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July 26, 2009

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Nick Rossi

Further to your Big Jay comments, I have read numerous accounts over the years of McNeeley's background and proficiency as a jazz player. He led one of the first bebop bands on the West Coast playing alongside Sonny Criss and Hampton Hawes long before hitting it big with "Deacon's Hop". The most recent and significant mention of this was in the "Central Avenue Sounds" oral history project. McNeeley's comments in that book are WELL worth reading for a good perspective on just exactly what you talk about in your post today. Let's also not forget that "Deacon's Hop" was a BIG hit in 1949, which I am sure had quite an influence on the musical choices Big Jay has made over the years.

Alan Kurtz

As Reagan said to Carter, "There you go again." Previously I questioned a December 2007 blog where you referred to pianist Lennie Tristano walking out in the middle of a Bill Evans club date. "Apparently the perfection of the Bill Evans Trio," you wrote, "was too much for Lennie's ego." As I pointed out, imputing an unknowable motive to a dead person has the virtue of being irrefutable, but for someone who bills himself as a journalist and historian, it's suspect behavior. And sure enough, Marc, you're at it again, writing today that Big Jay McNeely "surely viewed himself at the time [1951] as part of jazz's avant-garde."

I've scoured Jim Dawson's book Nervous Man Nervous: Big Jay McNeely and the Rise of the Honking Tenor Sax! (1994), the relevant pages in Arnold Shaw's Honkers and Shouters: The Golden Years of Rhythm & Blues (1978), and Joop Visser's booklet accompanying the 4-CD set The Big Horn: The History of the Honkin' & Screamin' Saxophone (2003), and nowhere do I find any mention of jazz's avant-garde. At the time of Big Jay's greatest hit, "Deacon's Hop," jazz's avant-garde included the amazing 1948 Charlie Parker Quintet with Miles, Duke Jordan, Tommy Potter and Max Roach; the Miles Davis Nonet, which performed "Move," "Godchild" and "Moon Dreams" live at the Royal Roost in September of that year; and the aforementioned Lennie Tristano, who recorded "Intuition" in the spring of 1949. As for 1951, Stan Kenton was leading his Innovations Orchestra in, among other outrageous avant-gardisms, Bob Graettinger's "City of Glass." But Big Jay McNeely? Give me a honking break!

So I wonder, how does JazzWax divine these things? And I notice you're getting bolder, too. In 2007, you at least used the qualifier "Apparently." Today you venture farther out on the limb of unsupported supposition, claiming you know how Big Jay "SURELY viewed himself." Pray tell, Mr. Myers, how does a mere mortal (assuming you are still that) attain such preternatural certainty?

Larry Kart

Marc -- I think you're way off base on the cover for the Patty McGovern-Tom Talbert album "Wednesday's Child" (that is Talbert with McGovern in the photo). The lyrics (by Bill Wolfe) of the title song (music by Talbert) are based on the old nursery rhyme:

Mondays child is fair of face,
Tuesdays child is full of grace,
Wednesdays child is full of woe,
Thursdays child has far to go,
Fridays child is loving and giving,
Saturdays child works hard for his living,
And the child that is born on the Sabbath day
Is bonny and blithe, and good and gay.

The clearly implied mood, handsomely borne out by both the album and the cover photo, is one of wistful, inward-looking melancholia; "urban temptress" and "streetwalker" have nothing to do with it. The cover was designed by Talbert's friend Bill Hughes. Further information about the late (and, at his best, great IMO) Talbert can be found in Bruce Talbot's excellent biography "Tom Talbert: His Life and Times" (Scarecrow Press), which comes with a CD anthology of Talbert's work, including two tracks from "Wednesday's Child" (thought not that piece).

Larry Kart

More about Talbert can be found here:

http://www.npr.org/programs/jazzprofiles/archive/talbert.html

including clips and interviews.

Larry Kart

Ira's point about the residual effect on the listener of Tatum's rapid harmonic shifts is very interesting. Tatum was as exceptional in concept as he was in execution, though it's certainly not easy to think about those things separately. On the other hand, what Ira said does point to one of the key ways that Tatum was just DIFFERENT.

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  • Marc Myers writes frequently on music and the arts for the Wall Street Journal. He is author of "Why Jazz Happened" (University of California Press). JazzWax has been named the Jazz Journalists Association's "Blog of the Year."
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