[Dixielandjazz] Night Train and Narcolepsy

ROBERT R. CALDER serapion at btinternet.com
Sun May 16 16:31:30 PDT 2010

The best NIGHT TRAIN story is of course the one in which Ellington says, 
"it must be a good tune, since so many people want to compose it."
In blues there are lots of examples of what could seem to be variants of the same theme, only they can't really be called variants because there is no central theme of which they are variants. Paul and Dud Bascomb claimed their alas unrecorded pianist brother Arthur composed "After Hours", but actually it's an organisation of fragments of a blues piano style current in Alabama in the 1920s and 1930s, Arthus would simply need to play some of the material in this style, and Avery Parrish could produce something similar from what he had heard when he'd sneaked out to places his mama wouldn't have willingly allowed him to visit (according to biographical info on Parrish). As to what Jimmy Forrest might have been doing in St, Louis in the 1930s, nobody was there with recording equipment. The next thing would be to attempt to work out a possible transition from Wesley Wallace's "No.29", a train blues in 6/ 4 time piano solo c. 1930, to the Ellington
 composition, which very much depended on the sort of brass writing developed in the middle of the 1940s.  

Gonsalves: I'm afraid I know from the inside a condition like narcolepsy and I've also had experience of a friend who suffered from something of the sort. Even a lengthy drum solo would have no effect until some way into the bout. The story I know is that Ellington used to set fairly extreme tempi to rouse Paul Gonsalves from stupor occasioned by booze and/ or barbiturates.  When I read that I concluded that this was what I had in fact witnessed during a concert. Equally Ellington might well have been trying to help Gonsalves escape from an intermediate drowsiness by giving him the opportunity to play himself awake. I remember Gonsalves struggling to play as much as possible -- maximum number of notes and an attempt at maximum (self-)arousal. This was back in the days when there were two shows one evening, and the same thing happened in the one I didn't attend and like myself the witnesses to the spectacle had some notion that Gonsalves had gone in for
 something we related to a cult of Coltrane. Actually this sounds more like a medical than a drugs and booze related matter. Remember also the conditions of touring and the possibility that as soon as his head hit the pillow Gonsalves might finally have come wide awake. A nightmare. 


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