Keystone Korner: Portrait of a Jazz Club by Kathy Sloane. I'm too young to have been in the legendary San Francisco jazz club (it closed in 1983), but like most fans I have several great live albums made there. Photographer Kathy Sloane was a regular, and her loving collection of candid shots is paired with a diverse collection of interviews and essays by writers, musicians, and scenesters. It's not a whitewash -- some of the stories are gritty -- and the photos are swinging!
The Keystone was Todd Barkan's pride and joy. Wynton Marsalis was canny to install Todd at the JALC's Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola, for Barkan has always brought a different, non-corporate feel to the Time Warner Center. His florid introductions are legendary, and I was looking forward to what he had to say about his old sparring partner Billy Hart this week. Unfortunately he's out sick at the moment. Most know that he was recently in a bad car accident. He's recovered from that but still not done. Todd said it was fine to reproduce last week's email:
I do not know if you heard about the fact that the bebop health gods threw me another near-fatal curveball a week ago the day after Thanksgiving, and I have been in the hospital since then. It turned out that the metal pins and plates that were used for my emergency surgery in February were seriously infected, and they just nearly killed me with their evil staphlocockeyedness last week, over nine months after we all thought was totally recuperated from the hammering I took on the West Side Highway on February 13th.
Had to undergo emergency surgery to take all the metal and bone grist out of my leg, and now have vac machine attached to my leg to take home, where I will continue with another five-six weeks of intensive antibiotics choruses. An eternal learning experience at the very least. As Jimmy Scott likes to say, "Ain't no use kickin' it, baby, you'll just get a broken toe." God willing and the creek don't rise, I should be able to recover within a couple of months, but "this was definitely not in my contract." Just trying to make the world safe for a little bebop.
I just spoke to Todd. He is home, doing very well, and expects to be back at work mid-January. Before then, regular patron's of Dizzy's should read Portrait of a Jazz Club to realize how much history he has been a part of.
Rifftide: The Life and Opinons of Papa Jo Jones as told to Albert Murray, edited by Paul Devlin. Another essential jazz book. The final time I saw Paul Motian I gave him this volume and he was thrilled: like any drummer of his generation, Paul adored Jo Jones. A few years earlier I had asked him about Jo Jones vs. Gene Krupa. Paul growled, "They are pretty fucking different!" To this day, Krupa owns more real estate than Jones, a classic example of institutional racism.
In Rifftide we hear plenty about what it really meant to be on the sharp end of racism. It's so important to read and remember these stories when attempting to parse today's racial minefield.
Kudos to Paul Devlin for taking on this monumental project, which began with gaining Albert Murray's trust, followed by listening and transcribing boxes of tapes made from 1977 to 1985. But that was still only step one of the venture. Devlin writes:
A tremendous amount of cutting, pasting, and shuffling was required to get this text into its present form. Every tape contained every topic in the seven chapters. The profiles of various people in “People I’ve Rubbed Elbows With” were spread out all over the tapes (in more or less full form; they were not stitched together). The largest challenge was finding ways to put like with like.
Rifftide is an easy, fun read that I'll keep returning to.
No Such Thing as Silence: John Cage's 4'33" by Kyle Gann. As I get older, I have less and less to do with experimental music. But I'll always have a soft spot for the composition that turns any moment into a symphony. Since reading Gann's terrific little book and telling others about it, I've been amazed by how many of my peers still question the validity of 4'33'. To me, it is obviously a great work. Have a listen yourself, right now:
Gann contextualizes Cage with not just musicians but also artists, philosophers, and general 20th century history. I learned an awful lot from No Such Thing as Silence.