[Dixielandjazz] EDDIE CONDON'S 1957 B.B.C. Television interview

Richard Broadie richard.broadie at gte.net
Wed May 21 16:58:48 PDT 2003

Just got this in from UK Jazz writer Steve Voce.  Thought you on djml would
love this!   I did.   Dick Broadie
I unearthed this piece today while testing some scanner software that I 
have bought. It's from 1957.

EDDIE CONDON'S B.B.C. Television interview reported by STEVE VOCE.

Out of the many Greenwich Village detonations set off by Eddie Condon during
his recent visit, the most cataclysmic must surely have been his wonderful
battle with Geoffrey Johnson Smith, interviewer on the BBC's television
"Highlight" programme.

Condon proved to be less co-operative than Gilbert Harding at his most
fierce and about as sarcastically vicious as a Wild Bill trumpet solo.

Stalled from the very first question, Smith began by asking: As one of the
leading jazz men in the world, do you think it is art ?"

"D'you mean the world, or jazz ?" "Jazz."

"I def'n'ly do. It's serious, it's sincere, but jazz is like anything else,
it can be prostituted, mistreated and abused."

Suddenly jolted down to equal terms, Smith continued: "How do you recognize
when jazz is being mistreated and abused?"

"That's simple. There's so much of that an' so little real,
honest-to-goodness jazz."

Smith: "You haven't changed your style since those very early days when a
lot of other . . . ."

"I beg your pardon," (Condon in control) "now just a moment. That's been
discussed on various occasions, 'bout changing the style. Our style, or
rather the sincerity of it, has not changed, but maybe there's a younger
clarinet player or younger drummer comes in with some fresh life."

Smith, by now a little rattled, hangs on: "But it has been suggested that,
in point of fact, your style hasn't changed as much as others. Would you
consider that you are playing the real jazz?"

A piece of the purest Condon brings Eddie back to the wheel again: "Well, I
don't want to veridicalise any pronouns."

Smith looks stunned, but manages "Uh huh." (Chambers Dictionary - veridical,
truth-telling, coinciding with fact).

Eddie continues: "I must say that some of these various efforts have been
made but where are they? They're not around any more."

Smith, stung to the quick: "Whereas you're suggesting that you are?"

Condon raises an eyebrow. critically. leaps from his chair and looks around
himself anxiously: "Well I hope I am."

Smith, unmoved, changes the subject: "I notice that, in some of your
records, although you play the guitar a tremen­dous amount.  . ."

"You watch 'em closely 'n' you'll see that's an exaggeration," chips in
Eddie with a cynical frown.

".... you never do any solos, whereas many other people who are soloists or
leaders of bands have long prolonged solos on their records."

Eddie frowns viciously at the camera. Smith continues: "Is this modesty that
prevents you from having solos?"

Condon (bluntly with feeling): "No, just lack of talent."

This time Smith's eyebrow goes up. Condon's new world approach is now
impudently pitted against the Victorian code of honour so hallowed by the

"Just ... lack. of talent?" he re­peats nervously. The new world pushes home
its advantage quickly, turning in its chair to emphasise its point.
"Modesty's a wunnerful thing. I wish I had some."

Smith changes the subject with a glimpse of the suavity so much in evi­dence
at the beginning of the pro­gramme, but now tattered in the caustic gale
from Chicago.

"Now you've met practically all the most famous people in the world of
jazz - Count Basie, Duke Ellington and people like that. Out of all these
people you've met, is there any one person who's influenced you more than
any of the others?"

"Oh there's several. I would say in short order Mamie Smith, Bessie Smith,
Bix Beiderbecke and Louis Armstrong and several more. I'd say those four."
He looks appealingly at the camera and says: "This is entirely unrehearsed."
As if we didn't know.

Smith, anticipating another flow of unauthorised Condonia, cuts in firmly.
"Well when you say that they've influenced you, in what way ?"

"They didn't influence me. I just liked what they did." snaps Eddie

Again a rapid change of subject by the rattled interviewer: "And whenever
you play .

"I would like to play the piano, by the way," Condon interrupts apropos of
nothing and with a saintly beam.

Seeing a possible escape, Smith walks right into the trap, to have the
distilla­tion of Greenwich Village sarcasm poured over his head.

"Why's that ?" he asks.

"WHY is that ?" repeats Condon, treating his victim to a puzzled look that
normal people reserve for village idiots. "Uh . . er . . uh, 'zat something
unusual ?' However, he lets it ride. "I would LOVE to play the piano. Why I
can't play the piano, my hands are too small."

Baffled, Johnson Smith comes back for more. "But I noticed that . . . Is
that why you're sticking to the guitar still ?"

And he gets more. "AM I sticking to the guitar? I didn't know that. Thank
you, you're getting very informative," says Eddie politely.

Smith switches again, his voice a little higher: "Now whenever I see jazz
musi­cians like yourself play, they always seem to be smiling, but I have a
nasty suspicion that some of it is a bit forced. Are you always happy?"

But Eddie is absorbed by something in the studio and gazes vacantly above
him. A dreadful pause and then. "Er.. . oh, about smiling. Well there is a
thing called 'mail-order-house personality' and I just don't have no credit
with those people. They don't answer my letters." Slightly obscure?

"How d'you mean, house personality ?"

"Well whenever anything is sorta common and low-priced it's er . . - well
... er . . . mail-order-house."

"That's the way to try and project your personality ... '

"When I wanta buy a plough," inter­rupts the 52nd Street fireball, "bein' a
conscientious farmer," (sniff) "I like to buy it direct. No mail-order

Johnson Smith rapidly and gracefully lets himself out: "Well Mr. Condon I
can't say that I've followed you entirely, but thank you very much indeed."

"That's perfectly O.K.." condescends Mr. Condon with similar grace and an
inclination of the head.

"And that's all from 'Highlight' tonight," says Mr. Johnson Smith, hogg­ing
the camera with a smile.

The Illinois overtones are still coming through: "It's been my pleasure
being with you."

And in the background, Mr. Geoffrey Johnson Smith can faintly be heard
say­ing "Good-night" before rushing home to take the juice of two quarts of

Steve Voce

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