[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.

Steve Barbone

A sad and gathering silence
By    Paul Jablow
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer, The (PA); 736 words
Published: 2010-05-28
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  
one set.

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  
younger men.

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)

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