Last week's JazzWax interview series with Tad Hershorn, Norman Granz's biographer, resulted in many posted comments and emails. Quite a few readers commented on Granz's gruff manner and arrogant style. Most came down hard on Granz, calling him "arrogant," "a typical Type-A jerk" and "an asshole."
Time out. Most people who invent or build new things on a grand scale share Granz's characteristics. This is largely true of people who built the railroads, architects who design radically new structures and even musicians who have pioneered new forms of music. These people view the world as their canvas, and they don't let anything or anyone get in the way of their personal vision, which usually has in mind the betterment of society and greater life enjoyment for large numbers of people.
Granz is in this same league. He did more for jazz in the '40s and '50s than any other single individual. That may be a sweeping statement but it's pretty much true. In the early '40s, the music industry was controlled by three major record labels—RCA, Columbia and Decca. Even after the American Federation of Musicians' recording ban of 1942-44, when hundreds of independent labels emerged, small-group jazz was considered regional folk music you would encounter only while traveling on business to New York, New Orleans, Chicago, Kansas City or Los Angeles. [Pictured: New York's RCA Building going up in 1933]
Radio was a big deal throughout the '40s, but what you heard most often on the national networks was swing and sweet bands, pop vocalists, and classical music. Jazz—most notably bebop—was largely an exotic, late-night offering, and held to regions where the record-playing radio stations were based. When the broadcast power of independent radio stations was permitted to be boosted in the late '40s, you could get a taste of the club scene from home hundreds of miles away. This is where jazz's small-group nocturnal mystique was born. [Pictured: New York's 52nd Street, by William P. Gottlieb]
Not until Norman Granz's Jazz at the Philharmonic in the late '40s do we see the promotion of jazz on a national scale as an art of extraordinary quality and ability. In Granz's hands, jazz became a high-culture contender and music of the highest imaginative order played by gifted artists who were worthy of review by the most sophisticated critics.
By staging concerts throughout the country with the best swing and bebop jazz musicians on the national scene, and by linking up with Mercury to record and distribute his Clef records, Granz gave listeners everywhere a serious alternative to other forms of music. By having jazz stars record American Songbook standards, he also could compete with pop. Granz's goals of making jazz appealing to a national audience continued into the '50s.
We don't view Steve Jobs, Google's founders or movie directors as arrogant, Type-A jerks or worse. Likewise, we shouldn't view Granz this way either. Those descriptions are too small and petty for people like this. Most people who create and build great things aren't nice guys or gals. They tend to see others as tools or obstacles to be plowed over. You're either with them or against them. But if you've ever had an opportunity to interact with people like this, you'd likely find yourself a bigger and better person afterward—even if you've briefly been made to feel small.
Uan Rasey. JazzWax reader Gordon Sapsed reminded me last week of another sterling solo by late trumpeter Uan Rasey. It appears on the soundtrack of Two for the Seesaw (1962). The music was by Andre Previn, Jackie Cain sings the theme on the album, and the musicians included Rasey, Ronnie Lang (alto sax) and Dick Nash (trombone). Here's a taste. Man, no one had a more determined and poetic actor's walk than Robert Mitchum...
Ella Fitzgerald. Here's Ella in London in 1965, from JazzWax reader Peter Sokolowski. As Peter points out, it's a Nelson Riddle arrangement originally written for singer Matt Monro, and the band here is conducted by Johnny Spense...
Jam Session. Peter Sokolowski sent this one along as well. Here's Norman Granz introducing a slam-bang Jazz at the Philharmonic session on TV in 1956...
Thelonious Monk radio. On Monday, WKCR will present its annual Thelonious Monk Birthday Broadcast, playing the pianist's music for 24 hours. You can access the day-long show on your computer from anywhere in the world by going here.
Bob Mintzer. Bret Primack of the new Day by Day video blog catches up with tenor saxophonist Bob Mintzer...
Bill Evans in '78. JazzWax reader Pete Michaels passed along a link to a download of Bill Evans at Carnegie Hall in June 1978. Go here.
1608 North Cahuenga Boulevard. Jazz.FM91 CEO Ross Porter emailed me this image from Los Angeles. His email simply said, "All that's left..."
CD discoveries of the week. Mike LeDonne's name always comes up in superlative terms whenever I have conversations with seasoned jazz musicians. His new album, Keep the Faith (JazzDepot) features LeDonne on the Hammond organ, with his working group of Eric Alexander (tenor sax), Peter Bernstein (guitar) and Joe Farnsworth (drums). The tough-stuff lineup results in a hard-driving date akin to those cranked out by Charles Earland in the '70s. The track choices are interesting: There are hip originals along with the O'Jays The Backstabbers, Michael Jackson's The Way You Make Me Feel, Donny Hathaway's Someday We'll All Be Free and Horace Silver's little known scorcher Sweet Sweetie Dee. LeDonne cooks with grease throughout, as does the rest of the group. You'll find this one at iTunes or here
If singer Janis Joplin could also play a mean rock-blues guitar, you'd have Carolyn Wonderland. On Peace Meal (Bismeaux), the Texas singer-guitarist exhibits a complete and rambunctious knowledge of the blues. There's an unvarnished, hollerin' joy in Wonderland's singing and playing that makes you want to chow down a brisket sandwich and onion rings while driving on the highway. It's the music of '70s pickup trucks, hunting dogs and porch sittin'. Dig What Good Can Drinkin' Do, St. Marks and Dust My Broom. You'll find this one at iTunes or here. More on Carolyn Wonderland here.
Oddball album cover of the week: Bernie Wayne on this cover looks as though his mother insisted on going with him to the recording session: "Bernie, enough with the loud sex music. Play that song your father loves." Perhaps in frustration Wayne ripped loose the piano keyboard in the lower right-hand photo. In truth, Wayne wrote the beauty contest theme There She Is, Miss America as well as the Chock Full O' Nuts ad song, Blue Velvet, Laughing on the Outside and others in the '60s. Thanks Jim Eigo for sending along.