Art D'Lugoff (1924-2009), a jazz promoter whose tireless efforts on behalf of musicians, civil rights and cultural diversity led to the opening of New York's Village Gate in 1958 and made the Greenwich Village venue one of the most eclectic jazz, folk, Salsa and rock clubs of the 1960s and 1970s, died on November 4th following shortness of breath. He was 84. [Photo of Art D'Lugoff by Béatrice de Géa for The New York Times]
On Friday, a resident who lives in Art's Riverdale, N.Y., apartment building told me that Art was in the process of moving from one side of the complex to another and insisted on handling much of the packing and moving himself, despite pleas by neighbors.
Art came from a generation of club owners and music promoters that was deeply moved by artistic talent and outraged by social injustice. Taking a political stand during these early years came with high personal and commercial risks. But future considerations never factored much in Art's decision-making process. If Art felt that a musician was genuinely talented and emotionally committed, he threw everything he had behind the person without consideration for his bottom line or what people thought.
In the early 1960s, Art was instrumental in providing singer Nina Simone with a platform for her emerging brand of political soul at the Village Gate. "Nina was amazing," Art told me in October 2008 during a two-part interview. "When Nina played the Gate, it was electrifying. Every show was an improvisation. As much as you may like Ella or Sarah, Nina was one of a kind. She played at the Gate for many, many years."
Interestingly, Art's outrage wasn't driven by a marketing agenda. Instead, his fight for art and creative talent came from bafflement—an inability to comprehend why enormously gifted musicians weren't better recognized and why race and ethnicity played any role in their full appreciation.
"I introduced Nina to Lorraine Hansberry [pictured], author of Raisin in the Sun and a dear friend of mine," Art told me. "Lorraine had a big influence on Nina politically. I also introduced Nina to Langston Hughes. You have to understand, back then I was friends with a large eclectic group of artists who were passionate about music, art, literature and civil rights. It was a different time. Nina had enormous courage and she knew she was free to do as she pleased creatively at the Gate."
Art also was famous for smashing together artists like atoms in search of an enormous bang. Naively convinced that all great artists would bond if given a chance, Art's efforts could backfire with audiences. In most cases, different crowds had come together to hear the performers and were much less tolerant of the other artist than the musicians. Pairing John Coltrane and folk singer Odetta [pictured], for example, left Village Gate patrons grumbling.
"Those two together wasn’t an exciting match for the person who came to hear one or the other," said Art during our conversation. "I sensed right away it was wrong. Coltrane and Odetta got along personally. But the audience was clearly uncomfortable."
The last time I saw Art was in the late fall of 2008. He decided to stage a series of Salsa Meets Jazz revival concerts in the same space once occupied by the Village Gate. In the 1970s, Art's Salsa Meets Jazz series was legendary for demonstrating the energy, excitement and crossover appeal of Latin music. At the concert last year, Art traveled slowly from table to table in a cream suit and fedora greeting those who attended. When I asked Art how it felt to be in the same space where so much had taken place so many years ago, he looked at me and said, "Like only a weekend has passed."
Rare Hal McKusick. Sally Block, a flutist and student of reed legend Hal McKusick's, came across rare tracks of Hal's that aren't even listed in his discography. Here's Sally's e-mail to me:
"So naturally I asked Hal about it as soon as I was in the door. He said that Varese gave each musician a sheet of graph paper, not regular sheet music with notes on it. The graph indicated how to play the part that Varese wanted. Then Varese would point to each musician when he wanted that person to play.
"Hal said he had never heard any of the music recorded played back. He said he knew that back in Paris, Varese fiddled with the recordings and did something with it. At any rate, here's the link to the Varese tracks."
Hal confirmed all of this during my quick chat with him on Friday. For more information on Varese, go here to A Blog Supreme/NPR Jazz.
Artie Shaw. Following my two-day post on the Artie Shaw box from Mosaic Records, I received the following from reader Martin Milgrim:
"Wonderful column about my favorite clarinetist, indeed the musician who opened up for me the world of jazz. I was 13 years old when my father brought home the RCA Moonglow LP that consisted of the hits of the 1938 and 1940 bands.
"One slight correction: there were two studio string orchestras from the period of 1940-41. One featured Billy Butterfield and Nick Fatool, and recorded Star Dust, Temptation. The other lasted from mid-1941 until early 1942 and featured Hot Lips Page and Dave Tough, and recorded Solid Sam and Carnival. The personnel for these two bands differ markedly."
Marian McPartland. Jazz musician and educator Bill Kirchner sent along an e-mail following my interview series with Marian McPartland last week:
"A little more on Dick Cary, who played the alto horn on Jimmy and Marian McPartland Play TV Themes (1960). Cary also played piano and trumpet and arranged. He was an intriguing arranger who defied stylistic pigeonholes. He arranged for Bobby Hackett's unique mid-1950s band at the Henry Hudson Hotel. He also did a rare album with Johnny Plonsky called Dixieland Goes Progressive (Golden Crest), arranging Dixieland warhorses in a Birth of the Cool style. Cary also was part of the jazz loft scene at 821 Sixth Ave. in the 1950s, often rehearsing his bands there."
John Coltrane. With the release of Side Steps, a five-CD box set featuring John Coltrane's sideman dates for Prestige, jazz video documentarian Bret Primack has posted a clip featuring author Ashley Kahn and others on Coltrane's supportive role...
Henry Mancini. Last week I stumbled across this clip and couldn't resist sharing it with you. That's Mancini on piano, Plas Johnson blowing the fabulous extended tenor solo, and an all-star Terry Gibbs band featuring trumpeters Pete and Conte Candoli, trombonist Carl Fontana and others...
CD discovery of the week. In the 1950s and 1960s, singer Tito Rodriguez led one of the mightiest Latin dance bands in New York. Along with Machito and Tito Puente, Rodriguez played up to five nights a week at the Palladium ballroom, where the mambo and cha-cha-cha were the rage. While Machito's band had a strong Cuban big-band sound and Puente's featured the rhythm section in front of the band, Rodriguez's orchestra had a dramatic component that supported his vocals. Rodriguez personally modeled himself after Frank Sinatra, singing gorgeous boleros and exciting son.
Now, a superb two-CD remastered set has been released by Fania Records: Tito Rodriguez: El Inolvidable ("Unforgettable"). The set was produced by Harry Sepulveda [pictured], who also co-wrote the liner notes. Harry runs Record Mart, the city's premier Latin-jazz record store in the Times Square subway station. The 30 tracks cover Rodriguez's 1960-1968 sides for the United Artists and Musicor labels that were recorded in New York and Puerto Rico.
The set includes cha-cha-chas like Colando, Siempre Colando, barnstormers like Alma Llanera and one of Rodriguez's greatest mambo hits from 1962, Cara De Payaso, which typifies Rodriguez's charismatic singing style and passion. On all of the tracks, Rodriguez delivers intimate, sensual vocals.
Tito Rodriguez: El Inolvidable is available here as a download and CD, or at Harry's Record Mart store. Say hi for me.
Oddball album cover of the week. It's hard to figure out what "old feeling" they were referring to here on the album cover. Unless, of course, back in the mid-1950s it was customary for women to give their dates massages by digging their manicured thumbnails into their foreheads. Whatever she's up to, he seems to be enjoying it. This Al Cohn album was released on RCA in 1955.