In the late 1940s, local authorities around the country waged a fierce war against drugs. Spearheaded by Harry Anslinger [pictured], head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, a coordinated effort was made to halt what was assumed to be a plot by Communist China to weaken and undermine the U.S. through drug distribution and use.
To federal and local law enforcement, jazz was a carrier, like a rat with the plague. Hotel rooms of touring jazz musicians were routinely tossed by local police, and many hooked jazz stars were arrested and sent to prison. Affordable revolving-door rehab didn't exist yet, at least not for low-income jazz artists.
As we know, a vast number of jazz musicians were addicts in the late '40s and early '50s. The list included Stan Getz, Charlie Parker, Al Cohn, Serge Chaloff [pictured], Miles Davis, Jimmy Heath, Billie Holiday, Sonny Rollins, Fats Navarro, Elmo Hope and many others. To spend time in an institution or prison for drug use was highly embarrassing and devastating for creative jazz artists, not to mention murder on their ability to earn a living, especially in New York, where you needed a cabaret card to appear in clubs.
As a result, jazz was tarred as the music of addicts and degenerates. Jazz in cartoons and movies of the '50s typically was used as incidental music in scenes featuring sleazy establishments, foolish hipsters and desperate women. Of course, drug use was destructive. But the law was probably unfairly hard on musicians and not nearly as understanding as it was toward pill-popping and booze-sodden Hollywood stars and starlets in virtually the same predicament.
Fast forward to the mid-1960s. In San Francisco, the use of LSD was almost epidemic as students checked pharmaceutical books out of university libraries and cooked up batches of the psychedelic drug for personal use and distribution. As rock became big business, the drug culture not only was accepted, it was enabled by a record industry eager to exploit songs, album covers and concerts celebrating drug use.
So it probably shouldn't be too surprising that recent obits of Owsley Stanley, San Francisco's LSD connection to rock stars, were written as fond tributes. Sixties characters like Stanley, who died last month in an Australian car accident, are still viewed by our culture as merry pranksters who rebelled against the Vietnam war, authority and the system. [Pictured: Owsley Stanley, left, and the Grateful Dead's Jerry Garcia]
In truth, Stanley was no different than Moose the Mooch, only better educated and a lot wealthier. And while we're at it, rock record labels, their producers, art directors and band managers have never been held accountable for glamorizing drug use and functioning as enablers for rock artists and concert-goers to keep profits high. Our culture is still paying the cost for their bad judgment.
More Music of the South. Raymond De Felitta put up additional parts to Music of the South, a documentary directed by his father, Frank, for CBS in 1956, at his blog, Movies 'Til Dawn. Here's another part. Or go here for the full series.
Jimmy Rushing. Reader Kurt Kolstad sent along this beaut...
American Songbook radio. For those who yearn for the old WNEW-AM in New York, which featured a steady diet of American Songbook pop singers and jazz, I have good news. On second thought, let Joe Fay tell you:
"I recently launched my own radio station on Live365. It's called Metromedia Radio. I have been acquiring old reels from WNEW-AM New York for the last 20 years.
"I have been broadcasting for about four weeks. We air traditional jazz instrumentals and vocals similar to what WNEW broadcast before it went off the air years ago. I have digitized the complete Larry Greene jingle pack.
"I also have been digitizing various interviews and WNEW Music Spectaculars. In one such concert, disk jockey Biggy Wilson tells Tony Bennett that he thinks his 'San Francisco song is going to be big.'
"Over the last six months we have trademarked "Metromedia Radio," "WNEW 1130 AM New York" as well as many of the past slogans, bumpers and jingles.
"Since we started broadcasting, we are in about the top 50 stations within the jazz genre."
It's truly a terrific station and perfect for background while you're working. Go here.
CD discoveries of the week. You know the posts where I rant that jazz artists today aren't doing their homework and looking for great compositions to cover? Trumpeter and flugelhornist Brian Lynch has proved me wrong. His new Unsung Heroes is billed as "a tribute to some underappreciated trumpet masters." The CD includes Joe Gordon's Terra Firma Irma, Tommy Turrentine's Big Red and Idrees Sulieman's Saturday Afternoon at Four as well as other covers and three originals. This is a gorgeous hardbop valentine, thanks also to Vincent Herring (alto sax), Alex Hoffman (tenor sax), Rob Schneiderman (piano), David Wong (bass), Pete Van Nostrand (drums) and Vicente Rivero (congas). Sample this one at iTunes or here.
Another beautiful tribute album is Roberto Magris' Morgan Rewind: A Tribute to Lee Morgan Vol. 1. Here, pianist Magris works with a quintet that covers Morgan's Party Time, Desert Moonlight, Ceora, Hocus Pocus, Eclipso and Mr. Kenyatta. The hardbop intensity is here, with Brandon Lee handling the trumpet work. To top it off, Albert "Tootie" Heath is on drums. There's plenty of taut energy, but the group never goes overboard nor do they cloud Morgan's pretty lines. Solos are judicious and tasty. To get your hands on this one, email Paul Collins at Paulcollinsemail@example.com. You can sample the CD here.
First off, let me say that I love guitarist Alex Skolnick's new album Veritas. He's managed to offer a new sound that fuses big-beat jazz-fusion with '70s rock. It's experimental and works splendidly. Skolnick's guitar chords reverberate with a jabbing pulse while his lines are decidedly low-static metallic. I also detect touches of Jamaican guitarist Ernest Ranglin. There's much to be said about drummer Matt Zebroski, who channels a massive Billy Cobham feel, and Nathan Peck on bass. Sample Fade to Black, 99/09 and Reflections. This is exciting music that sounds fresh and pushes the envelope without ever smoking the listener. You'll find this one at iTunes or here.
Oddball album cover of the week. Don't knock Si Zentner. The big-band veteran by the late '50s was one of the pioneers of what we now call lounge or space-age pop. This one was recorded in September 1960 in Hollywood. Never underestimate the power of an eye and a pair of legs. Not quite sure what she's doing with her right foot, though.