The Sandke Affair 4: Extensions
I originally conceived of two more parts to “The Sandke Affair”:
3. The Standard Pattern (Jazz, African music, and the blues)
4. Ebony and Ivory (Hampton Hawes with Shorty Rogers, Bill Evans with Miles Davis, Paul Bley and Lowell Davidson on ESP, Leroi Jones on Burton Greene)
However, part three went to Sandke himself, and several people have suggested that parts one and two were too long already.
Indeed, Ronan Guilfoyle has called this whole affair a tempest in a teacup: “I really didn’t think so many serious writers and musicians could get so passionately involved in the arcana of these arguments.”
I can understand a non-American just not getting what all this is about. My sympathies! But the maps of our major elections show that this country is still fighting the civil war.
And the assertion, “Ken Burns, Wynton Marsalis, Stanley Crouch and JALC killed jazz” is not "arcana." It's a popular opinion, although I hope the tide has turned. As I say in the piece, we should not stop looking at JALC with a critical eye. They can afford to take our phone calls. But, please, enough of blanket condemnations. Grow up and move on. Help Wynton Marsalis celebrate the black ethos in jazz. Guilfoyle unsurprisingly notes, “In my recent trip to New York I went to 11 gigs in 5 days and saw hardly any Afro-Americans in the audience.” But he didn’t make it to JALC, where he would have found the biggest percentage of black audience in the city.
(Cartoon borrowed from Matthew Guerrieri, who OK'd taking just 60 minutes from the whole day.)
If I were to take on those projected other two parts, “The Standard Pattern” and “Ebony and Ivory,” I’d make the following boldfaced assertions and spend countless hours trying to back them up. But perhaps enough is enough. Here are the bare bones; further investigation in encouraged.
There is a movement from certain writers to downplay the African influence in jazz. But many of the greatest jazz musicians have said they are African-derived or looking to reconnect with Africa. Their voices must be considered.
At any rate, those that eagerly quote Art Blakey from Notes and Tones:
No America, no jazz....It couldn't come from anyone but us....We made this music. Our music has nothing to do with Africa.
must also include a paragraph from a few pages later:
You should be given credit if the sun comes up and something happens and you’re discovering something. Cats like Beethoven and Bach went through that. They really knew what they were doing. This was their field. The black musician has nothing to do with that. His thing is to swing. Well, the only way the Caucasian musician can swing is from a rope.
Today, it is good to welcome the African influence whenever we can. Ben Street showed me an revelatory exercise where you walk in four, clap an African bell pattern (I use the standard pattern) and sing bebop heads. Don't do this on a gig, just at home!
Also, African music utilizes the oral tradition. There is too much sheet music in jazz today. My biggest problem with JALC recreations of early jazz is how much paper is on the stands. It’s just not that hard to memorize, and would be more authentic without a chart.
There is a movement from certain writers to disentangle early jazz and the blues. These same writers criticize Albert Murray’s Stomping The Blues as reductionist. But I would argue that Murray is really discussing the beat as much as anything else. To disagree with Murray and claim that Coleman Hawkins and Art Tatum are “not blues musicians” misses their relationship to swing. All the best blues feature heated rhythm.
Contrast the most famous blues songwriter, W. C. Handy, to Art Tatum. Tatum’s version of Handy’s “Aunt Hagar’s Blues” is a definitive blues performance not because of Handy’s tune but because of Tatum’s rhythm: Rhythm so complex that Gunther Schuller mis-transcribed it in The Swing Era, claiming that Tatum drops a beat. Tatum does not.
As you can hear, the 3/4 bar is wrong, and bar 47 should start with the mid-register cluster.
“Tatum plays with such authority that what happens next may go by unnoticed except to the most receptive ears. Tatum cuts the chorus short in the tenth bar, inadvertently skipping a whole beat and part of another.” Schuller seems to think that the “one” cannot be played on the previous “four” a few bars in a row, a technique frankly African in effect.
This gaffe comes after Schuller spends too much time annotating just how authentic Tatum was or was not in earlier blues performances. He's simply barking up the wrong tree, as are all the other writers who have claimed that Tatum was not close to the blues.
It is enjoyable and non-threatening when race can be discerned in classic jazz. On Kind of Blue, Bill Evans brings something extraordinarily valuable and “white” to the language of the Miles Davis band. It is fascinating to read what Miles says about this in his autobiography, and also fascinating that Miles replaced Evans with Wynton Kelly for the greasily-titled “Freddie the Freeloader.” A too-little known reversal of the racial mix are some early 50s sessions led by Shorty Rogers with Hampton Hawes. It’s very good music to begin with, but the brief but stunning “black” piano solos make it an especially important historical document. I especially recommend “Powder Puff” and the blues “Morpo.”
With Shorty Rogers (tp), Milt Bernhart (tb), John Graas (fhr), Gene Englund (tu), Art Pepper (as), Jimmy Giuffre (ts), Hampton Hawes (p), Joe Mondragon (b), and Shelly Manne (d).
Amusingly, Shelly Manne (who sounds great throughout) plays the standard pattern on “Mambo Del Crow.”
Two of my favorite ESP records are overlooked because of racial typecasting. The Leroi Jones appellation “New Black Music” for a certain strain of civil rights era avant-gardism has never bothered me because it feels authentic -- although I don’t think it applies to all of 60s free jazz any means. The heart of New Black Music is Albert Ayler. Other music deeply influenced by Ayler -- like The New York Art Quartet, the San Francisco sessions of Archie Shepp with Beaver Harris, and Coltrane’s Ascension -- also seem to qualify as New Black Music.
New Black Music circa 1964 may have been the last time that the black community produced most of the innovators. (Unless you want to suggest the Young Lions, and I would agree...although many others wouldn't.) But in this case they didn’t really provide the bassists: many of the New Black Music bassists were white. Indeed, Gary Peacock was arguably the supreme New Black Music bassist. And wasn’t Roswell Rudd the only New Black Music trombonist of note? (UPDATE: Grachan Moncur III was suggested. I haven't heard anything Moncur was on that sounded Ayler-influenced, but there are some non-Blue Note Moncur dates out there that probably do have the requisite thrash. At one point Moncur's Evolution was my favorite record.)
The best of New Black Music is found on Impulse! and, especially, ESP. Paul Bley’s Barrage is a collection of Carla Bley tunes fed through the New Black Music shredder. It’s totally killing! And underrated. No way that Leroi Jones or Thurston Moore was going to write about that one. Bley wasn’t just white, he was Canadian.
I cannot think of any white horn players or drummers active in October 1964 who could have adequately subbed for Dewey Johnson, Marshall Allen, and Milford Graves on Barrage. A year and a half later on a similar project of barely ordered chaos, Carla Bley and Michael Mantler made Jazz Realities with an all-white cast. Jazz Realities is also a great record, but it’s not New Black Music anymore. Barrage was, and should be honored as such. Most serious Bley fans prefer the other Bley ESP, Closer, which is so “white” it is nearly translucent. (And fucking incredible.) I admit that Closer is more like “the real Bley.” But don’t sleep on Barrage, which is sui generis. Eddie Gomez sounds great on it too.
And what about the mysterious Lowell Davidson? There’s only one record, the trio disc on ESP. Davidson was African-American but didn’t play New Black Music. Instead, he pursued an original and authentic harmonic language that allowed space and delicacy. Keith Jarrett checked out Davidson and even discovered that Paul Motian had mastered free playing when listening to a Davidson tape. But Davidson’s ESP record is still relatively unknown and unreferenced in the literature. Is it because Davidson played too prettily, too “white,” for the tastemakers? “Oh: Gary Peacock and Milford Graves are on this ESP record. But it’s not angry enough, so file and forget.” I love Cecil Taylor too, but wish there had been room for Lowell Davidson at the same table.
Certain white musicians have suffered at the hands of certain critics because they were white. Not too many, I think! And we really need to get an archive of Down Beat covers, reader’s polls, and critic’s polls from the 40s, 50s, and 60s online. The pro-white racial imbalance is bound to be shocking.
But the more that I listen to Warne Marsh, the more I wonder about how he was so heavily put down in the late 50s by Martin Williams and others (like Mimi Clar in the Williams-sponsored Jazz Review). They said that he was out of tune (Clar goes after him unmercifully for this), rhythmically boring, and overly intellectual. It is hard to imagine Williams and company taking the same tack if Marsh had been black. That assertion is going to be hard to prove, though. The critics may just have been overreacting to Barry Ulanov’s endless celebration of the Tristano school earlier in the decade. Marsh himself is to be blamed for giving up and moving to California to live with his parents. But there's no doubt: late 50s Marsh sounds better every year. Someday Marsh will surpass better-known saxophonists of the era like Stan Getz and Hank Mobley in popularity and influence with contemporary musicians. (Admittedly, Getz and Mobley have more consistent bands.)
A much easier case could be made for “The Burton Greene Affair" being single most anti-white racist jazz review in history. It is only fair to allow a taste of Black Nationalism on the table during the civil rights era, especially because it produced some astonishing music. But Leroi Jones takes Greene all the way down. And here I admit to my own racism: I check out almost everything, but I never dealt with Greene. Leroi Jones’s awful review must have been a factor.
“The Sandke Affair” purges “The Burton Greene Affair.” I just listened to Greene’s ESP disc for the first time. The last track, "Taking It Out of the Ground," with great Marion Brown and a rare documentation of soulful Ayler-styled saxophonist Frank Smith, is classic New Black Music. My ears will remain open to Burton Greene.
Kevin Whitehead supplies the coda, from his profile of Greene for Amsterdam’s de Volkskrant in the mid-90s.
In 1966, while living in New York, Greene became victim of one of the meanest personal attacks in jazz literature: a Down Beat column by Leroi Jones/Amiri Baraka, reprinted in his book Black Music, “The Burton Greene Affair.” Reviewing a gig the pianist had played with saxophonists Pharoah Sanders and Marion Brown, Jones used Greene to attack white free jazzers in general, as weakly attempting to emulate vital, creative black musicians. There was Burton, pummeling the strings or bottom of the piano, as “the beautiful writhe of the black spirit-energy” went on and on, undeflected by anything he did or didn’t do. It was a cheap shot—Burton recalls the piano had so many dead keys, it was good for little except knocking—and yet there was something memorably snide about the article, turning an old American racial stereotype on its head: the white man following his simple instincts, to come up with something esthetically naïve and ridiculous.
A personal note: Reading Black Music years later, I wondered if this incident haunted Burton Greene. When we first met in 1991, he brought it up within 20 minutes.
A few years ago, Amiri Baraka came to Amsterdam for a poetry festival. Burton went to his reading. Afterwards, he recalls, Baraka was just kind of standing around. Burton felt sorry for him, figured, what the heck, I’ll be a good guy, and went over. He wound up showing Baraka and his wife around the canals, even bought them some drinks.
They’re talking, and finally Burton says, Why did you write that nasty stuff about me?
And Baraka replied, Oh, that was just black nationalism.
Don’t take it personally.