In my three-part interview with Junior Mance last week, the pianist told me that Cannonball Adderley saved his life while they both were in the Army and stationed at Fort Knox in the early '50s. Which made me think: Junior was lucky, but imagine how many potentially great jazz musicians in the '40s and '50 we know nothing about because they died young for one reason or another.
We know the names Chu Berry, Clifford Brown, Richie Powell, Eddie Costa, Freddy Webster, Scott LaFaro and Fats Navarro because they managed to record masterpieces before they died young. They left a musical fingerprint, a record of their contribution. But how many other exceptional jazz artists remain unknown because they recorded too little or not at all? Or never were able to flower because of car crashes, overdoses, illness and war? Would the history of jazz have been altered if they survived? Would Miles Davis be little known if Fats Navarro had flourished?
The only ones who know of these so-called jazz ghosts are jazz musicians from that era who are still with us. The names of these little-known artists are mentioned like a hidden deck of cards. Whenever I interview jazz legends, they often mention artists they respected and loved but who never caught a break for one reason or another. They'll often say to me, "Oh, if you think he was great you should have heard so and so. What a sound he had. What a shame he left town so young."
It's mind boggling to think that the music we listen to and love represents just a percentage of the talent pool that existed during America's jazz renaissance after World War II. Our album collections might be twice or three times as large if more of the potential greats survived.
At any rate, we have Cannonball Adderley to thank for Junior Mance [pictured]. And we have Junior to thank for all of his great recordings, his good cheer, and his inspirational work as an educator at the New School.
"I met Billy when I came to New York for the first time to visit in the late '40s. The first place I went was a club on 52nd Street. The name escapes me but I had heard it on the radio often while listening late at night growing up in Virginia. I still recall that when I walked into the club, I saw Billy at the piano playing with Ben Webster. I couldn't believe what I had heard that night and the easy-going, engaging look on Billy's face.
"Years later in 1956, when I began producing jazz records at ABC Paramount, I recorded an album called Know Your Jazz. It was a compilation package that featured my favorite New York jazz artists. The first person I called was Billy, who recorded Indiana.
"A year later, I produced Billy's My Fair Lady Loves Jazz. My vision there was to unite jazz and Broadway in an orchestral, hip way, with Billy and his rich style taking the lead. At the time,he put up a fuss over recording Get Me to the Church on Time. Billy was deeply religious and he felt at the time that the song had sacrilegious overtones. Later, he thanked me for pushing him to record it once he realized the song's context in the musical.
"That one recollection says so much about Billy's sensitivity and his lifelong belief that making great jazz was possible without offending or hurting anyone else's feelings. Billy was a gorgeous musician. He was a brilliant advocate for jazz. And he was a spectacular human being."
Billy Taylor memorial. A service for Billy Taylor, who passed away on December 28, 2010 at the age of 89, will be held at Riverside Church in Manhattan on Monday, January 10 at 6 pm. Location: 490 Riverside Drive in Manhattan.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made in Dr. Taylor's name to the organization that he founded, Jazzmobile. Donations can also be made online:
154 West 127th Street
New York, NY 10027
David, Larry, Howard and me. I had the pleasure on Saturday of appearing on a panel discussion in New York with fellow jazz writers David Hajdu [below] of The New Republic and Columbia University School of Journalism; Larry Blumenfeld [above right] of the Wall Street Journal and Village Voice; and Howard Mandel [below], the president of the Jazz Journalists Association. We discussed the state of jazz feature writing and the pressures the "long form" faces in the online world of hurry-up-already jazz journalism.
David's blog (The Famous Door) can be found here, Howard's blog (Jazz Beyond Jazz) can be found here and Larry's fine work on New Orleans and other jazz matters can be found by typing his name into Google.
Hanging at the Ear. Blogger Michael Steinman often can be found at New York's Ear Inn at 326 Spring St. He loves the place and often writes fondly about the good cheer and young jazz artists who play there. Recently he posted about the Ear and captured on video some of the sights and jazz sounds. Have a look at a cozy space that preserves the feel of jazz clubs of yore. Go here.
Max Roach radio. Starting tonight, WKCR in New York will feature its annual Max Roach Birthday Broadcast at midnight (EDT) and running all day and night tomorrow (Monday). You can access this program on your computer from anywhere in the world by going here.
CD discovery of the week: Bud Shank's final recording was made one day before he died on April 2, 2009. The album, In Good Company (Capri), was recorded with British alto saxophonist Jake Fryer. Accompanying the dueling reedsmen were Mike Wofford on piano, Bob Magnusson on bass and Joe La Barbara on drums. The recording has just been released and we hear Bud on a range of standards and originals by Fryer.
If Bud was ailing, you can't tell from this recording. Bud plays hard, giving it his all. Among the standouts are Boppin' with Bud and Agnieszka, a Key Largo-esque ballad with a light bossa beat. What's particularly interesting is that Fryer has a sweet, tiptoeing Benny Carter feel, which when paired with Bud's flinty intonation results in a forceful, finger-in-your-chest sound. It's still hard to believe that Bud died of a pulmonary embolism a day after returning from this session in San Diego. You'll find this CD at iTunes and here.
Oddball album cover of the week: Jim Eigo of Jazz Promo Services sent along this Mitch Miller album from the early '50s based on a TV series featuring Tom Corbett, Space Cadet. No comment on the album's title.
As for the TV show, it had a marching song and a pledge:
"I solemnly swear to defend the liberty of the Planets; to safeguard the freedom of space
and uphold the cause of peace throughout the universe. To this end, I dedicate my life."
Wing along with Mitch.