THE RED BALL is up for skating. The ramparts have been manned and the sound and fury of battle is still ringing in our ears; but the blood has ceased to flow. True, there are still occasional skirmishes in the undergrowth, but they represent only mopping-up actions. The veterans of the fight, those who have survived, are recovering from their wounds and are beginning to emerge above ground again. They have fought courageously and well and the time has now come for an accounting.
No longer does the jazz fan have to carry on his love affair with the music-that-moves-him under the cover of many subterfuges. He can bring his worn Coleman Hawkins discs right out into the open now and can even put them on his shelves for all to see. Some of them have even become so brazen as to play them with Other People present and have emerged not only unscathed but covered with glory and have been hailed for having hidden wellsprings of erudition. But now that jazz has become a parlor sport with intellectuals and duds alike, the thing is beginning to take on some of the more lurid aspects of both Madison Avenue and a one-night carnival. Not only has jazz become accepted in many erstwhile closed circles, it has all the earmarks of an incipient intellectual fad. Perhaps not even incipient. Jazz artists are turning a nice buck and everybody deems it a fine thing that all has turned out so well in the end. Almost like an MGM musical with Rock Hudson playing Bix Beiderbecke marrying Doris Day in the last reel. And about as true. Not that Bix wouldn't have minded making a fast buck or even minded Doris for that matter, but I for the life of me can't see Bix endorsing lipsticks or running a clip joint in the Village complete with "jazz musicians" equipped with press agents and a prop whiskey bottle on the piano.
I would love to see Jack Teagarden being interviewed by the assistant art and music editor, fresh out of Bennington, of a slick fashion mag that has just discovered "jazz." I can just hear her asking "Jack, can you tell Our Readers just what jazz is and how Paul Whiteman came to invent it?" ''Well, Pops, it seemed one night in Chicago. ..." Or for that matter, It would be a terrific ball to catch a group of West-chester matrons, avid readers of Places to Go in the New Yorker, sitting in the gloom of Basin Street "digging" the Mulligan Quintet. All of these vignettes might seem to be spun out of my own whole cheap cloth but such, happily, is not the case. These riotous scenes are being enacted almost every day now. Better than a W. C. Fields two reeler. Too bad someone isn't preserving a few of them for future generations. I've always said the real flavor of any time is largely lost to those who follow because the ingredients of the flavor are never put down. Only the results of the flavor are kept. But I digress. There have been some pretty fascinating things happening lately around the peripheries of jazz and it would take a tremendous amount of paper space to record them.
For example, most of the slick magazines ranging from Time to The Saturday Evening Post either have done full treatments on one or another phase of jazz or have things in the works. Jazz has become saleable not only on record but on the printed page and all other media, including the films. TV is lagging but you can be sure not for long. This sudden burst of public interest has brought along with the good much that is bad for both the legit jazz musician and the innocent public. A swarm of press agents and ehic writers have descended into the arena and are industriously (and lucratively) feeding the sudden hunger for jazz information. Some of the results are hilarious in the extreme. Jazz is now being packaged and sold about as a breakfast cereal would be handled. The only difficulty is that press agents aren't critics and will shout just as loud for second-rate talent as for first. In the end, it seems as though the musician or agency that can afford the top pressmen will drag down the big booking? These days. And being able to afford something isn't always a criterion of ability. Not that a lot of good men aren't being heard from these days. They are. But many a second rater has had a full magazine treatment for the benefit of 10,000,000 readers while really top talent goes unsung by the same journalists. I have no panacea for this situation. I can only point out that it exists and then go out and do a few pushups to relieve back ache.
Speaking of jazz writers and writings, I can't too highly recommend dipping into "Hear Me Talkin ' to Ya," (Rinehart). Nat Hentoff and Nat Shapiro have compiled one of the most interesting and re vealing books to emerge from the welter of material now available on the subject. In it the musicians themselves do the talking and the results are fascinating, to put it mildly. The language is rich and varied and should be required reading for anyone interested in the sounds of speech alone. The book represents the end product of fifteen years of collecting tape recordings, telephone conversations, writings, and just plain transcribed bull sessions, by musicians who played in New Orleans in the 1900's and Times Square in 1956. These comments are set down just exactly as they were spoken, bad grammar, repetition, and all. Just plain wonderful. There is a genuine feel of life on every page above and beyond the wealth of jazz material. As Orville Prescott pointed out in the New York Times some time ago, this book is truly Americana and should be a beginning and not the end of this sort of publishing. It has rhythm and a sort of classic epic quality. But above all, as far as I am concerned, the wonderful speech patterns and idioms are worth the price of admission many times over. Hear what Muggsy Spanier says as he tells of hearing Joe Oliver 's Band in Chicago (Muggsy was fourteen!) "The band played in the Pekin Café, one of the worst gangster hangouts in Chicago, which has now been turned into a police station. In the summer the Pekin kept its windows open, so I'd sneak from home just about every night and sit outside on a curbstone listening to the music. Sometimes the goings-on would get rough inside, the music would stop and you'd hear the flash of forty-five caliber revolvers trying to lire with a beat. Before I knew it, I'd be running home as fast as my feet could take me. But the next night would always find me sitting on the same curbstone. I thought the music well worth running the risk of getting shot by a stray bullet." This has a real beat in itself. Hentoff, one of the compilers of ''Hear Me Talkin ' to Ya," is one of the finest jazz writers doing business today and he seems to bring to his subject a deeper realization of the place of jazz in the scheme of things on the whole rather than jazz as a thing apart from living. A good man and a fine book. We recommend highly.
This is just about the time of year when the so-called Summer Hiatus takes place. This means that jazz label execs go off to Cape Cod and expect us poor peasants to go do the same and hence we should be watching O'Neill being done at the Provincetown Playhouse instead of sweltering in front of our hi-fi speaker or overheating our spleens in the listening booth at the record shop. They might be right but whether or no you can expect a sharp drop of output for the next few months. However, there will be a corresponding upswing in things called "Music for Summer Lovers," "Music for Lying in a Hammock." These will all feature purple album covers and string music to match. They will all sound exactly alike and, in fact, I suspect they are all recorded at the same session by an orchestra that uses eight different names and is released by eight labels simultaneously. Perhaps the companies get together on the thing to save costs. Stay away. This sort of stuff only makes the summer seem hotter and certainly stickier. I guess a buck is a buck.
Some current goings-on on record, worthy of note:
BILLY TAYLOR "EVERGREENS" - ABC-Paramount-1 1 2
Some of the best Taylor available on record. The sound Is excellent and Taylor is in his usual tasteful restrained form. Here is one man who avoids cliché at all costs and always has a clean line in everything he does. Sometimes his understatement gets In the way of really getting the point home, but understatement has never been an objectionable quality as far as jazzmen go. A recommended disc.
JAZZ STUDIO 5 Dacca DL 8235
Another in the series of "Studio Jazz" LP's bearing the fleece label and In some ways the most Interesting of the lot to date. This session centers around the arranging talent of Ralph Burns. Burns is one of the most talented of the postwar crop of young arrangers and is most known for his work with the Woody Herman band, having been responsible for much of the Herd's better material for over ten years. Of late he has dabbled in legit theatre work and quite successfully too. Notable is the work of Joe Newman who plays trumpet in the set- Newman has been around for sometime and is just beginning to be really heard on recordings- Hear him especially on "I'll Be Around." A good sound. Incidentally. This is one of the rare releases that features the work of a tuba player for other than novelty purposes. Bill Barber is one of the finest tuba men to come around in years and he is heard doing some interesting things on "Royal Garden Blues." If you like arranger jazz, this le fine display of one of the top men in the field. Well recorded.
DUKE JORDAN Signal 51202
Another "forgotten" musician dually getting a well deserved hearing. Above all, Jordan swings and he swings without losing a grip on his technique or his emotions. He has had a formidable name for some time among musicians and a few knowledgeable jazz buffs and now for the first time his work will be beard by a larger public. This is one of the blessings of LP techniques and economics. By that I mean many people are today being heard who wouldn't have been recorded back in the days when the only thing that got a person a recording date was a "name" and a large following. A record worth bearing.
MODERN Jall FROM INDIANA - Fantasy 3-214
A tasty unobtrusive release built around the work of Jerry Coker who composes, arranges, and plays tenor. The influence of the Gerry Mulligan school of arranging Is Immediately obvious In the work of Coker. The "Indiana" refers to the fact that all concerned are in some way or another connected with Indiana University. The piano man has heard much Dave Brubeek. You might find this Interesting.
A PAIR OF PIANOS Savoy MG 12049
The duo-piano team of John Mehegan and Eddie Costa, plus Vinnle Burke on bass. This recording was long overdue and is worth a good listen on several counts. Mehegan's technique Is overwhelming and is nicely rounded off and polished by Costa who Is much more than a shadow himself. Especially note the oddly compelling "I'll Remember April," a singular thing- Burke as usual is excellent. An interesting disc and well recorded.
THE DUAL ROLE OF BOBBY BROOKMEYER Prestige LP 214
More of the work of one of the most talented young men around today. Brookmeyer is a fine valve trombonist who occasionally plays an easy piano as on this disc. He displays impeccable taste in his playing of both instruments and. In fact, I feel that occasionally his sense of good taste inhibits his ability to express more basic emotions through his music. Good stuff.