[Dixielandjazz] The "Other" Dixieland Scene - Jim Uhl's Article
barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Tue Mar 16 09:43:18 PST 2004
Here is a description of the "other" Dixieland scene in NYC circa
1950-1970. It is a quote from Jim Uhl's article in the Mississippi Rag
of times past. (Another reason to subscribe because historical articles
like this one are in every issue) The article is about Conrad Janis, a
tailgate trombonist of first rank, who is relatively unknown among a
broad cross section of OKOM fans.
In those years NYC was something. The music was everywhere. Must have
been at least 100 clubs with jazz bands in 1950. It is impossible to
describe it adequately, or to even imagine it unless you were there.
Those who were, heard more live jazz music in 10 years than most others
do in 10 lifetimes. By 1970, most of it had disappeared as the face of
entertainment rapidly changed.
"Conrad speculates on the influences that made jazz what it is today.
Now, here is something interesting. Guys like Coleman Hawkins, Vic
Dickenson, Roy Eldridge, Lester Young were not New Orleans or
Dixieland musicians. They played a very sophisticated, sizzling hot
Kansas City style, often with driving, screaming trumpets. But they
couldn't make a living those days playing their own music. Nobody wanted
it. So, they either had to play modern jazz you know, Thelonius Monk,
Dizzy Gillespie, where they were not really welcomed or, in order to
work, play Dixieland. Or what they called Dixieland, Royal Garden
Blues,Tiger Rag, the Dixieland tunes, but with difference."
"So, in New York, you had a Kansas City influence on New Orleans music,
making it swingier, a further development from the influence that the
Chicagoans had. Then there were the more modern musicians expanding
the range of Dixieland still further. It was very interesting to hear
guys like Charlie Shavers and Coleman Hawkins playing Muskrat Ramble and
"One time, between sets at the Metropole, I was sitting at the bar of
the Copper Rail across the street with Red Allen and Jo Jones. You
didn't drink at the Metropole because the other band was on. We
alternated 45-minute sets and every hour and a half we had a 15-minute
jam session. Red and Joe were arguing the merits of New Orleans jazz
versus Kansas City jazz. Red learned trumpet in New Orleans; Joe was a
Kansas City drummer. The argument heats up. Finally, Joe says: Listen,
man, we were swinging in Kansas City while you guys were still marching
in New Orleans. That shut Red up."
"I told that story to a Kansas City audience and it got a big hand. I
don't think it would have done so well in New Orleans. I used to drop in
at the Metropole on my night off there to hear maybe the greatest small
combo I ever experienced in person after the Kid Ory band. Coleman
Hawkins, tenor; Roy Eldridge, trumpet; Joe Knight, piano; J. C. Heard,
drums, and I forget who on bass. They played their style, Kansas City.
Stompin' at the Savoy, Jumpin' at the Woodside. Great tunes. They were
so hot, so swinging that it was unbelievable. They were at the Metropole
on Monday and Tuesday nights. The Metropole didn't pay that much; it was
just a gig; better than sitting home. They were there for several years.
Nobody recorded them. They got no notice in Downbeat or Metronome.
"So to make the rest of the week, Roy played at Jimmy Ryan's, played
Dixieland. He would take a Dixieland tune and turn it into a kind of
Swing thing. But at least the music was hot. It was done with emotion
and passion. It wasn't that cool stuff where you try for extended
harmonies. That has its place, I suppose, but I'm not interested in it.
Roy could play hot; Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonius Monk, too. That's the
unifying thing, the heat. I like all jazz, from the early into a lot of
modern. I certainly like some Bebop. I don't play it, but I admire the
guys who do. Even the most modern music, I may not understand, but if it
has passion, I'll try to."
"Dick Wellstood, the great stride piano player, was with me for eight
years. When he couldn't make a job, Johnny Varro was his substitute.
Over the years, I had Herman Autry, John Windhurst, Johnny Lettman, he
was out of the Basie band, on trumpet; Ed Hall, Gene Sedric and Kenny
Davern (another great player and close friend) on clarinet; Jo Jones,
Baby Dodds and Panama Francis on drums; Pops Foster on bass. I got good
musicians because I love to play with good musicians. All these guys
were there not only because they were making good money, but because
they loved the band and the response they got from the crowds."
"For nearly 10 years, we played Monday and Tuesday at the Metropole,
Wednesday in Brooklyn, Thursday in New Jersey, Friday and Saturday at
Central Plaza, and two jobs on Sunday in Brooklyn. I was able to pay the
guys $25 for each job. That was $200 a week, tax free, a fortune in the
early 50s. A star on the road, Roy Eldridge, for instance, might get
$150 a week. In a club today, you're lucky to get $35 a night. And this
is 50 years later. Another 300-400 years and we'll be making real
WOW. Enough said. (my note)
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