A Journey Into Jazz: Anecdotes, Notes and Photos of a Jazz Fan

August 26th, 2014

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Pharoah Sanders plays the Village Gate, 1970

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Lee Santa, who calls himself “simply a fan of jazz who is also a photographer” and whose life has been “heavily influenced by jazz’s sounds, structures and impressions,” recently reached out to me via email, informing me that Roundbend Press has just released his collection of photographs, A Journey Into Jazz: Anecdotes, Notes and Photos of a Jazz Fan.

Along with his entertaining introduction to the book, Santa sent me several photographs from the book — all of which I have never seen before.  For example, there is Ornette Coleman at Berkeley’s Greek Theater in the turbulent year of 1968, Pharoah Sanders at the Village Gate in 1970, Sam Rivers playing outdoors (maybe at the Jazz Festival?) in Portland, 1979,  and one of Mose Allison in Seattle in 1988 (about the same time I recall seeing him at a club in Portland).

Santa’s background story is very cool, and is told in his introduction and in Terry Simons’ publisher’s note, both published here.   At the end of Santa’s introduction, you will find several photos he has agreed to share for this piece.

To view more, visit his website

For more information on his book, visit the Roundbend Press website

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roundbend

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Publisher’s Note

I met Lee Santa in 1977 at the Breadline Café in Northwest Portland, a hangout for a “gang” of artists and writers who met there most afternoons to drink coffee or wine or beer and shoot the shit about whatever crossed our minds at the time. Lee always had his camera hanging around his neck and often put it to good use, capturing the scene for posterity, and I soon learned he had another passion as well-avant-garde jazz. In fact, I think the first two words I heard come out of his mouth were “Sun Ra.” Or they might have been “John Coltrane.” Or perhaps they were “Pharoah Sanders.”

You get the idea. Lee was a jazz nut of the highest degree, which was fine with me because like the photographer I had passed through my rock ‘n’ roll stage. Lee was an advanced student of jazz by the time I finally began to listen hard to avant-garde music in the early ’70s. He had joined the U.S. Army in 1965, the same year I started high school, so I guess that makes him about four or five years older than me, which in the fast-moving American culture of the ’60s could have been a lifetime. By 1967, Lee was in Paris taking in the sights and sounds, seeing the ex-pats playing in the clubs, and beginning his informal study of photography. Once out of the service he returned to his home town of Sacramento and studied photography full-bloom. The rest, as they say, is a photo history-this one.

Hearing him talk long ago, I knew I’d met a simpatico character who might teach me something about jazz. And, as it happened, I went to The Earth Tavern the night Sun Ra played there in 1979. I don’t think Lee remembers that I was there either, likely because he was too intent on the music to notice. Well, I thank him anyway for turning me on to Sun Ra.

I also want to offer special thanks to K.C. Bacon, who helped finance part of this project’s development.

Terry Simons (Round Bend Press publisher)

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Lee Santa

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A Journey into Jazz

Anecdotes, Notes and Photos of a Jazz Fan

Introduction (by Lee Santa)

I’m not a musician. I’m not a music critic. I am simply a fan of jazz who is also a photographer. Though I didn’t know what it was called at the time, my earliest recollection of jazz was growing up in 1950s Indiana. My father had a couple of LP albums I liked listening to; one was by Stan Kenton and the other was the sound track from the film The Glenn Miller Story, which had James Stewart and June Allison on the cover.

My interest in jazz and music didn’t really begin until after we moved to Sacramento, California. Our home had a basement where my father set up a work bench. We fooled around with electronics; dad repaired our TV and radio when they occasionally blinkered out, and I experimented with a variety of projects. Above the work bench my father placed an FM radio he had salvaged. I learned about jazz by listening to a Sacramento FM station located in the Elks Building in downtown Sacramento. Its call letters may have been KHIQ. Whatever station it was, it was in business prior to KZAP, which followed it at the same location.

During my sophomore or junior year in high school I first heard Dave Brubeck and became a fan. It wasn’t long before I began frequenting Sacramento record stores. My favorites were Tower Records (which was the very first one and located in the same building as the Tower Theater), Pacific Records downtown on J Street, and another downtown on K Street. Around this time I joined the Columbia Record Club and subscribed to Down Beat magazine. The first LP album I purchased was Gone with the Wind by the Dave Brubeck Quartet and the second was Kind of Blue by Miles Davis. Listening to Davis, I became a huge fan of John Coltrane. Down Beat magazine and ESP records helped me discover musicians such as Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor, Eric Dolphy, Sun Ra, Sunny Murray, Milford Graves, Jackie McLean, Don Pullen and Albert Ayler.

About 1961 I went to see the Dave Brubeck Quartet in concert at the Sacramento Memorial Auditorium, the first jazz concert I ever attended. The first half of the program the quartet played with the Sacramento Symphony under the direction of Howard Brubeck, Dave’s brother. The second half of the program featured just the quartet. Fifteen minutes prior to the scheduled start of the concert, I decided to go backstage with some of their albums to gather autographs. Off to stage right was a room where Brubeck and the rest of the quartet (Paul Desmond, Gene Wright and Joe Morello) and others were busy preparing for the concert. Holding my albums, I walked part way into the room. I was quite nervous and I had no idea how I was going to penetrate the situation. Since everyone was so busy it seemed like I was unnoticed. Standing alone on the right of the room, Desmond looked lost in deep introspection or meditation. I stood there for what seemed to be an eternity, wondering what to do when Desmond casually walked across the room and simply stood next to me without saying a word. At the time I didn’t understand what he had done for me. I seized the opportunity and ask Mr. Desmond for his autograph. It would be a few years before I was able to recognize the implication of Desmond’s gesture. The beauty of that moment, his friendly gesture, will never be lost for me. I only regret that I did not understand it at the time so I could have told him so.

Shortly after graduating from high school, I grew a goatee and starting going to a jazz club in Sacramento called the Gilded Cage. It primarily featured local talent, but the first big names I saw there were Chico Hamilton and Gabor Szabo just after getting out of boot camp, June, 1965. I went with another fellow from boot camp. He was in uniform and I was in my civvies. This fellow had never listened to any jazz before, so this was his first musical experience beyond country music. What helped him to connect was the fact that there was a guitar. Simply put, Gabor Szabo blew his mind. Half-way into the set Chico looked at us during a drum solo and started playing march rhythms. He was saying, “I know you’re there and thanks for your service to our country.”

In February 1964, while working for a can manufacturing company in Sacramento, a coworker named Rick introduced me to marijuana. Because we both liked Mose Allison, he decided to see if I would like to try it. After smoking his pot we hopped into my ’39 Buick and headed for skid row, which is now a tourist trap called Old Town Sacramento. While driving there I said to Rick, “I don’t feel anything.” He said, “If you don’t feel anything, why are you only going 5 miles per hour?”

On March 27, 1964 some friends of mine and I heard of the Alaska earthquake and decided to go to Frisco to watch the tidal wave come in. It was a non-event and since we had smoked some pot the screaming munchies soon overtook us and we decided to get something to eat at Old Chelsea Fish and Chips, which was across the street from City Lights Books on Columbus Ave., just off Broadway in North Beach. After having some fish and chips I left my friends and went around the corner to the Jazz Workshop to see who was playing. I was thrilled to see it was one of my favorites, Jackie McLean. I was there about an hour until my friends came and took me away.

In March of 1965 I took a bus to Mexico City. While there, I saw The Modern Jazz Quartet at the Palace of Fine Arts. Upon returning from Mexico I received my draft notice and decided to join the Army so I could get the kind of training I wanted. After leaving the Oakland Induction Center,
where I was given a physical and a written test (AFQT), I took a bus to San Francisco to see who was playing at the Jazz Workshop. That night I saw Thelonious Monk, another of my favorites.

I concluded my basic training at Fort Ord, California in June and drove to Fort Gordon, Georgia (about ten miles from Augusta) where I received my AIT (advanced individual training). While stationed at Fort Gordon I became friends with cousins of two of my favorite pianists, Andrew Hill and Herbie Hancock. Herbie’s cousin Bill was in the same barracks I was in. I believe I met Andrew’s cousin, whose name I don’t recall, at the base service club while listening to jazz records.

After AIT I shipped out to Germany in January of 1966 and was stationed there for 26 months, first at Bad Kreuznach, then Baumholder, then Bad Kreuznach again. I was assigned to the 708th Maintenance Battalion, 8th Army Division.

Prior to shipping out to Germany I took a bus to New York City to hear some jazz. I was there for a few days and stayed at the Sloan House YMCA on 34th Street. Those few days were, to that point, the best jazz experience of my life. I saw Miles Davis (The Village Vanguard), Charles Mingus (The Five Spot), Bill Evans (The Village Gate), Jackie Byard/Dave Pike (The Village Gate) and Gabor Szabo/Charles Lloyd (Slug’s Saloon).

While stationed in Germany I continued receiving Down Beat and continued to increase my record collection. One of these albums was a concert at Yale University by Don Pullen and Milford Graves. Down Beat
gave the contact info for ordering the album, which was sent directly to me by Pullen himself. The album cover was hand painted by Graves and is one of only a hundred he did. While in Europe I managed to see several jazz greats. First, in 1966 I saw Ted
Curson and Cecil Taylor in the Latin Quarter of Paris and Kenny Clarke at the Blue Note. As it turned out 1966 was my best year for seeing so many jazz greats. Sometime in 1967 I purchased a Pentax Spotmatic, my first SLR. The first pictures I ever took of jazz musicians were with this camera-capturing Dexter Gordon and Johnny Griffin at the Cafe Montmartre in Copenhagen, Denmark.

After returning to the states and getting my discharge at Fort Dix, New Jersey, April, 1968, I caught a Greyhound to New York City and stayed at the Sloan House again. I went to NYC to take in some jazz and visit art museums. As far as I can remember the only jazz I saw this time in NYC was Alice Coltrane’s “Cosmic Concert” at Carnegie Hall on Easter Sunday, 1968, in a show featuring Pharoah Sanders, Joe Henderson and Jack DeJohnette. While in the lobby of Carnegie Hall prior to the concert I met Albert Ayler and his brother Don handing out flyers for a concert of theirs. More about that later.

My life at times has been a wild ride and that is what one tends to remember. Who wants to remember the boring shit, right? So here it is. Some of it may not appear to be directly related to jazz, but may give you a clue as to who I am in the context of a life heavily influenced by jazz’s sounds, structures and impressions.

Lee Santa

February, 2014

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Dexter Gordon, 1967

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Ornette Coleman at the Greek Theatre, Berkeley, 1968

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Ornette Coleman at the Village Gate, New York, 1970

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Pharoah Sanders at the Village Gate, New York, 1970

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Pharoah Sanders at the Village Gate, New York, 1970

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Sam Rivers, Portland (OR), 1979

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Sun Ra at the Bottom Line, New York, 1976

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Mose Allison, Seattle, 1988

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