Thursday, April 19, 2007

I'm Not So Old


I was just fifteen when Charlie Parker died
My older brother took me aside
And said, Kid, it's a bad day
It's a sad day
Well, I didn't know why and I had to be told
Hey, but I grew up
And I learned my stuff
And I learned enough
And I'm not so old

When I was a kid just starting to move
I filled my soul with that rhythm and blues
And I listened to the Clovers
And the Coasters
And I couldn't get enough of that rock and roll
I was growing up
And the beat was mine
And it still sounds fine
And I'm not so old

Then one night I turned on the radio
Looking for some of that rock and roll
And I heard some bebop
Brought me to a full stop
Didn't know what it was but it moved my soul
I was almost grown
And they said it was Miles
I still dig his style
And I'm not so old

I saw Monk dance around the Five Spot floor
And a cat from Texas made the Five Spot roar
His sax was plastic
His sound fantastic
And I went back again to hear Ornette blow
I was all grown up
And he made jazz free
Still sounds good to me
And I'm not so old

Once they said that jazz had passed away
But I go down to hear the young cats play
They play in the tradition
They've got a mission
They play sweet and strong and free and bold
Well, I may be grown
But the cats blow on
And the music's young
And I'm not so old

Most of this is true…the first part isn’t. There was no older brother to tell me about Charlie Parker, and when he died, I didn’t know about it. Actually, neither did much of anyone else. He died on March 12, 1955, and the New York Times obituary didn’t appear till the 15th, at which time it listed the 35-year-old Bird as “about 53,” which was the coroner’s best estimate. My favorite story of that sad ending: Bird died in the Stanhope Hotel apartment of the “jazz baroness” Pannonica de Konigswater, while watching the Dorsey Brothers’ TV show (not Elvis -- he wouldn’t appear with the Dorseys till the following year). Nica called her Park Avenue physician, who arrived at the Stanhope to find a desperately ill and disreputable black man, dying of pretty much every excess known to man. As he began his examination, he asked,

“Mr. Parker…do you drink?”

“Sometimes I have a glass of sherry after dinner.”

From Wikipedia's entry in Nica, a followup that I hadn't known. Because of the negative publicity surrounding the death of this Negro in her apartment, she was asked to leave the Stanhope.

The other part that’s not quite true…it wasn’t Miles. But otherwise, it happened just like that. I was a sophomore at Bard, coming in from a late night of drinking at Adolph’s. Now, what you have to remember about those days is that we had a sort of paranoid protectiveness
about rock ‘n roll. That’s why you heard songs like “Rock and roll is here to stay/It will never die.” Because we weren’t so sure. The popular press kept telling us that rock 'n roll was a fad, doomed to die out like the hula hoop or Davy Crockett caps -- that we'd all outgrow it as we had the King of the Wild Frontier. And for all we knew, it was true. Something would happen to us when we turned 21, and we'd be listening to Jackie Gleason's Music For Lovers Only.

I knew that jazz existed, but I had never listened to it. I had, by that time, fallen thoroughly under the spell of rhythm and blues, which remains my passion to this day. So I came home from Adolph's, and, like the poem says, I turned on the radio. AM, of course, in those days. Alan Freed was gone in the payola scandal. You could sometimes pick up Jocko, your Ace from Outer Space upstate; mostly, we went for George "The Hound" Lorenz, out of WKBW in Buffalo. But this night, turning the dial, looking for the real rhythm and blues, I was literally brought to a full stop. I stood and stared at the radio. Music had never gone through me like that.

As I said, it wasn't Miles. That's a little poetic license. But close enough. It was John Coltrane, with the Red Garland Trio, on Prestige. It became the first jazz album I ever bought, followed by Gerry Mulligan and Chet Baker on World Pacific, King Pleasure/Annie Ross on Prestige, and Mose Allison's "Back Country Suite." The radio station, if I remember correctly, was CKLW, from Detroit and Windsor, Ontario. The disc jockey was Speed Anderson, seemingly completely forgotten today...a Google search turns up nothing.

All of this comes to mind because I've just started reading Blue Note Records: The Biography, by Richard Cook, a fascinating book. More about it, and about me and jazz in the 50s, later.


Bryon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
WORD said...

I love jazz. Unfortunately all of the greats have the same story.

"I was born. I had a hard life. I found music. It changed me. I found heroin. It changed my music. I died too soon."