So it looks like Jazz is at long last really becoming respectable. In fact, so much so that many of the nation's radio stations are now putting jazz into the same classification as "serious" or "classical" forms of music. The transition hasn't been completed yet but the signs are strong that things are happening. True, there is still a great deal of confusion as to the nature of jazz and how to program it, but the day is not far off when most radio stations will make extensive use of jazz library. In a way, this has an ironical twist since radio through the years has done very little to aid the cause of jazz and has in many instances done just the opposite. By allowing the song pluggers and publishers early in the game to take over much of the programming of music shows other than those what were strictly classical, the air became little more than au extension of the juke box in the local bar. This merely added to the confusion about jazz since many intelligent people began to believe that the products of Tin Pau Alley and the local disc jockey were jazz and they wanted no part of it. Because of this mixup jazz was - and still is, to a large extent - lumped in many minds with fan clubs, Joni James, and rock and roll. And speaking as one who has had some experience in the field, listeners were not the only ones suffering under that delusion. It also existed - and still does in many ways - in the radio station itself, stemming from the diet jockey right down to the record librarian. But the old order is slowly changing and more and more jazz is being placed in its rightful slot, Even the most hidebound of radio program directors are sneaking an occasional glance at the record review columns in such admittedly respectable journals as The Saturday Review, Harpers, and The New Yorker, and are beginning to wonder whether they ought to take a couple of those new LP's home from the library and give them a closer listen. Perhaps they might even allow a few of them to get on the air sandwiched between the Crew Chiefs and the inevitable Joni. For example, WQXR - long famed as the good music station of New York - has added a weekly show devoted to jazz. True, the show is only forty-five minutes long and its stuffy and pedantic, but clearly their heart is in the right place. Another chink in the wall occurred when NBC contracted to put many jazz remotes into the programming of the weekend show "Monitor," and as a result most of good reviews the. Show has received specifically mentioned the outstanding music they were airbag. This has not gone unnoticed in the trade.
A few days ago, I talked to a record company owner who was frantically trying to line up some jazz artists for his label.
He had made a pile in the pop market but in traveling around the country, and especially on some late night turnpike drives, he had come to the conclusion that the wise record company was one which could get into the jazz field while the getting was still good.
The only trouble is that he knows nothing about jazz and will no doubt get burned several times before he either drops the idea or hires someone competent to judge talent for him and who knows jazz itself. A company about to go into the serious music field would never dream of entrusting its catalog to the same personnel who worked in the hit-picking department on the pop side. Yet many of them do just that with their jazz catalog and then wonder why the sides they cut are ignored by jazz buffs. One thing they do, though, is to make the job of reviewing much rougher through sheer quantity of output. The days are gone when four or five singles a month was the normal output hi the jazz catalog of the average label. And by singles, I mean 78's. Today they arrive in coveys by every mail and under all sorts of incredible labels. Many of these labels exist only for that single LP and are never heard from again, while others are usually found in the bird-call lists but are now taking the plunge into esoteric jazz. It glows wonderfuller and wonderfuller.
But like I said it makes for a slow track in the reviewing department. About all the reviewer can hope for is not to alight a really worthy disc because he didn't have the time to give it a proper chance on the turntable. Most LP's carry from 30 to 50 minutes of material these days and if a person has fifteen or twenty discs to review in a week it is easy to muff a good thing from time to time- Not long ago I bad Billy Taylor, the highly literate jazz pianist, on a show of mine and we got on to the subject of record reviews. He said that almost every disc made today contains some material that could best be described as "fill," put on the record just to fill out the allotted LP time. By that be meant that au artist will intersperse with his best material a few items of lesser interest. He went on to say that he realizes many reviewers make a practice of listening to just a couple of cuts on any given disc when they are under the press of time to review a lot of stuff and that he lives in deathly fear that they will happen to hear only the so-called "fill" material when they are about to pass judgment on his recorded work. The quick answer to that one, of course, would be to never record secondary material, but such an answer would overlook good production techniques. A practiced and discerning recording artist of today looks upon an LP as an actual forty-minute performance and he expects to be listened to in that manner. So he sustains interest by varying his material skillfully so that he does not tire the listener by keeping him at an emotional peak. In the old days, a band would come into the studio and record four or five of their best things which could then be released at the discretion of the company, but always singly. This worked in favor of the artist in many ways since his material usually had a fresh sound only because the discs came through so widely spaced. A good case in point is the recent release by Columbia of a large collection of Benny Goodman masters under the title "BG-25," in reference to Goodman's 25th Anniversary on records. Most of the individual items had been released earlier as singles and had enjoyed tremendous commercial success, but when lumped together they have a sameness of sound and conception that is, at least to me, rather monotonous.
Nostalgia and its effect on critical values will be the subject of one of these columns in the near future. In fact, there is so much to he said on the subject of nostalgia and what it does to usually logical and level-headed critics that I am almost afraid to tackle the problem in a magazine rather than in a set of morocco-bound volumes. It closes many an ear to the world around it.
Speaking of the world around us, a couple of unusually good discs can he heard reflecting a few contemporary sounds. And while just getting my feet wet, so to speak, in the columns of au otherwise august magazine, here are a few that come to mind this month:
The Jo Jones Special Vanguard VRS-0503
Some of the best Basle Rhythm sounds to he recorded in years. Jones, of course. Is one of the really great drummers anti was never better than on this fine LP. Basle himself appears on several cuts and once again demonstrates how rare n thing a good ensemble piano really is. He drives a group as though he had a bullwhip in his left hand and a .45 in the other.
Tangents in Jazz - Jimmy Guiffre - Capitol T-634
A very unusual and highly commendable offering showing the latest work of a young and talented West Coast performer in the person of Guiffre. It is interesting to compare this material, all Guiffre originals, with his earlier work with the Herman hand,. On this disc, according to the copious liner notes, Guiffre attempts to dispense with the usual usages of the rhythm section and instead use it as "punctuation" for the work and lines of the soloists. Don't presume that this technique does away with the heat: on the contrary it seems to be as strong as ever. By the way, Guiffre writes with rare humor and grace. This recording has been much listened to by contemporaries of Guiffre and already his in-fluence can be heard In other groups. I recommend this disc without qualification both as to content and for technical excellence.
Thelonious Monk ploys the Music of Duke Ellington - Riverside RLP 12-201
Monk is one of the most controversial of present day musicians. He was one of the pioneers of the contemporary forms of music back In the early 1940's along with Gillespie and Parker, but his personal characteristics prevented his fame from spreading much beyond n small circle. Admittedly very Influential among pianists of the present day, he has never been recorded too well. On this disc be appears with two excellent confreres to the persons of Kenny Clark (drums) and the admirable Oscar Pettiford (bass). He plays with a sort of acid poetic humor that always swings and Is highly individual. If certain of his stylistic manners remind you of others, it is well to remember who came first. As we said. He has been very influential among younger artists. This is a most enjoyable recording and one worth owning. Technically good, too.
Rudy Graff Special Vanguard VRS-8504
Graff is a sort of throwback in today's world of highly trained technicians. He Is a trumpet player of much drive and a kind of rough plaintiveness at times reminiscent of the hest work of Bunny Berrlgan, and who is famed among musicians for his inability to read music. On this disc he has the assistance of some exceptionally good men, particularly Vic Dickenson and Jo Jones. This recording is a good example of correct casting in that the musicians were carefully selected to give complete consistency.
This month we haven't tried to review everything currently available but have instead picked a few of the outstanding discs of more than usual interest. However, in future columns I intend to cover as much new material as space will permit, eliminating only those recordings that seem not acceptable to a serious jazz fan.
ABOUT MR. SHEPHERD
"This is Jean Shepherd - we have records . . ." Seven nights a week on WOR (New York) we hear those words, sometimes at 12:30 a.m. and sometimes at 1:00 a.m. when his program starts. And we hear them again at station breaks all night long until the cold gray dawn hour of 5:30, when the more enterprising souls are getting started on their daily grind and others of us are just getting home.
'Tweren't always thus. We first heard Jean on Saturday afternoons 'way last Summer, and all through the Fall except when some amateur sporting event known as football pushed him out of his ac-customed time slot - which was from 3: 00 to 6:00. But we heard enough.
Enough, that is, to realize that here was a man who talked about Jazz without sounding as though he were something apart from the common people who have not been touched by the magic wand of the licorice stick - those of us who believe that It is possible to enjoy jazz 'without having to "understand" it - without having to see the social significance of each note, each subtle phrasing. You know the kind of people we mean - the same kind that can enjoy Tschalkowsky or Bach or Rodaly or maybe even Copland without
a Mus. D.
Anyhow. We finally decided that Jean was the right man to write about jazz for Audio readers, just as we thought that Edward Tatnall Canby was the right man to write about the classics when we heard him on the radio back in '47. And here is what Jean has to say ahout himself :
"I was spawned in Chicago at about the time Louts Armstrong joined King Oliver to make jazz history there. Bix Beiderbecke wits playing club dates with Muggsy Spanler as a cornet duo. I have oscillated sympathetically to jazz ever since.
"Prior to World War II, while attending Indiana University, I jobbed around my native heath accompanied by a somewhat eroded bass fiddle which provided a means of attaining social success as well as tuition. After a three-year stint in the Signal Corps where I was kept in the lowly rank of corporal by jealous commanding officers, I was discharged by a grateful country and was free again to plague entertainment-loving radio listeners."
Since that time Shepherd has become a well known, if not yet well-beloved, radio raconteur of jazz, fine wines, sports cars, ash blondes, and pinochle. His "shows" have emanated from Chicago, WLW Cincinnati, KYW Philadelphia, and the Mutual Network. He has written for many technical as well as literary journals. A long-time audio buff he is also a rabid amateur radio addict currently holding the call K2ORS. We're glad to have him aboard.