Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Wolf-Man's Jazz Stories

Jazz Story #1 "A Guy Called Whitey"
"It never don't bother me none if it's called jazz. It's just the music to me. It's just the music to me like you white guys got your music, you know, Perry Como, those dudes, that's white music to me, but, hey, it don't make no matter to me if you call Perry Como jazz, dig?"

I sat in the 9-out-of-ten spot by W.L. Lee, that's Washington Lincoln Lee, as he drove his big Detroit-iron Cadillac at about 80-rolling-coaster-miles-per-hour after I had bussed down from Santa Fe to meet W.L. in Roswell and we were now barrel-assing out of Roswell on 285 heading for Midland over in Texas where W.L. Lee and his Advance Quartet were booked to play in the Downtowner Inn there, in the Flame Lounge, at 9 o'clock showtime and it was 6 o'clock when we left Roswell; I had gotten there on time, W.L. though had a lot of trouble gettin' out of Roswell, his home, you know, like he got us all in the Caddy and he got in and it looked normal like he was startin' the engine and, you know, hittin' the road, but then he said, like, "Did I turn that oven off after I made breakfast this mornin'? I sure better go see 'bout that." And he got out of the Caddy and ambled into the house and he was in there so long the other members of the band, they were sittin' in the Caddy's backseat, started jokin' about when's he comin' back and what else will he have to check before we finally get out of here.

I was delegated by the rest of the Advance Quartet to ride in the 9-out-of-10 seat--the front right seat, called "ridin' shotgun,' 'cause that's the seat on the old Wells Fargo and Butterfield stages that the guard carrying the shotgun sat in, up there at the right of the driver in case the stages were attacked by banditos or Indians, which they were all the time, and the outlaws and the Indians knew to kill the shotgun-carrying guard right off the bat; therefore it became known as "ridin' shotgun" in the dead man's seat--and then that was carried over into ridin' in automobiles and then after automobile causality statistics started coming out showing that people ridin' shotgun were killed 9 out of every 10 wrecks so then "ridin' shotgun" meant you were riding in the "9-out-of-10 spot," the dead man's seat, and these two other members of the band, Carmine Pico the drummer and Little Johnny Speed the guitarist, had quickly piled into the backseat of the Caddy sayin', "White boy, you rides with Washy up there in the 9-out-ah-10 spot--that's where white boys ride in a black man's Cadillac." And then they were laughin' like Cheshire cats and slapping each other's palms. Then W.L. came back finally from checking to see if he'd left his oven on, got in the Caddy, acted like he was starting it up, sayin', "You boys ready to do some travelin'?" and, by God, it looked like we were finally movin' but then all of a sudden he says, "Damn, son of a bitch, I'll be damned if I didn't leave the fridge door open" and out of the Caddy he climbs again and he ambles back into his house. The boys in the backseat were laughin' their asses off again now between sips of whiskey. "Whooo boy, there goes old Washy again. Man, is that cat paranoid. We'll be here another hour just you wait." These guys were calling W.L. "Washy" because of his name being Washington; I, like the white boy I was, thought it was odd W.L. was named after Lincoln and Robert E. Lee, though, of course, his last name being Lee probably was a coincidence--his mother and father thinking more in terms of George Washington and Abe Lincoln than they were that their last name was the same as the Confederate commander in chief--I guess I was assuming black people got to choose their last names, too, when they were freed. When I posed this subject later to the other Advance Quartet members, they laughed and said, "Damn, Whitey, who told you the black man was freed? Who told you that? You think I'm free? No sirreee, boy, I ain't free, you's the one who's free, you free, white, and twenty-one, baby, and that's what being free in this country means, white boy." Then they went through the palm slapping ritual again accompanied by the great round of guffawing.

We finally got to rolling a little after 6. We had 200 miles to go. It was gonna be tight, I was thinking, until I realized W.L. was driving like I'd heard Chuck Berry drove his Caddies with the pedal to the metal. I mean that big clumsy Caddy was going so fast the highway was ribboning up at us, coming toward us just like riding on a roller coaster. It didn't bother me; I was used to driving fast; at that time back in Santa Fe, I drove a 1962 Jaguar Mark VI sedan--and I always tooled that Jag along these wide-open New Mexico-West Texas highways around 80 mphs--so W.L.'s doin' 80 and 90 didn't bother me a bit.

"By the way, Whitey," one of the guys in the backseat yelled, "if the cops waylay us, you're drivin', dig?" W.L. laughed at that one but he didn't say anything. He'd been exceptionally nice to me and since I was the only white man in this band, I kind'a leaned on him for support. I was sure I wasn't gonna get any support from Carmine and Speed; hell, they hadn't even offered a drag on their bottle, man. W.L. finally told me to open the glove compartment (what the hell are they called now--I've never thought of it 'til this minute) and take a nip out of his bottle I'd find in there. It was 151 rum. I took a long sip and damn, it almost blew my stack--"Holy shit," I cried, "that's the demon rum alright." The boys in the backseat liked seeing me takin' a slug of that rotgut rum like a man and they eased up a lot on me before we zoomed into Midland with time to spare, by golly--like we hit town a little after 8, amazing.

I had heard of W.L. Lee up in Santa Fe when I first moved there and got to hangin' out in the Santa Fe main scene, which at that time was The Forge in the Inn of the Governors in deep downtown Santa Fe. This was before Santa Fe was invaded by the California and Texas rich farts and the money-grubbing white developers when Santa Fe was a relative peaceful town, turistas out the ass, yes, but they had limited places to stay around Santa Fe so the really rich stayed up at Bishop's Lodge and the regular tourists hung down in the downtown area and the Inn of the Governors was just a nice modern phony adobe-style motel--a Holiday Inn with vigas and farolito hanging lamps and serapes and Navajo blankets mounted on the walls of the lobby on into the main lounge that was called The Forge. They had a piano bar in the Forge and my first night living in Santa Fe I looked in the paper and saw that starting a long-run engagement at The Forge that very night was a guy I knew from my hometown, a piano player and singer who'd gotten his musical training at Howard University, then in the US Army, and then later working as an intermission pianist on 52nd Street in New York City during the height of the golden age of jazz that happened on that street--now taken over by a huge lummox-like building that was originally built by the Equitable Life Insurance Company, though they did memorialize the old jazz street by putting plaques all along the sidewalks in front of that Equitable Building (I think someone else puts their brand on it now)--plaques honoring Diz and Bird and clubs like the Onyx or the Three Deuces or the Embers--Birdland was around the corner on Broadway, directly across from the Alvin Hotel in which the great Prez lived his last days sitting in front of his hotel window drinking his famous gin and port wine drink--his "up and down" as he called it--and smoking his muggles while staring down at the Birdland neon sign and lit-up marquee--Lester Young was a kind'a bitter dude who never thought he got his just rewards as a jazz innovator--he would say sometimes, "That club should be named 'Prezland' not Birdland." So my friend from my hometown had gotten to play intermission piano--in the Embers and he talked about meeting Marian McPartland in there and that's where her trio played for years; plus he'd gotten kind of palsy-walsies with Cannonball Adderley and his brother Nat in there, too.

As a result of this chance meeting--I had not seen Jimmy Boland in at least 15 years before that night--and then thanks to Jimmy, I got to hangin' in the coolest Santa Fe scene going at the time and then Jimmy and I started jam sessions at The Forge on Saturday afternoons and these became the hottest ticket in town and we had marvelous jams for several years and I got to sittin' in on piano during the jams and then I took up learning to play the flute, too, which to my amazement Jimmy knew how to play and taught me the tricks of correct fingering and how to tune it--by twisting the mouthpiece around until you registered the right key--and soon thanks to JimBo I got pretty good on the flute, good enough that I started sittin' in on flute at the jams and not playing much piano at all.

So it was JimBo who'd first told me about W.L. Lee and then W.L. came to one of our jam sessions, he and the pianist Freddie Redd showed up together from Albuquerque, and, damn, he was a fine bass player, reminding me very much of Mingus in the way he played--you know, cuttin' times in half or doublin' 'em up suddenly. He'd complimented me on my flute work--and believe me, I wasn't really a good flute player but I'd learned several melodies and I could improvise fairly well on those tunes--"It Might As Well Be Spring" was my showpiece--that's the one I had down the best. But while W.L. was still up jammin', JimBo had to go to the phone so I took over the piano and damn if I didn't cool out double-cool with W.L. behind me. We slapped palms and traded skin afterwards. After that jam, I never saw W.L. again though I heard he was workin' on a motel circuit and was out in Southern California giggin' around.

One afternoon JimBo called my house. "My man, you in'trested in a gig?" "What'cha talkin' about?" "W.L. Lee called me last night. He lost his piano player and he offered me the gig but I can't do it and I reminded him of you and he said OK would I ask you were you int'rested." "What's it involve?" "He's workin' Highway 80 startin' in Midland, Texas, and endin' up in Southern California, L.A., I guess. It's six weeks of gigs with a guaranteed $245 a week, 'cept you gotta chip in on the gas and pay you're own room rents and get your own meals." "What kind'a music, man?" "Come on, Wolf, you can play anything they play--bop, shit, then mostly r & b. He's got a guy who sang with the Hi-Los or some group like that, an L.A. Spanish cat, so you might have to learn 'Life Is Just a Bowl of Cherries,' shit like that, but hell, man, you know the Circle of Fifths, you can fake those things--besides, W.L.'s probably got sheet music and fake sheets and shit. Get you away from your old lady for a spell." "Yeah, so you bastards can hit on her while I'm on the road." "Hey, you take your chances when you're a workin' musician--besides, don't worry, there's plenty of strange to be had on these gigs."

That's how I got the gig. W.L. called me the next night with the details--"We'll be hittin' the road this comin' Friday--you gotta get to Roswell by 4 0'clock--we got a 9 o'clock gig in Midland, Texas, 'bout 200 miles from Roswell. It's a cool lounge--we play for rich whiteys--so it'll be cool, man." So I gave my word I'd be in Roswell by 4 pm Friday.

To Be Continued
Author's note: "I got tired of fucking writing! Sometimes that happens! What'd'ya take me for, a creative genius?"

A Note From Mr. Ed: "Jesus, thegrowlingwolf is in one of his grouch moods--but hang on, he pulls out of 'em when he kills a baby elk and devours it belly first, has a good howl, and then gets out the 25-year-old Ambassador Scotch--but I don't think he'll run off to Davenport this time. Stay tuned, folks."

A Tip of the Growling Head to wood s lot for Alerting Us That Murray Bookchin Died Way Over a Year Ago:

Murray Bookchin
January 14, 1921 – July 30, 2006

co-founder of the Institute for Social Ecology

In our own time we have seen domination spread over the social landscape to a point where it is beyond all human control. . . . Compared to this stupendous mobilization of materials, of wealth, of human intellect, of human labor for the single goal of domination, all other recent human achievements pale to almost trivial significance. Our art, science, medicine, literature, music and “charitable” acts seem like mere droppings from a table on which gory feasts on the spoils of conquest have engaged the attention of a system whose appetite for rule is utterly unrestrained.
- Murray Bookchin
For more on Murray Bookchin go to wood s lot--brilliant stuff--you can link on wood s lot over on the right side of the post under the languagehat link.


for The Daily Growler

No comments: