Saturday, November 14, 2009

Looking Backwards at Jazz

"the Jam," tgw, c2002
The Wolf Man Becomes Edward Bellamy
I'm ensconced in my New York City digs--I've got to go back to the language of my American generation, the language of the hip (first it was the hep, as in "hep cat"), the cool, the bopster, the jiver, the solid sender, the cooker, the modulator. "Hey, Daddy-O, what's shakin'? How's your cool today, copacetic?" "Cooler than a cooker groovin' high, doc."

The further I venture into this shit called "aging," as gracefully as I can I might add, the further I revert back to my time, my midstream, when life went on the beat of your heart, in 4/4 time, nothing rushed, precise head notes coming straight out of your gourd.

I'm listening right now to Sonny Clark. I guess a true old-time jazz fan knows Sonny Clark but I'll bet he ain't the word around young jazz dudes. This is Sonny's big Blue Note LP, with John Coltrane, Donald Byrd (Byrd kind of flew off into the sunset after hitting it big in the 70s with the Blackbirds), Curtis Fuller, Paul Chambers (Mr. P.C. ("If you wanna hear the bass the way it should be/You dig P.C.")), and Arthur Taylor, who was known as Art back when this LP was recorded in 1957 out at Rudy Van Gelder's recording studio in New Jersey.

These guys used to just rush over to Rudy's and knock off these albums--staying there all morning and afternoon long, doing alternate takes, yes, some 3 and 4 takes, some things knocked off in one take, and then buzzing back over into Manhattan for their gigs. You made union scale in those days, $42 as a sideman, $50 as the leader; and $42 went a long way in the fifties--say you made 5 recordings in one week--hell that was an extra $200 a week on top of what you were getting on a gig--union scale for a gig was maybe $8 an hour with $15 an hour for the leader. If you made $250 a week playing music you were successful. Not everybody got to record that much, but the big stars and the well-knowns, the poll winners, did--like Coltrane, Miles, Mr. P.C., Klook, Bags, O.P., Nat, Budo, Prez, the Hawk...that was how I knew my jazz mentors and heroes, by their jazz names. Klook was Kenny Clark maybe the very first be-bop drummer, though young Max Roach was right him--Klook played up at Minton's Playhouse in the house band--Monk on piano--Charlie Christian on guitar. Bags was Milt Jackson, the second master of the vibes, Lionel Hampton, the Hamp (we made "CHamp" out of his name) being the first. Every young wannabe jazz dude in my day learned "Bags Groove." O.P. was Oscar Peterson. Prez...well, if you don't know who Prez is, ain't no use of me telling you. The same goes with The Bean, Hawk.

Jazz guys were my royalty, they were my fathers, too. The jazz gals? My sisters and personal chicks. Except for the singers, women didn't make it into mainstream--Melba Liston, Mary Lou Williams, were there but they were the few and not the norm.

I met and fell in love with, when I was 18, a woman jazz pianist, Lorraine Geller. Miss Geller (actually she was Ms. Geller, married to saxophonist Herb Geller) so infatuated me, I dreamed of her at night, wearing black, sitting at the piano, a cigarette smoking bluely across the finely cut lines of her magnificent face. And right after I fell for Lorraine Geller, I went one night over to a club to hear the Terry Gibbs Quartet. I loved Terry Gibbs. He was a fun vibes player who walked in Lionel's footsteps and who really could get off into the music and really cook it--Terry could move at the vibes, man; and the night I saw Terry and his quartet, a striking young woman was at the piano. My heart jumped up to lump in my throat as it tried to get out to this chick and show her how much in love I was with her. She was thin, wearing a sleeveless white summer dress, her skin was polished ebony, and her face was so finely sculpted by her genes as to pierce its beauty back into my panting heart still lumped up in my throat as I forced my way up to meet her on the band's first break. She moved back off to a back table sitting with Terry's drummer, a Swedish dude who simply called himself Bert Dale.

Her name was Terry Pollard and she was young, just 20, from Detroit, where Terry Gibbs had heard her and signed her on and she'd been touring with him and was on his latest album, one I'd heard on the radio, one that had one of the cookin'est "Seven Come Elevens" alive at the time. Holy Christ, Terry and that little group drove that Lionel Hampton classic down the groove highway flyin ' home, man--I'm telling you, that's how Terry Gibbs affected my young ears. I'd first heard Terry on some early Bethlehem recordings. He and his jazz brother Don Elliott teamed up on that old 10-inch LP--Don Elliott played vibes, too, but when he played with Terry he played his mellophone--when I first heard the mellophone it hit me mellow, man. It wasn't a trombone. It wasn't a French horn. It was more mellow than a French horn or a valve trombone. Then I found out Don Elliott was the dude playing it and then he began showing up in the Downbeat and Metronome polls as new instrumentalist or in the list with the odd instrumentalists like vibes players, like oboe players (Bob Cooper, Bud Shank), like flute players, like stritch and manzello players, as a mellophonist. I can't think of any other jazz man who played the mellophone.

So I met Terry Pollard that night and in a matter of months I'd fallen in love with two women piano players--women who were the black and white image of each other--and in my memory of Terry I see her sitting in that little white dress, her beautiful face smiling hood-eyed over at me, with that long-playing cigarette curling that blue smoke up cobra-like up from her long stiletto-like fingers.

Cigarettes killed Lorraine Geller (in 1958) first, I think; then they killed Terry Pollard. But, I'll be honest, those two women were for a long time about the only women I respected playing jazz. I was prejudiced. I really did think of jazz as a male music, though I'd long loved Lil Hardin Armstrong when I listened to Louis Armstrong records as an adolescent.

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Lorraine Geller
Terry Pollard at the piano; Terry Gibbs at the vibes
...and here's the two Terrys together on one of the best jazz LPs ever recorded (my opinion)
Terry Gibbs replaced Terry Pollard with another woman pianist, Pat Moran, and then replaced Pat Moran with yet another woman pianist, AliceMcCleod, who later became Alice Coltrane.

So, yes, I fell in love with those two women pianists. Then at that same time a year or so later in college I fell in love with a lady singer.

Not real love--but jazz love. Jazz cats had plenty of worshiping women. These were "the chicks." "Dig that chick over there, man, she's out there, man, solid out there." Or some hipper cat might say, "Oooh, lookie lookie at those big shiny stockin's that just walked in the door." They were always at the clubs. They hung around jazz guys because jazz guys always had you know what and you know this and they were slick in terms of dress--they introduced the continental-cut suit to music, which the Beatles later copped to bring some Brit "class" to what the Brits were ashamed of, the homemade-costumed American rock & rollers--like Little Richard Perryman with his suit of mirrors. Then the Beat(s)tles came up with their cereal-bowl haircuts and they took over.

With the advent of the Beatles in 1964, my kind of jazz was crushed. The Beatles forced the greatest of jazz entertainers to hit walls in terms of what they had conceived, evolved, and progressed. And jazz guys started looking for what would keep them getting gigs. The American public was moving further and further away from even a inkling understanding of the music in which I was steeped, baptized, and not just me, but a whole gaggle of us from my past were totally into jazz. We lived jazz. Our lifestyles were based around jazz. Our clothes were bought to match what we'd seen one of our jazz heroes wearing--Miles was one of the best dressers in the world at one time--in GQ all the time. Casual was a jazz term. There once was a casual jazz. White bucks were jazz. Ballys half boots which the Beatles again copped were jazz. Gold Hamilton watches were jazz. Big long Cadillacs were jazz. And the chicks. The chicks were long and lanky and svelte, streamlined women, but the sadness of it for me, though I loved these jazz chicks, I couldn't get them to love me back. Jazz chicks were hard for to hook up with and keep 'em or stay with 'em too long. They were always on the move or they were inwardly so spiritual you couldn't penetrate them in any sense of how you'd penetrate a woman--and, please, I don't pretend to know how other men feel about women. I'm a ladies man, but then so were most of the jazz men I knew over the years. My best friend the jazz pianist played the cool cat role to the hilt. I mean, he picked up jazz chicks by just opening his pack of Kools a different way. He opened his Kools from the bottom. If a jazz chick learned over and said, "Why do you open your cigarettes like that," he'd immediately reply, "In order to get to meet you, darling." He'd joke about it after a gig at the greasy spoon across the alley from the club over pork chops and coffee laced with cognac amongst his musician friends and his steady jazz chicks. The joke was, "This chick says, 'Jabbo, why do you open your cigarettes from the bottom?' and I immediately let slide, 'Cause I wanna fuck you, sweet lady.'"

Jazz guys knew how to play tennis and golf, too. Frank Rosolino a trombonist with the Kenton Band then on his own West Coastin' won an L.A. Open golf tournament right before he came home one afternoon and blew away his wife and his kids with a shotgun. Ray Brown, the bass player, was a champion golfer.

I feel my time having flown by. Bud Powell, the pianist, wrote "Tempus Fugit" about how fast bop could be played, so fast it exceeded time. As long as a jazz man is blowing innovative choruses he's satisfied at being alive. The minute the gigs dry up so does the musician and life no longer offers any satisfaction. Even the liquor don't do nothin' after a while.

Peewee Russell took up painting after his time was past.
A Peewee Russell painting. I'd love to have one.

And even jazz album covers were art. Some people plastered their jazz album covers all over their walls. Papa Joe's, a New Orleans-Bourbon Street jazz hang out back in the 60s, walls were totally covered with jazz albums (the sleeves). A couple of Artie Shaw album covers were done by Andy Warhol. Those albums sell for over $100 now if you have one. The most famous album cover artist in those early days of jazz was David Stone Martin.
Two Andy Warhol jazz album covers: top: the Artie Shaw album; below, a Jay Jay Johnson, Kai Winding, Bennie Green, Blue Note album; there is also a KennyBurrell Blue Note album done by Andy.
A famous David Stone Martin Clef album cover. The Bird blowin' his ornithology--I like the way Bird's blown one poor bird off his feet down here at Bird's feet.

Goin' backwards back into the influences of jazz music on my life isn't that rewarding in terms of joy--after awhile listening to my old albums becomes sad; yet the music is so god-damn contemporary and hanging around me still giving me verve, and Verve is what Norman Granz called his label after it was Norgran and then Clef. And for many years, the best jazz ever was on the Verve label.

I swear I'm gonna stop reminiscing...but I can't. That era was just too important to let it slide. It was a continuance of the fountainhead of America's truly original music--of course, you see how We the People treat our aboriginal stuff.

for The Daily Growler


Language said...

Don't stop reminiscing; people need to hear about those days and that music. And you've reminded me to blast some Sonny Clark (with Art Farmer and Jackie McLean).

R Johnson- Terry Pollards cousin said...

***********PRESS RELEASE***********

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: Gary S. Pollard
December 16, 2009 (313) 399-6651 or
Dennis Michael Weeden
(347) 221-1124

August 15, 1931 – December 16, 2009

DETROIT – It is with great sadness the Pollard family announces the passing of storied jazz pianist Terry Jean Pollard. The 78-year-old musician died early this morning in The Bronx, New York, after battling a long sickness. She leaves to cherish her memory one son, Dennis Michael Weeden; a daughter, Corby Marlene Swindle and their families as well as a host of friends, fellow musicians, and admirers.

Terry began her professional career in Detroit at the age of 16. She was part of the very fertile Detroit Jazz scene in the late forty's and early fifty's performing on piano with many of the major up and coming players. Terry’s first recordings were with Billy Mitchell in 1948. She worked with Johnny Hill from 1948 - 1949, the Emmit Slay Trio from 1950 - 1952 and regularly worked with Billy Mitchell from 1952 - 1953.

It was during this time she was discovered at Baker’s Keyboard Lounge by noted vibist Terry Gibbs. He was mesmerized by her skills and asked her to join his North American tour. Terry accepted and became a member of the Terry Gibbs Quartet where she played piano and second vibes. Her greatest visibility was from this period of 1953 - 1957. It was then that she recorded many songs with Gibbs and Dick Garcia.

Terry won a recording contract with Bethlehem Records and recorded one solo album – a self-entitled release – in 1955. She also performed with the Jimmy Wilkins Orchestra, John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Chet Baker, Nat King Cole, Dinah Washington, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald and many others. She won the prestigious 1956 Downbeat Magazine New Artist award defeating the great Milt Jackson. She performed at the famous Birdland Stars of 57' concert in New York City. Terry also made American television history appearing with Terry Gibbs on the famous Tonight Show then hosted by Steve Allen.

At this apex in her career, Terry decided to return to Detroit to raise her family. She performed and recorded with local artists Yusef Lateef and Dorothy Ashby from 1958 - 1960. Terry also performed there with saxophonist George Benson, Alma Smith, Will Austin, Bert Myrick, Diana Ross & The Supremes, Earl Klugh and many others. She won numerous awards during her successful career and was inducted into the Michigan Jazz Hall of Fame as a lifetime member. She held a 60-year-membership with the Detroit Federation of Musicians Local 5 in Southfield. Most recently, she was featured in a book, “Before Motown: A History of Jazz in Detroit," by Lars Bjorn and Jim Gallert.

Terry was a female jazz pioneer. She was a very huge part of the Detroit jazz music scene as well as of being part of American jazz history. She was an enthusiastic cheerleader and tireless Jazz supporter who told others she was from “The home of the pros in Detroit.”

Her nephew, Gary S. Pollard, a Wayne State University Governor, said, “We will miss Aunt Terry deeply and will remember her with lasting affection, appreciation, and respect.”


Funeral arrangements are incomplete

Anonymous said...

Keep posting stuff like this i really like it.

Gary said...

Memorial Service for Terry Pollard Set for Saturday, January 9, 2010
Haley Funeral Directors
24525 Northwest Hwy
Southfield, Michigan

for additional information contact Gary Pollard, 313-399-6651