Thursday, June 19, 2008

Jazz As It Gelled

Early Jazz Writers
I have already mentioned about this book Jazzmen, published in 1939, written by Frederic Ramsey, Jr., and Charles Edward Smith, a wildly bold book for its time, I think, written by two white guys, except these are white guys who see racism as a stupid white trick and who go out long distances on a the racial limb for those days, ridiculing segregation, actually saying that jazz is BLACK music--black music all the way--EXCEPT, there are some seriously serious white students of the music--like Long Island's own Milford Miff Mole, like Jack Teagarden, like Bix Beiderbecke, like the Austin High Gang out of Chicago (Bud Freeman, Jim Lannigan, Jimmy McPartland, Frankie Teschmaker, Floyd O'Brien, Dave Tough--later Gene Krupa and Eddie Condon and pianist Joe Sullivan) or from Saint Louis the unique Peewee Russell (Charles Ellsworth Russell, Jr.)--white guys there in Chicago at the right time, right after the New Orleans black jazzmen brought jazz up the Mississippi to the Windy City and started the Windy City "stompin'"--the Stomp being dancing ("shaggin'" they called it) a new way, a way to dance to a new music--a music that in New Orleans was based on the march beat but that pianists like Tony Jackson and Jelly Roll Morton took to "swingin'" in a rag-blues-half-boogie jazz-me style into Chicago first and then came the marchers, Freddie Keppard, King Oliver, Kid Ory, Louis Armstrong, Johnny Dodds, Baby Dodds, Johnny St. Cyr, Bill Johnson (who they say may have invented "slappin'" the bass rather than playing it with a bow--it seems up in Shreveport, Louisiana, one night, Bill was arco-ing so hard he broke his bow and he finished the gig slapping the strings to get the beat). Remember, the blacks played slightly ahead or behind the beat and the white guys couldn't do that--as Chas. Edward Smith wrote in Jazzmen, "Chicago style was closer to the beat than most styles having a comparable 'swing'" or as Bud Freeman put it, "This was right on the note. In order to keep time you have to think of pushing on the beat, all the time. There are fellows who play ahead of the beat or behind the beat. But on the beat gives you that fine rhythm. We worked it out from playing together. We studied and listened a lot." Smith went on writing (about Freeman and the Austin High Gang), "He [Freeman] said that you could compare it to the way Negro bands played; though it was not the same thing, it was similarly motivated...." Aha! I like that "similarly motivated." As Duke Ellington said, white folks keep time moving their heads up and down where black folks move their heads from right to left back and forth. As Mingus said, white folks count on the wrong beat, they hit the 1 beat on the nose whereas blacks hit the beat a little off the 1 closer to the 2--black folks clap off the beat--white folks on the beat. Simple as that! I'll take Duke and Mingus's word for it. It took me many years as a white pianist to learn to syncopate--playing off the one and not on it--that is until James Brown came along and put the beat exactly on the 1.

I tried as many Google searches as I could and the best I came up with on Charles Edward Smith is that he was jazz critic for, of all things, The Daily Worker, though he also wrote for the early Downbeat. In Jazzmen, Charles Smith wrote what I'm sure he thought were "jazzy" vignettes trying to impart his love of jazz to white folks who maybe were on the fringes of jazz as it evolved into the successfully commercial "swing" music of the very late 30s and WWII 40s--and Lester Young in the 1950s said in an interview that what he played was swing not jazz--"It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing...." Some of these vignettes are too whitey, too forced jivey, too phonetically embarrassing, though some are sweet, hit the swing G-spot, and give you a splice of life of a developing art form that hadn't yet developed when C.E.S. was writing these vignettes, like this one about early-jazz New Orleans:

"A FANTASTIC and wonderful city. A city with a hundred faces. The hard face for commerce and the soft face for making love. Scratching figures on the back of an envelope where the girl with the deep dark eyes waits on counter. Smell of burnt coffee and sound of ships. The deep face for a sad life and the pinched face for poverty. Marching, singing, laughing. The silver and copper laugh of the prostitute, and the tooth-less chuckle of the old man who remembers Buddy Bolden in Bogalusa.

"Every writer makes his own city. The city of fine living and free spirit, woven into the dream of a poet. The city of brass bands and military marches, grand balls and rowdy lake-front parties. The city of Lulu White and Mahogany Hall, Josie Arlington and the palm tree growing crazily there in a vacant lot. The thin young man who drinks too much, looking at Congo Square, sqeezing the last acrid sweetness out of sight and sound.

"Come on and hear.

"Come on and hear.

"This is our city, not so far from Madame John's legacy but carrying with it another legacy, the dark human cargo of a Yankee slaver, the Marquis de Vaudreuil, raising a thin glass above a fringed cuff, drinking the drink and shattering the glass into tiny tinkling fragments. Bamboula and tinkling glass. Flat voices of invitation behind shuttered cribs. Canal Street murky yellow with night, her standards the Carnival colors, symbols of transient ownership, like a mistress smiling in turn at her lovers....

"Cajun or Creole, black or white, the others heard. They heard because their lives were part of that life, and because the music didn't draw a color line. White or black or a shade between, they listened hard when the Bolden Band pointed its horns towards Lincoln Park, because that was the King.

"Old Willy Cornish said the crowd would be over there, with Robichaux, and Bolden's Band would start right out like the killers they were. You could see a glow on his very dark cheek and the soft voice seemed to come from back there, wherever his eyes were. He said it was

"Callin' our chillun home." [Vignette introduction to "New Orleans" chapter, pp 3-6, Ramsey and Smith, Jazzmen, Harcourt Brace, 1939.]

That's Charles Edward Smith. That's the way those many years ago a jazz lover saw it, while it was brewing, only a matter of two decades since it did begin down in New Orleans where the light and the dark folks meet. And I remember when I lived in New Orleans how I used to go over to Congo Square (then Louis Armstrong Park) and sit and try to hear them again, try to hear what that CALL was--and jazz is a "call" and it expects a "response." And the best my Google searches got me on Charles was that he was born June 8, 1904--that's it, which means this past June 8th, Charles Edward Smith would have been 104 years old--as far as Google knows, he never died! On they are still looking for someone to edit Charles's information--like I said, his birthday is the only info currently running on his jazz page.

Frederic Ramsey, Jr., on the other hand I had heard about before I found and devoured his and Charles Smith's Jazzmen. I recall reading his book Been Here and Gone (1960) ("If anybody ast you who compose this song, tell 'em it was Mister Rabbit who's done been here and gone") and then later his jazz interviews on National Public Radio. Here's CHARLES Frederic Ramsey, Jr.'s, Wikipedia entry--it's short:

Charles Frederic Ramsey, Jr. (January 29, 1915, Pittsburgh - March 18, 1995, Paterson, New Jersey) was an American writer on jazz and record producer.

Ramsey took his BA at Princeton University in 1936, then took jobs at Harcourt Brace (1936-39), the United States Department of Agriculture (1941-42), and Voice of America (1942). With Charles Edward Smith, Ramsey wrote Jazzmen (1939), an early landmark of jazz scholarship particularly noted for its treatment of the life of King Oliver. After receiving Guggenheim fellowships, he visited the American South in the middle of the 1950s to make field recordings and do interviews with rural musicians, some of which were used in releases by Folkways Records and in a 1957 documentary, Music of the South. He also curated an anthology of early jazz recordings for Folkways, entitled simply Jazz. Ramsey worked with the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University from 1970. He researched Buddy Bolden's life with a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities in 1974-75 and continued with a Ford Foundation grant in 1975-76. He presented early jazz interviews on National Public Radio in 1987.

So Frederic was only 23 when he wrote Jazzmen.

Here's his New York Times obit--with the first paragraph clipped:

Mr. Ramsey was broadly influential in both the popular arena and academe. In part, his importance came from his work as one of the first major scholars of jazz; in the late 1930's he edited, with Charles Edward Smith, "Jazzmen: The Story of Hot Jazz Told in the Lives of the Men Who Created It." The book included his account of the career of the cornetist and band leader King Oliver.

Mr. Ramsey also went into the field to record black music, folk and church music, country music and blues. He traveled all over the South photographing black life, and helped shape the recovery and study of what was then considered marginal black culture.

Much of his fieldwork is to be found in "Music From the South," a 10-volume set of recordings that has been released, in part, by the Smithsonian Institution. He also produced a series of historical recordings for Folkways, titled "Jazz." His book "Been Here and Gone," about black culture in the United States, was published in 1960.

Mr. Ramsey was a staff member of The Saturday Review from 1949 to 1961. He also worked in television and was a consultant on educational programs for the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University and for the William Ransom Hogan Jazz Archives at Tulane University.

His last major project, finished in 1988, was a series of interviews on jazz, "Been Here and Gone: The Ramsey Chronicles," which was broadcast on National Public Radio.

In addition to his daughter Alida, of Manhattan, he is survived by a son, Loch, of Bloomsbury, N.J., and another daughter, Martha Ramsey of Putney, Vt.

So, just a little tribute to Charles Edward Smith and Frederic Ramsey, Jr., a couple of dudes I wouldn't'a mind knowing.
The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.
Brother Frederic Ramsey, Jr., with old trumpeter Percy Humphries.


for The Daily Growler

Willie and the Handjive
So they tossed Willie's ass out the backdoor in the middle of the night after he'd just won 2 out of 3 games out in California--yeah, Omar the Latin King and the White Man Boss threw Willie to the wolves sayin', "Hey, we made a mistake. We hired a black man, an American Leaguer, a Billy Ball expert"; yet, Willie couldn't handle the National League. The latest accusation of Willie even when he was winning was that he didn't know when to take his pitchers out and his games all ended up either close-shave wins or end-game-rally losses. Like all Massuhs up in the big house, you can't blame your expensive slaves for the problem, nope, so instead you blame it all on the manager.

Yep, Willie like his mentor Joe Torre left his pitchers in too long. Joe was notorious for that--leavin' 'em in, forcing them to try and pitch 6 innings at least--like when he had Randy Johnson and Randy would give up 5 runs in the first 2 innings--what do you do? You don't have any middle relievers worth a shit and you're closers are unreliable, so you leave your starter in whether he's getting pounded or not--same thing with Mussina, Andy Pettite, El Duque when he was a Yankee--but still Joe got 'em to the playoffs--something Willie couldn't do--and Willie got tagged as a quitter when according to Mets historians Willie managed one of the biggest let-downs in the history of baseball by leading the league by a wide margin all year long and then totally disintegrating at the end of the year to drop an enormous lead and end up vomiting the whole season up in chunks into the old loser's bucket. You mean to tell me you'd'rather bank on Jerry Manuel taking the Mets to the World Series this year than sticking it out with Willie Randolph?--I mean the Mets weren't that far back of Philly; they were even with Atlanta; they were way ahead of the Nationals; everybody who knows baseball knows the Phillies fold every year--look how many times the Phillies have been to the World Series! Look how many times Philly has won their division! So Omar trusts Jerry Manual to be a better Mets manager than sticking with Willie at least until past the All-Star break--then if he's still dangling over the basement fire him then--why now? Omar is being accused as wanting to make the Mets a Latin ballteam--and it almost is now--check it out! The Yankees have always favored Latin players over blacks--the current Yankee team is half Latin.

Willie, it is rumored, is being considered for the Seattle job (I think Seattle hired somebody else today--a nobody type). That's American League at least, though Seattle is a tough team to manage--Lou Pinella couldn't make 'em work and he had A-Rod and the Big Unit when he was there, though Sweet Lou did take 'em further than they've been since he left.

One thing Willie got out of baseball: a great home over in Jersey--a lot of Yankees live in Jersey--I mean, what a home, with a huge iron gate out front to keep the riff-raff out, a long tree-lined drive. Willie's livin' good. Mr. Met's still paying his salary.

Baseball owners and general managers are the baseball-stupidest people in the world. The Mets owners are losers--Fred Wilpon--he's been around before--was a loser then and is still a loser. The Mets won't win this year--Jerry Manual!

In the meantime, the Yankees are unbeatable suddenly--and it's all because of hitting. The Yankees are knocking the cover off the baseballs--A-Rod with 15 homers; Jason "Steroids" Giambi with 17 or 18--phenomenal--all the Yankees suddenly hitting--and Melky Cabrero fielding like a Hall of Famer--but their pitching, even though Mike Mussina leads the league, is totally unreliable--and in what I call a fooltish move yesterday, the Yanks signed up old Sid Ponson to a minor league contract--what a bum! The Yankees saddled Joe with Ponson last year and he ruined several starts for Joe--then they sold his ass--the reason they like Ponson is because when he was with Baltimore he pitched tough against the Yankees--but then the Yankees general manager has a very limited knowledge of baseball and he knows absolutely nothing about pitchers--the Yankees current pitching staff is full of minor leaguers--even their pitching coach is a minor leaguer.

American League East
Boston4629.613-28-718-2216-1312-511-97-3W 2
Tampa Bay4329.59729-1114-1821-155-411-76-4W 3
N.Y. Yankees4033.548521-1519-1815-1511-158-18-2W 7
Baltimore3734.521722-1215-2215-197-58-86-4W 3
Toronto3539.47310½18-1717-229-1415-78-123-7L 5

So, the Yankees have won 7 in a row--you need streaks in baseball--the longer the streak the more a winner you become--a 7-game win streak is wonderful, except we know the Yanks are just as subject to losing 4 or 5 in a row depending on how their starting pitchers do. I mean, come on, check it out, Baltimore is only 2 games behind the Yankees--besides, the Yankees never could beat Tampa Bay even when Tampa Bay was a team of chumps--and they've had some great managers, like Sweet Lou Pinella, who couldn't turn them around--but this year, look out! Boston, too, as usual is winning at a .613 clip--it's a tough division, but the Yankee hitting is ferocious if the millionaire boyz keep hitting the way they are now--it'll be a Boston-New York battle--we tend to think Tampa Bay will fold--and Baltimore's no real problem--but Boston is the problem--and when Big Poppy comes back--hooooo boy!

I'm down on the Yankees, yes; I haven't listened to any of their games on the radio this year though I have watched 'em on teevee. I gotta admit Joe Girardi is showing some stony class as manager--he doesn't panic--he sits cold as ice just like his mentor Joe Torre used to do--like Girardi or not, he is a Torre product--he'd be selling Budweiser by the case right now if it hadn't been for Joe keeping him as a back-up catcher and confidant during his Yankee years.

Joe Torre in the meantime has his hands full with a beat-up Dodgers team yet he's still managing to keep them in hot pursuit of the Diamondbacks--Joe's just won 3 in a row--now only 4 1/2 back of the D-backs.

National League West
Arizona3934.534-24-1515-199-115-1120-85-5W 2
L.A. Dodgers3438.47218-1516-236-714-1313-134-6W 3
San Francisco3142.425814-2417-189-76-1415-133-7L 2
San Diego3143.41920-1811-258-88-1213-164-6L 4
Colorado3042.41718-1712-255-78-1111-226-4W 2

It seems like I'm missing baseball--I gotta get back into it. Hell, I'm a Yankee fan in spite of Steinbrenner and his pompous baseball-dumbass egoistic nature; in spite of the way Steinbrenner foolishly dumped on Joe Torre, the winningest manager next to Casey Stengel the Yankees ever had--I mean he took the Yankees to the playoffs every year he managed--amazing how Steinbrenner could shit on a great manager like that! But Steinbrenner has shit on more managers than all the other teams combined--thanks to Steinbrenner's treatment of poor ole Billy Martin, it drove Billy to crash his drunken pickup truck into a drunken tree one night. Who remembers Dick Tidrow?

OK, Omar and Fred, you win, Willie Randolph was a loser manager--he's now branded a "giver-upper" (which means Willie was a lazy ass N-worder)--but not to worry, Willie's too cool a dude to not get another offer--I'm sure Joe Torre's on the phone with Willie as I type this--he should be.

Fuck the Mets; I'm back in the Yankee fold. They're just too awesome in terms of Class AAAA hitters--they've always had "iffy" pitchers and this year they have basically a Double-A baseball pitching staff--they look marvelous one game then look pathetic the next game. But if they keep winning, it'll be the Yankees and the BoSox going at each other's throats at the end of this season. Good for Joe Girardi--though Steinbrenner did cuss him out for letting Wang sprain his ankle running across home plate. Yeah, George, that was Girardi's fault. What an asshole. Look for Girardi to get fired 'fore the year's out.

for The Daily Growler Sports Section

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