Friday, November 24, 2006

Young Again

Remembering Prez

Today, I spent a dundrearied New York afternoon just lollygagging around. Lollygagging around my apartment. Lollygagging around in bed a bit. Then going out and lollygagging around in the street.

“Lollygaggin” is a word I first heard used on a Count Basie-copycat album on the Vanguard label back in the fifties featuring a Count Basie play-like band made up of studio cats like Frank Rehack, a trombonist; Joe Newman, a trumpeter out of the Count Basie band; Basie-imitation pianist Nat Pierce; and some Basie basics, like Freddie Greene on guitar and Walter Page on bass, and with Ossie Johnson on drums. Johnson sang this blues, "Ossie's Blues," and in it he said the word “lollygagging.” I knew immediately what it meant when I heard it—like “lazing around,” right? Lolly—to just loll, dig? …gagging, of course, is passed out with your mouth open maybe sucking wind in with that gagging snore sound. “Stop lollygaggin’, baby,” Ossie sang, “Stop fingerpoppin’, baby,” he kept on singing, “Stop Julie-flipping, baby….” Fingerpoppin’s easy. You know fingerpoppers—they’re always cooler than the rest—lollygaggers with time—dig? “Julie-flipping”—now there’s one that got me. Only Ossie Johnson knows what that word means and he’s long in the grave so I guess I’ll never know that one. One could make salacious guesses as to what it means—like tossing down mint juleps on a veranda at Churchill Downs during the Old Kaintuck Derby, but I don’t’ think that’s what he meant; I can’t see Ossie sipping mint juleps anywhere. So “Julie-flipping” will remain an indefinable compound for me for the moment—or probably for the rest of my life whichever comes first.

During my lollygagging, I got out my oldest Lester Young stuff, from the late 1930s from what seems like 2 centuries ago, with Count Basie, with Jones-Smith Incorporated, with Billie and Teddy, and jammin’ with some all-stars. Oh what a joyous afternoon; Julie-flipping all over the deck. Lester the master. Lester the bester. Lester the alabaster. Lester the saxmaster. Lester the original Lester, born in Mississippi, raised in New Orleans, and cut his chops in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Worked with the Young Family Band, his dad the boss, his sisters in it, his brother Lee on drums, and they worked from North Dakota down the plains into New Mexico of all places, all over Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas…ah, sweet Kansas and finally across the Arkansas into Missouri and ah sweet Kansas City, and first the Blue Demons with Walter Page, who got a pianist named Count Basie out of the Benny Moten Band and then the Benny Moten Band became the Count Basie Band and out of the front lines of the Count Basie Band came this cat, Lester Young, the same cat a teenager named Charles Parker, Jr. used to sneak down the alleys behind the music clubs that lined Kansas City’s 14th Street and Vine and sit in the window sills and listen to Lester blowing sax like it had never been blown before.

And Lester is inspiring me and taking my mind off today and the world today and how today’s world doesn’t swing, can’t find a groove, jumps straight up and down when it dances, and needs Viagra to get it's energy up.

“Every Tub” Lester leaps right in on that one, right after the chorus, a stop, and then jumpin’ right in in comes Lester. “Clap Hands Here Comes Charlie” the same thing. “Shoe Shine Boy” with trumpeter Joe Smith and Papa Jo Jones, the Count, Freddie Green, Walter Page. “Lady Be Good.” And, oh my big daddy Jesus, Lester leaped all over the Lady who was so good she was bad. “Lady be good to me,” and Lady Day was good to her Lady Lester; he was so scary she claims she never screwed him, though he was a pretty man, though, as Lady Day said, not as pretty as Freddie Green, the prettiest man ever, according to Lady Day.

All jazz musicians used to be like outlaws. You learned your ax to the hilt and then you took it around to the woodshed clubs and you started woodchoppin’ like an MF-er until you got your chops down big time and then you went into the big arenas and you got in the middle of the cuttin’ sessions and you cut, baby, you blew your brains out and you either got booed out of the society or you were invited back another jammin’ evenin’, the jams always around, after hours, after the clubs had closed, in hotel rooms, in rich folks’s music rooms, in the backs of chop houses and cafes, or on the slow Monday nights at the big clubs where you could jam with the best of them. That was a jazz musician’s life. No lollygaggin’ in that society. Hard livin’, yes, but no fingerpoppin’, the fingerpoppers, as Mingus said, were always one pop out of sync with the beat. Hard drinkin’—damn right; you worked for your keep in places where people came to get drunk and to be entertained while they were getting drunk. That’s life. Drinkin’. Smokin’. Cigs. But also muggles. The Mezzrolls. “I’se’a viper,” as Cab Calloway and Fats Waller used to sing. And the viper crawled through Lester’s life but mainly it was the whiskey and gin and cigarettes and wild, wild women and a whole bunch of bitter blues jammed up inside him to the point he had to keep blowin’ jazz, night and day, no sleep, just jazz.

“Been here and gone.” It’s not sad when you listen to Lester’s best recordings. It’s only sad when you make it nostalgic and not real.

I started attempting to play jazz when I was 10 years old. I learned it through eight-to-the-bar boogie-woogie first, especially boogie from a young kid pianist from Canada only eight years older than I was at the time named Oscar Peterson. I followed Oscar from boogie-woogie right on into swing and then right on into be-bop and all-out groovin’ high jazz. Through Jazz at the Philharmonic, Norman Granz’s brilliant idea that came to him in 1942 in Los Angeles and which he developed into JATP, all the cats of those glory days of jazz jamming were given public exposure and were given amalgamation, too, dixielanders right up there swinging with the farthest out be-bop cats. And everybody in those days knew what JATP meant, Jazz at the Philharmonic—and in its continuing days it gave you a chance to see and hear playing together Lester Young and Charles Parker, Jr., for instance—yeah, Lady You All, the kid who used to hang in those Kansas City alleys to catch Lester soloing with Count Basie and that same Lester Young playing together, jamming together on the JATP stages around the country from L.A. to New York City and Carnegie Hall—and playing the piano behind ‘em all, always, was Oscar Peterson—and one of the greatest Verve (Norman Granz’s recording label) recordings ever made was one featuring Lester Young and the Oscar Peterson Trio—Barney Kessel, guitar, and Raymond Brown on the bass—and when they needed drums they had Buddy Rich.

I bought a DVD on eBay called Charles Mingus Live at Montreux, 1975. Mingus had only 4 years to live when this was made. He looked good; he was a man of big bulk; but he looked really good and certainly not like somebody who soon would be permanently in a wheelchair, unable to use his hands to write on the piano so instead he sang them into a tape recorder. His band in this video is one of his best young bands, with the unique George Adams on sax, the modest Jack Walrath on trumpet, Mingus’s right-hand, Dannie Richmond. on drums, and the absolutely supranova Don Pullen on piano. This band does one of the god-damnest versions of Mingus’s “Sue’s Changes” (for Sue Mingus, his fourth wife) you’ll ever hear or wanna hear--awesomely sox-knocking-off in its dynamics and genius--Mingus genius. It’s the bible version, man. But right after your sox have been knocked off by "Sue's Changes," and you’re standing barefoot on the hardwood still shivering from the effects of "Sue's Changes" on you and you can’t see how anything can top that, Mingus calls out Gerry Mulligan and Benny Bailey [an expatriate trumpet player who spent most of his career in Europe; he got famous in jazz circles as the trumpet player on Les McCann’s all-American-classic Swiss Movement recording made at Montreux in 1969 that featured the illustrious and unique Eddie Harris on his electrified sax and gave us the bestselling jazz tune, “Compared to What?” on which Les McCann sings—“We’re chicken feathers all without one nut…gotta make it real COMPARED TO WHAT…GOD-DAMMIT!”]

Oh no, I’m thinkin’, one of those F-ing jam sessions these festival promoters always like to throw together—like WOW, let’s put Gerry Mulligan out there with Mingus! And Benny Bailey! Or maybe Mingus asked for them; he seemed very pleased that they were jamming with him. You hear Mingus calling “A Train,” and you go, oh shit, no, not “A Train,” Charles—but, no, suddenly he changes his mind and calls “Goodbye, Pork Pie Hat.” Holy shit, I’m shoutin’, Mulligan and Benny Bailey can’t cut it on "Pork Pie Hat," never! It starts with George Adams, Jack Walbrath, Benny, and Gerry up on the front line blowin’ the melody line—and suddenly you’re caught by it; you can see what’s developin’--and when the theme has been blown through and the release comes for the first solo, Adams and Walbrath pull back and move to the back of the stage and Benny Bailey lifts his trumpet to his lips and lo and behold, the muses came alive in Benny’s soul and Holy nailed-up Christ he started playing the damndest god-damn remembrance of Lester Young! I mean it was just laid out perfect, every hot note, every slur, every triplet, they all fit together—it even caused Gerry Mulligan to do a double take and then look at old Benny blowin’ with love in his sweet face, and that damn Mulligan did have a sweet face even in his 50s when this video was made. And it goes on, this song for Lester Young that Mingus wrote for Prez’s funeral. It’s such a wonderful moment in jazz history for me, I’m gonna get it out and watch and listen to it again—I'm already up to about ten times now—I could listen to it forever.

My goodbye to Pork Pie Hat.

for The Daily Growler

Thanksgiving in Baghdad
The death toll from yesterday's bloody violence in Beautiful "Freedom on the March" Newly Democratic Baghdad has risen to over 250. Praise the Lard for great men of god and country like AWOL-coward Georgie Porgie Bush our decider "president."

Baghdad got no plastic turkeys this year; in fact, nobody from our hypocritical government made one of those famous sneak appearances there this year. Well, Rummy would have gone he said if he'd'a still be Secretary of Defense, but.... Unka Dick asked about the hunting over there--like could he take some of those farm-raised pheasants he blasted to smithereens on this past election day over there and let 'em loose and then blow the holy hell out of them with his vice-presidential 12-gauge shotgun--why, that looks like the shotgun Jack Abramoff gave you there, Unka Dick old Buddy. In the meantime, while 250 stupid Iraqis got themselves blown to bits, Halliburton made another measley billion or two off their contaminated water and dog-food rations for the troopers (who one newscast said were proud to be serving in Iraq on this Thanksgiving--yeah, sure!) and slipshod construction methods and stealing Iraqi oil. A lot for Halliburton to be thankful for. No plastic turkeys for the Halliburton Family. Remember, the original Thanksgiving celebrations were held after the Pilgrims had successfully massacred a whole village of Native Americans--the wild turkey looking a lot like a Native American chief in full warbonnet dress.

Violence sells. Watch teeve, every other commercial is for either a violent teevee series or violent video games or cars you can drag at high rates of speed through whatever city's streets--especially if you're from the hip-hop generation and are conceited and an antihero deluxe--and there's one game where you get a simulated pistol and you can stand in your living room wearing your gameboy apparatus and pop the holy bejesus out of human beings running across this screen--getting points if you shoot an Arab or a black criminal but losing points if you shoot a pregnant white woman or a precious white little boy. "Hey, look, a towelhead..." Ka-blooey! "Got that sandrat's ass. Whaaa? Oh no, I just shot my own mother. Jesus, I would'a sworn mom was one of those swami terrorists. Oh well, lock and load, let's start shootin' again.

for The Daily Growler

No comments: