In the early evening of March 29, 1960, I walked into Beefsteak Charlie’s, a midtown Manhattan bar frequented by jazz musicians. With some surprise, I spotted a familiar figure at the bar – familiar, but not at Beefsteak’s.
Pee Wee Russell, who’d turned fifty-four two days before, didn’t hang out there – or in any other bar, for that matter. He’d done his share of that sort of thing – more than his share – but after his miraculous recovery from a near-fatal illness some years before, he had stopped.
But here he was, by himself, having a quiet drink. I didn’t yet know Pee Wee well in those days, though I’d been
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In this edition, Ralph J. Gleason’s liner notes to this classic 1959 recording describe the epic four week stint of Cannonball Adderley’s Quintet in San Francisco’s Jazz Workshop, as well as the vibrant late-50’s jazz scene in the city’s North Beach neighborhood.
Gleason — who at the time was a music critic at the San Francisco Chronicle — would go on to co-found Rolling Stone Magazine. North Beach (particularly Broadway) — while forever bohemian — would subsequently became the home to Carol Doda and a boundary-breaking strip club scene.
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On March 28, 1965, a concert benefiting the Black Arts Repertory Theatre/School was held at New York’s Village Gate. Featuring John Coltrane, Archie Shepp, Sun Ra (he played but his music didn’t make the album) and Albert Ayler – artists described by Black Arts Music Coordinator Steve Young as “The Beautiful Warriors” and “magicians of the soul”– the performance was recorded and subsequently released on Impulse Records as The New Wave in Jazz.
This recording is significant for its brilliant “free jazz” performances, but also for Amiri Baraka’s (known as LeRoi Jones at the time) liner notes’ connection of music and politics. It is a reminder of the historic, turbulent times in which this music was created. The Selma to Montgomery marches took place in March, 1965. Malcolm X was assassinated in February. The war in Vietnam was dramatically escalating. And, jazz music was continuing to evolve, the most obvious example being the […] Continue reading »
In the days of the LP – and in particularly during the 1970’s – reissue or compilation releases were a great way to be introduced to artists, or to expand a personal collection. These compilations were generally two LP sets, which not only meant there was a lot of music, but also that the gatefold package allowed for extensive liner notes. When you bought an album like this, you knew that the writer had space to write meaningful biographical sketches, tell personal stories, and wax philosophically about the artist’s overall contribution to the music.
This weekend I spent some time with several of these compilations, and the one that caught my interest was the 1975 Milestone Records Bill Evans compilation titled Peace Piece and Other Pieces. The package features the music originally released on […] Continue reading »
On the evenings of April 21 and 22, 1961, Miles Davis and his quintet recorded at San Francisco’s The Black Hawk nightclub, a longtime Tenderloin neighborhood establishment described by Bay area music writer Ralph J. Gleason as “gloomy, dirty and unattractive” -– a club kept proudly “repulsive” by its owner, Guido Caccienti, who claimed to have “worked and slaved for years to keep this place a sewer.”
Written by San Francisco Chronicle music critic (and eventual co-founding editor of Rolling Stone) Ralph J. Gleason in a typically witty and often derisible tone, the liner notes to Miles Davis In Person Friday and Saturday Nights at The Blackhhawk, San Francisco are compelling not only because they were authored by Gleason, but also because they are comprised of two distinct biographies -– Miles Davis as “social symbol” of the early 1960’s, and The Blackhawk as an “oblong, corner-saloon-with music” that attracted a “most incredible cross section of American society.”
The recording itself was […] Continue reading »
In an essential jazz history book Jazz, co-written by Gary Giddins and Scott DeVeaux, the authors describe Ornette Coleman as being “universally revered as one of American music’s most original figures,” and whose influence is “beyond calculation.” In addition to his musical significance, his six albums recorded for Atlantic Records from 1959 – 1961 “generated a cultural storm, not least for album titles that continued to lay emphasis on the group’s challenging attitude, which — without once mentioning the civil rights struggle — seemed to incarnate the authority of the New Negro: The Shape of Jazz to Come, Change of the Century, This is Our Music, and Free Jazz.” Those Atlantic albums are creative and emotional landmarks, and for open-minded musicians and listeners, continue to be indispensable material for measuring our respective aesthetic boundaries.
The importance of these recordings heightens the influence of their liner notes. But, which liner notes best characterize Ornette Coleman’s work on Atlantic? Focusing on the first three of the recordings, in the liner notes to the first, […] Continue reading »
Although Dexter Gordson’s influence was felt by many of the great tenor saxophonists of the 1950’s, due to what is often described as “personal demons,” he was pretty much overlooked throughout the decade. “Dexter was able to consolidate his substantial progress only during the first couple of years in the fifties,” wrote Stan Britt, author of Dexter Gordon: A Musical Biography. “Thereafter, his was to become something of a half-forgotten name among jazz personalities of the decade.” At the root of this inactivity was, of course, that “demon” — heroin. His two year incarceration for heroin possession, followed by the death of his close friend Wardell Gray was, Britt wrote, […] Continue reading »
For the five years prior to the 1955 recording of ‘Round About Midnight, Miles Davis had, according to John Szwed, author of So What: The Life of Miles Davis, “gained the reputation of an unreliable junkie who blew gigs, missed notes, and couldn’t hold a band together.” It was also a time that Miles would regularly try to convince Columbia Records producer George Avakian to sign him to his label — the era’s gold standard of recording companies. After sorting out his contractual obligation to Prestige Records, Avakian was able to do so. Now, Davis had to put a band together. It is what led to the collaboration of Miles and John Coltrane. Szwed tells the story:
On Tuesday, July 19 , Miles met with Avakian for lunch, bringing along his friend Lee Kraft and his lawyer, Harold Lovett. Bob Weinstock (president of Prestige) had bought the idea of Miles recording for Prestige and Columbia simultaneously. As part of the arrangement for signing with Columbia, […] Continue reading »
Thanks to this week’s public airing of the racist thoughts attributed to Donald Sterling — the Neanderthal owner of the Los Angeles Clippers — bigotry, hatred and ignorance have been on full display this week. Sterling’s discussion with his equally insipid companion is most obviously insulting and hurtful to African Americans, but it is also abhorrent to everyone who had the courage to challenge the thinking of fellow members of the boomer generation — as well as (and especially) those in our parents’ generation — who grew up in a world of segregation, taking part in or witnessing the insensitivity and bigotry that is a product of it on a daily basis.
At times like this it is helpful to be reminded of moments in our history when heroic community leaders and artists encouraged our society to rise above the Donald Sterling’s of the world […] Continue reading »
Growing up in the San Francisco Bay area in the 1960’s and early 1970’s afforded me access to incredible, cutting-edge radio. It was the height of the progressive FM radio era, and no station in the country understood its market opportunity better than KSAN, rock radio legend Tom Donohue’s creation that gave a musical platform to breaking local and national acts who remain the backbone of the “classic rock” radio format.
international acts who remain the backbone of the “classic rock” radio format.
While the bulk of the programming exposed rock and roll recordings introduced by the local hip DJ (the voice of Bob McClay referring to KSAN as the “Jive 95” lives on in my unconscious), for a year or two I looked forward with great enthusiasm to the Sunday evening jazz show hosted by Orrin Keepnews, the co-founder of New York’s Riverside Records — by then long in bankruptcy but whose recordings were already a staple of recorded jazz history. His shows weren’t solely responsible for introducing me to the artists on his labels (including Milestone at the time — an offshoot of Berkeley’s Fantasy Records, where Keepnews was head of A & R), but they were a culprit for perpetuating my curiosity of them.
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