Last week, bassist Bob Whitlock had a chance to clear his good name. Back in the early 1950s, he introduced trumpeter Chet Baker to baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan in Los Angeles. Along with Chico Hamilton, they went on to form the original Gerry Mulligan Quartet, and the rest is history. But Bob has also been tagged over the years as the one who introduced Baker to heroin, which Bob refuted and clarified in his conversation with me. [Photo above: Substrat 10, 2002, Thomas Ruff]
Interestingly, this part of my interview series with Bob seems to have triggered the biggest email wave, with readers insisting that Bob still bore some responsibility for Chet's addiction. Others placed the blame on Charlie Parker—citing his use of heroin as a major influence on the musicians who admired him.
A few words...
First, I never bought into the notion that Parker's use of heroin convinced dozens of jazz musicians to get hooked themselves. I've always thought this analysis was merely a convenient way for people to rationalize the widespread use of drugs by seemingly brilliant artists. [Photo above: Peripher 130 (Berlin), 2004, by Andreas Tschersich]
People don't start habits because those they admire favor them. If that were the case, we'd all be into something bad. Each of us makes choices all day long, and there is a range of established psychological and inherited issues that trigger self-destructive behavior. Addiction isn't the result of friends or colleagues but of a brain's chemical mix.
Second, Baker's willful decision to try heroin was a matter of his own weakness and addictive personality, not Bob's own issues. Baker just happened to be with Bob when it all went down. There were dozens of great musicians on junk in L.A. in the early 1950s, and Baker interacted with all of them. Bob shouldn't feel guilty, and he certainly shouldn't be held accountable for someone else's bad decisions. [Photo above: Sun Bather, Palermo, 2007, Wim Wenders]
Chet Baker, like many top-ranked jazz musicians of his generation, was a brilliant artist. But like many of his peers, he had a weak personality, which isn't a crime. Jazz musicians in the '50s, by definition, were outcasts and fluent speakers of a secret language known as improvisation. To create the music we hear on recordings, one needed to be exceptional—and withdrawn.
Hence, the music itself often attracted those who were both extraordinary and tormented, anti-social and troubled for reasons ranging from inherited biological stuff to a lousy family life. This isn't a knock. It's an observation. [Photo above: Ein-Fuß-Gänger, 1950, by Otto Steinert (1915-1978)]
Game-changing artists are different from the rest of us. Commitment, self-focus and a rejection of traditional and established values is part of their profile and modus operandi.
Where does this leave us? The use of drugs by jazz musicians owes much to the types of people who were drawn to the music. Chet Baker's use of heroin wasn't Bob's fault. Or Charlie Parker's fault. Both Bob and Chet had issues—as did Parker. It's why they became jazz musicians in the first place. The beauty you hear coming through your speakers is the music of issues—or the way great artists with issues expressed themselves. Enjoy. [Photo above: Photogram, ca.1923-25, by Laszlo Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946)]
Buddy Rich Kickstarter documentary. As you can see in the right-hand column under "Kickstarter" (higher up), Brian Morgan and Cathy Rich (Buddy Rich's daughter) are hoping to raise sufficient funds to make a documentary on drummer Buddy Rich. Here's the executive and creative lineup: Cathy Rich (producer), Brian Morgan (producer and director) and Alex Kluft (assistant director).
You can donate to help them make the film by clicking on the Kickstarter video box embedded in the right-hand column or by going here. Donated funds are automatically returned if the team does not make its stated financial goal by its self-imposed deadline. If you dig Buddy, at least hear-out their video pitch.
For those interested in placing a Kickstarter ad at JazzWax, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for a rate.
Stan Kenton fan club. Ken Bordon of Toronto sent along the following photo and an explanation...
"Here are a few Club Kenton members from 1950 at Massey Hall in Toronto, Canada. It was taken on Thursday March 30, during Kenton's Innovations in Modern Music for 1950 concert.
"I should have stayed home to study for an exam. I didn't and flunked. But I'm not sorry. That's me, second from the right."
Oddball album cover of the week. When you see covers like this one, you wonder whether art directors back then created them just to get girlfriends—or girls they were wooing—into the limelight. Sort of the proverbial producer's couch among the darkroom set. Not sure why the focus needed to be a Breakfast at Tiffany's swell and her chauffeur rather than musicians. Or why, given her social status, she even had to be there, since the driver could have picked up the junk on his own. Did he just light her cigarette with a blow torch?