I had to take some extra time to plan before I talked about the third part of my week at Dizzy’s: spending three nights with Stanley Crouch.
Mr. Crouch is a man I deeply respect. I have read him and been influenced by him for years, and although his end judgments and mine don’t always line up one hundred percent, as far as a logical Jazz thinker goes, he’s on the top rung.
Now some may read the above statement as a firm picking of a camp, or a shouting-from-the-hills of my acceptance and appreciation of Stanley Crouch. In the current musical environment, there is not a single name that strikes up as much controversy as Crouch. I’m going to leave all of that out of this post. Whatever your opinions on his views, the above statement can still be true. His thought logically follows, and his writing very clearly conveys his sentiment on any topic. That is the basis of my admiration regardless of my thoughts on his opinion. The job of a critic is to give informed opinions, and there are few more informed or opinionated than Crouch.
I have hung out with a fair number of musicians in the last five years, and let me say that Mr. Crouch is the only one who is content to talk about nothing but Jazz for hours and hours on end. For the three nights I hung out with him, Jazz, musicians, tunes, feels, gigs, history, legends, and anecdotes were the only topics. Most musicians want to talk about other things, to get their minds off of the gig, or for other various reasons, but when Crouch comes to hang, he’s going to talk about the music.
To me as a Jazz nerd, that’s an awesome hang, and one of the things I look forward to as a musician. I had so much fun just listening to all of the interactions in the room. The most obvious element was everyone’s respect for Stanley. No one had any problem talking about Jazz for hours on end, because they all cared about what he had to say. When the room is as stacked with talent and prestige as it was during these evenings, it was crazy to hear the room hush when Stanley went into a story or made a point.
Most of these points came about in regards to Charlie Parker. Stanley’s book on Parker has been on the drawing board for what I am inferring is about 10 years. I know that someone got an advance manuscript about four or five years ago, so it’s been almost done since then.
Now, if there is one thing the world needs, it’s a definitive biography on Charlie Parker. Name any great musician, there is a fair bit of information on them(notable exception: Art Tatum, who to my knowledge only has one full-length book in his name, despite Gunther Schuller’s insistent writing), but there are only a few works on Charlie Parker, modern Jazz’s most celebrated hero. Most of the biographical information I have digested about him comes from anthologies like Ira Gitler’s The Masters of Bebop or The Greatest Concert Ever, and Gary Giddens’ short but great Celebrating Bird. Ross Russell is certainly a qualified source, with his Bird Lives, but for someone like Bird, one good work really isn’t enough. Stanley aims to fix this problem, by writing a definitive two volume biography, the first dealing with Bird’s life up until his early twenties. I’m grateful that he’s backing up this important work with ten years of research, which he has gleaned from his mighty rolodex of historical figures and experts, no doubt. I greatly anticipate it.
There was too much information exchanged backstage during those nights to articulate in one (forty?) post, but I’ll share a few extremely interesting parts.
First of all, on Marcus’ Crescent night, naturally the topic of Trane’s rhythm section came up. No one can gush about that rhythm section like Stanley, and seeing him do it in person was quite something. However, the statement of the week for me was his assertion that the only rhythm section that explored that kind of earthy intensity was Jaki Byard’s trio from the 60s, Jaki, Richard Davis and Alan Dawson.
It’s interesting right off the bat because of the Marsalis camps usual dislike of Richard Davis’ playing (too much surrealism? Not serious enough? Out of tune? There’s so many explanations, all of them negative!). I approached Stanley about that, and he agreed that although the stuff with Mel Lewis is not so great, that his work with Andrew Hill and Jaki are quite something. I mention this not to parse Richard Davis but to point once again to the dichotomy that could be strengthened from ignorance of facts like these.
It’s even better for me, because as anyone who knows me will tell you, this has been my favorite 60s music for years. I am absolutely thrilled every time I hear these guys play, and felt pretty damn good hearing an unsolicited appreciation of their work, especially from someone as knowledgeable as Mr. Crouch, and especially appreciation on that level.
The last interesting idea that arose from these conversations is one that I’ve also tussled with for some time: the tenor saxophone. There was not too much unearthed in the short time that was spent on it, but the dilemma was framed in such a good way that I feel like I should share it. Quite simply, the tenor saxophone in our age has been dominated by Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane. Stanley’s appraisal was eloquently put: “Most saxophonists think that since Trane and Sonny are at the top, if you’re not going to the penthouse, why even go in the building?” The time I meet with Stanley, I will ask him to parse this to the fullest, as it is an important issue to discuss. I personally am extremely interested with that fundamental decision, both within the community and myself.
I was very happy to have met Mr. Crouch and I hope I can start spending some time with him. I now feel a little bit responsible to do so, in fact; as I began talking to him about history, he merely said, “I’m glad you’re here. The music needs serious people like you.”
“If I were to arrange for [a well known Jazz musician], I would hide Michael Brecker licks in the backgrounds. I really feel his language is starting to disappear these days, and I don’t want it to be lost forever” —Fantastically sarcastic comment from Jacob Garchik, a fantastic Trombonist, Arranger, Composer, Pianist, and Accordionist in Brooklyn. If you don’t understand the sarcasm, just go to NYC and listen to a tenor saxophonist.