Saturday, May 28, 2011

Living in New York City: Lighthouses and Hot Times I Have Known

Foto by tgw, New York City, May 2010
How the Old Times Died

Is Shorty Rogers a thing of the past? Bud Shank?

Can you answer this question? I can, but then I'm still a thing of the past.

This CD I have and am listening to as I type this was recorded by Shorty Rogers and Bud Shank in 1983, with a title the Concord recording company (now a subsidiary of a German company) called "Yesterday, Today, and Forever." It was rereleased in 1993 from Germany.

I first saw Shorty Rogers and Bud Shank on a Dave Garroway Sunday afternoon television show called "Wide, Wide World." Dave was into jazz and this edition of "Wide, Wide World" was a live feed from Howard Rumsey's Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach, California, featuring the Lighthouse All-Stars.

Sunday afternoons in the 50s at this Hermosa Beach drinking establishment were jazz jam sessions led by Howard Rumsey, a so-so bass player with a knack of knowing some of the greatest up-and-coming jazz musicians at the time, the time of the Cool Jazz movement led by Miles Davis and Gerry Mulligan in California, though most of the great West Coast Cool Jazz albums were recorded in New York City.

That Sunday afternoon on that Dave Garroway teevee show Shorty and Bud and fellow West Coaster Bob Cooper were on the front line--Howard Rumsey was the bass player and the drummer...well, the drummer was a very young Max Roach.

Wow! I was born at the very right time! I've missed all the wars due to my age being in the cracks when it came to being of the eligible age to go and give my life so that my country could go on ruling over the world as the world's policeman, which we still are in our outrageous collective imagination. And in missing all these wars, I've picked up the progressive best that was going on while all our young studs were off giving their lives so I could continue to live in the delights of the aftermath of wars in terms of music and literature and poetry and Sociology and Economics and readin', ritin', and 'rithmetic. [Shorty Rogers died in 1993/Bud Shank in April of 2009 at 82.]

Rocked in a cradle by World War II, my big brother left his record collection at home with me while he went off to fight the evil Japs (Nips, to be polite) in the South Pacific and China. He left his Benny Goodman and Count Basie and Woody Herman ("Bishop's Blues" by Woody's arranger Jerry Bishop, started me on my way to looking at a piano and knowing I could play it).

I learned to play the piano on a pump organ.
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The Lighthouse at Hermosa Beach, California, 1950s (look at the back of that Ford Woody station wagon--and is that a DeSoto ("It's delightful, it's delovely, it's DeSoto") sitting there to the right of the Woody? It is a Dodge product, that I know--and the more I look at it, the more I think it's a Plymouth).

In those days I was in the penumbra of a high school excavation--whaaaa? Yeah, I'm a poet by instincts, though I'm not at all glazed over by any kind of poetic illusions as to how the language of poets is a universal language. It isn't--poetry is simply an extension of our natural innate tendencies to carry our tools forward to such advanced arenas of usage they become gods. The confused though they know in their hearts they are above confusion in a world of avatars turn to poetry out of frustration, usually a life frustration, like being thwarted in love at an early age.

Poetic love is so different from common old ordinary everyday love. On Mother's Day millions of insincere cards go out to mothers simply because it's appropriate to honor mothers on Mother's Day (it's called "being caught on the wheel of tradition"). But what of those who have no mothers to honor?--no wives who bore children?--for Mother's Day is a male thing, isn't it?

What if you have no idea who your mother is or was? I went with an orphan girl one time whose adopted parents said she was Irish. She wasn't Irish, but her adopted name was--she was adopted as a baby--by a traveling hoofer--an Irish step-dancing tale-wrangling showman--she was his little piece of the feminine side of his precious Emerald Isle. But she wasn't Irish. I could tell by her lost existence. Lost existence? Think about it. Being born and abandoned and picked up cheap from some nuns in Denver--the little piece of Ireland this hoofing Leprechaun couldn't achieve through his kapoot sperm or numb-wombed wife. But this girl, a brilliant girl, too (OK, she was 25 when I met her though she was anything but a woman at that age), was a very fine artist, an artist with unique concepts in her head. Concepts that were of another world than that of the Irish. It was my opinion that this young thing was pure Americana.

I wrote a poem about her:

I stand in front of this tinseled mirror wondering.
I cannot be his.
I do not favor him at all.
My eyes look toward other voices for my movement forward.
My hair dyed Irish blonde knows no other color but that of its roots.
My real parents?
Shorty Rogers? Well, he was simply a trumpet player. He got into jazz during his stint in the U.S. Army during WWII. A lot of early White be-boppers learned their jazz basics in U.S. Army bands--like the Air Force Band led by Glenn Miller. Black be-boppers were born like me, in the cracks between wars. Those just prior to my generation, Prez and Jo Jones and the Black pre-boppers, for instance, were forced to join the army. Lester Young and Jo Jones were both arrested in bars and dragged off to compulsory army service whether they were of that endurance or not. Certainly Lester Young was in no condition to be honorably giving his life for a White cause! Lester's time in the military was cruel. His Southern captain treated him like so much mule shit--assigning Lester to combat readiness rather than letting him do his thing, which was play saxophone--play his saxophone in a U.S. Army band so his music might give those soldiers who were combat ready the inspiration to continue marching on toward either certain death or a miraculous salvation and survival.

So when Lester was struggling with the "D.B. Blues" ("Detention Barracks Blues"), Shorty Rogers was learning jazz fundamentals in the U.S. Army Band.

Lester Young was even in L.A. at the time the Lighthouse opened its Sunday afternoon doors to jazz. He had his own group by then. He was touring the country. Then he had his best years when he joined Norman Granz's Jazz at the Philharmonic tour, a tour which kept Lester in tall-cotton money and also offered him a chance to do tons of recording (on Norman Granz's Norgran, Clef, and Verve labels (using Mercury Records as his recording studio)) and to also tour again with his own small units and a couple of Birdland All-Stars tours and Giants of Jazz tours [Lester's first-ever record contract was with Norman Granz's Philo label, a label whose name Granz had to change to Aladdin when the Philco people threatened to sue him on the grounds his name Philo was too close to their name Philco (Phillips Company), etc.].

So the young jazz pups were gathering out in Hermosa Beach playing their own new inventions. I mean, hell, Chet Baker was among these all-stars. Like I said, also a young Max Roach. Even Miles Davis is on some of those early Lighthouse All-Star recordings on the Contemporary label, one of the several progressive jazz labels that started up in California in those days: Contemporary and Pacific Jazz (later becoming World Pacific Jazz) were the two big-time West Coast jazz labels. The Lighthouse All-Stars having their own special Contemporary label while the Gerry Mulligan Quartet (Gerry Mulligan, Chet Baker, Bob Whitlock, and Chico Hamilton) hit the big time in jazz in 1952 with a gold mine of jazz invention on the Pacific Jazz label. Gerry Mulligan, by the way, idolized Lester Young, and was considered one of the Young copycats, like Zoot Sims, who Lester used to keep an eye on from his easy chair in which he sat in his Alvin Hotel room on Broadway that overlooked Birdland--named for Charles Parker, Jr., though Lester thought it should have been named Prezland. "All those cats playing just like me. Now how am I suppose to play?"

Who might show up at Hermosa Beach on any of those Sunday afternoons? Why besides Shorty Rogers, Bud Shank, and Bob Cooper, there was Jimmy Guiffre (who really was the start of it all), pianists Russ Freeman and Claude Williamson (damn, how I dug his "Atchison, Topeka, and the Santa Fe"); trumpeter Rolf Ericson; and drummer Shelly Manne.

Bud Shank and Bob Cooper experimented with oboes and flutes. It was this pairs's oboe and flute playing that later influenced a whole bevy of flautists from Jerome Richardson on down to Raashan Roland Kirk; and the oboe?--have you ever heard Yusef Lateef play the oboe?
This is all off the top of my end-of-May head. It's going up into the 80s here in Gotham this coming week. A blast-furnace summer is headed our way. Who knows if the electrical grid is gonna blow sky high during this summer's record heatwave! I have no air-conditioning. I've always hated "artificial cold" and hated refrigerated air-conditioners after reading Henry Miller's fascinating Air-Conditioned Nightmare, which resulted from Henry's travellng around the USA. That became his title for the USA. Since reading that book, I kid you not (a Jack Paar catch phrase), I decided to live in the un-Air-Conditioned Nightmare. In the broiling heat of New York City summers I bask in my freedom from US cultural drags, of which I feel the air-conditioner (especially the refrigerated air-conditioner) is one.

Fans. Fans are OK. I like fans. They are based on the reality of wind. The early squirrel-cage air-conditioners were cool--wind blowing over troubled water--dripping water, water dripping down through straw--straw packed into the vented sides of this big bulky source of cool air. Not refrigerated air. Refrigerated air is phony chemically produced air. Think: what caused the famous Legionaires disease?

I have so far three fans in my big high ceilinged apartment with the overhigh windows facing the beating-down force of the from-noon-through-afternoon forced-on-us sun and absorbing in the hottest of that sun's through-a-glass-hotly presence and bringing the essence of these hot suns's souls right into my room with me. My room can on the hottest of hell-fire summer days literally look and feel like a Death Valley landscape. I've actually seen real mirages in my apartment--waves of watery air--especially back one summer when I had no fans at all and tried to survive one of the hottest summers on record fanless--three solid July and August weeks of holy hellfire! I remember clearly the day of the mirages in my room. I recorded that day and how it felt on my cassette recorder--the tape of which I still have--me talking about how it was so hot I was getting slow of wit and rationale; yet, out of sure mad determination, I made it through that egg-frying-surfaced summer whole but with one decision obtained out of it: never again will I try and suffer a New York City summer without at least 4 big-daddy fans--it takes at least four--in the four corners of the room--to keep the room sort of "cool," and believe me, that kind of coolness is the lowest form of coolness, though, dammit, it's true coolness and not enhanced or cloned coolness.

On the other hand, I was born in heat, in the early morning hours of a West Texas August. I was born in a city that had an annual rainfall some years of 0. This is an area of the US that a few years back went through an 11-year drought, with water supplies drying up to the point towns around the area were temporarily piping water from areas with plenty of water over to areas where they had none. Many a summer I've played with mud tiles--where the clay beds of dried up creeks and mud puddles would dry into huge baked clay tiles that you could throw like discuses--like sailing them off into the everyday sunsets.

One summer in Haiti, sitting out in the high-high Caribbean sun by the swimming pool of the villa at which I was staying, I wrote a whole Haitian novella--writing it by hand--luxuriating in the blistering, sweat-wrenching sun--with occasional quick escapes into the coolness of the outdoor bar for a slugging down of Planter's Punches or gin & coconut milks.

My first attempts at serious writing, I was 22 years old, just out of the U.S. Army (there was no air-conditioning at any army post I was ever stationed at), and it was summer, my last summer ever of happiness--in the sense I was carefree, free, unfettered by work, unfettered by needs--and that summer, in the air-condition-less heat--sitting at my grandmother's old 1925 L.C. Smith typewriter in my old room I lived in from the time I was 12 until that summer I was 22--I started writing on my first novel ever, a story I gave a title to--Hot Like Bread and Pepper--before I ever knew what the hell I was going to write about. I see nothing wrong with coming up with a title for a story before you even know the story.

The heat. I love the heat. That's why Hell won't bother me so much.

What I don't like is HIGH heat. Record-setting summers. Like 100-degree summer days in New York City--a concrete-floored sun's bowl--are as close to a true Hell reality as one will ever experience. Hemingway said you had to travel through a little hell to know the coolness of mind one experienced on exiting a little hell and coming out saner than before the experience.
The Next Revolution Will NOT Be on Teevee
Damn, I'd just been listening to Gil Scott-Heron's "Living in the Bottle"--and NYC FM station, WBAI, is constantly running a station promo that features Gil Scott-Heron--in which he calls himself the "unknown bluesologist," and Gil was a bluesologist--a blues man--a piano player--a blues man out of the District of Corruption--so what a downer to read first thing this morning that Gil Scott-Heron had left the mortal coil--and he was only just 62.
Gil Scott-Heron (1949-2011)
The following is a 2009 interview with Gil Scott-Heron, the bluesologist.

for The Daily Growler

1 comment:

languagehat said...

Yeah, Gil died too young. I was just listening to "Is That Jazz?" (which I think came out around the time I joined the merry crew at our mutual Big Eight/Seven/Six accounting patron and started having two-hour lunches like a civilized person -- good times! never to return!).

I too can deal OK with high heat, having been marinated in air-conditionless Bangkok, Thailand, half a century ago. Screw A/C (though I admit I have found it refreshing to spend time in a cooled-off bookstore on scorching NYC afternoons).