Actually, it’s not my birthday…
Aaron Diehl hipped me to this. First just listen to the link. All of it. I guarantee, it’s worth it, I’ll wait.
So this kind of thing is like the holy grail to me. A chance to get inside the head of two of the greatest musicians every to live? I can’t resist. As soon as I found this, I listened to it four times in a row straight.
As Loren Schoenberg says, information like this doesn’t really teach us all that much about our art or its history. It is a “Lincoln smirk”, something that just gives us a small glimpse into the past. However, for me this is pure gold, such is my love for the musicians involved and the musical history they represent. It also represents hope for the future. These two men were normal people as well as creative geniuses. It really lets me think that I myself can really create something brilliant, even though I laugh about stupid stuff with my friends sometimes. Jazz really is a very human art, isn’t it?
First thing’s first: what made me smile is the overwhelming and obvious sense of humor that this tape represents. You read about Ellington having a sense of humor, and about Strayhorn being an extremely good natured fellow, but you can never really feel a historical personality’s everyday humor without something like this. The thing that instantly gets me is that although there is obvious humor in Duke’s music, Billy Strayhorn’s music, although extremely emotive and passionate, is usually either joyous or tragic, not often hilarious. I would not have guessed Strayhorn being as sharp with his humor, or as willing and comfortable going along with such an elaborate gag.
This recording laughs you to the floor. Strayhorn getting around his age by only revealing that it was AD? The bourgeois accents? The climactic ending? The level of comfort that these two pull off these jokes, especially in the soda jerk section is telling, to me at least, that this was part of the norm. And as a professor of mine used to say, “if it ‘aint true, it oughta be.”
One other piece of extraordinary information that I got from this is the mentioning of Don Cherry’s definition of Jazz. To my mind, in 1960, I don’t feel that many successful 60 year old musicians were aware of Ornette’s sideman, especially not to the level that they could quote him on the topic of the meaning of Jazz. I wonder if this is what it seems like. I certainly believe that if there is one person who would keep tabs on younger musicians, it would be Ellington. His legendary comment about Monk stealing his stuff speaks to this, as does TS Monk’s anecdote about his father being terrified of what Duke might think about Monk Plays Duke Ellington. I can probably confirm this through asking an older musician or writer about how much response or coverage was given to Cherry’s quote on the meaning of Jazz, or if it was written in a then-popular publication. Given the chance, I’ll do that.
Another great but small thing this recording illustrates is the greatness of Ralph Gleason. He was the only critic that Miles appreciated, and Duke let him on the road with him any time he wanted(and made joke recordings for him, it would seem…), until his death in 1974, as if him wanting to go on the road with Ellington doesn’t make him admirable enough. Also, his writing on other music foreshadows current acceptances in Jazz music, and also removes him from the ranks of most Jazz writers of that era. Without being an expert, all I can say is that Gleason to me is one of the greatest Jazz writers ever, and I think that all of you should read more of him.
The final interesting nugget I pulled from this was the question of rock music that Ellington poses. Is it a jab at Gleason’s love of rock? Is it a criticism of the current rock music itself? All I know is that one, Ellington in writing never openly criticized specific genres in general, and two, it’s been a long time since I laughed as hard as I did when I heard Ellington say “Excellent response, sir!”
On a final note, there is a BAM something or other here. Now, I know I say I want to keep above the fray, and I do. However, since Payton dropped the BAM bomb, all I can seem to do these days is find examples of fathers of this music calling it Jazz (I don’t do this to try to disprove Payton, or anything like that, but only because I can cite numerous examples of people trying to get rid of the word Jazz off of memory, making the times that they don’t mind it or want to expressly keep it all the more interesting). Duke, one of if not the main arguments for calling Jazz BAM talking about the music as Jazz among friends really says something, if only that he wasn’t so militant about it as Max Roach or others were.
I’ll keep mentioning these moving forward, just because all you seem to read these days are the less intelligent “supporters” of Payton reposting tired examples and acting like they are the most profound thinker since Plato. I will also mention that although I don’t know where the BAM thing will come out in the end, for as long as I’ve been playing this music seriously about ten years ago, I have always capitalized the word “Jazz”. The word for me means openness, and the will and ability to create joy out of pain. Right now at work I’m doing a case study on Mick Jagger. Everyone who hears that he has been a touring musician for 50 years is so amazed, shocked, even. Although I agree that it is a hell of an achievement, whenever I hear about it, I just shake my head and think that if Frank Wess were worth 300 million dollars, he would live to 200 and play the whole time, and people still wouldn’t appreciate him for it. That’s what the word Jazz means to me.
“1. 1 2 3.” —Charles Mingus, making the most badass count off ever. It’s on Charles Mingus Presents, which is high on my list of the finest rhythm section playing I’ve ever heard. I have big plans for this album.