NOTES FROM THE PRES'

 

 

 Reprinted From The October 2014 Newsletter

 

CLOSE ENOUGH FOR JAZZ 

 

 So many things that we value in life are not in themselves valuable at all. Gold, silver and jewels are not valuable expect as industrial components in a larger machine, but we notice that those things are rarely found in the physical world, so we determine that they must be valuable. Deeds, stock certificates, paper money, letters of recommendation, the paintings of Salvador Dali are not in the themselves particularly valuable. The value they possess is given to them by us. This principle is especially true for these little columns I write each month. They are not in themselves of any value. They do not carry proclamations or formulas for happiness, long life, truth, things that have a value in themselves, but they are, as the column's title insists, close enough, in an imperfect world, for the truth.

So here's an odd thought that takes us deeper into the valley of inanity, a question really: in all of the pantheon of jazz legends, musicians who have achieved universal acclaim, which one was the best actor? Or actress? I mean, jazz and the movies grew up together. The Jazz Age was also the silent movie age, and the unheard soundtrack of every flicker was jazz. And when the first talkie, “The Jazz Singer,” appeared, the marriage between the movies and its music was finally consummated.

 But whose was the personality that emerged as the most exemplary of the union between jazz and film? Most people who care at all about this issue, a miniscule mob at most, would probably vote for Louis Armstrong. He wasn't actually much of an actor, but his presence in a series of strictly comedic roles embossed his image on the cultural imagination as the wisecracking hipster who befriends and peddles his advice to the likes of Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye. But through all of the Hollywood stereotyping and the hokey scripts, something genuine and natural comes through, and for more than 40 years, audiences gladly took it to heart.

Cab Calloway enjoyed an equally long film and television career. His acting skulls were of a higher standard than most musicians who crossed over into film. Hoagy Carmichael was splendid as a character actor in a long list of movies, from Westerns to adventure yarns pulled out of the headlines of the day. Big band musicians were especially courted by Hollywood. Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman, Kay Kaiser, even Glenn Miller made pictures. Miller was surprisingly good. Peggy Lee had a tough, tense gangster moll attitude that, being a good North Dakota girl, she could turn on and off like the summer rain.

 One of the least likely jazz musicians, a trombonist with a trad jazz band, who became a very successful film, radio and TV personality was Jerry Colonna. He began his musical journey in the late 20s playing with dance bands and recording on Edison Records. A decade later, he was with John Scott Trotter's band on NBC. He was plucked from the band and used as a foil to Bing Crosby and Fred Allen, and finally became best known as Bob Hope's sidekick. My kids know Jerry Colonna as the voice of the March Hare in Disney's “Alice in Wonderland.” But throughout his long career as a comedian, he kept performing and recording traditional jazz.

 But in answer to the question as to who was the best actor of the jazz musicians, that would probably have to be one of the most promising and tragic figures of post-war America: Chet Baker. This handsome-as-a-movie-star trumpet player was much better known for his excesses than for his successes. He was, for a while, one of the most sought after talents in Hollywood—but his dealings with the studio system were more of a flirtation than a relationship. Still, the two feature films he completed and the hours of footage that's been cobbled into a few documentaries show what the big deal was all about, what made publicists claim that Baker was “James Dean, Sinatra and Bix all rolled into one.” As it turned out, Chet Baker's greatest talent was what made his excel in both acting and music: authenticity. In every performance, on the screen or on the bandstand, he was a real person, caught in moments of suffering, transition and self discovery. And the fact that he could release and carry that in more than one medium just goes to show us how creative he was really was.

-John Newton 

 

 

                            NOTES FROM THE PRES'

 

 Reprinted From The September 2014 Newsletter

 

 

CLOSE ENOUGH FOR JAZZ  

 

 I am envious of people who do things for the very first time. I envy anyone who reads Sherlock Holmes or watches “Casablanca” for the first time.

 I will never forget my first flight on an airplane. It was in 1954, I was six years old, and from a window seat, I watched the propellers spin and the ground disappear, and I commented to my mother that everybody below looked like ants (we all said that, didn't we?). I remember the first time I was allowed to walk all by myself to school. I remember my dad teaching me to ride a bike, and the first time that he turned me loose to pedal on my own. That was pure freedom blowing in my face.

 The first time I heard jazz was similarly in elementary school, and I loved it. But in a way, I had already heard jazz, because by the 1950s, it had saturated the world of radio, TV and movies. So the very first record that someone put on the phonograph and identified as “jazz” to me was like one revelatory piece of a bigger picture, a mosaic that I could now call jazz.

 What I really envy is the generation, my grandfather’s generation, who heard jazz for the very first time in 1917, when the first record was pressed and distributed across America. They heard the music with no context. What a revolution that would have been, not unlike my own generation’s experience with love and war in the 1960s. The Original Dixieland Jass Band was that generation's Beatles, and Bix Beiderbecke was their Jim Morrison.

 They even named an epoch after it: the Jazz Age. It came to represent everything that they'd experienced and everything they expected from the brave new post-war world. And of course, they carried it with them, on shellacked discs as big as dinner plates, so that jazz could be listened to and learned on every continent where a newly energized America ventured.

 Today, of course, jazz in all of its permeations (including its progenies rock and hip hop) dominate the daily lives of this Earth's denizens like a wall to wall soundtrack in a summer blockbuster. But sometimes, I think that, despite the proliferation of techno gadgetry, iPods and MP3s, despite the loud intrusion of boom boxes and car radios, elevator and supermarket music, despite the non-stop electronic hookup, wouldn't it be nice to sit in somebody's parlor listening to a scratchy record played on a wind-up Victrola and hear the music of Louis Armstrong the way my grandparents first heard him, in a little cottage in South Central L.A. as the Edwardian world transitioned into the jazz age?

 Actually though, that does sort of happen to us whenever we hear live music played, because it's always the first time for a live performance—there'll never be an identical moment to the one we experience. And jazz is the live-est music there is because it comes from the wells of inspiration and invention that is the heart of the music we love. Isn't that why we do Jazz Forum? To allow that first time experience to come alive again?

-John Newton 

                              NOTES FROM THE PRES'

  Reprinted From The August 2014 Newsletter

 

 

CLOSE ENOUGH FOR JAZZ   

 

 

 

Ralph Story, a much beloved broadcaster from the 50s and 60s, hosted a series of television programs called “Things That Aren't Here Anymore,” or something very much like that. It was about the sites and public places, the attractions and architectural artifacts, of a Los Angeles that had been largely razed to make way for the dense occupancy urban catacombs that are starting to smear the cityscape of our fair burg these days. I remember almost everything that he talked about: night clubs like the Mocambo and the Coconut Grove, the proliferation of miniature golf courses and drive-in movie theaters.

I used to love drive-in movies with my parents and my brothers. It wasn't

 an isolating experience; whole neighborhoods would meet at the drive-in.There were swing sets and picnic tables—and the snack bar, especially when I was in high school, was like a teenage malt shop out of a Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland picture. L.A. was a wonderful place to grow up just after the war. It was a small town with city limits greater than a lot of European nations, but a small town nevertheless, with local characters and eccentrics and added possibilities of the odd movie star sighting (and in those days, they were often odd ones; today, at least, that hasn't changed).

So many landmarks, civic treasures, have been lost to Angelenos: Marine Land and Corriganville, Santa's Village, the Pacific Ocean Park Fun Pier, restaurants shaped like hats or pigs or pianos, and Gilmore Stadium, where the old Hollywood Stars played baseball. The funny thing about it is that we never missed any of those things until they weren't there any more.

Wouldn't you now like to have the street cars back? But at the time, they dwarfed our sedans and convertibles and thwarted our drive to build freeways, so they had to go. And we never missed any of them, those quaint, clangy red street cars, until they were things of the past.

We are undergoing an ebbing of the tide in jazz clubs and organizations like the Jazz Forum and similar clubs throughout Southern California, a decline in attendance and membership, which has forced several clubs to close. What a loss it would be if the world of membership jazz clubs became nothing more than a memory—because the one element of jazz clubs that you can't get from a CD or a clip on the internet is a sharing and bonding that only happens in community.

Jazz Forum was founded as a social club with the bonus, if you were a trombonist or conga drummer, of an opportunity to play with a group of like-minded musicians. For people in L.A., clubs like the Jazz Forum are a chance to jam and jabber with friends. In this town, that's what we call a party. Every meeting, every session, needs to be a party. You can't force something like that, but you can create an environment in which fun and frivolity are encouraged, like a hot house for local talent and appreciative fans, like you and me, who thrive in that sort of a friendly, comfortable atmosphere of music, laughter and good company.

Don't let the Jazz Forum become one of the things that isn't here anymore—another relic, a ruined reminder of an astounding idea that failed. It is, after all, a concept so typical of our diverse city, which has witnessed the unfolding of much jazz history in the movies, on radio and TV, and in the clubs along the Sunset Strip and Central Avenue. Jazz sounds the way it does today because it came to L.A. Keep L.A.'s sense of place in jazz history in the forefront of public awareness by keeping the music available to musicians and audiences. Support the Jazz Forum with your attendance on the third Sunday of every month at the Talking Stick

 

                            NOTES FROM THE PRES'

 

 Reprinted From The July 2014 Newsletter

 

  CLOSE ENOUGH FOR JAZZ 

 

 Summer is the perfect season for jazz, “when the living is easy,” as Ira Gershwin wrote. Summer is the season for jazz festivals up and down the coast and across the country. America celebrates its own indigenous music with open air celebrations of diversity and tradition in hundreds of bowls and stadiums and hotel ballrooms. Our own Playboy Jazz Festival has grown more prestigious over the years and has a kind of authoritative stamp of approval for the artists who perform there.

 When I was a kid in the 50s and 60s, jazz, especially traditional jazz, was not yet enshrined in a festival setting. It had to be competitive in a market which included folk music and rock 'n' roll. It survived and often flourished in clubs in L.A. and San Francisco, wherever young people were clicking onto the trad sound.

 Which of course was very accessible to grownups, but for us—kids, teenagers, high schoolers—traditional jazz was quite available in pizza parlors and coffee shops. In fact, there was a surge of interest among high school and college kids for music from the 20s. A number of TV series I recall are about 20s teens and their angst growing up in the age of flivers and radio and Rudy Vallee.

 For those of us lucky enough to grow up in L.A., there were also an alternative venue, which presented traditional jazz on a regular basis: amusement parks. I can tell you exactly when I heard and saw my first live Dixieland band. It was the summer of 1955, the year that Disneyland opened. I was seven years old, and my parents took my brother and me to “The Happiest Place On Earth.”

 I was immediately won over to the Disney paradigm: a mixture of fantasy and schmaltz. And very old fashioned values (I wonder how many there are of us who got their moral guidance from the Mickey Mouse Club). And on that day, on Main Street, which is still my favorite part of the park, I heard the Firehouse Five for the very first time—two firsts in one day. But I got to take a little piece of the second first home with me because our father permitted us one souvenir each to remember the day, and I chose a 45 rpm recording of “Tiger Rag” by the Firehouse Five.

Other amusement parks had live music and they also followed a nostalgic theme. Knott's Berry Farm, Marineland, the old Long Beach Pike, Busch Gardens, even Pacific Ocean Park, had live traditional jazz bands as the background music to set the atmosphere for the day's experience. One of the best was at Corriganville, out in the Valley, a frontier town movie set converted into an attraction in the 50s. What a dream come true for a boy! And the background music? Western swing. Is it any wonder that my brother and I grew up to love the traditional sound so much?

 Of course today there's still a lot of terrific jazz, traditional and more recent jazz, that we can enjoy. And we get to drink beer now—what could be better? That's why I'm so glad that the Jazz Forum, which is having its rebirth this summer, has always been around all of the jazz forms and traditions that have intertwined in our lives.

 The Jazz Forum belongs to all of us, for all of our memories, for all of our pleasures. We have a wonderful opportunity, in the newly redecorated Talking Stick, to reinvent our club and the way we have fun and pass on our kind of music. Let's all make this summer the Jazz Forum summer, which we'll always look back on as the season we got it right.

-John Newton 

 

 

 

 

                             NOTES FROM THE PRES'

                   Reprinted From The June 2014 Newsletter

 

                                      CLOSE ENOUGH FOR JAZZ 

 

 

 Summer is the perfect season for jazz, “when the living is easy,” as Ira Gershwin wrote. Summer is the season for jazz festivals up and down the coast and across the country. America celebrates its own indigenous music with open air celebrations of diversity and tradition in hundreds of bowls and stadiums and hotel ballrooms. Our own Playboy Jazz Festival has grown more prestigious over the years and has a kind of authoritative stamp of approval for the artists who perform there.

 When I was a kid in the 50s and 60s, jazz, especially traditional jazz, was not yet enshrined in a festival setting. It had to be competitive in a market which included folk music and rock 'n' roll. It survived and often flourished in clubs in L.A. and San Francisco, wherever young people were clicking onto the trad sound.

 Which of course was very accessible to grownups, but for us—kids, teenagers, high schoolers—traditional jazz was quite available in pizza parlors and coffee shops. In fact, there was a surge of interest among high school and college kids for music from the 20s. A number of TV series I recall are about 20s teens and their angst growing up in the age of flivers and radio and Rudy Vallee.

 For those of us lucky enough to grow up in L.A., there were also an alternative venue, which presented traditional jazz on a regular basis: amusement parks. I can tell you exactly when I heard and saw my first live Dixieland band. It was the summer of 1955, the year that Disneyland opened. I was seven years old, and my parents took my brother and me to “The Happiest Place On Earth.”

 I was immediately won over to the Disney paradigm: a mixture of fantasy and schmaltz. And very old fashioned values (I wonder how many there are of us who got their moral guidance from the Mickey Mouse Club). And on that day, on Main Street, which is still my favorite part of the park, I heard the Firehouse Five for the very first time—two firsts in one day. But I got to take a little piece of the second first home with me because our father permitted us one souvenir each to remember the day, and I chose a 45 rpm recording of “Tiger Rag” by the Firehouse Five.

Other amusement parks had live music and they also followed a nostalgic theme. Knott's Berry Farm, Marineland, the old Long Beach Pike, Busch Gardens, even Pacific Ocean Park, had live traditional jazz bands as the background music to set the atmosphere for the day's experience. One of the best was at Corriganville, out in the Valley, a frontier town movie set converted into an attraction in the 50s. What a dream come true for a boy! And the background music? Western swing. Is it any wonder that my brother and I grew up to love the traditional sound so much?

 Of course today there's still a lot of terrific jazz, traditional and more recent jazz, that we can enjoy. And we get to drink beer now—what could be better? That's why I'm so glad that the Jazz Forum, which is having its rebirth this summer, has always been around all of the jazz forms and traditions that have intertwined in our lives.

 The Jazz Forum belongs to all of us, for all of our memories, for all of our pleasures. We have a wonderful opportunity, in the newly redecorated Talking Stick, to reinvent our club and the way we have fun and pass on our kind of music. Let's all make this summer the Jazz Forum summer, which we'll always look back on as the season we got it right.

-John Newton 

                              NOTES FROM THE PRES'

 Reprinted From The June 2014 Newsletter 

  CLOSE ENOUGH FOR JAZZ 

 

 L.A. is a small town. Always has been, always will be. In my grandfather's day, he used to tell me, it was not unusual for an ordinary citizen to be sitting at the Florsheim shoe store in Beverly Hills and discover Tyrone Power or Edward G. Robinson next to him, or waiting in line for Carole Lombard to finish buying cantaloupes at the Hollywood Ranch Market.

 During the war, when travel was limited and most movie people lived and worked in town, celebrity visibility was at an all time high—practically banal. And somehow, it was an unwritten law that as long as we ignored them as celebrities, stars walked among us. All of that has changed, of course. Movie stars live in gated communities surrounded with minions who do their bidding and insulate them from the common touch or crush.

 One star from the past never receded into the security of his well earned success, one of the most accessible legends of the silver screen, who very sadly passed away last month. Herb Jeffries, the Bronze Buckaroo, star of the first all-black oater “Harlem on the Prairie” and last of the singing cowboys, died last week at the age of 100.

 Long before he convinced a white Hollywood B-movie producer into taking a chance on an African American themed singing cowboy series, Jeffries was a big band singer. Beginning in the 1930s, he toured with Earl “Fatha” Hines, and later with the Duke Ellington orchestra. It was with Ellington that Herb Jeffries had his one solid and enduring hit, “Flamingo,” which sold millions of records and went on to become a jazz standard. And although it's been covered innumerable times, the original, with Jeffries' smooth baritone voice leading the listener into an exotic world of Caribbean mystery, has never been surpassed. I heard him sing his signature tune at the last Sweet and Hot Festival. He was getting frail, but he sat on a stool, clutched a microphone and crooned his tune as if it were 1940 again.

 That was the last time I saw Herb Jeffries, but it wasn't the first. I would run into him every couple of years at some event around town. Sometimes they were in his honor—like when he finally got his star on Hollywood Boulevard ten years ago—or sometimes honoring other people—like awards ceremonies at the Gene Autry Museum or the Santa Clarita Cowboy Hall of Fame.

 But I think I liked seeing best of all at the Sweet and Hot because, as I sat in the Roseland room listening to him, I closed my eyes, and he took me to a time of elegant revelers in swanky nighteries with class entertainment like Herb Jeffries. It's a world I sorely miss, and another part of it has now lapsed into the past permanently—not forgotten, but elevated even more in our esteem, the final representative of a beloved era of music and movies and good manners.

-John Newton 

 

                              NOTES FROM THE PRES'

Reprinted From The May 2014 Newsletter  

CLOSE ENOUGH FOR JAZZ 

 

 Did I ever tell you about when I met Harry James? It was back in the early 1960s. I was a kid in high school, and I went to see a musical at a theater in the Round called Melodyland, located not all that far from Disneyland, thus the name. I saw “High Button Shoes,” starring Betty Grable and Dan Daley. I seem to recall Phil Silvers in the cast as well.

After the show, as I did when I was a teenager, I went to the stage door to see the stars leave. After a few minutes, Betty Grable came out, and with her was her husband, jazz great Harry James. I wanted to say something nice to Betty Grable, but somebody nearby yelled out, “You've still got the legs, Betty!” So instead, I yelled, “You were great with Abbot and Costello, Harry!.” Because I knew Harry James not so much as a jazz great, but from the Abbot and Costello radio show when it was syndicated in the 50s and 60s on KNX.

 If ever there were two popular mediums that grew up together it was radio and jazz. Both were products of the first world war, emerging as the world was changing dramatically and engaging enough to be influential throughout the decades that followed. Beginning with the Chicago based Coon-Sanders Original Nighthawk Orchestra in 1919, radio introduced a generation of jazz bands that might otherwise have remained regional acts, had not radio put them center stage into popular culture.

 The bands that followed Coon Sanders on radio were luminaries on the horizon of emerging jazz: Artie Shaw, Cab Calloway, Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Fats Waller, Red Nichols, Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Duke Ellington. During World War II, radio programs like “Jubilee,” “GI Jive,” and “Command Performance” delivered jazz to US servicemen and women wherever the conflict took them.

 Some radio shows were specifically about jazz, like Eddie Condon's jazz concerts, heard weekly throughout the country during and after the war, or “Date With the Duke,” which introduced Duck Ellington to his widest audience, or Johnny Mercer's Music Shop.

 Or the program that became a New York institution, “Live From Birdland”; jazz bands even appeared as regular cast members on hit radio series, like Phil Harris' long run with Jack Benny, or Harry James' stint on “Abbot and Costello,” or the pairing of Eddie Lang and Joe Venuti by Bing Crosby.

 But perhaps the most jazz centric, if not the most successful, and certainly the most ambitious merging of jazz and radio was a program starring Jack Webb, who would go on to become Sgt. Joe Friday on radio, TV and movies. In his earliest attempt at radio, he played Dixieland jazz cornetist and amateur detective Pete Kelly in “Pete Kelly's Blues,” a series which only ran as a summer replacement in 1951 but had a lasting effect on the way jazz was used in media.

 Jack Webb, who was a traditional jazz aficionado, started his radio career as a late night jazz DJ, spinning platters from the nativity of jazz recordings. So it was only natural that, when given a chance to create a summer replacement radio show in 1951, he chose to base it on the material he loved the best. In the show, Webb played cornetist Pete Kelly, a tough talking jazz interpreter fronting a Dixieland band in a speakeasy during the roaring 20s who manages to get tangled up in a weekly series of radio noir mysteries.

 Jazz was the setting of the show, the soundtrack of the show, and the fascination of its creator. He picked the best musicians in the business to fill out the fictional band: Dick Cathcart on coronet, Ray Schneider on piano, Moe Schneider on trombone, guitarist Bill Newman, and Morty Corb on bass.

 The show ran only for the summer, and when it wasn't picked up Webb went on to create and star in “Dragnet.” But “Pete Kelly's Blues” sparked TV shows like “Peter Gunn,” “Johnny Stacatto” and “77 Sunset Strip.” The original shows hold up well when I heard them on tape. They're not corny or melodramatic. But it's the music that really comes smashing through the years, as though being played in a smoky club in a bygone era.

-John Newton 

                                NOTES FROM THE PRES'

Reprinted From The April 2014 Newsletter  

                                       

CLOSE ENOUGH FOR JAZZ

 

 

 There is a character in a Woody Allen film named Zelig, both the movie and the character. He's an otherwise insignificant little nebbish of a man, but who nevertheless has the uncanny knack of being at every important world event in the 20th century. He even managed to insinuate himself into group photos and newsreels with the likes of Lindbergh, Roosevelt, and Stalin. He was the ultimate cultural party crasher. If you take away the nebbish part, Cab Calloway was like that. He crashed the nationwide jazz party in the 1920s and then he stayed on for the duration of the century.

Born to upper-middle class parents on Christmas day in 1907, Calloway grew up in West Baltimore's Sugar Hill, the cultural and economic center of African American society in Maryland. His father's hope that his son would follow him into the legal profession were dashed when Calloway left college in his freshman year to tour with a jazz band. Despite their parental disapproval, both Cab and his sister, Blanche, would quickly form and lead their own bands. Cab's band would eventually replace the move band at the legendary Cotton Club in Harlem, and from that moment on, his star was on the rise. By the way, the movie band that he replaced at the Cotton Club was the Duke Ellington Orchestra.

Calloway's reputation and popularity were not based on his aesthetic innovation or for his musical acumen; he was a singer, not a musician, although the way that he used rhythm and stretched melody presaged the vocal technique that Sinatra learned with the Dorsey band—turning the voice into a musical instrument.

 There was also the element of charm working hard in his favor. Cab Calloway, unlike his Woody Allen counterpart, was tall, dark and handsome, and utterly charming. It also didn't hurt that he made influential friends easily, and soon counted such show business luminaries as Bing Crosby, Walter Winchell and Al Jolson as his intimates. He made his film debut in 1931 in the live action sequence in a Betty Boop cartoon, singing his hit “Minnie The Moocher.” His lithe, almost balletic movements as he floated across the stage, tossing his long hair from side to side in time to the hypnotizing beat captured the American imagination. He became a fixture in film, radio and television for the next five decades, his career lasting long enough for my own children to learn to appreciate his frequent appearances on Sesame Street in the 1980s.

 And not content with appearing as Cab Calloway, effervescent band leader, he would often tackle roles requiring considerably more acting chops than many people probably thought he had. He had wonderful turns in 1936's “The Singing Fool” and 1943's “Stormy Weather,” the all-star MGM black musical. He was amazing in 1965's “The Cincinnati Kid” and hilarious in 1980's “The Blues Brothers.” He even starred in revival Broadway productions of “Hello Dolly,” opposite Pearl Bailey, and “Porgy And Bess,” as Sportin' Life. With credentials like those, Calloway was no longer crashing the party, he was on the A-list.

 If Louis Armstrong took jazz out of the brothels and put it into clubs and cabarets, and Paul Whiteman took jazz out of the cabarets and put it in the concert hall, then Cab Calloway took jazz one step further—he removed the walls of the cabaret and concert halls and brought jazz to the family. He was what jazz needed the most in its formative years: a friendly, reasonable, respectable face. I recall watching “Sesame Street” with one of my sons and unexpectedly there he was, immaculately dressed in a white tail suit, singing an old signature tune, “The Hi De Ho Man,” and I thought, there he is again, crashing into another moment of my life. What a wonderful world we live in—the more things change, the more they stay the same.

-John Newton 

                             NOTES FROM THE PRES'

Reprinted From The March 2014 Newsletter 

CLOSE ENOUGH FOR JAZZ

 As a boy in the early 1950s, I went to the generically named 68th Street School in South Central Los Angeles, where we had a beloved music teacher, Mr. Calhoun, who gave us elementary school children a very precious gift: the gift of jazz. Mr. Calhoun looked a lot like the popular recording star Nat King Cole, right down to his French cuffs and shiny silk ties. He believed in hands on musical education, so he put instruments in our hands and organized us into a big band, a very big band (in fact, when we went to perform at LAUSD inter-mural events, we had to take two school buses to get there).

 We eventually played all kinds of music—marches, waltzes, polkas, nothing really classical, but operetta overtures were within our proficiency—but the very first tune that he taught us a short piece called “The Showboat” or “Dixie Showboat” or something like that, and it was a fast paced quasi-Dixieland melody that we rehearsed over and over again because we were learning to the play the instruments. And as a consequence, that particular tune has always stayed with me throughout my life—drilled into me like an echo of my enchanted past.

 Imagine my surprise then when, driving down Santa Monica Boulevard, listening to my car radio, I heard that same melody, the one that had been bouncing around in my brain for 60 years, blaring back at me from Mr. Calhoun's music class. I pulled the car over and listened to it, beating out the rhythm on the steering wheel (I played drums in the 68th Street School band).

 When the song ended, the announcer explained that the song was called “Here Comes The Showboat,” and it was written as additional music for the 1929 film “Showboat” by a man named Maceo Pinkard. Who knew? But it turns out that Maceo Pinkard was an enormously esteemed member of the fraternity of Tin Pan Alley, despite the fact that he was the one black composer in an otherwise all white business. He was that important. He wrote almost exclusively for jazz, pop and swing bands, but his work drew attention first from Broadway and then Hollywood—hence the tune for the film adaptation of the greatest of all Jerome Kern musicals, “Showboat,” which stayed in my memory for decades.

 Meceo Pinkard wrote one of the world's most frequently recorded songs, “Sweet Georgia Brown” (Bing, Ella, Dizzy, Benny, Sarah, Cab, Thelonius, Oscar, Louis, Ray, the Count and the Beatles all released versions). Pinkard wrote the jazz classic “Them There Eyes” (I have a marvelous version of Anita O'Day singing it). The year after he worked on the “Showboat” soundtrack, Pinkard penned a song that was still popular 25 years later, “Gimme A Little Kiss, Will Ya Huh?” Remember that one? He wrote “I'll Be A Friend (With Pleasure)” for his own friend Bix Beiderbecke. Pinkard was the man who introduced Duke Ellington to the music industry and encouraged his career. He was a trailblazer in so many respects, and yet, he was scarcely aware of his seminal importance to culture or his contribution to jazz. To himself, he was just a musician doing what he loved.

 I'm going to try to get a hold of a copy of the 1929 “Showboat” film because I'd like to see what the tune was originally composed to do. And then I'll compare in my mind what we accomplished with the same piece in elementary school so long ago. I wonder who will win out? Mr. Calhoun or Universal Studios? Personal memory has one wonderful quality: as time goes on, whoever I say won, won.

-John Newton 

                             NOTES FROM THE PRES'

Reprinted From The February 2014 Newsletter 

 

CLOSE ENOUGH FOR JAZZ 

 

 

 Who discovered America? Columbus? Maybe not. It could have been Leif Eriksson or an anonymous Chinese sailor seriously off course. Who invented baseball? Abner Doubleday? Probably not. Baseball fields sprang up like mushrooms all across America just before the Civil War. Who invented the motion picture? Thomas Edison or the Lumiere brothers? Or William Friese-Greene? Nobody knows.

 Who invented jazz? Somebody did it. The problem is that the mystery has been overcrowded with a colorful cast of likely suspects, like Papa Jack Laine, whose Reliance Brass Band formed in the late 1880s, or Buddy Bolden, or Willie G. "Banks" Johnson, or Nick LaRocca and the Original Dixieland Jass Band. Ferdinand "Jelly Roll" Morton once famously said in an interview, "It is evidently known, beyond contradiction, that New Orleans is the cradle of jazz, and I myself happen to be the inventor in the year 1902." Was he or wasn't he? Morton himself was confident enough to have business cards made that boldly stated: Jelly Roll Morton, Originator of Jazz.

 The truth is that we don't really like unanswerable questions. Especially not when it concerns the origins of one of America's most beloved cultural commodities: jazz. So if we hear that nobody knows who created jazz--it just happened--our hearts rebel against it. No matter how happy our heads are to learn that the issue is closed. But we need a founder-hero. Someone to put a face and a Wikipedia biography on.

 Louis Armstrong was convinced that Nick LaRocca was the inventor of jazz; however, I find it very interesting that all of the members of the Original Dixieland Jass Band, including LaRocca himself, previously played with Papa Jack Laine's Afro-Irish band. Clearly the creators of our kind of music disappear into the mists of time and are lost forever. Or else...

 Or else the real answer to the question "who invented jazz?" is "New Orleans." New Orleans created the sound,the musicians, and the audiences: the brothels and the Storyville late night clubs, the working class dances and cabarets that became the secret passion of the rich, the mixing of Spanish, French and African cultures to create the strange rhythms and melodies of a uniquely localized musical phenomenon. So why do we still want to know about the pioneers of jazz so much? Because the music came directly out of them, their instruments, their bodies, their imaginations.

 What is jazz? It's those people: Jelly Roll Morton, King Oliver, Buddy Bolden, Frankie Duben, Louis Armstrong. They are jazz. The city that they all grew up in is jazz. Their rich racial and cultural diversity is jazz. And the spontaneous and sustaining feeling of pure joy when the music begins and starts to fill the room with the ghosts of Storyville and the legends of its bands, and the nights, and the passion of old New Orleans, that's jazz too.

 So we may never know who the first jazz musician was. He was probably like that hypothetical Chinese sailor, anonymous and lost to time and history. However, we know exactly where jazz came from and where it went: up and down the river and across the country. Wherever there was a bandstand, funeral or parade, there was jazz. It is our most precious heritage and the legacy that we hold in trust for future generations. And whoever that first musician was, we owe him our gratitude.

-John Newton 

                             NOTES FROM THE PRES'

 

                       Reprinted From The January 2014 Newsletter 

 

 

* CLOSE ENOUGH FOR JAZZ *

   

   I once read a book (the title and the author I

cannot recall) about the ten most important people who ever lived. It included such historical luminaries as Julius Caesar, Napoleon Bonaparte, Socrates,and Jesus, as well as a Chinese whose name I didn't recognize, Cai Lun. He was the only person I had never heard of, and yet he was one of the ten most important people who ever lived. Who was he? What did he do? It turns out that somewhere around the time of the Emperor Claudius, he invented paper. Without him, we wouldn't have newspapers or toilet paper or sheet music or the works of Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Hemingway. That makes Cai Lun a pretty important guy in anybody's book. But I had never heard of him before, and I'm sure that I'm not alone. So often the people who 

have been incredibly influential on our culture and our lives are the people whose names are largely unfamiliar to us. Fletcher Henderson was such a man. He was the man whose vision and musical aptitude created what became one of the most enduring forms of jazz: big band swing.

 Born in 1897, Fletcher Henderson was the son of an African American principal at a school in his hometown, Cuthbert, Georgia. Following in his father's footsteps, the young Henderson received degrees in 

chemistry and mathematics at Atlanta University, graduating in 1920, and went on to Columbia University in New York for post graduate study. 

 It was here that his story was changed. Henderson was also a gifted pianist, and in New York he was given the opportunity to moonlight from his college career as a pianist in dance bands around Manhattan.

 New York was aglow with the flush of the jazz age and Fletcher Henderson succumbed to its allure. He left Columbia and formed his own band. He was enormously talented and his band was booked solidly, but it wasn't achieving the kind of recognition that he sought. And then, in 1924, he hired a young Louisiana musician named Louis Armstrong, and the band began to gain momentum. Armstrong was well known in New Orleans and Chicago, he'd even made recordings, but New York had never seen him. The power of jazz pouring out of his young trumpeter—raw, spontaneous, emotional—gave the bandleader an idea.

 Before Fletcher Henderson, there were two types of jazz bands: the traditional New Orleans combo, which played Dixieland, and the dance band, a small orchestra dedicated largely to the foxtrot with jazz 

overtones (and in case that sounds odd, consider that the first rock'n'roll records were labeled “foxtrot”). Henderson saw the advantage of taking the New Orleans style music and breeding it with the northern dance bands; the product was the first swing band. His concept was simple enough. It was to replace each soloist in a Dixieland combo with an orchestra section. So instead of a single clarinet, there arose a reed section—clarinets and saxophones—and then a horn section—trumpets and trombones. A drum-kit replaced the banjo, aided by piano and bass. 

 The sections covered all the Dixieland motifs, like call and response, and improvisational riffs taken off by whole sections instead of soloists. Of course, the music needed to be arranged, but it was the same music, jazz, made accessible to a wider audience.

 Louis Armstrong only stayed for another year, but the Fletcher 

 Henderson vision, and his new sound, continued to grow and develop. He discovered new musicians like Lester Young, Benny Carter and Coleman Hawkins, and his innovative style was soon heard, appreciated and 

imitated by other musicians. In fact, by the early 1930s, the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra was fast becoming the prototype for jazz big bands. So much so that young bandleaders like Benny Goodman made deals to use Henderson's arrangements for their own bands. Pretty soon, the Fletcher Henderson sound had outgrown his own orchestra, his own music, and it 

became a movement. Then, when Benny Goodman signed onto network radio, with the program “Let's Dance,” Henderson was the show's arranger, and it was his sound that went national. Kids all across American 

throughout the 30s and 40s were dancing to, and building memories on, Fletcher Henderson's vision of a new kind of music for a new kind of America.

 Fletcher Henderson never attained the recognition he deserved during his lifetime. He made records of his own songs, like “Christopher Columbus,”“VarietyStomp,” “Shanghai Shuffle” and “New King Porter Stomp,” only to have those same songs covered by any number of artists with much greater success. It was only in retrospect that the thread of his genius can be heard running through the music of three decades. But his legacy remains with us on the soundtracks of neo-noir films and TV shows. His legacy was the soundtrack that made the greatest generatgreat. 

   
   I once read a book (the title and the author I cannot recall) about the 
 ten most important people who ever lived. It included such historical 
 luminaries as Julius Caesar, Napoleon Bonaparte, Socrates, and Jesus, 
 as well as a Chinese whose name I didn't recognize, Cai Lun. He was the 
 only person I had never heard of, and yet he was one of the ten most 
 important people who ever lived. Who was he? What did he do? It turns 
 out that somewhere around the time of the Emperor Claudius, he invented 
 paper. Without him, we wouldn't have newspapers or toilet paper or 
 sheet music or the works of Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Hemingway. That makes 
 Cai Lun a pretty important guy in anybody's book. But I had never heard 
 of him before, and I'm sure that I'm not alone. So often the people who 
 have been incredibly influential on our culture and our lives are the 
 people whose names are largely unfamiliar to us. Fletcher Henderson was 
 such a man. He was the man whose vision and musical aptitude created 
 what became one of the most enduring forms of jazz: big band swing.

   Born in 1897, Fletcher Henderson was the son of an African American 
 principal at a school in his hometown, Cuthbert, Georgia. Following in 
 his father's footsteps, the young Henderson received degrees in 
 chemistry and mathematics at Atlanta University, graduating in 1920, 
 and went on to Columbia University in New York for post graduate study. 
 It was here that his story was changed. Henderson was also a gifted 
 pianist, and in New York he was given the opportunity to moonlight from 
 his college career as a pianist in dance bands around Manhattan.

   New York was aglow with the flush of the jazz age and Fletcher 
 Henderson succumbed to its allure. He left Columbia and formed his own 
 band. He was enormously talented and his band was booked solidly, but 
 it wasn't achieving the kind of recognition that he sought. And then, 
 in 1924, he hired a young Louisiana musician named Louis Armstrong, and 
 the band began to gain momentum. Armstrong was well known in New 
 Orleans and Chicago, he'd even made recordings, but New York had never 
 seen him. The power of jazz pouring out of his young trumpeter—raw, 
 spontaneous, emotional—gave the bandleader an idea.

   Before Fletcher Henderson, there were two types of jazz bands: the 
 traditional New Orleans combo, which played Dixieland, and the dance 
 band, a small orchestra dedicated largely to the foxtrot with jazz 
 overtones (and in case that sounds odd, consider that the first rock 
 'n' roll records were labeled “foxtrot”). Henderson saw the advantage 
 of taking the New Orleans style music and breeding it with the northern 
 dance bands; the product was the first swing band. His concept was 
 simple enough. It was to replace each soloist in a Dixieland combo with 
 an orchestra section. So instead of a single clarinet, there arose a 
 reed section—clarinets and saxophones—and then a horn section—trumpets 
 and trombones. A drum-kit replaced the banjo, aided by piano and bass. 
 The sections covered all the Dixieland motifs, like call and response, 
 and improvisational riffs taken off by whole sections instead of 
 soloists. Of course, the music needed to be arranged, but it was the 
 same music, jazz, made accessible to a wider audience.

   Louis Armstrong only stayed for another year, but the Fletcher 
 Henderson vision, and his new sound, continued to grow and develop. He 
 discovered new musicians like Lester Young, Benny Carter and Coleman 
 Hawkins, and his innovative style was soon heard, appreciated and 
 imitated by other musicians. In fact, by the early 1930s, the Fletcher 
 Henderson Orchestra was fast becoming the prototype for jazz big bands. 
 So much so that young bandleaders like Benny Goodman made deals to use 
 Henderson's arrangements for their own bands. Pretty soon, the Fletcher 
 Henderson sound had outgrown his own orchestra, his own music, and it 
 became a movement. Then, when Benny Goodman signed onto network radio, 
 with the program “Let's Dance,” Henderson was the show's arranger, and 
 it was his sound that went national. Kids all across American 
 throughout the 30s and 40s were dancing to, and building memories on, 
 Fletcher Henderson's vision of a new kind of music for a new kind of 
 America.

   Fletcher Henderson never attained the recognition he deserved during 
 his lifetime. He made records of his own songs, like “Christopher 
 Columbus,” “Variety Stomp,” “Shanghai Shuffle” and “New King Porter 
 Stomp,” only to have those same songs covered by any number of artists 
 with much greater success. It was only in retrospect that the thread of 
 his genius can be heard running through the music of three decades. But 
 his legacy remains with us on the soundtracks of neo-noir films and TV 
 shows. His legacy was the soundtrack that made the greatest generation 
 great.

    -John Newton

 

 The featured artist on the Jazz Forum website this month is the legendary Fletcher Henderson 
 

 

 

 

                                                 NOTES FROM THE PRESIDENT

 

Reprinted From The December 2013 Newsletter 

 

 

*CLOSE ENOUGH FOR JAZZ *

My favorite memories have always been holiday memories. It's probably that way for everybody. But for me and my generation, first through radio and then through television, our memories have been formed by the media. So for me at least, TV and radio holiday specials were the landmarks of the Halloween-Thanksgiving-Hanukkah-Christmas-New Year's season, especially the musical specials. Especially the ones that starred Bing Crosby or Frank Sinatra, with guests like Ella Fitzgerald and Lena Horne, Rosemary Clooney, Dinah Shore, people who really knew how to sing “Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow,” with short, balding baritones.

I think it was on the Ed Sullivan Show, that Sunday night last stand for vaudeville, that I first heard Louis Armstrong, dressed in a baggy red suit and floppy white cap, singing, “Zat You, Santa Claus?” and it broke me up. This was more sophisticated than my Yuletide musical taste ran. I had previously preferred “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” and Alvin and the Chipmunks' rendition of “Christmas Don't Be Late” (or, as we used to call it, “The Hula Hoop Song”).

“Zat you, Santa Claus?” Louis warbled, and the audience howled as he dragged a huge, sooty bag across the stage. He looked like a burglar, or a burlesque, rundown department store Santa, but that raspy, happy voice and the enormous smile that went with it just shouted Christmas at me. And the next time that my grandfather took me to Wallach's Music City, I bought the record and brought it home—much to the chagrin of my parents, who, by the third or fourth of January, had had enough of Louis Armstrong.

Well, attrition caught up with that well used 45rpm, and eventually it was unplayable. And by the next Christmas, there was a new pop phenom—I forget what his name was, Elvis something—and my brothers and I were using our allowance to buy his 45s. And I've got to admit, “Blue Christmas” was pretty hip in its day.

But lest we wax too nostalgically, the age of classy television Christmas specials has not ceased and desisted altogether. In 1989, Wynton Marsalis performed the first of his classical jazz Christmases, in which he and his sextet take over the Lincoln Center with a swinging, thoughtful program of pop holiday songs and traditional carols. It's broadcast on PBS on “Live From The Lincoln Center,” and it has now become one of my favorite Christmas traditions: a little eggnog, not too light on the nog, and a big bag of caramel popcorn, and I'm set for the night.

Now, bringing the sounds of the season into your home through any of the several electronic mediums available is no substitute for the experience of live music. I mean, isn't live jazz what we ultimately prefer? I saw Louis Armstrong live at Disneyland, and even though he didn't sing “Zat You, Santa Claus?” once, he pulled out all of the stops, hit all of the targets, and rolled over me like a barrel. That doesn't happen with a CD.

However, for cuddling by the fireplace or decorating the tree with the kids, nothing beats the living room with the television beaming “White Christmas,” or a Frank Sinatra or Perry Como special, or Wynton Marsalis' 2013 classical Christmas live at the Lincoln Center. So whether you celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah or Kwanza or Winter Solstice, however you express it, say it—as Irving Berlin said —with music.

-John Newton

 

                             NOTES FROM THE PRES'

 

                          Reprinted From The November 2013 Newsletter 

 

 

                                   * CLOSE ENOUGH FOR JAZZ *

  The featured artist on the Jazz Forum website this month is the legendary Hoagy Carmichael  

 

  In the spring of 1924, Hoagy Carmichael experienced an epiphany, a moment that focused his life and determined his fate: he met Bix Beiderbecke Young Carmichael was a promising law student at the University of Indiana in Bloomington, and a well known campus musician who arranged for Beiderbecke and the Wolverines to appear on campus in a series of performances. On the afternoon before the first performance, the band set up to rehearse in Hoagy’s fraternity. As Hoagy’s son, Hoagy Bix Carmichael, told the story after his father’s death, Bix took out his horn and blew just four notes, but those four notes changed everything; he said, “Bix lit the fire that shot dad out of the musical canon.” 


  Hoagy graduated and even set up a law practice, but his new found friend Bix Beiderbecke kept urging him to make a commitment to a musical career. Which, of course, is now a legendary career that turned Hoagy Carmichael into an American icon, like his contemporaries: Bix, Louis Armstrong and Bing Crosby. 


  In fact, Hoagy Carmichael kept pace with the other three immortals pretty effectively. He won just as many Oscars as Bing (one), had as enduring as recording and concert career as Louis, and outlived by 60 years his beloved friend Bix, becoming an instantly recognizable figure and an enormously popular personality. He attained such a level of celebrity that when the author Ian Fleming created his character James Bond in the novel “Casino Royale,” he described the spy as looking remarkably like “the American film star Hoagy Carmichael.” 


  If he was famous for nothing else than having penned the lovely and haunting melody for what has arguably been called the jazz anthem, some have said the most perfect piece of popular music ever written, “Stardust,” then his place in the pantheon of modern music would be assured. Every important singer in the 20th century, and in our own slice of the present one, has taken a shot at making the song his or her own, and to the extent that their talent takes them, each enjoys a certain triumph. Because the song is incredibly adaptive and responsive to the human touch. Nat King Cole reinvented the song as decisively as Willie Nelson did. With “Stardust” there is no such thing as a cover version, because every version is unique and revealing while remaining true to the original intent of the composer’s own version, with Hoagy playing solo piano and softly crooning the timeless lyrics. 


  However, in addition to “Stardust,” Carmichael also created such musical masterpieces (and that’s what they were, miniature masterpieces) as “River Boat Shuffle,” “Skylark,” “Two Sleepy People,” “When Love Walks By,” “In the Cool, Cool, Cool Of The Evening” (for which he earned the Academy Award), “Up A Lazy River,” “Hong Kong Blues,” “Georgia On My Mind” (with which Ray Charles was so closely associated), “Heart And Soul,” “I Get Along Without You Very Well,” “In The Still Of The Night,” “The Nearness Of You,” “Old Buttermilk Sky,” and hundreds of other songs published, recorded, or written for movies, radio and television, including the song “Yabba Dabba Dabba Dabba Doo” for “The Flintstones.” 


  His musical success eventually led to numerous film roles in some of the most memorable pictures of the era, notably his turn in “To Have And Have Not,” starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. In terms of show business, Hoagy Carmichael was the realized Renaissance man. 


  But Hoagy was so much more than he seemed to be. He lived a long and happy life, and yet in his three autobiographies, whenever he conjured up his past, it wasn’t about his acclaim and good fortune in the public arena that he reflected on; it was his friendships, and his ties his home and family. But most of all he was drawn back to the jazz age, the 1920s, and the transforming friendship with fellow Indianan Bix Beiderbecke As Hoagy wrote, “In the farmlands along the Indian-Iowa corn, and from the cow pasture universities, there have sprouted a priesthood of jazz players and jazz composers instead of buttermilk and blackstone. We were both nurtured on bathtub gin and rhythm.” 


  Hoagy and Bix last played together on Sept. 15, 1930, on the recording of Hoagy’s new song “Georgia On My Mind,” along with Eddie Lang, Joe Venuti, Jimmy Dorsey, Jack Teagarden and Bud Freeman. After the session, Bix went back to his parents house and died eleven months later. Hoagy never forget his friend, and as his life became more and more the property of record labels and movie studios, his thoughts often strayed and stayed on that spring day in 1924 when he heard those four notes. 

-John Newton 

 

                                  NOTES FROM THE PRES'

                          Reprinted From The October 2013 Newsletter 

 

 

* CLOSE ENOUGH FOR JAZZ *

   The featured artist on the Jazz Forum website this month is the legendary "Fats Waller"

  I have always felt a fond connection with the musician Thomas Wright Waller, known to everyone as “Fats” Waller. Maybe I liked him because he was a PK, a preacher’s kid, like me. His father was the minister of the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, and by the age of ten, young Fats had become the organist of the thriving congregation. He so impressed his music teachers that their prodigy was seen tutored by the leading classical organist in New York. 

  But while Fats’ soul was in the liturgical music of his father’s church, his heart was in the new jazz sensation that was shaking up the post World War I era. Fats began sneaking away from his father’s house, and playing jazz in vaudeville houses and nightclubs after school. 

  Fats Waller was a child prodigy in every sense of the term: he was prodigious in his appetites, which explains why he was called “Fats.” He was prodigious in his affections and his enthusiasm for everything modern and current. He was the perfect child of the jazz age. 

  When he was 15 years old, Fats won a talent contest, playing “Carolina Shout” by the king of stride piano James P. Johnson. Interestingly, he learned the song by watching the keys as it was being played on a player piano, placing his fingers on the keys as they were depressed. Later, young Fats befriended and eventually worked for Johnson, writing two songs for his jazz review “Keep Shufflin’.” In 1929, Fats wrote what became the biggest success of his career, “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” for the Broadway show “Hot Chocolates,” featuring Louis Armstrong and Ethel Waters. 

  Over the next 14 years, he wrote such songs as “Honeysuckle Rose,” “This Joint Is Jumping,” “(What Did I Do To Be So) Black And Blue,” “African Ripples,” “Jitterbug Waltz” and “Handful Of Keys.” He toured across America and Europe in the years between the wars with his band, Fats Waller and his Rhythm. 

  His eccentric and flamboyant style of playing the piano, his gravelly but strangely melodic voice, and the hip, snappy, irreverent patter that he inserted into his songs gained him a huge following in nightclubs, radio, and even Hollywood, where he made three films: “Hooray For Love,” “King Of Burlesque,” and “Stormy Weather” with Lena Horne. Waller’s happy disposition, toothy smile and compelling jazz stylings made his one of the most recognizable faces of the 30s and 40s. Oscar Levant, no slouch on the piano himself, dubbed Fats the “Black Horowitz.”

  An interesting sidebar in this tale of a child prodigy who became the darling of New York society in the 30s and 40s was Waller’s involvement in a media experiment that foreshadowed the popularity of music videos and Youtube. In the early 1940s, a form called “soundies” emerged. These were musical shorts produced to be seen on individual screens in tabletops in bars and nightclubs, so that instead of records and jukeboxes, customers could deposit a dime and see a sound clip of their favorite band or singer. 

  Fats Waller, because of his showy, effervescent personality, was perfect for these soundies. He made dozens of them—especially during the war, when they were sent to the troops—and his music and flip urban style became an archetype all over the world for the modern hipster. These soundies eventually turned up on daytime TV in the 1950s, where I saw them as a boy. It was my first exposure to Fats Waller, in the afternoon lineup with Popeye cartoons, Superman, and old cowboy movies. Maybe that’s why I love Fats Waller: he’s a part of my pantheon of Americana. 

  Sadly the prodigious appetites of the man began to overtake Fats Waller, and after years of tireless work, travelling and all night rehearsals, as well as overindulging in food, tobacco, alcohol and women, Fats Waller died in 1943 at the age of 39 on a train returning him to New York from Hollywood. The cause of death was listed as pneumonia, but the truth was Fats Waller had died from cramming so much more living into his body than his skin could hold. Few people ever became a legend so fast, or deserved it so richly. Here’s to you Fats.  

-John Newton 

                                   NOTES FROM THE PRES'     

 

Reprinted From The September 2013 Newsletter 

 

 

* CLOSE ENOUGH FOR JAZZ *

 

  The featured artist on the Jazz Forum website this month is the legendary “Cannonball” Adderley. And as I watched the clips, I was reminded of my very first “serious” encounter with jazz, because “Cannonball” Adderley was significantly connected with that encounter.

At that time I attended Whaley Junior High School in Compton. It was 1961, sometime after President Kennedy had been sworn into office. The world was changing, people’s minds were opening up, culture was expanding its borders to include such 20th century art forms as jazz.

And so one day in spring our music teacher, Mr. Arboghast, brought into class a new long playing record entitled “The Child’s Introduction to Jazz.” And he popped it into an industrial sized turntable, set the arm in place, and then we heard the first few bars of “Chimes Blues” by King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band. And after that, the record wound its efficient way through jazz history: Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, Fletcher Henderson, Bix Beiderbecke, Duke Ellington. Then Mr. Arboghast turned the record over, and on the other side we heard Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis and Thelonius Monk.

And the entire record, with its six decade trek through recorded jazz, was narrated by “Cannonball” Adderley. His voice was bright and informative and very pleasant to listen to, and that day I became an instant fan, both of jazz and of “Cannonball” Adderley.

A few years later, in high school, I got into the habit of gathering every day during lunch break with a few friends in our English classroom, where our teacher, Miss Holgrem, would let us listen to albums on her portable phonograph. We listened to mostly jazz and folk music, each of us bringing records from our own collections at home. I brought along a lot of my favorites, old and new, but there was usually a “Cannonball” Adderley record included, just in case somebody new came in who had never heard of him.

I still have those albums out in the garage in an orange crate covered with a plastic tarp. To my kids they’re redundant, antique. But to me, they’re the evidence that that 12-year-old boy, more than half a century ago, grew up and grew old, but never lost possession of his first great love: the spirit of the music that drove our lives and our times.

Now, the reason that “Cannonball” Adderley is the featured artist on the Jazz Forum website this month is that his birthday coincides with this week’s upcoming meeting on Sept. 15th. He died way too young, in 1975 at the age of 46. I wonder how many other children heard his album and succumbed to the rhythms and melodies of his music? It sold well enough for a children’s album, but I wonder how many children heard it in classrooms, at recreation centers, music schools?

I wonder how many kids grew up loving jazz as much as I did because of their first encounter with the music, mediated by the voice and the heart of this remarkable man. My generation owes him a great deal. Happy birthday “Cannonball” Adderley.

-John Newton

 

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