“Hentoff comes off as the cool uncle who weaves fascinating stories about historical figures. . . . His life is jazz history.”
At the Jazz Band Ball: Sixty Years on the Jazz Sceneby Nat Hentoff
Nat Hentoff, renowned jazz critic, civil liberties activist, and fearless contrarian“I’m a Jewish atheist civil-libertarian pro-lifer”has lived through much of jazz’s history and has known many of jazz’s most important figures, often as friend and confidant. Hentoff has been a tireless advocate for the neglected parts of
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Nat Hentoff, renowned jazz critic, civil liberties activist, and fearless contrarian“I’m a Jewish atheist civil-libertarian pro-lifer”has lived through much of jazz’s history and has known many of jazz’s most important figures, often as friend and confidant. Hentoff has been a tireless advocate for the neglected parts of jazz history, including forgotten sidemen and -women. This volume includes his best recent workshort essays, long interviews, and personal recollections. From Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong to Ornette Coleman and Quincy Jones, Hentoff brings the jazz greats to life and traces their art to gospel, blues, and many other forms of American music. At the Jazz Band Ball also includes Hentoff’s keen, cosmopolitan observations on a wide range of issues. The book shows how jazz and education are a vital partnership, how free expression is the essence of liberty, and how social justice issues like health care and strong civil rights and liberties keep all the artsand all members of societystrong.
“Hentoff comes off as the cool uncle who weaves fascinating stories about historical figures. . . . His life is jazz history.”
“A celebration of the music and its practitioners and challenges those who would read jazz the last rights.”
“Reading Hentoff, who personally befriended many of jazz’s most legendary creators and has witnessed personally many of its landmark moments, is akin to listening to war stories from a still-sharp old uncle—except that Hentoff’s stories are better.”
“Much like the musicians he loves and admires and who have given him direction in his life, Nat Hentoff has his own voice. It is warmly personal, authoritative, sometimes curmudgeonly.”
“Hentoff is . . . an iconic jazz writer”
“Opening doors for listening to and reading about jazz, this book will inform and entertain readers ranging from those who create jazz to neophyte listeners.”
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At the Jazz Band BallSixty Years on the Jazz Scene
By Nat Hentoff
UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESSCopyright © 2010 Nat Hentoff
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWho Owns Jazz?
Clark Terry, a vital presence for so much of jazz history, is one of the most unswervingly honest and truly democratic persons I've ever had the privilege of knowing—in and outside of jazz. There is a story he tells that illuminates his continuous involvement as an educator, in and out of the classroom, in helping to form new generations of jazz musicians.
For Clark's story, I am indebted to Hank O'Neal—another multiple influence on the jazz scene as record producer at Chiaroscuro, photographer, educator and historian. In 1997, the French publisher Editions Filipacchi released O'Neal's book The Ghosts of Harlem. An English edition will eventually be available, but O'Neal was kind enough to give me the following quotes from Clark.
In the 1970s, Terry worked in Harlem with his own seventeen-piece band at the Club Baron. "It just so happens that it was about half and half, blacks and whites," Clark said. "One night, three black Mafia guys, Black Muslims with guns, come into the club, corner me and said, 'What are you doing playing with all these whities in Harlem?' I'm a little bit frightened, but I know I've got to be stern, so I say, 'I think you're aware of the fact that Harlem has always been responsible for great jazz, big-band jazz, individual jazz, and that's been missing from the scene for a number of years. I feel it's my duty to bring big bands back to Harlem. I just choose the best musicians I can find and I don't listen with my eyes.'"
The Black Muslims seemed to be getting the message. One of them said, "Well, we got a kid here, a little black kid, and he wants to play and we want to hear him play."
Clark nodded and said, "That's OK. I've spent half my life making it possible for young musicians to be heard, so we'll bring him up at the beginning of the set and turn him loose." Lew Soloff had the trumpet chair and Clark asked him to let the kid sit in. "I kicked it off with a medium-tempo tune by Chris Woods," Clark continued. "A very simple tune, very easy to play on, nice changes."
Immediately, the kid started to solo, but Clark stopped the music. "It's when we get down to letter D is when you solo," he told the kid. "Before that, you play with the rest of us. At letter D, you can play along."
"I just wanted to express myself," the youngster said. Terry kicked the music off again, and the kid came in wrong again. "Express your ass off my stage," Clark told him.
"When we came off," Terry said, "I went straight up to the cats with the three guns and said, 'Now you see what you've done! you brought a dude up here and you stuck your necks out to represent this dude to do something that he's not qualified to do. He's not prepared. He didn't do his homework. He can't read music!' " One of the Black Muslims, in what Clark remembers as "a low grumbly voice," said: "Well, the son of a bitch didn't tell us that."
Terry didn't swear off working with kids, however. "Before the Jazzmobile started uptown, I gathered a lot of little kids out of Harlem and took them to a rehearsal studio on 125th Street," Clark said. "I bought some of these kids instruments and we rehearsed all the time. Then we got to use the facilities at Manhattan College, a real university atmosphere. When I couldn't be there, Ernie Wilkins or Kenny Dorham would take my place. We'd hire whoever was competent, black or white, to teach the kids.
"One time when I'd been away for a while, I came back and the attendance was down to almost nothing. One of the students had persuaded all the others not to respond to help from Caucasians. I confronted the kids, and finally one of them said: 'We don't want whitey trying to teach us about our music.'
"I said, 'you've got all the facilities of a college student here, and all the possibilities of learning anything you could learn in college—and you'd let bigotry come before that? OK, if that's what you cats are about, you got it. See you later.'
"And that was the end of that. I just walked away from all of it. We'd had to teach a lot of those kids how to read music, but attitude, bigotry, killed it."
But later Billy Taylor encouraged Terry to do clinics, and Clark obliged: "I became more and more involved, imparting knowledge, sometimes just relating my experiences."
Once, in Seattle, playing with Count Basie's small group, Clark was approached by a "little kid who came in, said he was learning to play trumpet and also wrote music, and asked if he could take some lessons from me. We worked it out so he could come in for a couple of hours—like 6 o'clock or so in the morning before he went to school—and before I went to bed.
"I couldn't dare to say no to this kid. I shudder to think what would have happened if I had said no. I never would have forgiven myself. I gave him all kinds of lessons I knew how to give him. I worked with him on his writing, theory and harmony. The kid stayed involved. Look at him now."
The kid was Quincy Jones. On the new Chiaroscuro CD Clark Terry and the Young Titans of Jazz, recorded at the Twenty-ninth international Jazz Festival Bern in Switzerland, the band is composed of musicians (aged seventeen to forty-four) from around the world, all of whom have been Clark's students. The drummer, Marcus Gilmore, is Roy Haynes's grandson. in the notes, Quincy Jones says: "Keep on keepin' on, Cee Tee. There will never, ever be another you."
Chapter TwoMy Debt to Artie Shaw
If it hadn't been for Artie Shaw, I might not be writing about jazz here (or any other place). When I was eleven years old, walking down a street in Boston, I heard music coming out of a record store that made me shout aloud in excited pleasure. I rushed in, demanding, "What is that?" Artie Shaw's "Nightmare," I was told. Before then, the only music that had affected me so viscerally was the passionate, mesmerizing, often improvisatory singing of the hazan, the cantor in Orthodox synagogues on the High Holiday days. The hazan sounded at times as if he were arguing with God, and the depth of his witnessing to the human condition later connected me with black blues.
In the definitive Artie Shaw collection, Self Portrait (RCA victor/Bluebird), Richard Sudhalter says that "Nightmare" is "a keening, almost cantorial melody in A minor, as different musically from the theme songs of his bandleading colleagues as Shaw was different from them personally and temperamentally." I think I remember Shaw himself saying that he based the piece on an actual cantorial theme. As he said in the Self Portrait set, "Certainly I can't deny the influence of my Russian-Jewish-Austrian ancestry."
Orrin Keepnews, the master orchestrater of reissues, is responsible for Self Portrait, for which Shaw made the selections from every band he ever led. He included airchecks, which he felt were truer to what he had in mind than studio recordings. Keepnews writes that when Shaw and Benny Goodman were rivals, "you had to make a choice.... you were either for Artie Shaw or [for] Benny Goodman." Back then, and even now, I get into arguments when I claim that while Goodman surely could swing and was a superb technician, Artie Shaw surpassed him in the range of his imagination and the exhilaration he conveyed of continually expecting more of himself and his horn.
As Matt Snyder once wrote of the clarinetist, "Shaw's playing was on a consistently higher level linearly and harmonically [than Goodman's].... Of all the big band leaders, Shaw may have been the most musically gifted." I was pleased to see in the New York Times obituary, written and archived long ago by the late John S. Wilson, that clarinetist Barney Bigard, who brought a New Orleans sound to the Duke Ellington Orchestra, regarded Shaw as the greatest clarinetist ever, and that alto saxophonist Phil Woods models his clarinet playing on Shaw's.
At eleven, I was taking clarinet lessons assiduously from an alumnus of the Boston Symphony, but hearing what Shaw could say and sing on that instrument led me into the liberating sounds and rhythms of jazz. It was during the Depression, and working as an errand boy on a horse-drawn fruit wagon, I was able to buy 78s of Basie, Duke, Bessie Smith and Shaw at a cost of three for a dollar. Years later, when I was New York editor of Down Beat, Artie Shaw would call me from time to time to discuss not only my limitless deficiencies as a jazz critic but also all manner of things, from politics and literature to other things that came within his wide-ranging interests. As soon as he was on the line, I knew that for the next hour or so my role was to listen. it was hard to get a word or two in. (Interviewing Benny Goodman was different. Cautious, he would often deflect a question by asking, "What do you think?")
What I admired about Shaw was that he exemplified what Ben Webster once told me when I was still in Boston: "If the rhythm section isn't making it, go for yourself." Artie Shaw refused to let himself be limited, even by success. After he first quit the music scene in 1939, walking off the bandstand at the Café Rouge of the Hotel Pennsylvania in New York, he said: "I wanted to resign from the planet, not just music. It stopped being fun with success. Money got in the way. Everybody got greedy—including me. Fear set in. I got miserable when I became a commodity." In 1954, at forty-three, he left for good and never again performed.
He turned to writing and an array of other interests because his curiosity about how much one could learn about learning never flagged. As he said in the notes to Self Portrait, "I'm not comfortable with categories, and I distrust most definitions. The word definition is based on the word finite, which would seem to indicate that once we've defined something, we don't need to think about it anymore."
On January 7, 2005, the National Endowment for the Arts declared Artie Shaw a Jazz Master. I sure would have liked to hear his acceptance speech. It wouldn't have been humble. He knew his worth, and then some. In a 1978 Washington Post interview, he said: "I don't care if I'm forgotten. I became a specialist in nonspecialization a long time ago. For instance, I'm an expert fly fisherman. And in 1962, I ranked fourth nationally in precision riflery. My music? Well, no point in false modesty about that. I was the best."
Shaw died, at the age of ninety-four, on December 30, 2004, but his music will continue to reverberate. I can't forget him because he brought me into the music that has given me ceaseless reason to shout aloud in pleasure.
Chapter ThreeThe Family of Jazz
Years ago, I took my daughter, Miranda, to a rehearsal of Count Basie alumni the morning of a Carnegie Hall tribute to their former leader. Some of the musicians were in their sixties and seventies. As is usual in the jazz life, most had not seen each other for some time and greeted each other warmly, jocularly, and started riffing on the times, good and bad, they'd had together.
Among the musicians was drummer Gus Johnson, whose crisply elegant riding of "the rhythm wave," as Basie's guitarist Freddie Green used to call it, has never gotten the fullness of recognition he deserved. And Harry "Sweets" Edison, who captured Miranda's attention when—as the band ran down one of the arrangements for the evening—he stopped the music and turned his score back to the arranger. "Too many notes," Sweets said. I later told Miranda what Dizzy Gillespie had said to me not long before: "It's taken me all my life to know what not to play."
My daughter, though young, was already working gigs as a pianist and singer of her own songs. But she'd never been in the company of some of jazz's vintage creators. After several hours we left, and Miranda said to me, "I've never seen such love among musicians before."
The family-like love happened again in January in New York at the international Association for Jazz Education's Annual Conference when Dana Gioia, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), hosted an NEA Jazz Masters Luncheon. Around the table were musicians I hadn't seen for a long time: Benny Golson, Chico Hamilton, George Russell, Dave Brubeck, Randy Weston and Roy Haynes. And some I'd only talked to briefly during the years: Clark Terry and Jimmy Heath.
It was reunion for most of them too. They swapped stories of illusory royalties from record dates and, more glowingly, shared vivid memories of their idols. Randy Weston spoke of being a young man in the imperial presence of Willie "The Lion" Smith. Dave Brubeck and I traded stories about Paul Desmond, who was one of the most lyrical, witty, ironic and luminous melodic improvisers in the history of the music.
I told Dave of the crush Paul and I had on Audrey Hepburn and how we once waited, without success, just to look at her at a stage door. I never met her, nor did Paul, but he wrote the song "Audrey" for her. After she died, someone close to her said she played that recording very often. Paul never knew that.
At that NEA luncheon Roy Haynes told me, "When I was a kid, I used to listen to your jazz program on the radio." Roy is three months older than I am, but I started in radio when I was in my teens.
I returned the favor and told him and the others at our table about the first time I heard Roy. At one of the Sunday jam sessions at the Savoy, a jazz room in Boston, this kid, who couldn't have been more than seventeen or eighteen, asked to sit in on drums. He was going to Roxbury Memorial High School, near where I lived. As I remember, clarinetist Edmond Hall as well as other jazz pros were on the stand, and this was the first time I'd seen a high school student dare to be in such company. The young Roy Haynes, with crackling confidence, riveted everyone's attention and finished to a roar of applause.
As a reporter, I've gotten to know political figures, criminal defense lawyers, some of their clients, judges, even a Supreme Court justice. But I'd rather be in the company of jazz musicians, especially at reunions when the past comes alive again. Toward the end of his book Myself Among Others: My Life in Music, George Wein speaks of "the humanity" of jazz players, whose "feeling for communication transcends the music and becomes part of their personal life."
The strangest story I know about how jazz makes the most different people into a sort of family was told to me long ago in Paris by Charles Delaunay, the standard-setter for jazz discographers and the creator of Jazz Hot magazine (many of whose stories and interviews ought to be anthologized). During World War ii, working under cover in Paris for the Free French, Charles was picked up by the Gestapo and taken in for interrogation. As the questioning was about to start, an SS officer looked hard at Delaunay and referred accusingly to a Fletcher Henderson record from the 1920s. "you didn't have all the right personnel on that date," he said to Charles. Delauney was not held for long.
However, if any jazz person ends up in a tough spot with the secret police in Zimbabwe, China or Cuba, he or she oughtn't count on the jazz family ties being that helpful again. But those ties can be powerful. Jo Jones told me of a legendary Kansas City drummer, Baby Lovett, who, when his wife died, grieved so hard that he stayed home and stopped functioning. Jo canceled all of his gigs for a month, flew back to Kansas City, moved in with Baby Lovett and brought him back to life.
The music becomes a deep, regenerating part of the lives of all of us who can't stop listening to this family.
Excerpted from At the Jazz Band Ball by Nat Hentoff Copyright © 2010 by Nat Hentoff. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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"Much like the musicians he loves and admires and who have given him direction in his life, Nat Hentoff has his own voice. It is warmly personal, authoritative, sometimes curmudgeonly."Jja News (Jazz Journalist Assoc)
"Opening doors for listening to and reading about jazz, this book will inform and entertain readers ranging from those who create jazz to neophyte listeners." Choice
Meet the Author
Nat Hentoff is an internationally known jazz critic and the only critic ever designated a Jazz Master by the NEA. He is a regular columnist for Jazz.com and the Wall Street Journal, the United Media Newspaper Syndicate, and the Cato Institute, where he is a senior fellow. His many books include Jazz Country; Jazz Is; The Jazz Life; Boston Boy: Growing Up with Jazz and Other Rebellious Passions; Living the Bill of Rights; and the forthcoming Is This America?
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