[Dixielandjazz] A Sad and Gathering Silence
Stephen G Barbone
barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Sun May 30 07:57:09 PDT 2010
The below editorial from the Philadelphia Inquirer a couple of days
ago illustrates what has happened to jazz. And while not specifically
about OKOM, the situation it describes is certainly parallel.
For many of us who grew up[ in NYC, the author's experiences with
Charles Mingus were duplicated with the many jazz musicians and fans
in NYC during the 1940s and 50s. The only difference, for example,
between the author and myself regarding jazz is that I am about 10
years older and my introduction to jazz was through the live at jazz
nightclub performances of OKOM by Sidney Bechet, Omer Simeon Pee Wee
Erwin, Phil Napoleon, Eddie Condon et al. It was a magical time. Too
bad, as someone once said, "you can't go home again."
Perhaps it is not only that the audience for jazz is dying off, but
that the giants of jazz have pre deceased them?
Nothing lasts forever.
A sad and gathering silence
By Paul Jablow
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer, The (PA); 736 words
Section: EDITORIAL | Page A15 | Edition: CITY-C
I don't recall whether I told my friend Ted about the Hank Jones
concert in New York or whether he told me. (Such lapses occur more and
more these days.) But I do recall what I said next: "I have to go. I
think it's going to be my last chance to see him."
The two of us went, and it was wonderful. That was about three years
ago. Not long afterward, Jones stopped playing because of poor health.
This month, he died at the age of 91.
Jones was a marvelous pianist, and one of the last of the jazzmen -
and jazzwomen - who have enriched my life over the decades.
For me, the cultural equivalent of the Big Bang was a 1958 concert at
Carnegie Hall featuring Billie Holiday, Sonny Rollins, Gerry Mulligan,
and Chet Baker. This was during one of the great periods of jazz, with
all-star shows and thriving clubs where you could nurse a beer at the
bar all night instead of blowing your weekly entertainment budget on
Then, slowly, the musicians - Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, Dizzy
Gillespie, the entire Modern Jazz Quartet - disappeared, along with
many of the clubs.
It's sometimes said that we start to sense our mortality with the
deaths of our parents - the last generational barrier between us and
whatever comes next. Actually, though, I think the last barrier may be
the musicians, artists, and writers who helped get us out of ourselves
and into a larger world.
The loss of those who were older than my parents - Louis Armstrong,
Duke Ellington, Count Basie - was the easiest to take. So, too, in a
way, were the deaths of those who may have hastened their own ends -
Bill Evans with drugs, John Coltrane with booze.
The ones who were born after my parents but before me were harder. And
Charles Mingus was the hardest of all.
Mingus was a wondrous bass player, composer, and bandleader - and the
first person to have been moved by something I wrote. Two years after
the Carnegie Hall concert, when I was in college, a review in Downbeat
magazine essentially trashed Mingus' entire career. I wrote a letter
to the editor in protest, and Mingus liked it so much that he looked
me up in the New York phone book (I believe that's how one found
people in those days) and invited me to have a drink with him at
Birdland, where he was playing.
Fortunately, the legal drinking age in New York was 18 at the time.
But I still remember the stares as the notoriously unapproachable
Mingus enveloped a white kid half his size in a bear hug, bought me a
beer, and took me to a booth near the bar for his entire between-sets
Mingus died in 1979 of Lou Gehrig's disease. His wife, Sue, started a
repertory band, and since I was now writing more than letters to the
editor, I interviewed her about it in the sunny New York apartment
where Mingus spent some of his last days on the balcony, looking out
at the Hudson River. Sue and the Mingus Big Band are still around, but
most of the musicians who actually played with him are gone - along
with so many others.
Art Blakey died in 1990. An incredible drummer, Blakey said he stayed
youthful by rotating a line of splendid young players through his Jazz
Messengers band, including Wynton Marsalis.
Miles Davis went a year later, but his music had lost its appeal to me
years earlier - the fragile, porcelain tone disappearing into an
electronic jungle populated largely by men half his age.
One of the few still playing in his old style is Sonny Rollins, the
tenor saxophonist. He was 41 when I first saw him at Carnegie Hall,
and he will turn 80 in September. He has been appearing about once a
year in Philadelphia for some time, stooped over now like a bent tree,
but still capable of long, intricate solos that would exhaust much
Ted called me last time Rollins came through, offering an extra ticket
to the concert at the Kimmel Center. I had another commitment I
couldn't break, but a few days later, I asked him about the show. It
hadn't been up to Rollins' usual standard, he said. Something was
I hope it was just an off night. And I hope Sonny Rollins will make it
back to Philadelphia. But after what Ted told me, I'm not sure I'll go.
Paul Jablow is a former Inquirer reporter and editor who lives in Bryn
Mawr. He can be reached at pjablow at comcast.net.
© Philadelphia Inquirer, The (PA)
More information about the Dixielandjazz