Charles Mingus goes to Bellevue
08:46 am


Charles Mingus

And I can hear myself saying, “No, don’t do it,” as I read Charles Mingus begging the guard at Bellevue to let him in.

As he tells it in his autobiography Beneath the Underdog, it’s the late 1950s and Mingus hasn’t slept in three weeks, his brain was like “a crazy TV set flicking picture stories in color and black-and-white.” He was wired, “sped-up,” walked the streets for hours with maybe-thoughts of visiting friends at Birdland but canceled the idea of dropping by to talk to someone anyone, who just might listen and help him unwind.

I decided if I called anybody they’d think I was only trying to get sympathy and attention. I kept walking across town, trying to think what in hell I’d done with my life.

Mingus considered his fifteen albums, the hundreds of recordings, the music he’d written and the music he’d yet to write, but still his brain sped on. Then he reached Bellevue with a big sentry guard standing on the other side of the gates, watching the musician approach. And that’s when I’m thinking, “No Mingus, don’t ask.”

I said, “Look, man, I haven’t slept in three weeks,” and he said, “This is no rest home, this place is for the mentally disturbed.”

“Look, man,” I said, “I am mentally disturbed. I’m a musician, I need help, and I once saw a film that said if you need help the first and most difficult task is having the guts to ask for it, so help me, man!”

The gatekeeper said, “I done told you this not where you want to go if you just sleepy. I can see from here you look a little tired, so go home, man, and go to bed. Ain’t crazy or nothing, are you?”

I said, “Maybe I am, maybe I’m not.”

And he said, “Well, take my word for it, you don’t want to come in here. If I was to let you in first thing you’d say when I close that door behind you is “Lemme out, I ain’t crazy!”

Mingus shoulda listened. First thing over the gate, “Here’s that crazy one,” and buttoned-up tight in a strait-jacket—O, America, so this is how you treat genius?

Inside, Mingus can’t sleep, there’s snoring and crying and farting and still no peace. It’s near breakfast and soon the nurses will do their rounds and Mingus will have to get up, eat some food, take his meds, and listen to the blatherings of some racist psycho-doc.

Then I heard him say to another doctor, “Negroes are paranoiac, unrealistic people who believe the whole world is against them.”

I said, “Tell me, doctor, do you mean all Negroes on this earth or only the Negroes in this room?”

He said, “I see I’m getting through to Mingus now,” and I said, “That you are Herr Doktor. Tell me, is this paranoia we all have curable?”

And he said, “Yes, this is what I am so happy to tell you. I can cure this disease with a simple operation on the frontal lobe, called a lobotomy, and then you’ll be all right.”

As soon as he gets out of the interview with Herr Doktor, Mingus looks for a phone. He calls his friend Nat Hentoff and tells him where he is. He can’t talk long, there’s a Nazi doctor, “a prejudiced white cocksucker so high on white supremacy that he’s blowing the whole USA scene on integration singlehanded… Nat I’m scared. You gotta get me out of here!”

Getting in was easy, getting out’s the problem. A lawyer drops by and tells Mingus he’s under supervision for two weeks. They saw needle marks and they don’t believe these are for “reducing the fatty tumor” on his arm. The lawyer tells him to bide his time, get some rest, take it easy—as if these were options.

Mingus goes to the art room, does some painting, finds one by Thelonious Monk (an ax in an apple) and then starts writing down something that might make sense:

I have not vanished or given up music although to many it may seem that I have. For whatever reason, the only albums of my recordings that have been recently made available to the public are at least three years old. I have worked in a few jazz clubs lately but from the people outside New York who have liked my music I have gotten letters wondering where I disappeared to. Before and during this apparent layoff from productivity, however, I have been producing as always and perhaps more because there were few to hear my voice and my need is to express my thoughts and feelings as fully as is humanly possible all the time, I have worked and I have produced music that has not been played and I have written words that have not been read….

Mingus can’t concentrate, too much hubbub, he notices a kid opposite playing chess. A math genius who checkmates him every game. Next day, Mingus writes “Hellview of Bellevue,” a seven point list of what is wrong with the institution and its doctors. He’s had no sleep, but hasn’t lost his sense of humor:

4. Dr. Bonk keeps saying I am a failure. I did not come here to discuss my career or I would have brought a press agent.

He knows it was a mistake to have begged to come in and claims it was a protest over his own psychotherapist, and finishes number seven with: “I have learned my lesson. Let me have my freedom.”

No dice. The next day Mingus writes a song “All the Things You Could Be by Now If Sigmund Freud’s Wife Was Your Mother,” which he later records. His visitors make him realize what a mistake he has made, but then he thinks, maybe he can use his time in Bellevue to help others. He talks to “Chess,” the kid math genius:

“Why don’t you and me and The Dancer get all these nuts together and start up a school? Look around at these poor bastards, look at all that confusion. Between the three of us we got a university—math, chess, languages, music dancing.”

They dig the idea, the nurses dig the idea and arrange a room and a blackboard, but the cartoon Herr Doktor Bonk raised his eyebrows and said:

“Mr. Mingus is going to organize Bellevue for us. May I comment that compulsive organization is one of the prime traits of paranoia.

You can almost hear the scalpel being sharpened. Mingus leaves the room and keeps his head down for the duration. Days go by, then Mingus finds himself in an office opposite a nurse who tells him he can make a call and have someone collect him.

“We are only trying to help you here at Bellevue.”

Later, when Mingus thought about his naivety in seeking treatment at Bellevue, he wrote:

“All of us who stay sane, stay inside our own cages all the time.”

Bellevue’s had its fair share of talents behind its doors: Eugene O’Neill, William Burroughs, Norman Mailer, Malcolm Lowry and Charles Mingus. They were all lucky, they got out, and some say “Chess” the math genius was Bobby Fischer.

Charles Mingus performing in Belgium, Norway and Sweden, with Eric Dolphy (sax,bass clarinet and flute), Clifford Jordan (tenor sax), Jaki Byard (piano), Dannie Richmond (drums) and Johnny Coles (trumpet). Tracks: “So Long Eric,” “Peggy’s Blue Skylight,” “Meditations On Integration,” “Orange Was The Colour Of Her Dress,Then Blue Silk,” “Parkeriana,” “Take The ‘A’ Train.”

Previously on Dangerous Minds
‘Mingus’: Powerful and heartbreaking documentary portrait of the Jazz giant

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Sun Ra master tapes and other items on eBay
12:39 pm


Sun Ra

An interesting lot of Sun Ra items has come up for auction on eBay with the opening bid of $20,000:

Sun Ra (1914-1993) used Variety Recording Studio in the 1960s to 1980s.  SUN RA STAMPERS, MOTHERS – 10 total + possibly 2 more that might or not be Sun Ra   11-1-79A 9-1213-85A 10-14-85B mother 1984B 1984C 1984D SRA 2000B     mother 10-3B-6888A   mother 10-3B-6888B   mother 10-3B-6888A John Cage Meets Sun Ra Included in the batch are two more:  12-31-80 A&B Which might or might not be Sun Ra’s. STAMPERS:    After material is recorded, it can be transferred from tape to a “master tape,” from which “acetate records” or if quantities are desired, the tape is “mastered” in order that “stampers” can be manufactured. Stampers for the two sides of a record are then placed in an oven-like machine where labels are inserted, an oily substance is injected,  and one record at a time is “pressed.” The pressings can be in any quantity, and a stamper usually can make at least 1000 copies unless it breaks because of the heat and needs to be re-done.  MOTHERS For larger quantities, a “mother” is made, and from that as many stampers as are desired can be pressed. CAVEAT The metal stampers/mothers are sold as a batch with the caveat that, unless a pressing plant with equipment similar to that used in the 1960s to 1980s can be found, no pressings could be made. It is possible that none of the present stampers can be used to make further pressings. However, it might be possible to digitize the data in order that a digital master could be created for digitally downloadable and CD creations. The stampers and mothers are particularly of interest as mementoes of the work by one of the last century’s great jazz bandleaders. They are sold “as is.” The buyer could re-sell the individual stampers. They are not sold for the purpose of infringing upon the rights of copyright holders. The materials offered have always been the property only of the seller.


The “Buy It Now” price for the entire lot is $26,000. It seems like you would be taking a big chance spending that kind of money with these caveats (especially if all the master tapes still exist). If, however, this music is currently being held captive by an obsolete technology, in recent years “lost” music was transferred (via laser I believe) from metal stampers dating from the 1930s containing two songs from blues legend Robert Johnson. Hard to tell what treasure awaits the buyer.

Here’s Sun Ra & his Arkestra live at the Chicago Jazz Festival 1981. The man certainly knew how to make an entrance!

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
‘Bitches Brew’: Miles runs the voodoo down
10:52 am


Miles Davis
Teo Macero

Scroll down for a chance to win a Bitches Brew: 40th Anniversary Collector’s Edition or The Beatles in Mono box set from our sponsor, POPMarket

Back in the heyday of Demonoid, some magnificent person, or persons, unleashed an ISO file that had been made from a quadraphonic reel to reel tape of Bitches Brew, the groundbreaking Miles Davis jazz-rock fusion album of 1970.

Quad was a four channel surround sound format the record labels tried out in the 1970s that was ultimately abandoned. For several years you could buy quadraphonic albums, 8-track tapes and reel to reel tapes (the ultimate “Rolls-Royce” audiophile format of the era) that decoded to four speakers. It was similar enough to today’s 5.1 home theatre systems except that today’s 5.1 music is mixed with an assumption of a front facing listener, whereas with quad it was four speakers and you were more or less in the middle of it. No front or back orientation. It was as if you were standing in the room when it was recorded. Not in the booth, with the band. Popular quad titles included Black Sabbath’s Paranoid (Imagine the sound effects of “Iron Man” swirling around you) and The Best of The Doors which included a live version of “Who Do You Love?” not released in another format and a mix of “Hello I Love You” a 360 degree flanging sound effect. Gimmicky, but very cool. Quad was marketed as “music for people with four ears.”

But back to Bitches Brew. Every serious music fan would have to have at least some familiarity with this album. It’s justifiably included in every single “top 500” of all time lists and most “top 100” lists as well. It is in the top ten best-selling jazz album of all time, too. I’m not going to “review” an album that’s been a well-established cornerstone of 20th century music, but I will say that hearing the performances on Bitches Brew in surround sound is an incredible revelation, almost like hearing it for the first time.

Here’s why: There is a hell of a lot going on at the same time in Bitches Brew. There were two electric keyboard players. Joe Zawinul was placed in the left channel of the stereo mix and Chick Corea in the right. (They’re joined b the great Larry Young on a third electric piano in “Pharoah’s Dance”!) There were two drummers, 19-year-old Lenny White’s kit is heard in the left channel and Jack DeJohnette is on the right. You had both Don Alias and Juma Santos (credited as “Jim Riley”) on congas and other percussion. Dave Holland played floor bass while Harvey Brooks played electric bass.

And then you still had Miles’ trumpet, Wayne Shorter’s sax, Bennie Maupin’s bass clarinet and John McLaughlin on guitar! This is a very “crowded” thing for two speakers to accurately reproduce, but the quad mix opens all of this up into a considerably wider sonic vista and gives the listener a very, very good spatial sense of who was standing where when the recordings were made and even how big the studio was. It’s probably as close as you can get to being in a room with Miles Davis playing his trumpet, like an audio hologram.

The album was recorded live on eight tracks over the course of three sessions (August 19-21, 1969) in New York and then extensively, even radically, manipulated in post production by producer and longtime Davis collaborator Teo Macero. Ray Moore (mixing and editing engineer) quoted by Paul Tingen, author of the fascinating book Miles Beyond: Electric Explorations of Miles Davis, 1967-1991 gives some insight into the recording:

Like In A Silent Way, Bitches Brew was recorded live on 8-track tape, which meant you had a lot of spill. Engineer Stan Tonkel complained to me that Miles wanted John McLaughlin right next to him, which meant there was a lot of trumpet on the guitar track. You had the good and the bad together on all the tracks, and a lot of information that you didn’t really want, which meant that we had to work hard on the mixing. Teo decided where the edits would be, and I executed them for him. Some of the edits were done on the original 8-track, others on the 2-track mix. The edits could be for musical, or for technical reasons, for example to correct levels. We also added effects to the mix, such as the repeat echo on Miles’s trumpet [which can be heard at the beginning of “Bitches Brew” and at 8:41 in “Pharaoh’s Dance”]. When I was working with Teo in the early 1990s on a recording of a performance by Miles in Newport in July 1969, I was surprised to hear that Miles was actually playing an effect like that. So he and Teo must have been talking about this effect before the recording of Bitches Brew.

The sessions included Davis compositions that had been developed live by the band, “Pharaoh’s Dance,” composed by Joe Zawinul and the Wayne Shorter ballad “Sanctuary.” Macero then worked his magic utilizing tape loops, delay, reverb chambers and echo effects. Macero’s contributions to Bitches Brew are well-documented. He would lift a few inspired bars from one thing and graft it on to another section, or repeat something in order to give the improvisations a structure that listeners would recognize as “songs.” It was an unprecedented way to work in a studio at that time.

Why Sony has never put the quad Bitches Brew out on a legitimate release baffles me, it’s not like they don’t do a new Bitches Brew release every few years. Maybe they don’t even realize it’s in their vaults? Who knows? Sony did do jazz fans and historians a favor when they put out a fascinating box set of the sessions that followed the August 1969 Bitches Brew recording with the somewhat confusingly titled The Complete Bitches Brew Sessions. It’s not the raw material recorded before Macero worked his magic on the tapes, as you might expect but rather the best of the material recorded with (basically) these same musicians in the months afterwards. Come the following year Miles would dump the multiple keyboard line-up and go with a more guitar-heavy jazz rock sound. There’s also the Bitches Brew: 40th Anniversary Collector’s Edition that came out in 2010 that features the 1988 remastered version of the album (which was always considered notoriously “murky” sounding), a vinyl replica of the original 2-record set gatefold sleeve by Mati Klarwein and a DVD of a stellar live set of the Miles Davis Quintet filmed in Copenhagen, in November 1969, just weeks after Bitches Brew was laid down.

In the video below, Teo Macero reveals his trade secrets of working on Bitches Brew, how he supported Miles Davis creatively and does the single best Miles impression you’ll ever hear:


Smoking hot live version of “Spanish Key” performed at the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970

This post was sponsored by POPMarket.

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
The little-known collage art of Louis Armstrong
06:07 am


Louis Armstrong

I consider myself to be a more-educated-than-average jazz fan, especially in regards to the early New Orleans stuff. (I even did a report on Louis Armstrong in the fourth grade!) So how am I just now learning of Louis Armstrong’s cool collage work? Ken Burns, why hast thou forsaken me with thine sentimental and insufficient documentary series?!?

Louis started working in collage some time in the 1950s. Originally, he created them on paper and hung them in his den, but his wife wasn’t too keen on them, and he had to get creative. A dedicated recorder of his own performances, Armstrong always had a handy supply of reel-to-reel tapes with him everywhere he went, and the tape boxes were a perfect surface medium for his hobby. They weren’t really intended to be shown—they were his personal scrapbook, and the Louis Armstrong Archives at Queens College in Flushing, New York has about 1,000 of these collages on about 500 tape boxes.

Each piece pays close attention to balance—it feels cohesive and organic, and the indiscreet use of scotch tape “shows the seams,” so to speak. I like the use of color and combination of source materials—photos, news clippings, correspondence, concert programs, his own handwritten captions, and even bits of his beloved Swiss Kriss Herbal Laxatives packaging. I also like Armstrong’s use of his own image in his work; there’s something intimate about an artist reflecting on their own celebrity.

I’m getting a very Robert Rauschenberg vibe. You?







Via The Paris Review

Posted by Amber Frost | Leave a comment
‘Cab Calloway’s Hepster’s Dictionary: Language of Jive’ (1939)
07:37 am

Pop Culture

Cab Calloway

Cab Calloway
A young Cab Calloway, super-fox
One of my favorite hoaxes in all of musical lore is the New York TimesGrunge-Speak” prank. You’ve probably heard it: in 1992, a reporter from The Grey Lady was pestering a receptionist from Sub Pop Records for the latest in grunge slang. Fairly sick of media attempts to jump on grunge as the latest youth craze, the receptionist made up a bunch of silly words on the spot, which were then printed in a trend piece. Eventually cultural critic Thomas Frank pointed out that The Times had been pranked, who then solidified their old fart reputation by demanding an apology from Frank before finally catching on.

Below is Cab Calloway’s Hepster’s Dictionary: Language of Jive (published in ‘38 or ‘39, depending on the source), and while I have no evidence to back it up, I like to think Calloway made up at least a few of the terms just to fuck with people. Specifically, white people. Alongside The Duke Ellington Orchestra, The Cab Calloway Orchestra were the de facto “house band” for The Cotton Club, the preeminent whites-only jazz venue in Harlem. And whether the slang handbook was partially fabricated or not, it was wildly popular, and the first dictionary by a black person ever to be published.

But man, would that not be a brilliant way to make a buck off of the desperate-to-be-down?


Guitar: Git Box or Belly-Fiddle
Bass: Doghouse
Drums: Suitcase, Hides, or Skins
Piano: Storehouse or Ivories
Saxophone: Plumbing or Reeds
Trombone: Tram or Slush-Pump
Clarinet: Licorice Stick or Gob Stick
Xylophone: Woodpile
Vibraphone: Ironworks
Violin: Squeak-Box
Accordion: Squeeze-Box or Groan-Box
Tuba: Foghorn
Electric Organ: Spark Jiver
Jive Terminology:

A hummer (n.)—exceptionally good. Ex., “Man, that boy is a hummer.”
Ain’t coming on that tab (v.)—won’t accept the proposition. Usually abbr. to “I ain’t coming.”
Alligator (n.)—jitterbug.
Apple (n.)—the big town, the main stem, Harlem.
Armstrongs (n.)—musical notes in the upper register, high trumpet notes.
Barbecue (n.)—the girl friend, a beauty
Barrelhouse (adj.)—free and easy.
Battle (n.)—a very homely girl, a crone.
Beat (adj.)—(1) tired, exhausted. Ex., “You look beat” or “I feel beat.” (2) lacking anything. Ex, “I am beat for my cash”, “I am beat to my socks” (lacking everything).
Beat it out (v.)—play it hot, emphasize the rhythm.
Beat up (adj.)—sad, uncomplimentary, tired.
Beat up the chops (or the gums) (v.)—to talk, converse, be loquacious.
Beef (v.)—to say, to state. Ex., “He beefed to me that, etc.”
Bible (n.)—the gospel truth. Ex., “It’s the bible!”
Black (n.)—night.
Black and tan (n.)—dark and light colored folks. Not colored and white folks as erroneously assumed.
Blew their wigs (adj.)—excited with enthusiasm, gone crazy.
Blip (n.)—something very good. Ex., “That’s a blip”; “She’s a blip.”
Blow the top (v.)—to be overcome with emotion (delight). Ex., “You’ll blow your top when you hear this one.”
Boogie-woogie (n.)—harmony with accented bass.
Boot (v.)—to give. Ex., “Boot me that glove.”
Break it up (v.)—to win applause, to stop the show.
Bree (n.)—girl.
Bright (n.)—day.
Brightnin’ (n.)—daybreak.
Bring down ((1) n. (2) v.)—(1) something depressing. Ex., “That’s a bring down.” (2) Ex., “That brings me down.”
Buddy ghee (n.)—fellow.
Bust your conk (v.)—apply yourself diligently, break your neck.
Canary (n.)—girl vocalist.
Capped (v.)—outdone, surpassed.
Cat (n.)—musician in swing band.
Chick (n.)—girl.
Chime (n.)—hour. Ex., “I got in at six chimes.”
Clambake (n.)—ad lib session, every man for himself, a jam session not in the groove.
Chirp (n.)—female singer.
Cogs (n.)—sun glasses.
Collar (v.)—to get, to obtain, to comprehend. Ex., “I gotta collar me some food”; “Do you collar this jive?”
Come again (v.)—try it over, do better than you are doing, I don’t understand you.
Comes on like gangbusters (or like test pilot) (v.)—plays, sings, or dances in a terrific manner, par excellence in any department. Sometimes abbr. to “That singer really comes on!”
Cop (v.)—to get, to obtain (see collar; knock).
Corny (adj.)—old-fashioned, stale.
Creeps out like the shadow (v.)—“comes on,” but in smooth, suave, sophisticated manner.
Crumb crushers (n.)—teeth.
Cubby (n.)—room, flat, home.
Cups (n.)—sleep. Ex., “I gotta catch some cups.”
Cut out (v.)—to leave, to depart. Ex., “It’s time to cut out”; “I cut out from the joint in early bright.”
Cut rate (n.)—a low, cheap person. Ex., “Don’t play me cut rate, Jack!”
Dicty (adj.)—high-class, nifty, smart.
Dig (v.)—(1) meet. Ex., “I’ll plant you now and dig you later.” (2) look, see. Ex., “Dig the chick on your left duke.” (3) comprehend, understand. Ex., “Do you dig this jive?”
Dim (n.)—evening.
Dime note (n.)—ten-dollar bill.
Doghouse (n.)—bass fiddle.
Domi (n.)—ordinary place to live in. Ex., “I live in a righteous dome.”
Doss (n.)—sleep. Ex., “I’m a little beat for my doss.”
Down with it (adj.)—through with it.
Drape (n.)—suit of clothes, dress, costume.
Dreamers (n.)—bed covers, blankets.
Dry-goods (n.)—same as drape.
Duke (n.)—hand, mitt.
Dutchess (n.)—girl.
Early black (n.)—evening
Early bright (n.)—morning.
Evil (adj.)—in ill humor, in a nasty temper.
Fall out (v.)—to be overcome with emotion. Ex., “The cats fell out when he took that solo.”
Fews and two (n.)—money or cash in small quantity.
Final (v.)—to leave, to go home. Ex., “I finaled to my pad” (went to bed); “We copped a final” (went home).
Fine dinner (n.)—a good-looking girl.
Focus (v.)—to look, to see.
Foxy (v.)—shrewd.
Frame (n.)—the body.
Fraughty issue (n.)—a very sad message, a deplorable state of affairs.
Freeby (n.)—no charge, gratis. Ex., “The meal was a freeby.”
Frisking the whiskers (v.)—what the cats do when they are warming up for a swing session.
Frolic pad (n.)—place of entertainment, theater, nightclub.
Frompy (adj.)—a frompy queen is a battle or faust.
Front (n.)—a suit of clothes.
Fruiting (v.)—fickle, fooling around with no particular object.
Fry (v.)—to go to get hair straightened.
Gabriels (n.)—trumpet players.
Gammin’ (adj.)—showing off, flirtatious.
Gasser (n, adj.)—sensational. Ex., “When it comes to dancing, she’s a gasser.”
Gate (n.)—a male person (a salutation), abbr. for “gate-mouth.”
Get in there (exclamation.)—go to work, get busy, make it hot, give all you’ve got.
Gimme some skin (v.)—shake hands.
Glims (n.)—the eyes.
Got your boots on—you know what it is all about, you are a hep cat, you are wise.
Got your glasses on—you are ritzy or snooty, you fail to recognize your friends, you are up-stage.
Gravy (n.)—profits.
Grease (v.)—to eat.
Groovy (adj.)—fine. Ex., “I feel groovy.”
Ground grippers (n.)—new shoes.
Growl (n.)—vibrant notes from a trumpet.
Gut-bucket (adj.)—low-down music.
Guzzlin’ foam (v.)—drinking beer.
Hard (adj.)—fine, good. Ex., “That’s a hard tie you’re wearing.”
Hard spiel (n.)—interesting line of talk.
Have a ball (v.)—to enjoy yourself, stage a celebration. Ex., “I had myself a ball last night.”
Hep cat (n.)—a guy who knows all the answers, understands jive.
Hide-beater (n.)—a drummer (see skin-beater).
Hincty (adj.)—conceited, snooty.
Hip (adj.)—wise, sophisticated, anyone with boots on. Ex., “She’s a hip chick.”
Home-cooking (n.)—something very dinner (see fine dinner).
Hot (adj.)—musically torrid; before swing, tunes were hot or bands were hot.
Hype (n, v.)—build up for a loan, wooing a girl, persuasive talk.
Icky (n.)—one who is not hip, a stupid person, can’t collar the jive.
Igg (v.)—to ignore someone. Ex., “Don’t igg me!)
In the groove (adj.)—perfect, no deviation, down the alley.
Jack (n.)—name for all male friends (see gate; pops).
Jam ((1)n, (2)v.)—(1) improvised swing music. Ex., “That’s swell jam.” (2) to play such music. Ex., “That cat surely can jam.”
Jeff (n.)—a pest, a bore, an icky.
Jelly (n.)—anything free, on the house.
Jitterbug (n.)—a swing fan.
Jive (n.)—Harlemese speech.
Joint is jumping—the place is lively, the club is leaping with fun.
Jumped in port (v.)—arrived in town.
Kick (n.)—a pocket. Ex., “I’ve got five bucks in my kick.”
Kill me (v.)—show me a good time, send me.
Killer-diller (n.)—a great thrill.
Knock (v.)—give. Ex., “Knock me a kiss.”
Kopasetic (adj.)—absolutely okay, the tops.
Lamp (v.)—to see, to look at.
Land o’darkness (n.)—Harlem.
Lane (n.)—a male, usually a nonprofessional.
Latch on (v.)—grab, take hold, get wise to.
Lay some iron (v.)—to tap dance. Ex., “Jack, you really laid some iron that last show!”
Lay your racket (v.)—to jive, to sell an idea, to promote a proposition.
Lead sheet (n.)—a topcoat.
Left raise (n.)—left side. Ex., “Dig the chick on your left raise.”
Licking the chops (v.)—see frisking the whiskers.
Licks (n.)—hot musical phrases.
Lily whites (n.)—bed sheets.
Line (n.)—cost, price, money. Ex., “What is the line on this drape” (how much does this suit cost)? “Have you got the line in the mouse” (do you have the cash in your pocket)? Also, in replying, all figures are doubled. Ex., “This drape is line forty” (this suit costs twenty dollars).
Lock up—to acquire something exclusively. Ex., “He’s got that chick locked up”; “I’m gonna lock up that deal.”
Main kick (n.)—the stage.
Main on the hitch (n.)—husband.
Main queen (n.)—favorite girl friend, sweetheart.
Man in gray (n.)—the postman.
Mash me a fin (command.)—Give me $5.
Mellow (adj.)—all right, fine. Ex., “That’s mellow, Jack.”
Melted out (adj.)—broke.
Mess (n.)—something good. Ex., “That last drink was a mess.”
Meter (n.)—quarter, twenty-five cents.
Mezz (n.)—anything supreme, genuine. Ex., “this is really the mezz.”
Mitt pounding (n.)—applause.
Moo juice (n.)—milk.
Mouse (n.)—pocket. Ex., “I’ve got a meter in the mouse.”
Muggin’ (v.)—making ‘em laugh, putting on the jive. “Muggin’ lightly,” light staccato swing; “muggin’ heavy,” heavy staccato swing.
Murder (n.)—something excellent or terrific. Ex., “That’s solid murder, gate!”
Neigho, pops—Nothing doing, pal.
Nicklette (n.)—automatic phonograph, music box.
Nickel note (n.)—five-dollar bill.
Nix out (v.)—to eliminate, get rid of. Ex., “I nixed that chick out last week”; “I nixed my garments” (undressed).
Nod (n.)—sleep. Ex., “I think I’l cop a nod.”
Ofay (n.)—white person.
Off the cob (adj.)—corny, out of date.
Off-time jive (n.)—a sorry excuse, saying the wrong thing.
Orchestration (n.)—an overcoat.
Out of the world (adj.)—perfect rendition. Ex., “That sax chorus was out of the world.”
Ow!—an exclamation with varied meaning. When a beautiful chick passes by, it’s “Ow!”; and when someone pulls an awful pun, it’s also “Ow!”
Pad (n.)—bed.
Pecking (n.)—a dance introduced at the Cotton Club in 1937.
Peola (n.)—a light person, almost white.
Pigeon (n.)—a young girl.
Pops (n.)—salutation for all males (see gate; Jack).
Pounders (n.)—policemen.
Queen (n.)—a beautiful girl.
Rank (v.)—to lower.
Ready (adj.)—100 per cent in every way. Ex., “That fried chicken was ready.”
Ride (v.)—to swing, to keep perfect tempo in playing or singing.
Riff (n.)—hot lick, musical phrase.
Righteous (adj.)—splendid, okay. Ex., “That was a righteous queen I dug you with last black.”
Rock me (v.)—send me, kill me, move me with rhythym.
Ruff (n.)—quarter, twenty-five cents.
Rug cutter (n.)—a very good dancer, an active jitterbug.
Sad (adj.)—very bad. Ex., “That was the saddest meal I ever collared.”
Sadder than a map (adj.)—terrible. Ex., “That man is sadder than a map.”
Salty (adj.)—angry, ill-tempered.
Sam got you—you’ve been drafted into the army.
Send (v.)—to arouse the emotions. (joyful). Ex., “That sends me!”
Set of seven brights (n.)—one week.
Sharp (adj.)—neat, smart, tricky. Ex., “That hat is sharp as a tack.”
Signify (v.)—to declare yourself, to brag, to boast.
Skins (n.)—drums.
Skin-beater (n.)—drummer (see hide-beater).
Sky piece (n.)—hat.
Slave (v.)—to work, whether arduous labor or not.
Slide your jib (v.)—to talk freely.
Snatcher (n.)—detective.
So help me—it’s the truth, that’s a fact.
Solid (adj.)—great, swell, okay.
Sounded off (v.)—began a program or conversation.
Spoutin’ (v.)—talking too much.
Square (n.)—an unhep person (see icky; Jeff).
Stache (v.)—to file, to hide away, to secrete.
Stand one up (v.)—to play one cheap, to assume one is a cut-rate.
To be stashed (v.)—to stand or remain.
Susie-Q (n.)—a dance introduced at the Cotton Club in 1936.
Take it slow (v.)—be careful.
Take off (v.)—play a solo.
The man (n.)—the law.
Threads (n.)—suit, dress or costuem (see drape; dry-goods).
Tick (n.)—minute, moment. Ex., “I’ll dig you in a few ticks.” Also, ticks are doubled in accounting time, just as money isdoubled in giving “line.” Ex., “I finaled to the pad this early bright at tick twenty” (I got to bed this morning at ten o’clock).
Timber (n.)—toothipick.
To dribble (v.)—to stutter. Ex., “He talked in dribbles.”
Togged to the bricks—dressed to kill, from head to toe.
Too much (adj.)—term of highest praise. Ex., “You are too much!”
Trickeration (n.)—struttin’ your stuff, muggin’ lightly and politely.
Trilly (v.)—to leave, to depart. Ex., “Well, I guess I’ll trilly.”
Truck (v.)—to go somewhere. Ex., “I think I’ll truck on down to the ginmill (bar).”
Trucking (n.)—a dance introduced at the Cotton Club in 1933.
Twister to the slammer (n.)—the key to the door.
Two cents (n.)—two dollars.
Unhep (adj.)—not wise to the jive, said of an icky, a Jeff, a square.
Vine (n.)—a suit of clothes.
V-8 (n.)—a chick who spurns company, is independent, is not amenable.
What’s your story?—What do you want? What have you got to say for yourself? How are tricks? What excuse can you offer? Ex., “I don’t know what his story is.”
Whipped up (adj.)—worn out, exhausted, beat for your everything.
Wren (n.)—a chick, a queen.
Wrong riff—the wrong thing said or done. Ex., “You’re coming up on the wrong riff.”
Yarddog (n.)—uncouth, badly attired, unattractive male or female.
Yeah, man—an exclamation of assent.
Zoot (adj.)—exaggerated 
Zoot suit (n.)—the ultimate in clothes. The only totally and truly American civilian suit.

Below, the kind of cool that can’t be taught—Cab Calloway and his orchestra doing a wild version of “Reefer Man” in the W.C. Fields vehicle, International House (a film predicting “radio with pictures,” or television, made back in 1933).

Posted by Amber Frost | Leave a comment
‘Mingus’: Powerful and heartbreaking documentary portrait of the Jazz giant
06:53 am


Charles Mingus

Tuesday, November 22nd, 1966, jazz musician Charlie Mingus waited with his five-year-old daughter Carolyn, to be evicted from his studio at 22 Great Jones Street, New York. Mingus had planned to open a music school and jazz workshop at this Lower East Side loft, but he had been frustrated in his intentions and had fallen behind in the rent.

As he waited for the NYPD and the Sanitation Department to arrive and remove his belongings, filmmaker Thomas Reichman recorded an intimate portrait of one of the jazz music’s greatest composers and performers. In the film, Mingus is seen moving distractedly amongst his boxed possessions, showing great affection for his daughter, recalling happier times living on Fifth Avenue, and acknowledging the inherent racism in America by offering his own Pledge of Allegiance:.

”I pledge allegiance to the flag—the white flag. I pledge allegiance to the flag of America. When they say Black or Negro, it means you’re not an American. I pledge allegiance to your flag. Not that I have to, but just for the hell of it I pledge allegiance. I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America. The white flag, with no stripes, no stars. It is a prestige badge worn by a profitable minority.”

Reichman’s verite film is intercut with Mingus performing “All the Things You Are,” Take the ‘A’ Train” and “Secret Love,” at Lennie’s-on-the-Turnpike in Peabody, Massachusetts. The film ends with Mingus being arrested for possession of a rifle and a box of hypodermic needles. Outside on the street, an NBC news reporter asked Mingus:

”Do you deny taking the heroin?”

It’s the sort of low level kick-you-when-you’re-down question, that reveals everything about the interrogator and nothing about Mingus. The needles were legitimate, and were used by the musician for his Vitamin-B injections.

The following day, Mingus reclaimed the gun and needles from the police, after presenting them with all the relevant paperwork. Outside the station he quipped to reporters:

”It isn’t every day you see a Negro walk out of a police station with a box of hypodermic needles and a shotgun.”

Reichman’s film Mingus is a powerful and heartbreaking portrait of one of Jazz music’s most important artists. 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Happy Birthday Herb Jeffries: Totally fake black cowboy, jazz vocalist, centenarian
01:07 pm


Duke Ellington
Herb Jeffries

bronze buckaroo
I couldn’t tell you what year it was when I bought Herb Jeffries’ Devil Is A Woman, but it had to be in the mid to late ‘90s, when I was neck deep in ironic acquisitions—mass-produced thrift store kitsch paintings, boxes of ‘50s vacation slides, vanity pressed gospel and lounge organist albums purchased for their endearingly cheap cover art but almost never listened to. I’m sure a fair many DM readers know that whole drill.
devil is a woman
One night back then, a friend was over for company and cans of cheap beer, and he played DJ with one of my crates of weirdo records. Most of it was boring dross, as was to be expected, but soon enough, lo, a gem didst shine out for us. It was, as I’m sure you’ve guessed, the aforesaid Jeffries LP, sporting a K-Mart price tag of 77¢, probably purchased for more like a quarter.
As soon as the needle settled into that thick old slab of Golden Tone Hi-Fidelity vinyl, a potent, red-blooded, exotic rhythm underpinned a horn section’s dramatic spy-movie stabs, and then the delightful vocalist entered the fray, crooning in a huge, unlikely wail and a surely fake, vaguely Mediterranean/Caribbean/somethingorother accent,


I’ve searched for a freakin’ hour, dear reader, and unless my Google Fu is just totally garbage today, the entire song is nowhere to be found online. The 30 second sample on Last FM is crystal clear and representative. Also there’s this:

The rest of the album is similarly filled with eye-widening delights, so there my friend and I sat, two newly minted fans of - who? Jeffries’s name is set in uncommonly tiny type on the cover, which may be just as well, as it’s misspelled. But off I went to find more, and so I did. Not only more recordings under his own name, but I learned that this odd pop singer was also pedigreed as the golden Jazz voice atop Duke Ellington’s very large hit “Flamingo.”

And it gets weirder - Jeffries initially became known in the ‘30s singing for the Earl “Fatha” Hines orchestra (he’s the lone surviving member of both Hines’ and Ellington’s bands), and improbably parlayed that into a career as a singing cowboy in low-budget western films with all African-American casts. Well, all African-American save for Jeffries himself, whose background, in reality Irish/Sicilian unless he’s still bullshitting even now, was a matter of some chicanery throughout his career, and even now, it seems like no two bios are in exact agreement on the matter of his ethnicity. His astonishing passing himself off as black in everyday life during the segregation era - how that might sit in relation to blackface performance is a discussion I’d love to hear from people better informed on such matters than I - earned him the nickname “The Bronze Buckaroo,” from the title of one of the films. This film, in fact.

Per his Wikipedia biography, Jeffries discovered his birth certificate in 2007, learning then that his birthdate is September 24, 1913, making this performer with a crazy back story a centenarian as of today. And so we salute and congratulate Herb Jeffries on his 100th birthday. Here’s a short documentary celebrating his career, showing him spry as a damn kitten and in full possession of his faculties even in his nineties.

Posted by Ron Kretsch | Leave a comment
My Name is Albert Ayler: ‘Trane was the Father, Pharoah was the Son, I am the Holy Ghost’
02:05 pm


Albert Ayler

Swedish filmmaker Kasper Collin’s 2005 documentary My Name Is Albert Ayler is a fascinating look at one of the most enigmatic figures in modern jazz. Albert Ayler’s aggressive, raw, ecstatic free jazz took music even further out than his friend, mentor and admirer John Coltrane had. Ayler famously said “Trane was the Father, Pharoah [Sanders] was the Son, I am the Holy Ghost.”

Ayler regarded his screaming, squawking, deeply spiritual form of jazz as “the healing force of the universe,” and wanted to impart on his listeners “wisdom through music.” His wildly aggressive saxophone improvisations blew the doors off all else going on at the time, although he never attained much more than a cult following during his lifetime, or in the years since his (presumed) suicide in 1970 at the age of 34. He didn’t leave behind the easiest music to listen to—it can take years of effort before you “get” Ayler—but the effort is worth it.

My Name Is Albert Ayler contains the only known performance footage of Ayler and his group playing in Sweden and in France in the mid-60s. It also features in-depth interviews with Ayler’s father, Edward, his trumpeter brother Donald and influential free jazz drummer “Sunny” Murray.

Short parts of the film are in Swedish, but most of it is in English. In 2004, Revenant Records released the highly recommended nine CD box set, Holy Ghost: Rare & Unissued Recordings (1962–70)

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Stan Getz on Jazz, drugs and robbery: ‘I’m sorry for the crazy thing I did’
08:22 am


Stan Getz

In April 1954, Stan Getz wrote from the jail ward of the Los Angeles General Hospital to the Editor of DownBeat magazine explaining how he had been busted in Seattle for (as Popsie Randolph put it) “holdin’ up a drugstore to get money to buy some stuff.”

Getz was one of the most talented saxophonists of his day, and had been a featured tenor sax since he was sixteen-years-old. He was also addicted to heroin, which caused the various behavioral antics that led Zoot Sims to describe him as “a nice bunch of guys.”

According to drummer Don Lamond, Getz’s early career success had never allowed him “a chance to grow up.”

“And you know how it was during the war. There weren’t any bands. There was nobody for these kids to dig except for a few guys who happened to be around, and some of those guys were on junk. And you know how kids are. Everything their idols did was right. So the kids did it too.

“Stan was an impressionable kid like many of them. And he was a spoiled kid, coddled all his life. The tragedy is that I can’t think of anyone who has more talent. Stan is a natural musician. He has a fabulous ear, imagination, a retentive memory. What else do you need?”

At a loose end in Seattle in 1954, Getz needed junk.

In his letter to Down Beat, Getz began by declaring he had many things to say, “excluding excuses, regrets, and promises.”

Promises from me at this point mean nothing; starting when I am released is when my actions will count.

His actions in Seattle was what he wanted to explain, and to understand.

What happened in Seattle was inevitable. Me coming to the end of my rope. I shouldn’t have been withdrawing myself from narcotics while working and traveling. With the aid of barbiturates, I thought I could do it. Seattle was the eighth day of the tour and I could stand no more. (Stan you said no excuses.) Going into this drugstore, I demanded more narcotics. I said I had a gun (didn’t).

The lady behind the counter evidently didn’t believe I had a gun so she told another customer. He, in turn, took a look at me and laughed, saying, ‘Lady, he’s kidding you. He has no gun.’ I guess I didn’t look the part. Having flopped at my first ‘caper’ (one of the terms I’ve learned up here), I left the store and went to my hotel. When I was in my room I decided to call the store and apologize. In doing so, the call was traced and my incarceration followed.

The woman behind-the-counter was Mary Brewster. When she asked to see Getz’s gun, he fled the drugstore, and ran directly to his hotel across the street, as other customers watched. When Getz ‘phoned Mary to apologize, a policeman was listening in. Gettz said:

“I’m sorry for the crazy thing I did. I’ve never done anything like that before. I’m not a stick-up man. I’m from a good family. I’m going to commit myself on Wednesday.” Brewster asks “Why don’t you commit yourself today?” “I can’t. If I don’t get drugs, I’ll kill.

The cop on the phone spoke up, pretending to be a doctor and asked if he can help. Stan blurted out his life’s story. The “doctor” said he was coming right over to help. Locked in his room, despairing and ashamed, Stan tried to kill himself by swallowing a fistful of barbiturates. The police knocked on his door minutes later, and run him in for booking. A photograph of Stan in the back seat of a patrol car, looking sick and scared, was flashed over the news wire services. The overdose of barbiturates took effect minutes after he was locked up and he collapsed.

In his letter to Down Beat, Getz explained explained his attempted suicide.

My ‘dope poisoning’ was sixty grains of a long-acting barbiturate that I swallowed en route to jail. I’d had enough of me and my antics.

An emergency tracheotomy was carried out to save Getz’s life. When he came round from his drug coma three days later, he found himself lying on a hospital bed at the Harbor Haven County Hospital, with a breathing tube in his throat.

Getz was sentenced to six months in jail, and three years probation. In his summing-up, the judge said:

“You have talent, family and a good background, but despite an income of a thousand dollars a week, you are not only broke, but your family is living under deplorable conditions. They are sleeping on the floor while you travel in luxury spending money on yourself - and doing what comes naturally.

“You’re a poor excuse for a man. If you can’t behave yourself, someone else is going to have to look after you… It’s time you grew up.”

Getz was admitted to the jail ward at the LA General Hospital, where his detox began. At the very moment he was being processed to the prison ward, his addicted wife was downstairs, giving birth to their daughter Beverly.

In jail, Getz received incredible support (through letters, telegrams and ‘phonecalls) that helped him through his moment of despair. Though he was not a religious man, the experience showed him that “there was a God, not above us but here on earth in the warm hearts of people.”



Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Reefer Man: Did Louis Armstrong turn Richard Nixon into his drug mule?
05:36 am


Richard Nixon
Louis Armstrong

Ah, this is a good one. But, before we dive deep down into this wondrous legend, let’s get one thing straight: In the Jazz community no one calls Louis Armstrong “Satchmo.” It’s Pops, got it? You know, as in the local friendly neighborhood patriarch and titular head of the Jazz family. Pops

As for this legend, it should be noted that, like all legends, little details that were not initially explained or transmitted may get explained, or embellished, in later tellings. These latter variations may or may not have much to do with what actually happened, but tracing the sources of this particular legend, it’s pretty likely that something did actually happen, and that something is pretty hilarious.

As the legend goes, some time in the early 1950s, Louis Armstrong and Vice President Richard M. Nixon were riding the same plane together back to the US from Japan (this seems to be the most plausible version). Apparently, Nixon was a big Armstrong fan and noticed the musical great struggling with a number of heavy cases including, of course, that of his trumpet.  Nixon asked Pops if there was anything he could do to help him.

Armstrong reportedly said something like, “Oh that would be a great help, because you know, I’m starting to get pretty old. Do you think you could carry my trumpet case? It’s quite heavy.” So Armstrong gave Nixon his trumpet to carry and, since it was with the well-known and easily identifiable jowly Richard Nixon, Vice President of the United States of America, Nixon and the case sailed right through customs. (There are variations of the tale that make the destination a European country and also Russia, but apparently Armstrong never played there)

Now unbeknownst to Nixon, the trumpet case he was carrying… also contained Pops’ stash. Armstrong was, of course, a “viper”—a lifelong smoker of “the gage,” as they called it back then (and if it’s not obvious, we’re talking about marijuana here).

I heard this through my own father who had in turn heard it from the cats in Armstrong’s band during a NYC run he played in Pops’ band circa 1970. Since my own pop wasn’t a regular, he didn’t hear the story from Armstrong himself, but some of the older regulars told him that Pops relished telling the story and that they’d heard it it many, many times over the years.

As far as I’m concerned that’s just about enough for me to believe it, but some web-based clicking doesn’t reveal a lot in the way of published articles or stories. Indeed, there are lots of different versions of the story that put the event in Paris, Ghana, London, Russia and elsewhere. But stumbling across the “Snopes” message board, there seems to be a fairly reliable source for the story from the late Arvell Shaw, who was in Armstrong’s band in the late 40s and early 50s.

Given Pops’ legendary love of weed, this seems not only plausible but quite likely.

What is equally fascinating is that there may have been a second act to this story…

In 1954 (after the drug mule event), Armstrong’s wife Lucille was busted for cannabis possession. Having returned from Japan, she was in a beachfront hotel room in Waikiki when the cops burst in, searched the place, and carted her—and what was almost certainly Pops’ pot stash—off to jail. Clearly, a tip-off had occurred. Although Lucille Armstrong was eventually released and ordered to pay just a $200 fine, this prompted Pops to write a stunning letter to his manager about getting hassled for ganja:

“Mr. Glaser, you must see to it that I have special permission to smoke all the reefers that I want to when I want or I will just have to put this horn down, that’s all, I can gladly vouch for a nice, fat stick of gage, which relaxes my nerves, if I have any ... I can’t afford to be ... tense, fearing that any minute I’m going to be arrested, brought to jail for a silly little minor thing like marijuana.”...

“Can you imagine anyone giving Lucille all of those headaches and grief over a mere small pittance such as gage, something that grows out in the backyard among the chickens and so forth,” Louis emoted in his letter to Glaser. “I just won’t carry on with such fear over nothing and I don’t intend to ever stop smoking it, not as long as it grows. And there is no one on this earth that can ever stop it all from growing. No one but Jesus – and he wouldn’t dare. Because he feels the same way that I do about it…. Gage ain’t nothin’ but medicine,”

(You can find more details about the bust here...I linked to the cached version because there seems to be some spamware in the ‘real’ one.)

So the obvious question here is, who tipped off the cops in Hawaii? Did, somehow, the Vice President hear about his having been used to move Pops’ weed stash and then had one of his gang phone in a “tip”? That kind of petty revenge is certainly not outside the scope of Nixon’s character. I guess we’ll never know for sure if Tricky Dicky behind this, so deem this “act two” speculative.

But the “drug mule” bit? I’d wager this is true. It’s simply too outlandish not to be: Louis Armstrong got Richard Nixon to move his pot stash across an international border—and that alone deserves all the respect we post-modern ironic types can muster.

Posted by Em | Leave a comment
Satchmo’s chops: Two teenagers interview Louis Armstrong, 1964
11:57 am


Louis Armstrong


“You’ve got to be good or as bad as the devil. ... Even if we had two, three days off I still had to blow that horn a few hours to keep up the chops.”—Louis Armstrong

In 1964, 15-year-old Michael Aisner and James R. Stein, 14, interviewed the great Louis Armstrong in the Chicago area for their high school radio station. The recording of that interview originally aired on WNTH in Winnetka, Illinois and has now been charmingly animated as part of PBS’s ace “Blank on Blank” series.

Previously on Dangerous Minds:
‘Can you think of a stupider name than The Beastie Boys?’

Jim Morrison declares ‘Fat is beautiful,’ 1969

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
In a Silent Way: Hear Miles Davis’ voice before he lost it in rare 1953 radio interview
09:15 am


Miles Davis

In October 1955, Miles Davis had an operation on his larynx, and was given strict instructions by the surgeon not to even use his voice for ten days afterwards. According to legend, though, he got into an argument, raised it, and so begat the instantly recognizable rasp that he would be stuck with for the rest of his days.

It has always impressed me as quite the irony that Davis’ sobbing, pellucid trumpet tone and massacred speaking voice could emerge from the selfsame lips. Which is partly what makes the following so riveting. Kicking off at 3:36 (following a short 60 Minutes appearance from 1989, presumably included for the lurid contrast) here is a very rare recording of a 1953 Radio KXLW interview with Miles, who sounds a little hoarse, pretty out of his tree (a little horse?), characteristically diffident—but not a bit like a Dalek

Posted by Thomas McGrath | Leave a comment
Avant psychedelia: The Art Ensemble of Chicago show up in French hippie movie ‘Les Stances A Sophie’
07:26 am


Art Ensemble of Chicago

In 1970, Egyptian-born Israeli filmmaker Moshe Mizrahi directed Les Stances A Sophie, a groovy, post May ‘68 film which featured not only the music of The Art Ensemble of Chicago, but the band itself in several scenes. The film had apparently gone almost unseen since its original release and, until its DVD-itization by Soul Jazz in 2008, had never been released outside of France.

The Art Ensemble soundtrack album of Les Stances A Sophie has never been all that easy to get either, but it’s worth the import price.

Above, the big Art Ensemble of Chicago scene with them playing “Theme de Celine”

“Theme de Yoyo” (the soundtrack heard the clip above), isn’t just a raging avant-monster, it features the powerful vocals of Fontella Bass, who was not only Art Ensemble trumpeteer Lester Bowie’s wife, but the writer and singer of the soul classic “Rescue Me.”

Posted by Em | Leave a comment
‘Free’ Free Jazz downloads from Anthony Braxton
01:25 pm


Anthony Braxton

Throughout my life I have dipped my toes, occasionally, into the Anthony Braxton waters, only to pull back quickly: There was always something about that water that scared me. Maybe it was the vast horizon so far away. Maybe it was all the odd creatures I knew were swirling around under the water, just offshore. But now that I’m older and wiser, and now that Braxton is giving away a lot of music for FREE, I figure it’s about time to dive in.

Braxton’s one of those hardcore avant-garde cats like Albert Ayler or Pharoah Sanders, but even more far out. He doesn’t classify himself as either a Jazz or classical musician, but both & neither. In 1994, Braxton was granted a MacArthur Foundation “genius grant.” He’s a heavy dude!

Although Anthony Braxton has done tons of improvised stuff, there’s a large batch of his material that’s through-composed, or at least as composed as his musical diagrams (which also function as the names of many of his compositions) indicate. For example, here’s the title of one of his pieces:

Braxton’s diagrams alone are wonderful and hilarious, and sometimes very complicated. (He’s even written some pieces that are to be played between galaxies. The corresponding name-diagrams are,  as might be expected, very complicated.)

Since I’m just starting to explore the vast oeuvre of Anthony Braxton’s work myself, perhaps some of you uber-hepcats who are Braxton fans can leave us neophytes some breadcrumbs in the comments. What are the best pieces for Braxton beginners? I was thinking about checking out the 4 CD Opera, Trillium. A good portal to the man’s work?

And do check out his Tricentric Foundation site. Anthony Braxton is still very much going strong, and there are all sorts of performances going on with him or of his work, on a regular basis.


Posted by Em | Leave a comment
‘Half a motherfucker’: The Legend of Pee Wee Marquette
06:17 am


Pee Wee Marquette

Pee Wee Marquette and Count Basie

Pee Wee Marquette is another of those characters who, like Moondog, found a niche in New York’s cultural ecosystem and carved out a life for himself “back in the day.”

It was not probably what you’d call a very good life, but, what the hell, he’ll remain a sort of Jazz legend long after we’re all forgotten. Pee Wee was the 3 foot 9 inch announcer and MC at Birdland, the famous NYC nightclub, and can be heard on the intros to countless classic live Jazz records from the 50s and 60s. 

There’s even a complete CD that came out in 2008 consisting of nothing by Pee Wee’s intros, which are made all the more entertaining by Pee Wee’s deliberate mispronunciation of the names of key acts. You see, Pee Wee would pretty much make life miserable for Jazz acts at Birdland unless they paid him a “tip.” Thus, Horace Silver was “Whore Ass Silber” until Silver relented and paid ($5 in the later years, which was a lot for that time).

The diminutive, but cantankerous, Pee Wee would elbow a non-payer in the groin, blow cigar smoke in their faces, and do even less pleasant things (like telling Bobby Hutcherson to “pack your stuff and get on out of here, we don’t need you”). For this and other reasons he was dubbed by his “pal” Lester “Prez” Young as “half a motherfucker.”

According to legend (and I don’t think this story is on the Internet anywhere), trombonist Bill Watrous once caught up with Pee Wee, who was working the door of the Hawaii Kai restaurant on Broadway in his later years (dressed in a turban and a Nehru jacket, he’d stand outside and try to rustle up paying customers). Watrous saw Pee Wee getting dressed down by some tough guy, claiming that all sorts of harm would befall Pee Wee unless Pee Wee repaid the money he owed or whatever that matter entailed. Watrous saw the tough guy turn to leave and make for the stairs and then saw Marquette run over and stab the toughie in the ass several times with a switch blade before returning to his post, acting as if nothing had happened.

In the book Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond, Mort Lewis, one-time manager of the Dave Brubeck Quartet recalled Marquette:

There was a black midget, Pee Wee Marquette, who was the master of ceremonies at Birdland. And every act that played there, the musicians had to give him fifty cents and he would announce their names as he introduced the band. Dave Brubeck gave him fifty cents, Joe Dodge gave him fifty cents, and Norman Bates gave him fifty cents. Paul Desmond refused to pay one cent. And when Pee Wee Marquette would introduce the band, he’d always say, in that real high-pitched voice, “Now the world famous Dave Brubeck Quartet, featuring Joe Dodge on drums, Norman Bates on bass,” and then he’d put his hand over the microphone and turn back to Joe or Norman and say, “What’s that cat’s name?” referring to Paul. Then he would take his hand off the microphone and say, ‘On alto sax, Bud Esmond.’ Paul loved that.

Some have questioned whether Marquette was actually female, and just passed as a male, but I’m pretty sure that, had that been the case, it would have made it into the legend somehow or another. Plus, his voice sounds distinctly male to my ears. Interestingly, Pee Wee was interviewed in the mid-80s by David Letterman, so somewhere out there there’s video of William Crayton “Pee Wee” Marquette, telling stories of the old Birdland from his point of view, but (Internet scrub that I am) I wasn’t able to find it.

A compilation of Pee Wee Marquette’s exuberant Birdland intros:

Posted by Em | Leave a comment
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