“So Complete…So Right”

AS A JOURNALIST, I was  lucky enough to spend lots of time with Buddy Collette, the jazz composer, bandleader and woodwind player who was also a native to this shapeshifting place, Los Angeles. I learned so much from Buddy about L.A. and its music scene. He was instrumental in helping to integrate the Local 47 Musicians’ Union. As well, he spent decades  performing in clubs and classrooms, educating new generations about jazz and the role of Central Avenue in that story.

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Jack’s Basket Room

Buddy was the first person to introduce me to Jack’s Basket Room. He referred to it “Jack’s Basket.” It was an after-hours club on South Central Avenue. Low key, large room with a simple stage where local musicians as well as those who were traveling through town, would stop by for a gig. One of the first stories Buddy told me over lunch at Nibbler’s (“Where every table is a booth”) was about Charlie Parker’s famous post-Camarillo gig at Jack’s.  He was in attendance. Sitting down in front.  If you were in town and were a musician, you needed to be there to bear witness.

Up until a few years ago, the shell of Jack’s still stood.  You could drive by it and imagine what it was like to see a cluster of musicians lingering outside hoping to hear the great Bird let loose.

My new piece about the club and what happened with the building is now up at Alta.  Click here to see what the old spot looked like and read Buddy’s words about what it was like to sit there and be transported by the music.

Analog Life

ANTHONY WILSON is a guitarist and composer and a native Angeleno, who has always dug deep into his creative reserves to ask big questions and explore new territory.  I’m deeply impressed by his fluidity and openness to the blind curves of creativity.

Anthony Wilson at Union Station - Lynell Gorge

Anthony Wilson taking CicLAvia Break at Union Station 

 

For his new work, Songs and Photographs, Wilson created an “album” in the purest sense: A collection of musical compositions and photographs meant to be taken as a whole and that travel across space and through moods.

I reviewed the collection for KPCC’s The Frame. As well, you can read the text, which went up on here on LAist this week.

Wilson will be performing this Monday evening. For more information and reservations, click here.

Enjoy.

 

Ornette Coleman, 85

ornette

Though his early work— a kind of personal answer to his fellow alto saxophonist and innovator Charlie Parker— lay right within jazz — and generated a handful of standards among jazz musicians of the last half-century — he later challenged assumptions about jazz from top to bottom, bringing in his own ideas about instrumentation, process and technical expertise.

— Ben Ratliff via The New York Times

He was always free. Now fly high. Farewell, Ornette.

“Jelly Rests His Case”

THURSDAY WAS a research and reconnaissance day, sweeping mostly through East and South L.A, with Gary Krist, author of the excellent “Empire of Sin: A Story of Sex, Jazz, Murder, and the Battle for Modern New Orleans.” One of the highlights was finally visiting New Orleans pianist Jelly Roll Morton’s grave at Calvary Cemetery in East Los Angeles. We were given a map as well as very precise directions to the plot/memorial. We trudged out under a somber sky and there he was, below a tree. I wished I’d brought along some sort of token offering, perhaps for next time.

“On 2pm on July 10 Jelly Roll Morton died in Los Angeles County Hospital, a victim of ‘cardiac decomposition’ due to ‘hyper-tensive heart disorder,’ according to the death certificate….On the morning of July 16, when the casket containing Morton’s body was carried inside, a church that could seat a thousand looked almost empty. Fewer than a hundred people assembled to mourn a man who had helped bring the sound of jazz to the world . . .The newspapers barely noted the passing of the first great composer in the American music the world embraced as jazz, but Down Beat devoted several pages to the man’s demise. One headline though, said it all: “Jelly Rests His Case.”

— from “Jelly’s Blues: The Life, Music and Redemption of Jelly Roll Morton” by Howard Reich and William Gaines

And here’s a little bit of that “Spanish Tinge” that JRM loved so much. Thanks for the suggestion GK:

Phil Stern, 95

Phil Stern via Phil Stern Archives

Phil Stern via Phil Stern Archives

WHEN I think back, there have been so many conversations with so many vivid subjects over the last couple of decades, but I will always have a special place in my memory for my talks with photographer Phil Stern.

Stern, who died last Saturday evening,  had been shooting since the 1930s and had been pretty much any and everywhere you could imagine.  And though many might think of his specialty as rarefied worlds of Hollywood and Jazz — he could and would settle into anything with a singular POV and sense of authority. His war photography and quiet interludes and candid moments of everyday life had equal power and resonance.

Edith Irby Jones standing alone in the hallway of the University of Arkansas Medical School

I was honored to be able to sit and listen to his globetrotting stories and even more so, to be able to be one of the people to tell a little bit of it.  For some years afterward he remained in touch via letters, emails and the occasional phone call in which he always greeted me as “George.”

Here is a snip from my 2003 story during an all-day visit to his home in Hollywood:

Stern winds through his sunny living room-cum-studio. Aside from the cutouts, there’s not one photo framed on the wall. There are piles of Stern’s old LP covers stacked in boxes, some prints in matte-boards piled on a side table. Above the kitchen’s breakfast nook, a black-and-white collage of celebrity mugs spells out “Name Dropper”; a tiny cutout of Frank Sinatra, arms outstretched, pasted on a wooden crucifix, crowns the refrigerator: “That,” he says, with a dismissive wave of the hand, “was Frank’s idea.”

He wasn’t just everywhere, he allowed us to ride alongside, to be everywhere as well.

My thoughts and heart are with his family.

The rest of my feature is here.

And of course some of my all-time favorite Phil Stern images:

Stan Getz and Dizzy Gillespie — photo by Phil Stern

Stan Getz – photo by Phil Stern

Gerald Wilson, 96

RIP local jazz legend Gerald Wilson, pictured here on trumpet with Irving Ashby (guitar), George "Red" Callender (holding his hands over his ears), Lee Young Sr (drums), and Phil Moore (piano). (Order # 00052121, Security Pacific National Bank Collection)

RIP local jazz legend Gerald Wilson, pictured here on trumpet with Irving Ashby (guitar), George “Red” Callender (holding his hands over his ears), Lee Young Sr (drums), and Phil Moore (piano). (Order # 00052121, Security Pacific National Bank Collection) photo via LAPL Photo Collection

MY INTRODUCTION to musician Gerald Wilson was on the radio.

Not on disc, but as DJ. He was on the jazz station KBCA, later KKGO, the frequency my family’s car and household console stereo was always tuned to while I was growing up. I loved his voice, the “between platter patter.” bigband

Later I learned more about Wilson and his contributions to jazz in Los Angeles in particular. As well as his work as an arranger and bandleader that spanned eight decades, he also taught classes in jazz history and appreciation at college campuses across the city. But what many Angelenoes might remember him most for — if not by name — but a piece of music that has been part of the backdrop/soundtrack of L.A. for as long as I can remember — Viva Tirado — a piece he dedicated to dedicated to bullfighter Jose Ramon Tirado, part of his own long-time interest in Latin culture and its shades of influence.

He’s another one who I thought would go on forever.

Thank you, Gerald Wilson for sorting out and reflecting the true sound of Los Angeles in all of its influences, nuances and moods.

Obits here from Los Angeles Times and New York Times

some jazz appreciation

OF THE many Thelonious Monk quotes that get tossed around (and there are a plenty many), my favorite is his answer to the much-asked question “Where is Jazz going?”

Monk’s retort was quick and sharp: “Where’s jazz going? I don’t know. Maybe it’s going to hell. You can’t make anything go anywhere. It just happens.”

I was reminded of this the other night at Walt Disney Concert Hall as a friend and I settled in into a nice aerie of seats above the stage for a concert featuring pianist Brad Mehldau and his trio and tenor saxophonist Joshua Redman fronting his quartet. Tables turned, I for once was the very happy “plus-one” this evening. redman

I had spent so much of my early jazz-listening days running around hoping I could hear the last of the masters play in person. I got to see many — Elvin Jones, Stan Getz, Max Roach. But there were so many I had missed, some by just a hair. It always hit hard when a name would float up in an obituary, another one down, another one gone. It was like chasing ghosts.

What I heard in Wednesday night’s show was sure evidence of the past and a promise for the future. Music 2012 Brad Mehldau Where Do You Start Two master musicians in the prime of their playing years showing not telling and, in the process, eloquently answering that question. Mehldau’s set was a study in flowing introspection — standards, originals and a props-nod to lesser-known players of the bebop/post-bop era (Case-in-point: You bet I went home and pulled out some Elmo Hope). Redman’s quartet came out swinging — literally: A solid, mood- shifting groove. The quartet went on to lay out a collage of tunes that were pulled both from the American Songbook (a crack-your-heart-wide-open interpretation of “Stardust” for one) and originals — late in the set Redman stared down one his own compositions “GJ”, which he introduced with this admission. “Well, I wrote it, now I’ve got to stick with it.”

And sewn within that tossed off remark, yet another promise.

Here’s that nod to Elmo Hope that sent me digging:

Jazz Appreciation month is off to a very good start …