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Jazz Off-Broadway
Original Article

Not long ago, New York's off-Broadway theater district received something of a jolt. Jean Shepherd and 'rabble' brought an unprecedented and disturbing show to the Orpheum Theater. The show, titled "Look, Charlie", ran for three consecutive Monday nights. Shepherd, a noted jazz personality, iconoclast and satiric monologist, has a four hour Sunday night program on radio station WOR. The stage show was somewhat in the manner of his radio programs, but with important differences. His narratves, for one thing, had greater inner unity and his satire was proportionately more pointed and effective. Subtitled 'A History of the Pratfall', "Look Charlie" seemed more than anything else, to be a protest against conformity. It strongly reaffirmed the necessity for individual men to persist in being simply what they are, to speak freely what they believe. Invectives were hurled, in lavish quantities, at the world's 'official people' - those who measure success in terms of the length of their automobiles, the cut of their grey flannel suits and the resonance of their official sounding names. In this respect, Shepherd's role was very much like that of the jazz musician - who in Shepherd-ese, is a 'night people', seperated by his art from the day to day, nine to five world that officail people inhabit. Shepherd was both hilarious and provocative in developing his man-against-officialdom theme. Combining the memory of a Marcel Proust with the improvisational abilities of a jazz soloist, his narratives were similat to those of Mort Sahl, another comedian-philosopher who has been recognized as a jazz personality. Any comparison between Shepherd and Sahl, however, must take into account the ways in which they differ. Shepherd, for instance, is neither as quick-on-the-draw nor as sophisticated as Sahl, but he is basically more honest and penetrating than Sahl. Often, Sahl will attack people and ideas because thay are especially vulnerable, or because it is fashionable to do so. By contrast, Shepherd is more selective in choosing his villians, and is more subtle and devastating in vanquishing them. Included in Shepherd's 'rabble' were Shel Silverstein, the Playboy cartoonist; Herb Gardner, creator of "The Nebbishes"; and the Red Onion Jazz Band, consisting of Bob Thompson (washboard), Frank Laidlaw (cornet), Carl Lunceford (amplified banjo); and Steve Knight (tuba). They augmented Shepherd's monologues perfectly. Although space limitations do not permit the use of extensive quotations from any of Shepherd's narratives, perhaps an example will serve to illustrate the style of many of them. In speaking of the way many people today have been cowed into organizing and belonging and conforming, he told of his youth as a White Sox fan back on the South Side of Chicago, where people had 'guts' and were involved with 'real' reality. "The White Sox," said Shepherd, "were a 'real' ball club. Mike Tresh went for two years without a hit. That took guts! And one year Zeke Bonura, the first baseman, led the league in fielding with .997 - and never laid his glove on a ball! Guts!" Characteristically, the show ended on an up-tempo, in a thoroughly unpredicatable way. Walking down from the stage and up the aisle, Shepherd announced that he was "going across the street for a cup of coffee." It seemed like a good idea, and a fitting end to a singularly memorable evening.

Copyright: 1959 - Metronome Magazine

Photos:


February 1959

Courtesy: Gene Bergmann

    
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