[Dixielandjazz] Al Hirt, Bob Havens, and Eternity

Charlie Hooks charliehooks at earthlink.net
Wed Feb 12 13:37:28 PST 2003

on 2/12/03 11:39 AM, Bill Biffle at bbiffle at swcp.com wrote:

> Later on, when I got more "sophisticated", I disparaged his playing a bit,
> which was the vogue, of course.  Now, having rediscovered his playing in my
> efforts to listen to as much "Dixieland style" music as possible, I do like
> his talent, his tone, and his energy for the task.  Commercial?  Sure.  Fun?
> Definitely.

    You know, Bill, it's a curious thing, but sometimes an initial reaction
by an unlearned man who has a natural love of whatever is being done proves
more accurate than opinions of those with more (but not enough) knowledge.
And there's a well-known phenomenon that John Barth described perfectly in
*The Sotweed Factor* called "The Ladder of Wit" wherein levels, or rungs, on
the ladder represent greater and greater levels of sophistication until the
final and greatest sophistication of all returns to the naive perception and
approves it wholeheartedly.  I'm too lazy to get up and find that novel on
my shelves, but it is there waiting; and, if challenged, I can find it.  The
passage is a favorite of mine, describes beautifully what I've myself
witnessed time and time again in literary criticism and scholarly bovine

    So I'm not all that surprised that you've come round to defending your
original love of Al Hirt.  Al is a technician we all can admire.  Nobody
disputes that he plays his ass off technically.  We all, I think without
exception, admire that.  Holy smoke!  Who would not want such control of his
instrument?  I think that what we all wish (because we do want to admire
without limit the best of us) is that Al had told us more about himself in
his music than he ever allowed himself to do.

    Al Hirt could have said, literally, anything he wanted to say.  Who
knows (except Al) what happened: did he think about it at all?  Did he think
(if at all) that he himself inside was simply none of our damn business?
Did he get trapped into his role as a technician, always expected to show
off rather than to play (what I always think of as) Ruby Braff trumpet?
[I'll bet Mike Vax could tell some tales here: "What's this! No high notes?
Has Vax dried up??  We came to hear double C's, man!  Where are they?"]

    Mike Vax can play some lovely stuff, indeed, some of which include the
high notes, some not.  I know: I played beside him years ago for some fine
memories.  Maybe Al could, too.  Maybe he even recorded some: I'm no
afficionado of Al's recordings.  All I'm saying here is that we should cut
this guy a great deal of slack: that much he surely deserves!

    Way to go, Bill!  One day you'll out-sophisticate the sophisticates and
come back around to your original position.  And when you do, good for you!


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