic medical perspective on the deaths of some of the musicians and on their addictions.


     Jazz, then, has been an important part of my life for over 60 years in two different countries, 7000 miles apart.  It has related to issues of race and of social identity, it has increasingly played a part in my teaching, it has become something to study for the sheer joy of it, and now it has its own relation to what Janet Frame would have called my death education.  It played a lesser part in those busy middle years of simultaneously establishing a profession and raising children, but in retirement it has played an ever larger part and promises to continue to do so.  As is probably the case with most jazz fanatics, I have found that recordings have provided and continue to provide my main source of musical experience and education, with live experience only an occasional treat.  And  I now realize that in its changing modes of transmission jazz touches on another major concern of my life, the relationship of technological development to the rise of the consumer society.  The methods of recording have developed as much as the music in our evolving consumer societyfrom crude and hard-to-obtain 78s in the age of scarcity and its aftermath, with only fragments of the music out there actually available on record, to 45s and lps as we moved into the age of abundance in a consumer society, with a much greater range of music available (but not in New Zealand),  and then to cds, with the whole range of music now available, with the developments in the technology working together in New Zealand with the opening out of the consumer society and globalization here.  Now in an increasingly electronic age with technological development in communication moving at an ever faster pace, the obsolescence of cds looms on the horizon.  More than a straw in the wind, the best shop for jazz cds in Dunedin has closed its doors recently because the young, who provided the majority of its customers (but not for jazz), now download music instead of buying cds. 

     I haven’t yet ventured a toe into the iPod/MP3 sea, but on his last visits Bill was using an iPod to bring a sample of his music with him, and I wouldn’t want to predict that I won’t ultimately follow suit.  And with that we are back to the whispers of mortality, for an inescapable evidence of my age is the great gap that exists between me and my grandchildren in relation to the electronic world. They take that world as a givencomputer games, cellphones, iPods and all, while I am still doggedly fighting off the cellphone. 

     But, whatever the mode of transmission ,  I will go on listening to that music, from both black and white musicians, which has played such a part in my life, enjoying its assertion of life as long as I am able to, until my world descends into silence while the music plays on.


We couldn't close without again expressing our deep appreciation to Professor Jones for his all-around kindness and for honoring Bill 's memory with this testimonial of love for the music that, in no small part, has defined both of these extraordinary men. —ed.
jptArchive Issue 19
Copyright 2011- WJ Schafer & WC Smith - All Rights Reserved