[Dixielandjazz] Nat Hentoff JazzTimes Article
bowermastergroup at qwest.net
Sat Aug 2 14:18:57 PDT 2003
This article by Nat Hentoff appears in his "final chorus" (page 138) in the
September 2003 JazzTimes magazine. An interesting read that mentions the
Mississippi Rag, Vince Giordano, and others in OKOM.
Jazz for Lunch at the Cajun
By Nat Hentoff (212-366-9181)
Long ago, Whitney Balliett described jazz as "the sound of surprise". That
continual proof of the music's life force seized me once again listening to
Stefon Harris' (Blue Note) - a wondrous mosaic of freshly multicolored
writing with intriguingly subtle dynamic, along with singular soloists. His
music needs no labels like "postmodern" or "cutting edge". It is Stefon
Harris music, as Charles Mingus', he insisted, was Mingus music.
At lunch recently at the Cajun, a restaurant on Eighth Avenue and 16th
Street in New York, where you can get Louisiana catfish, I was surprised at
how much pleasure there still is in some of the jazz I grew up with. Many
years ago, at Lester Young's then home in Queens, after a long interview, I
was almost out the door when he, the embodiment of what was "hip" in jazz at
the time (off as well as on the bandstand), said to me: "Do you like
"Sure", I answered, "If it's good."
"Me too," said Pres.
Every Wednesday, from 12:30 to 2:00 p.m. at the Cajun, what the Gotham
Jazzmen play for those who need labels, is not strictly Dixieland, though
the repertory includes "Hello, Central, Give Me Doctor Jazz", and "The
Original Dixieland One Step". But there's also a lot of Gershwin and Jerome
Kern. The beat and therefore the soloists, move in the swing-rhythm waves
that characterized Eddie Condon's crews ("Nicksieland" and the good-time
music of Jimmy McPartland and the Bob Crosby Bob Cats. The band, with the
same name and somewhat overlapping personnel, has been playing since 1976 on
Thursdays from 12:30 to 2 p.m., at the public Donnell Library in Manhattan.
No admission charge. Trombonist Jim Collier, who played with Max Kaminsky
and Wild Bill Davison, among others, says: "We never rehearse, rarely take
requests, and have never tried to promote the band. We frequently play
tunes we don't know very well - or don't know at all - partly because of
professionals, semi-pros and amateurs.
"Most of us," Collier continues, "have played in fairly fast company on
occasion and some of us still do. I think nearly everyone in the band
played the old 54th Street Condon's and Jimmy Ryan's on 52nd Street at some
time." Some of the names may be known to the readers of JazzTimes.
Trumpeter Peter Ecklund, who has four CD's under his own name; guitarist
Dawes Thompson, who worked with Milt Hinton and Vic Dickerson, among others;
and pianist Peter Sokolow, a practicing expert in what Fats Waller and James
P. Johnson made of stride piano, as well as having toured Europe several
times with Klezmer bands. A mixed bag of musicians, some with day jobs who
don't care about critics' categories or polls so long as they can get
together and play.
The Gotham Jazzmen will surely never be part of National Public Radio's
dwindling jazz programming, but I bet there are many listeners around the
country who either, as I did, were hooked for life as kids on this kind of
music that made you feel so good - or would be if exposed for listeners like
me, as Al Cohn told me as we were leaving the Great South Bay Jazz Festival
that featured a reunion of survivors of the Fletcher Henderson band (Gerry
Mulligan, naturally, sat in): "You never lose a feeling for the music that
first for you involved jazz". After all, as Lester Young said to me that
afternoon in Queens, it was Frank Trumbauer who turned him on early ("He
always told a little story").
In a letter to the June JazzTimes ("Hentoff Wrong") by Murray Horwitz,
former vice president of NPR's cultural programming, he admits that NPR has
"largely abdicated its leadership role in (jazz) programming", but says, the
blame is on the NPR stations in the largest markets that are driven "almost
entirely on audience ratings". But the national NPR audience has risen from
more than 13 million in 1998 to nearly 20 million last fall. So. if the
national NPR programmers are interested in a sizeable, durable audience for
jazz, they should look at any issue of the monthly Mississippi Rag, which
has extensive listings of locations around the country that include many
clubs booking music much like that played by the Gotham Jazzmen.
The Cajun is there, along with such clubs as Ruga's in Oakland, N.J., and
the City Saloon in Columbia, Ill. In most of these clubs, the sessions
aren't every night, and some not every week. But others, like the Cajun,
have such combos in different nights during the week as Vince Giordano's
Nighthawks, the Red Onion Jazz Band and the Canal Street Dixieland & Blues
Band. If Frank Trumbauer were alive, he would be playing at one of those
clubs. And the long list of jazz festivals across the nation in the
Mississippi Rag has a large proportion of bands in the long-distance
tradition of the Gotham Jazzmen.
Not only listeners who were drawn to these sounds as youngsters did this
music these days. When more or less traditional jazz groups play in
schools, these kids can't help dancing. Not only NPR, but also much of the
established jazz network - record companies, magazines, book publishers,
public and commercial television - ignore these musicians and their fans.
But the bands, like the Gotham Jazzmen, keep on for the sheer pleasure of
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