The Independent Ear

Arrows Into Infinity

Charles Lloyd Slugs'

When producer, and tireless unreleased gems crate digger Zev Feldman asked me to write one of four essays to accompany his 2-CD Charles Lloyd discovery – Manhattan Stories (Resonance) captured live at Slug’s and Judson Hall with his first band (Gabor Szabo, Ron Carter, and Pete LaRoca Sims) – the idea and the prep took the mind back to my first Lloyd sighting. Like many, my first full-blown exposure to 2015 NEA Jazz Master Charles Lloyd’s artistry came via his classic Forest Flower (Atlantic). For this particular college freshman, that record was grits & gravy, taking me back to the crates for his prior efforts with Cannonball Adderley, Chico Hamilton, and his first leader dates on Columbia. For the alternative music heads among us, in my case becoming increasingly immersed in Sly Stone, Jimi Hendrix, Cream, etc., here was an acoustic jazz quartet that truly reached our over-amplified ears. Not that I hadn’t been a bit of a jazzhead to start with, based primarily on my father’s record collection which I would poach from time to time for my growing dorm room collection, but Dad’s tastes didn’t run towards guys like this Afro-ed (yes, even that wild white guy on piano named Keith Jarrett) crew with the somewhat outré sensibilities. Even the look of the Charles Lloyd Quartet spoke volumes to ears balancing the home-training jazz background with the guitar & vocal-based rock music explorations of my peers, an immersion quite different from the trips Miles Davis was about to take us on during that period. These cats were playing acoustic jazz for God’s sake!

Lo and behold that same Quartet, now with Ron McClure subbing for Cecil McBee on bass, came to nearby Baldwin-Wallace College for a concert date. And what a memorable date that was, with Jarrett spinning and moaning at the piano bench, jumping up to pluck the inner strings, Jack DeJohnette cursing & thrashing on the tubs in the manner so aptly detailed about an Elvin Jones sighting by one of the many jazz critics whose musings I was thirstily imbibing in between (and oft times in place of, to the chagrin of my GPA) my Kent State text books. Meanwhile our leader was leaning into and bending his tenor at odd angles to more deeply capture the muse. I was in the bag, and have been for Charles Lloyd ever since.

Charles Lloyd

That’s precisely why Arrows Into Infinity, the deeply biographical Charles Lloyd film so perceptively crafted by his wife Dorothy Darr and Jeffery Morse, tops my list of recorded material for 2014. (Too bad the assorted year-end best-of lists and critic’s polls I’ve been privileged to participate in this month don’t open those lists to make audio AND video releases eligible!) From the opening sequence of Lloyd assembling his saxophone and his distinctively Afro-ed soliloquy (in the film Michael Cuscuna correctly pegged his look back then as “Dartmouth professor”), through the early days revelation of his mother’s home offering lodging to Jim Crow-era touring black artists, and homeboy-trumpeter Booker Little‘s warmth and wisdom when the youngster made it to New York to ply his trade, the viewer is hooked by the many revelations of a unique story unfolding through Darr & Morse’s loving cinematic prowess. Seeing the late L.A. sage, saxophonist-flutist Buddy Collette recount Charles’ entry into Chico Hamilton‘s band, through Charles’ striking presence in the Cannonball Adderley Sextet, one gets the clear sense that Charles Lloyd was destined to be an artist of distinction.

Charles Lloyd1

The underrated Lloyd partnership with guitarist Gabor Szabo, brought to bold relief by the Manhattan Stories release, is given just due for its potency. But on the wings of the Jarrett-DeJohnette-McBee quartet, Charles made a huge breakthrough. The momentous, chilly night on the Monterey Fairgrounds that gave us the enduring “Forest Flower” classic is vividly recalled in testimony on the impact of that record by folks like Phil Schaap and Healdsburg Jazz Festival producer Jessica Felix, and most compellingly by a gentleman who testifies about the visceral effect of hearing that music unfold that historic night at the Monterey Jazz Festival.

The film takes the viewer through Charles Lloyd’s dark & light days in the relative isolation of the majestic Big Sur Pacific coastline. Stories include the beginnings of the blessed life partnership with Ms. Darr. Superb use of archival footage aptly travels the viewer through breathtaking scenes and the heartbreaking lows of his withdrawal period and his musical re-awakenings, first as a moonchild engaging in hippie musical culture, later as a new age woodwind shaman touring with the dramatic readings of actor Burgess Meredith. Throughout these periods are breathtaking scenes of deep contemplation from the lush, woody, sloping seacoast of Big Sur. The story of the late piano genius Michel Petrucciani‘s pilgrimage to find Charles Lloyd and reawaken his collaborative jazz instincts is simply and elegantly conveyed.
Charles Lloyd w:Michel
Lloyd lovingly cradling Michel Petrucciani

Among the revelations is Charles matter-of-fact declaration that his tenor sound came from Lester Young, declaring to an inquisitor: “That sound that [Lester] had was so tender and so beautiful to me, and I’m always feeling that the world needs more tenderness. I can play strong, but I like something about the ballads and the tenderness that Pres had,” Lloyd reveals. The spiritual aspect of Charles Lloyd, so key to understanding his career, comes through the Indian practice of Vedanta, an adherence perhaps best musically detailed in the joy he derives from the trio Sangam, with tabla master Zakir Hussain and drummer Eric Harland. The film offers great footage of that band’s inner workings, a partnership which also came through beautifully during Charles’ residency at the 2014 Monterey Jazz Festival.

The magical collaboration with fellow NEA Jazz Master Billy Higgins – their Hyperion – is another moment of great cinematic warmth in this 113-minute film. Cuscuna’s apt declaration that Lloyd has a master’s touch when it comes to engaging challenging musical partners rewards the viewer with clips from his succeeding work with Bobo Stenson and his Norwegian ECM crew, bands with John Abercrombie and Billy Hart, Geri Allen‘s stint as quartet pianist, through his brilliant current quartet with Jason Moran, Harland, and bassist Reuben Rogers – including a deep performance of spirituals with contralto Alicia Hall Moran. There’s even some lovely footage of Lloyd and compadre Ornette Coleman shooting pool! The scope of this film is amazing when you consider Charles Lloyd’s fascinating career and ultimate impact. This holiday season if you’re looking for a great recording to lay on that hip, aware family member, loved one, co-worker, or associate, look no further than Arrows Into Infinity.

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Keeping the flame alive with Todd Barkan

Our recent conversation with DC jazz worker Bill Brower (please scroll down for that dialogue or check the Archives listing for November ’14 entries) was in part an effort at highlighting the often overlooked but very important contributions to keeping the jazz flame lit by good folks who labor beyond the bandstand; namely those culture workers who set the stage and make it possible for jazz artists to ply their craft and enlighten audiences with their artistry. One such culture worker is Todd Barkan. You may remember him from his days operating the now-classic, legendary San Francisco jazz club the Keystone Korner. Others may know him for his travels with the great Rahsaan Roland Kirk. Still others may know him from his more recent curatorial exploits and as your genial host at Dizzy’s Club the spiritual anchor of Jazz at Lincoln Center.

A few weeks back JazzTimes asked me to capture a few recollections of the late, great drummer Idris Muhammad from one of his erstwhile employers, NEA Jazz Master Lou Donaldson. In town for a sold-out concert performance at the Kennedy Center’s jazz-friendly Terrace Theatre, Lou was happy to oblige with some Idris reminiscences that will appear in the upcoming annual JazzTimes obit issue that includes first-person recollections of some of the more notable musicians who’ve passed on to ancestry in the preceding year. Hanging out with Lou backstage that evening was Todd Barkan, who has produced some Lou Donaldson records and works with the great master. Spotting Todd at the Terrace suggested that some questions were in order for one of the most tireless jazz workers in the business.

Todd Barkan-Gerald Wilson @ Dizzy's
Todd Barkan with Sonny Rollins

How did you go about developing the Keystone Korner to the point where it achieved legendary status?
By day, I was working full time as a Customs Broker for the venerable San Francisco firm of Hoyt, Shepston & Sciaroni; close to seven nights a week, I also worked as the pianist for the Afro-Cuban jazz band, Kwane & The Kwan-Ditos. On a Monday afternoon in July of 1972, I brought our press kit and cassette tape to the owner of a North Beach blues bar called Keystone Korner, which was next door to a major SF police station. Keystone Korner’s owner, Freddie Herrera, told me that “I don’t really like jazz, and it really doesn’t draw and that audience doesn’t buy any beer,” but then he really surprised me by ingenuously asking “why don’t you just buy this club and hire your own band? I gotta sell this joint ’cause I’m planning on opening a big rock club in Berkeley and I have to come up with a bit more cash to nail down the deal this week.”

I told him that I only had $8,000 to my name that I was saving up for a planned trip to Europe, but he told me to bring my check book back on Wednesday, and he would see what he could do. I came back by in a couple of days with a lawyer buddy, and Mr. Herrera wound up selling me the lease to the club for $12,500, with $5000 down and $400 a month, plus $750 to transfer the beer license over into my name. There I was at the age of 25 as the sole owner of a jazz club, with absolutely no experience in that kind of business except as a musician who played in a lot of bars, army bases, and all kinds of dives all over the Bay Area. To help me get off the ground, Freddy Herrera gave me a couple of free nights with the Jerry Garcia/Merl Saunders Band “because they owe me a couple of favors for canceling recently.”

San Francisco’s Jazz Workshop and Basin Street West had just gone belly up, the Both/And was on its last legs, and the Fillmore West and Rock’n”Roll Scene were flying high in 1972, so everybody thought I was nuts for starting a new jazz club then, but I was just naive, idealistic, and insanely hardworking enough to feel I could make it work. Jerry Garcia had a guy who did nothing but roll joints dipped in hash oil, and the music was ear-splittingly loud, but after that psychedelic swing with Merl Sanders we got a bit more four/four with violinist Michael White with Ray Drummond, Kenneth Nash, and Ed Kelly, and then Bobby Hutcherson with George Cables, Herbie Lewis, and
Billy Higgins. I brought in McCoy Tyner‘s Quartet from New York with Sonny Fortune, Calvin Hill, and Alphonse Mouzon, for two weeks, and we were off to the races!

Keystone Korner flier 1

In order to set up the gig with McCoy Tyner, I got Jimmy Lyons to book Tyner’s band at the Monterey Jazz Festival before our Keystone gig, and we took 10,000 McCoy At The Keystone flyers down to the Festival and plastered every set of windshield wipers and storefronts in that whole town to help put our hippy jazz club on the map, and we kept doing that kind of street poster guerrilla marketing for Keystone Korner for the next eleven years all over the greater San Francisco Bay Area with a whole network of jazz volunteers.

Make no mistake about it: Keystone Korner was above and beyond anything else a total labor of love in every possible way. All the folks who worked there were either musicians or passionate jazz maniacs; even the janitor was a bebopper. We had psychedelic murals on all the inner and outer walls, and air purifiers (ionizers) to take the pot and cigarette smoke out of the air for the comfort of the patrons who did not smoke. Most of us worked seven days and nights a week, 52 weeks a year. When we simply paid the rent, the phone bill, the state sales tax, and all the band fees, it was a cause of real and sincere celebration.

Todd-Shelley Manne

When Miles Davis played one of several gigs he did at the Keystone in 1975, we paid him the astronomical fee (for us) of $12,500 for the week (all in cash of course) by Saturday night of the six-night engagement. On Sunday night, Miles’ road manager and percussionist, Mtume, brought me back one envelope with $2500 in it because, as Mtume explained, “We just played in Japan, so we’re okay, but Miles thinks you need this money at this point much more than he does.” Miles was right, and that certainly helped to pay the bills. That is the kind of place it was.

All ages were welcome because we had two very successful benefit concerts for the Keystone at the 3500-hundred-seat Paramount Theatre in Oakland early on in our eleven-year-run: first, the Black Classical Music Society with Freddie Hubbard, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, McCoy Tyner, Ron Carter, and Elvin Jones raised over $80,000 to help buy a hard liquor license in February of 1975, and then the bands of George Benson (with a string Quartet) and Grover Washington, Jr., teamed up to generate the revenue for a full kitchen to enable us to serve minors.

Starting with Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s historic recording “Bright Moments,” Keystone Korner’s international reputation as a consistently warm and welcoming home for the music was greatly enhanced and accelerated by countless high quality live recordings by the likes of Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers, Tete Montoliu, McCoy Tyner, Yusef Lateef, Stan Getz, Freddie Hubbard, Zoot Sims, Bobby Hutcherson, Joe Henderson, Cedar Walton, Dexter Gordon, Woody Shaw, and Bill Evans, and regular New Year’s Eve broadcasts by National Public Radio really helped to spread the word as well.

Todd Barkan
L to R: Dexter Gordon, Max Roach, Todd Barkan, Bobby Hutcherson, Eddie Henderson – Keystone Korner salad days

When the Keystone Korner closed how was shifting your focus to New York the obvious move?
The Keystone Korner closed in 1983 because we could not afford to renew the lease, but that was the year that Randall Kline and SFJAZZ were just starting to present concerts in the Bay Area, and Yoshi’s in Oakland was also just beginning to be a very important keeper of the flame. My longtime friend and colleague Michael Cuscuna provided invaluable assistance for my move that year to the Jazz Capital of the World, where I started managing the Boys Choir of Harlem and producing several hundred jazz recordings in New York City for both Japanese and American record companies, especially Fantasy/Prestige/Milestone Records. Because so many centrally important people in the jazz world live and work regularly in New York, I felt I was coming “back home” when I moved to NYC over thirty years ago, even though I had grown up in Columbus, Ohio, where I was blessed to have Rahsaan Roland Kirk as a mentor, and I worked on my first jazz concerts at Oberlin College, in Oberlin, Ohio, before I drove out to San Francisco in a 1941 Cadillac looking for Paladin during the Summer of Love in 1967.

What have been some of your biggest successes since you got to NYC?
While I was serving as the Manager of the Boys Choir of Harlem from 1985-1990, I really enjoyed helping to start up and build their international touring program and working on very memorable recordings with Dr. Walter J. Turnbull and the Choir with Kathleen Battle, Kenny Burrell, Billy Taylor, Grady Tate, and the St. Luke’s Orchestra. On my wall at home is a little wood’n’brass plaque that means more to me than almost any other recognition (far more than any Grammy or Japanese Gold Disc from Swing Journal) I’ve received in the 50+ years that I’ve worked with our music. It reads “The Boys Choir of Harlem Parents Association 2nd Annual Merit Award presented to Todd C. Barkan in recognition for your outstanding service to the boys and girls of the Boys Choir of Harlem, Inc. February 26, 1989.” I am so proud of the fact almost all our kids graduated from high school, and most of them went to college.

I’m also very proud of having served as an Artistic Administrator at Jazz at Lincoln Center and the Programming Director of Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola at JALC from 2001 to 2012. When Wynton Marsalis first started working with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers in 1981, I introduced him to the President of Columbia Jazz Records, Dr. George Butler, in my office at Keystone Korner in San Francisco. I was very honored and happy when Wynton called upon me in 2000 to work at JALC and to prepare to be a central engine to get Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola off the ground and to help build it into one of the premier international jazz venues in the world. Serving Jazz at Lincoln Center in innumerable ways for twelve years was one of the most satisfying experiences of my life in music.

Todd Barkan-Sonny Rollins
Todd Barkan and Gerald Wilson onstage at Dizzy’s

Equally satisfying have been the wonderful opportunity and privilege to work extensively on both recordings and touring with very special creative artists and friends like Chico O’Farrill, Bebo Valdes, Grover Washington, Jr., Jerry Gonzalez & The Fort Apache Band, and Freddy Cole, and the blessing to program the Keystone Korner Tokyo in the early 1990s.

On the recording side you’ve done a lot of producing. More recently at least part of your efforts have been to unearth sessions recorded live at the Keystone Korner for release. Were those simply happy circumstances or at the time you were running the club did you have eyes to make a series of recordings made live at the club? And what was it about that club that made it a good recording environment? Will there be more recordings caught live at the Keystone Korner?
Between 1972-1983, there were quite a few commercial live recording sessions at Keystone Korner by Rahsaan Roland Kirk & The Vibration Society, McCoy Tyner Quintet, Yusef Lateef Quartet with Kenny Barron, Bob Cunningham, and Tootie Heath, Tete Montoliu Trio with Herbie Lewis and Billy Higgins, Sonny Stitt with Cedar Walton, Freddie Hubbard with Bobby Hutcherson and Joe Henderson, Stan Getz Quartet, Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers with Wynton Marsalis and Bobby Watson, and Paquito D’Rivera Quintet, but all the rest of the live recordings released from the club were simply archival recordings (mostly cassettes). Some of my favorites are the final 16 cds by the Bill Evans Trio with Marc Johnson and Joe LaBarbera; All The Way Live, the only time Eddie Harris and Jimmy Smith ever recorded together; and The Magic of Two, extraordinary piano duets by Tommy Flanagan and Jaki Byard. There will be a lot more very special live recordings released with great care in the years to come.

Since you left Dizzy’s, what’s been the focus of your activities?
Since I left Jazz at Lincoln Center two years ago, I have been working a lot on a book of memoirs about my first 50 years of being lucky enough to make the world a little more safe for bebop. In 2103, I produced another one hundred nights of live jazz presentations in New York City, at both the IRIDIUM JAZZ CLUB (” KEYSTONE KORNER PRESENTS”) and 54 BELOW (“THE WBGO JAZZ SERIES”).

In 2014, I was thrilled to be hired as Programming Director for the Creative City Collaborative and Arts Garage in Delray Beach and Pompano Beach, Florida, and for the last five years I have really enjoyed working for THE JAZZ CRUISE 2011-2015 which originates in Fort Lauderdale. I give a jazz video lecture each morning on the Cruise besides programming two on-board television channels with 24-hours-a-day for 7 days of the best jazz videos I know in the world, as well as emceeing a couple of dozen concerts at sea.

As one who has so often ‘set the stage’, what in your estimation have been some of the most important developments in presenting jazz since your Keystone Korner days?
I think one of the greatest, and ever-increasing challenges to presenting this music and perpetuating this awesome legacy to try to help it grow ever stronger is to provide as many live and loving venues for the music to be created and nurtured in. In an evermore sensorily-bombarded, ADDS world overwhelmed with so much indiscriminate mediocrity, it is much harder than ever for true quality to break through and find a substantial audience, which just means we must persevere and be more creative and resourceful than ever in how we get the best art out there.

While I was at Dizzy’s Club, I strove very, very consistently to substantially help great young artists such as Cyrille Aimee, Elio Villafranca, Brianna Thomas, Edmar Castaneda, Christian Sands, Sharel Cassity, Cecile McLorin Salvant, Aaron Diehl, Ulysses Owens, Jr.and others. They are an important part of the real future of our music. Take care of the music, and the music will take care of all of us.

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Adventures in Beirut

African Rhythms cover

Awaking at a leisurely hour on Thanksgiving morning – as a couple of empty-nesters with no major feast-preparation and an invitation to join friends for a big family repast that afternoon should be prone to do – after perusing the day’s Washington Post sports page hoo-haw over the latest benching of the Washington NFL team’s fallen prodigy quarterback RGlll, I notice a Metro section front page Obituary teaser on the passing of the legendary Arab singer-actress Sabah (read her obit here:

Instantly the mind drifted back to Randy Weston’s vivid and fairly humorous recounting of his very positive encounter with Sabah for his autobiography “African Rhythms” (2010, Composed by Randy Weston, Arranged by Willard Jenkins for Duke University Press). I quickly emailed Randy (a dedicated email avoider), who was enjoying a few days in his beloved Morocco, via his wife Fatou to give them the news. As I should have suspected, the tireless news junkie was already informed about Sabah’s passing at 87.

Sabah’s passing specifically took me back to Chapter 9 of “African Rhythms,” sub-titled Touring The Motherland. That particular chapter is full of great stories on Randy’s triumphant 1967 first tour of Africa, specifically performances in Senegal, Cameroon, Gabon, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco and side trips to Beirut, Lebanon and Damascus, Syria. The political climate in Syria in ’67 was volatile (as things change, so they remain the same!) enough to cancel that leg of the tour, but as you are about to read, Beirut was an interesting high point, owed mainly to memories of Randy’s encounter with the flamboyant Sabah. Listening to Randy’s recollections of his encounter with Sabah in Beirut brought back memories of my late Uncle George Weaver, who had been one of the first African American members of a presidential cabinet, serving as Assistant Secretary of Labor under President Kennedy. The first world traveler I ever met, Uncle George would often muse aloud about what a great and swinging city Beirut had been back in the ’50s and ’60s, a veritable Las Vegas of the Middle East.

Randy Weston’s Sextet for that very important tour included bassist Bill (aka Vishnu) Wood, drummer Ed Blackwell (who would eventually make the Moroccan migration with Weston), hand drummer Chief Bey, and tenor man Clifford Jordan. In the chapter Randy details his logic for including Chief Bey was inspired by the Dizzy Gillespie/Chano Pozo collaboration and the fact that when encountering African audiences with varying degrees of jazz interest and immersion, he knew Chief Bey’s drums would connect. “That drum is their instrument. They may not be so sure about the origins of the other instruments, but when they see that hand on that drum they know that’s theirs. I would never have gone to Africa any other way,” reasoned Weston in Chapter 9. The drum message of Weston’s music was further broadened by the sixth member of the band, Randy’s teenaged conga playing son Azzedin Weston, who also made the tour.

The Sabah experience in Beirut came just after their visit to Algiers. Upon arrival in Algiers they were greeted by this example of eager anticipation in the newspaper El Moujahid: “For the first time since independence we can hear jazz, true jazz for, in spite of what some friends have said, we cannot call Woody Herman‘s music jazz. Tuesday evening, then , at the Ibn Khaldoun Hall, the Randy Weston Sextet will give us our first jazz concert, an event not to be misused by any jazz fan.” Here’s the Chapter 9 excerpt on the encounter with Sabah, in Randy Weston’s own voice. But first, this classic Sabah performance video clip.

Beirut, Lebanon was simply extraordinary. First of all it’s a fantastic city. They gave a big party for us and while I’m standing there greeting people this kinda well-built blonde woman came over to me and said “Mr. Weston, we’re so happy to have you in Beirut and we really love your music.” She said “my name is Sabah, I’m a singer.” Later on I asked somebody who she was and they said she’s one of the great Arab singers. So when we got ready to leave the party I walked up to her and said I would really like to hear her sing sometime. She said “well, this Saturday we’re having a benefit concert featuring all the great Arab artists; they’re coming to Beirut to play a benefit for orphaned children. Again, another example of our natural responsibilities as musicians; you see this in Africa, you see it everywhere.

Sabah arranged to pick me up at my hotel at 8:00. I got dressed real sharp and told Azzedin, who was napping in the bed at the time, “c’mon, get up and go with me so we can experience this night of Arab culture.” He said “no pop, I’m tired and I want to sleep.” I went downstairs and Sabah was standing there waiting, wearing a magnificent caftan, decked out in jewels. We went out to her big chauffer driven limousine, her two sisters were sitting in the back of the limo and they were decked out too. These caftans they had on must have cost thousands of dollars. I’d never seen stuff like this before!

We got in the car and drove to this theater for the benefit concert, featuring artists from all over the Arab world. When we arrived the place was absolutely jammed with people. I’m looking at this mass of people, this scene, and asking myself “what in the hell am I doing here?” Next thing I know the crowd recognized Sabah and came running over to our limousine and started rocking the car, pressing their faces to the windshield and the side windows. Coming out of my culture, I’m thinking they’re coming to get me! I’m sitting there in panic mode. This mob is screaming in Arabic and I don’t know what they’re talking about. I said “what’s happening?” Sabah casually said “oh, those are just my fans.”
The chauffer turned the car around and took off down the street with people bouncing all over the place. He put the pedal to the metal and drove around to the back of the theater in the dark somewhere, parked the car and told her “I’ll be right back, I’m going to find out what’s the best way to get you in this theater.” So we’re sitting in the dark talking and I’m thinking to myself “man, what kinda scene am I in now?” Next thing we know we see two or three guys walking in the shadows, they see our car, recognize Sabah and here come these cats again. The door was slightly open and we were struggling trying to close it, it was like a scene out of a Charlie Chaplin movie. I was tripping out! Finally the chauffer comes running back to the car and we took off down the street.

When we eventually got into the theater the Lebanese army was holding the people back on both sides of a red carpet. What kinda scene is this!?! We got outta the car and I’m walking with these three women, one a major star. This scene was like science fiction to me. We got inside the theater and she took me backstage to introduce me to all these great Arab singers, dancers and so forth. When it came time for Saba to go on I noticed her pacing back and forth. I asked “are you alright?” She said “I always get nervous before I perform.” That struck me because sometimes you don’t even know you’re getting nervous, but you’ve gotta go out there like everything is cool.
She sang beautifully and you know how those Arab singers are; they hit a note and it takes a half-hour to get to the bottom! She was wonderful! After the concert we all got back in the limo and drove to this nightclub that must have held about 500 people. I walked in with these three ladies and all of a sudden everybody in the nightclub got up and began applauding! The next day I went to her house and hung out with her. This place was opulent, with emeralds in the ashtray and rugs so thick and plush that when you stepped on them its like you’re sinking down into a hole. We had a good laugh when she told me they all wanted to know who this black guy was that she’d been with the night before!
Our band played at the American university in Beirut twice.

[From a State Department memo from the American embassy
In Beirut, Lebanon dated 4/14/67]:
Both concerts were smash successes. On March 20, the sextet
presented their “History of Jazz” concert to an audience of
approximately 700 persons, most of them students. Numbers
were frequently interrupted by applause and Escort Officer
Harry Hirsch stated after the performance that the group had
Received its best reception of the tour. The next morning the
French daily Le Jour carried a picture of the concert of its
first page and the following comment by its music critic, one of
the two or three most respected in Lebanon:

Finally, some jazz! Pure, true presented
Brilliantly, raucously, modulatedly… making
Every note afire… Randy Weston and his
Sextet presented last night at A.U.B. a
Perfect lesson on true jazz, its African ancestry
and its development today, tracing through
spirituals, blues, swing, bop and “free jazz”
all the particulars which make this Negro American
music the “chant profound” of the whole world.
Randy Weston and his musicians explode with the
joy of living and playing. Go hear them Wednesday:
it’s not every day that we are able to hear other
than the pale by-products of jazz.

I met some Palestinian people and they took me to a Palestinian refugee camp. I saw the suffering of these people, which touched me very deeply. I also met some of the young Palestinian poets and writers and met some composers, including one who had invented a 12-tone piano, a piano on which you could add more notes between the keys to play Arabic music.

“African Rhythms”, the autobiography of Randy Weston (Composed by Randy Weston, Arranged by Willard Jenkins) was published in 2010 by Duke University Press. This book also has a French edition and will be released in a paperback edition by Duke University Press in early 2015.

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Notes from a keen observer & scene maker

Bill Brower: Notes from a keen observer & scenemaker
Interview by Willard Jenkins

Several months ago the Independent Ear featured a post about a very special edition of Washington History, the publication of The Historical Society of Washington, DC. That issue, subtitled “Jazz In Washington,” was edited by Prof. Maurice Jackson and Blair Ruble and included revealing, important contributions on such colleagues as Rusty Hassan, John Hasse, Michael Fitzgerald, and the editors on various important historic elements of DC’s rich jazz history. For reasons related to a happy new personal development which I’ll detail later, I’ve been contemplating Washington’s place on the jazz map and the people who keep the music vital in our nation’s capital. These include not only the exceptional family of current & future DC jazz artists, but also those who broadcast the music and generally set the stage for our exceptional corps of resident and visiting jazz artists. From an obvious personal perspective, I’ve long felt that those who set the figurative stage for those artists too often remain anonymous; thankfully editors Jackson and Ruble in their wisdom agreed. So for that issue of Washington History I was assigned to interview Bill Brower, an old friend & colleague who has witnessed much of DC’s jazz history for over four decades, one who most assuredly has been a scenester and stage setter in his own way – and an Ohio homeboy to boot! So just in case you missed that issue of Washington History (additional information: visit, here’s my contribution on Bill Brower.

Bill Brower
For the past 40+ years jazz historian Bill Brower, a native of Toledo, OH, has been a true DC jazz community renaissance man. He has been a jazz journalist-critic, occasional broadcaster, concert, festivals and jazz event producer, an event technical producer, and all-around scene maker. We interviewed Bill one afternoon in his N.E. DC kitchen, just a few short steps from a room packed with records, CDs and books on jazz and various sundry subjects, at his capital hill home just blocks from Union Station.

When did you arrive in DC and what brought you here?
I came here in the summer of 1971 after a series of coincidences that involved [former WPFW broadcaster-administrator, college professor and political observer] Tom Porter. I graduated from Antioch [College] in the spring of 1971. A friend of mine from Antioch, Archie Hunter, came through that spring and said ‘why don’t we go to Brooklyn and hang out at the African festival.’ I was on my way to Brooklyn, my car broke down and I decided to go to DC and hang out with Tom; I’d known him since I was a sophomore at Antioch.

Tom quipped – ‘you’re in Dayton, the New York Times comes a day late and there’s no music, you need to bring your butt to DC.’ Long story short, when my then wife came back from California I said ‘hey, we’re moving to DC.’

What was your experience on the jazz scene in DC in your earliest days here?
My first real DC job was as a community organizer and that actually led to one of my earliest jazz experiences. I was working for a group called Government Employees United Against Racial Discrimination and that was a group that had various task forces and agencies. One of them was a black deputy U.S. Marshall’s organization, and Wallace Roney Sr. was the representative. We’d have these weekly meetings to discuss basic strategies and mutual interests – some were legalistic, some were direct action…

Wallace took me home one day and saw my living room full of records. He said ‘I’ve got a son who’s involved in jazz.’ That’s when [trumpeter] Wallace Roney Jr. was at Duke Ellington School. And because Sr. traveled a lot he needed someone to work with Wallace Jr. Wallace’s early band had Clarence Seay on bass, Marshall Keys on sax, Geri Allen on piano, and Eric Allen was playing drums… Some of them were in college… Chuck Royal was in that band, [Wallace] had a lot of young, really good players. That’s why [Wallace Sr.] needed me because Wallace Jr. was at Duke Ellington; Marshall is a little bit older, he might have been out of college. It was some high schoolers and some college- aged folks. They were playing [places] like the Pigfoot, Harold’s Rogue & Jar… that’s where Wallace was getting gigs. So my job was to be the adult – to collect the money, watch the band. Kind of chaperone-manager.

What was the scene here like overall when you first got to DC?
I started collecting records when I was in Jr. high School, and continued in college. When I got to DC I actually stayed with Tom Porter and he introduced me to a bunch of cats like [WPFW alum] Bob Daughtry, and there was a legendary cat named Thomas Paul, who worked for what became Olson’s Books & Records. There was a record store up Connecticut Avenue south of the Washington Hilton Hotel and there were two partners, Bob Bialick and John Olsson.

At one point Olsson split off. Thomas Paul was like the jazz guy. I fell into a group of cats that collected records, like [WPFW alum] Art Cromwell. Thomas Paul was our connection, we were like record junkies – if I can draw that analogy and not seem too pejorative. This was when Olsson’s was across from what is now a Sun Trust Bank at Dupont Circle. Later on it became Olsson’s Books & Records and Richard Goines was the jazz buyer there. Eventually I went to work for Olson’s in 1982, at 19th & L, and I had a helluva jazz section. I was the jazz buyer there and Richard was the jazz buyer at the Georgetown store. I did that maybe three or so years, until about the time that we started the Capital City Jazz Festival.

Did that record store work open doors for you in the DC jazz community?
Before I started working in retail I was already writing [about jazz]. I started writing around 1974, with the Washington Post as a stringer. That didn’t last long so I had to decide whether I was still going to write or not. I had a jazz column for the Afro American that went on for years. I started a column for the Journal newspapers, all jazz-oriented. Then I had a jazz column for the Washington Informer…

What aspect of jazz were you writing about for these local publications?
It was a combination of things – who’s coming to town, almost like jazz notes – I might write a feature on somebody, it might be record-oriented, I might do a bunch of short record reviews; it was a variety of things, whatever I wanted to do.

Where was the jazz being performed in DC at that time?
You had some venues on Rhode Island Avenue, like Mr. Wise, Moore’s Love & Peace, the Pigfoot, Blues Alley, The Etcetera Club on M Street, the One Step Down, the Top of the Foolery, Harold’s Rogue & Jar on N Street south of Dupont Circle.

Were these clubs that would feature mainly DC-resident musicians?
On the Rhode Island Avenue side, where most of the black clubs were, it was local musicians. Wallace played there, Davey Yarborough and Esther Williams were at Moore’s Love & Peace a lot – a lot of local cats played those places. Bill Harris’ place, the Pigfoot, would occasionally have a Betty Carter or someone from his years in the music that he had a relationship with, but also a lot of the local cats. Top of the Foolery played mostly resident musicians, Marshall Hawkins played a lot for example. One time Andrew White played 6pm to 6am, every note from his book – and Steve Novosel played the whole time – at the Top of the Foolery near George Washington University, on 23rd Street on the north side of Pennsylvania Avenue.

What was the occasion for Andrew to play that marathon?
Because that was an Andrew White production [laughs], ‘I’m gonna play 12 hours.’ That was the gig. He produced all of that, you know like his book [of compositions] is this big [holds hands wide apart].
Jazz Fest - Day 6
Bill Brower and DC’s own NEA Jazz Master drummer Jimmy Cobb

The Etcetera was on M Street between Connecticut and 19th Street. They were a short-lived club – maybe a couple of years – they were trying to compete with Blues Alley. I remember Sun Ra playing there. And they would also do gigs at lunchtime. They weren’t focusing on Washington artists; they were bringing national or international artists.

When I first got here Blues Alley’s orientation was trad jazz. By the time I started to write, at least by the middle to late 70s, Blues Alley was a 6-night a week national club – which would be like Dizzy Gillespie, Ramsey Lewis, the Heath Brothers, McCoy Tyner

The One Step Down was famous for their jukebox and on Friday and Saturday evenings they would bring in a Barry Harris or sometimes a working trio or working quartet, but often times they were bringing in soloists to work with local rhythm sections. One Step Down and Blues Alley were ongoing; I don’t remember a time until One Step Down closed when those clubs weren’t active. The Top of the Foolery was active as long as I could remember, then at some point it became a parking lot on Pennsylvania Avenue over by George Washington University, around 23rd Street.

When you arrived in DC who were some of the more important and impactful musicians around town?
Andrew White, Buck Hill, Ruben Brown, Marshall Hawkins – those guys, those circles. Of course Charlie Byrd was still around and his club, which was on K Street, was just south of Blues Alley. Harold Kaufman, a psychiatrist and amateur piano player, owned Harold’s Rogue & Jar. Wallace worked there and I also remember David Murray playing there.

Would you characterize DC at that time as having an active jazz scene?
Oh yeah, definitely for the size of DC. There was jazz a lot of other places; there was a guy over there by the Howard University Hospital who developed a hotel and he had a club that I remember Sun Ra playing. Then you had Woodies almost across from Howard University on Georgia Avenue and Euclid Street. He would bring [Philly saxophonist] Bootsie Barnes or Philly Joe Jones, different soloists who would pick up a rhythm section here. There are a bunch of places that popped up, but the real constant has been Blues Alley. When we started losing that generation of musicians that were actually touring – like Max Roach, Sarah Vaughan, and Nancy Wilson – that echelon of artists played Blues Alley. A peg below that in terms of commercial viability would be One Step Down. Then occasionally Harold might get in the game, then Etcetera was trying to be Blues Alley, but it didn’t last.

What was it about the DC jazz scene that has made documenting its history compelling for you?
I began to feel that over the years Washington’s role in the development of jazz was not sufficiently acknowledged. John Malachi was teaching at Howard University; he wrote “Opus X”, and was the piano player with Billy Eckstine. Then I understood that [Charlie Parker’s bassist] Tommy Potter was in DC, Eckstine was here too. If you looked at the Earl Hines band, then you looked at the Eckstine band, you’d see this DC element in those bands. Those cats didn’t just pop out of the air, what was going on here?

As I began to find out more about people who were taken for granted, then I started to connect more dots. And then when I started to do more things with Dr. Billy Taylor it sharpened my knowledge and interest, because that was an important part of his mission, particularly as he could see the end of his life. It’s very clear to me that the program that he put together at the Kennedy Center and hired me for – Jazz in DC – he wanted to find ways to get people to look at Washington as an important center for jazz development.

How did your relationship with Dr. Taylor develop?
I first met him because I had an assignment for DownBeat to write about Jazz Alive [the NPR series Dr. Taylor hosted] and through that I met [series producer] Tim Owens, Wiley Rollins, and Dr. Taylor. To do that article I had to research his career and all the things he was involved with. Through the years, as I evolved more from being a journalist into concert production I would encounter [Billy] at festivals and different projects I’d be working on.

What was the nature of this Jazz in DC production?
I curated eight concerts, November 21-29, 2009, for the Millennium Stage that were all themed… Nathea Lee hired me to be a part of Julius Hemphill’s Long Tongues. When the Lost Jazz Shrines project came up Nathea Lee contacted me about writing the essay, so I developed a menu of ideas.

What were the eight concerts you produced for Jazz in DC?
They were themed around venues. I did one around the Howard Theatre, one on Abarts, Bohemian Caverns, stuff around 7th Street – Little Harlem… I’d give a brief talk about the venue and show some images that I’d collected and then there would be a performance. We did one devoted to Dr. Taylor’s big band music, the only one that wasn’t themed around a venue. We put together a band with [saxophonist-educator] Charlie Young, pulled a bunch of music at the Library of Congress. Charlie went through it and was able to reconstruct charts; we also got [Howard University jazz vocal ensemble] Afro Blue involved. That was quite a concert!

Billy did a big concert around James Reese Europe. There might have been a couple of concerts at the [Kennedy Center] Eisenhower Theatre that were part of it but we did these 8 nights on Thanksgiving week. That was a real opportunity to get paid to dig into [DC jazz history] and do some research and come up with the concepts for those concerts.

Since your earliest days observing the jazz scene here, what are some of the elements you’ve witnessed that have negatively impacted jazz in DC?
That’s just business cycles more than anything. I always make a distinction between the culture and the business. Businesses go up and down for a variety of reasons and that’s not in and of itself a way to judge whether jazz is dead or alive. I think the reason that One Step Down came to an end was because the [owners] got old, they were having health issues and there were development options coming in there, so people make [business] decisions.

So it’s your sense that those kinds of things run in cycles as opposed to that old “jazz is dead” canard?
I get sick of that discussion I think it’s shortsighted. Dig a little deeper, think a little bit deeper about what may be happening. It might be because a club is in an area that’s going through a change and the club can’t survive that change. I think it has more to do with urban development, or redevelopment than it does ‘is jazz up or down.’ You could be a good businessperson or a bad businessperson; you could be getting old or it could be a demographic change or some other kind of change that would cause that business to run a cropper.

Conversely, what have been some of the more positive developments on the DC jazz scene that you’ve observed?
The fact that the music has moved to other platforms than clubs. I’d say that right now for a community like ours we have an embarrassment of riches. We have the Friday night jazz scene at Westminster Church, but you also had the Smithsonian Natural History Museum with a Friday night jazz scene kind of in the same time period, and other churches trying to replicate that. Just the fact that jazz is not limited to the club platform has been a real important development.

Obviously WPFW is very important. The loss of [jazz station] WDCU had nothing to do with the music it had to do with the state [the University of the District of Columbia] was in. I think at the point where we had two radio stations providing on-air jazz programming was really important. I can think of a whole set of individuals who were very knowledgeable – lay scholars if you will – aficionados who used radio as a platform to share their knowledge, their collections with the community, that was very important.

What the Kennedy Center has done for jazz, what Strathmore has done to a lesser degree, Clarice Smith Center at the University of Maryland, George Mason University… all that is relatively new stuff. Library of Congress, Smithsonian… the institutional engagement in providing more platforms for the music.

You’re not one who reacts negatively to the whole notion of jazz in the institutions and the evolution of jazz to the concert stage?
Not at all; I think jazz is a big house and it’s important that it goes on. I would hate for musicians to feel dependent or feel like they have to be funded to do what they do. I think it is a dynamic culture, basically a vernacular culture that has moved into more academic realms. I think that’s why jazz is healthy, vibrant, and dynamic; that’s what I love about it. I like joints and I like concerts and I think they all have a place, they all fit and that’s what’s good about the situation now. I wish that the musicians at the club level could be compensated better, but then that sort of self-selects. Cats will play the clubs for their own agendas until they say ‘I can’t do that anymore.’

Brower w:rusty hasaan 88
Bill with DC jazz radio legends Rusty Hassan (beard) standing next to Felix Grant and to Felix’s right is writer/author W. Royal Stokes and [unidentified]

Talk about your work on the Capital City Jazz Festival.
The seeds of that lie with WPFW. The center of [Capital City Jazz Festival] was Karen Spellman. She did a concert as a fundraiser for WPFW – and how I got involved was the Roneys [Wallace Jr. and saxman Antoine] were on the concert. It was the McLeans – Jackie and Rene – the Marsalis brothers, and the Roneys. I had known Karen through SNCC [Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee] connections. I got to know A.B. Spellman through [poet] Gaston Neal.

I did my first Antioch College co-op here in 1966. Through coincidence I got off the bus one day on 14th Street and I saw this guy in a storefront fixing it up, so I went in there and it was [poet] Gaston Neal and that’s how I met him. He was getting ready to open up the New School for African Thought. He was part of the black poetry movement with Larry Neal, Marvin X, Amiri Baraka… At that point what Baraka was to Newark, Gaston was to DC. Gaston got sidetracked because of some personal things and never got his work out there in publication. Then when he got himself more stable he went into counseling and writing was kind of an aside, but at that time he was definitely a cultural visionary and a lot of music was coming through that New School for African Thought. And that first weekend when it opened [poet-author] A.B. [Spellman] was a part of that and that’s how I came to know him.

Then later he and Karen were in Atlanta and they got married and A.B. came to Washington with the National Endowment for the Arts. A.B. used to shop at Olsson’s. He would come in once a month and say “Bill, what should I buy”? One time he came in and said “we’re thinking about doing a festival, we believe that it’s important that Washington have a festival.”

The Kool Jazz Festival had come to the Kennedy Center in ’77 or ’78 and they actually used the whole Kennedy Center and I worked on that; I was like an intern. Part of what A.B. was referring to was ‘ ‘this city is still ripe for a festival, there’s a new Washington Convention Center with a subway stop right there, I can’t do it I’m at the NEA, Karen is going to take the lead and I want you to get with her to do this festival.’ Because of the relationship Karen had with WPFW around that concert she produced for them as a fundraiser they were in the mix so Bob Tyner, who was then the [WPFW] Program Director, was involved. Jeff Anthony was at the NEA working in the Music Program specifically around jazz but he resigned at some point after we’d done [Capital City Jazz Festival] a couple of years and he became an important part of that.

Then out of our relationship we went on from the Capital City Jazz Festival and that same core of people did the Black Family Reunion and started the Adams Morgan Day festival, on the production side. One of the board members of the Capital City Jazz Festival was Ralph Rinzler, who was like an external affairs guy for the Kennedy Center. That’s how we wound up doing an event as part of the Capital City Jazz Festival that we did in ’85-’88. The first one we did we honored Bill Harris, Roy Haynes and Benny Carter and we presented [trumpeter] Marlon Jordan and the American Jazz Orchestra under Loren Schoenberg’s direction and they played a work of Benny’s.

The first two we did at the Convention Center. We actually did a full festival three years – two at the Convention Center with a sidecar at Duke Ellington School one year – and then one year we did a week at Howard University, and we did a week of stuff at the Old Post Office Pavilion – that was lunch time stuff – and then the next weekend we did at George Washington University. That was a festival where we basically got in so much debt that we never mounted another full festival of that type. But we did do events at the Smithsonian twice, and one year that was the only thing that we did. Ralph Rinzler kind of brokered that as well.

We did a tribute to John Coltrane with Hamiet Bluiett, Andrew White… We did a program around the organ with Jimmy McGriff. We passed out copies of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” to the audience but nobody sang it; McGriff always ended his concerts with that song. Kenny Burrell was on that. During the week we did DC resident artists at lunchtime at the Old Post Office Pavilion. The last weekend of the festival we had Geri Allen, Henry Threadgill, Henry Butler… The significant thing is that before we even did the first Friday night concert at Crampton Auditorium, we were at the bank getting a loan to be able to pay the musicians.

That Sunday we all met at Karen’s house because we knew we had to re-fashion the festival in order for it to get done. That was probably one of the most emotional times I’ve had because that year 1988 Karen was working on the Democratic National Convention and I was really running everything. I did production, a lot of the programming, publicity stuff, but Karen was the interface with the money and she was better able to negotiate a lot of things.

The first festival that we did we opened up with Miles Davis and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band at the Convention Center. It was around Miles’ birthday and we gave him a big cake; he played so long that people got tired. We wheeled out the cake and he cut it and was giving it out to the audience. We did a lot of great shows – we did M’Boom and the World Saxophone Quartet, Little Jimmy Scott with Milt Jackson, Betty Carter, Tito Puente and Paquito D’Rivera and we had a Latin jam session with local Latin cats… We had Miles’ paintings, we did a Chuck Stewart photography exhibit, we had panel discussions… Particularly when we first started we didn’t have a lot for artist fees so I added a lot of stuff like the jazz marketplace.

Keter Betts really helped us the year we honored Ella Fitzgerald and Milt Hinton. We had to make a lot of difficult choices – like should we buy ads or buy these airline tickets at this price. I always thought if we’ve got WPFW and WDCU forget the Washington Post. Well I didn’t realize that ten people might be listening to the radio; I wasn’t looking at Arbitron ratings to figure out what was the actual audience penetration that I thought I was getting, that maybe it would have been better to buy the ads and figure out how to pay for the airline tickets later. But given the amount of resources that we had, what we were trying to do was probably too ambitious and probably should have been more conservative in our programming.

We did three full festivals and one year we only did the Smithsonian piece; I think that was the year we did the piece with Milt Hinton and Ella. Because we had debt that we had to pay off we would do sessions like Monday nights at Trumpets for a while. And we did concerts at people’s houses; if they had a grand piano we’d say ‘OK we’ll get Henry Butler.’ We’d have him come and play and we’d charge $75 per person, with champagne and cake for an intimate evening.

As a legal entity we went on for a few years after we stopped putting on big things, mostly as a way to try to pay down the debt. People had secured their properties against this bank loan. There are people that were actually crushed by the fact that what we were putting onstage we weren’t able to pay for. But there were people who said ‘we’ll support you.’

How did that festival work evolve into your concert and festivals production work?
I started working as a stagehand well before this. I used to write for the Unicorn Times late ‘70s-early ‘80s, which was like the City Paper except it came out once a month. Richard Harrington was the editor; he called me one day and said I want you to go down to the corner of 7th & E, there are two guys there who are doing some interesting stuff. I was writing mostly about the avant-garde for the Unicorn Times. When I was writing for the Journal or the Afro American I wrote more about mainstream and more about local activities and record reviews. I got access to any club I wanted and I was inundated with music. I wrote for JazzTimes, I wrote for Musician, a bunch of different publications.

He sent me down to this place, which had been like a lunchtime spot. There were two people there, Bill Warrell and a guy named Earl Bateman. Bill Warrell wanted to start a loft, which was what DC Space essentially was; Bateman wanted to do a festival in ’78. At this point I was exclusively freelance writing

So I go down and interview these two guys. Bateman wants to do two nights of music: Cecil Taylor, Anthony Braxton, World Saxophone Quartet, Sam Rivers, Marion Brown, John Cage, Phillip Glass, Steve Reich – kind of like a mix and match thing. I never wrote the article for the Unicorn Times because Bateman hired me to be the publicist for these two nights of music. He said he’d pay me a thousand dollars and ten percent of all the recording and video taping that would result. So I signed on for that. I got one check for $100, which bounced. The concert collapsed the first night.

Marion Brown played, then Bateman came out and said “we have technical difficulties.’ The technical difficulty was there wasn’t enough money in the box office to pay the next artist, so that delay went on for 45 minutes or so. Then Bateman came out and said “Ladies and gentlemen the concert is over.” And it was a cold, icy rain night, a chill-to-the-bone night. They put everybody out of Constitution Hall.

DC Space wasn’t quite ready as a performance space, but that night Bill opened it anyway. Out of that came his relationship with Julius Hemphill, Oliver Lake, and David Murray. They said ‘we’re in DC, we might as well play somewhere;’ so that night is actually when DC Space opened. But I never made it over there.

While catching the bus home there was a club nearby, so I stopped in there to kind of drown my sorrows. I’m sitting there and sitting next to me is the stagehands union shop steward of Constitution Hall, a guy named Jerry King. First he recognized me as one of the people who did that concert they weren’t going to get paid for. I thought I was going to get a thousand dollars at the end of the concert and I’m sitting there trying to add this all up. We ended up spending that evening there.

Some time later a guy in my building who was a stagehand at the Warner Theater asked me if I wanted to make some money. He said come down to the Warner Theater at 10:00, they needed some extra guys for the load out. At the end of the night I got paid in cash! When the guy paid me he looked at me and said ‘don’t I know you?’ It was the same guy Jerry from that night at the Kung Fu Lounge! He said ‘you wanna work tomorrow’? Be here at 8:00am and bring a crescent wrench. I had always been around theater, but never as a stagehand. I was still writing and the two fit together great. At one point I was working at Olson’s twenty hours a week, working as a stagehand, and freelance writing.

When I got to the Capital City Jazz Festival I already had production chops. We had been doing circuses, ballets, plays… Bill Washington and Cellar Door had all of the concert stuff and Bill produced all the black shows. So that’s what we did at Constitution Hall: the Whispers, Gladys Knight & the Pips, whomever… Sometimes two shows a night.

Quint Davis and Tom Dent from the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival came to DC to do a workshop for people who wanted to produce festivals. Karen Spellman wanted to get involved with them as a way to better understand the festival we had. I approached them and nothing was available at their festival. A year later Wiley Rollins, who I had met while writing the piece on Jazz Alive, one of his good friends during his Harvard days was John Washington. When John went back to New Orleans he was on the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation board. He knew I wanted to work at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and that’s how I got to New Orleans.

Throughout all this work in DC on jazz, how has the DC jazz audience evolved through the ensuing years?
I think the audience I first knew got older and a new one developed. Obviously a big boon has been the development of U Street, which went down with the King riots. It didn’t really come back until the subway was finished. When that happened a whole new U Street nightlife developed and with that nightlife came a whole new generation. The resurgence of U Street meant a new audience, a young audience. There was an audience that was a part of what Blues Alley was about and Harold’s Rogue & Jar, Top of the Foolery… That audience I encountered at those places was probably a little bit older than me. Now it’s twenty-some years later and most people in their 60s aren’t going out to clubs; you might see them at [Friday night jazz at] Westminster [church], but they’re not going out to clubs. So with the revival of U Street as a nightlife venue, not only did the Bohemian Caverns come back, you had Twins Jazz there, but also you had other places that feature some type of jazz at some point or another, that’s when I saw a new audience.

The continuity that was broken up was the result of all of these socio-economic things that have happened, and then with the demographic infusion – the city has changed. One of the reasons I was so excited to come to DC was because I was from Toledo, went to Western Reserve Academy in Hudson, OH, then went to college in Yellow Springs, OH, then I came to DC and I was loving all the black culture. But then Chocolate City has changed. After the [post-MLK assassination] riots a lot of people left DC because they could leave and a lot of people stayed because they couldn’t leave, and a lot of areas that were central to the black community at that time were on the decline: H Street, U Street… and everything related to that; so those areas came back with this whole gentrification process and with that has come new audiences.

One such development in recent years has been a kind of do-it-yourself attitude as far as presenting jazz, as exemplified by Capital Bop and what writer Gio Russonello and musician Luke Stewart are doing, something of a loft scene.
The new loft scene.

Do you see any correlation between what Bill Warrell did with DC Space and what’s happening now with this new loft scene?
There were some other places also; there was another kind of jazz scene, almost like a Black Nationalist scene. Jimmy Gray – Black Fire – another important figure people overlook is one of those programmers who came on WPFW, like Eric Garrison, who were scholars in their own right, serious record collectors. Jimmy Gray had been in the record distribution business, and got out to start his own label… There were some other kind of loft scenarios that featured musicians that Jimmy was working with, not so much well-known New York cats, but musicians who were trying to play in that way.

I haven’t patronized it, but my attitude is this new loft development is going backwards – cats playing for peanuts in environments that are less than what I think the music deserves and I feel sort of like ‘been there, done that.’ DC Space was on a higher level than that; Bill fixed it up: good bar, good food, high level of players…

The one thing I think continues that tradition is what Transparent Productions does. I think that [Transparent producer and WPFW programmer] Bobby Hill was kind of a part of what we were doing. One of the things I did when we had Capital City Jazz Festival, I invited Tom Porter, Bobby Hill and a bunch of other people [to be guest curators and propose ideas]. Once we started the jazz festival everybody felt like ‘I could do that’ because everybody has ideas about programming. And that’s when I realized that yeah, I had great ideas about programming but what you really needed was a business sense, which I didn’t have. So when I started making those choices about advertising, I think a better businessperson might have made better choices. We made choices out of what our vision was, not how to stabilize and grow a festival. By the time I went to work in New Orleans on the festival that’s when I realized I needed to learn.

I would say that Transparent Productions represents more of a continuum with what District Curators was about. District Curators evolved out of DC Space. The idea of doing a series at the Corcoran, where they did Cecil Taylor, Art Ensemble of Chicago, and Julius Hemphill’s Long Tongues. Those were the three nights at the Corcoran. The whole evolution of what we did with Long Tongues that was District Curators.

Transparent Productions, because of the individual people involved – Bobby Hill, [WPFW programmers] Thomas Stanley, Larry Appelbaum – all those individuals had the experience of DC Space, felt the void when it went off the scene and created a vehicle to continue in that spirit. What Luke and Gio are doing I don’t think has anything to do with DC Space. They’re a new young generation creating their own space; they may reverse engineer and look back and see themselves as inheriting some kind of a void, but to me Transparent Productions is what DC Space spawned, there’s a more direct relationship between what they’re doing and what DC Space was. I’m not going to say it’s not important, it is important. They’re creating another beachhead, creating opportunities for people to play… I think their [Capital] website is amazing – what they’ve put together and how they relate that to what they do. I think their initiative is great.

Part of it for me right now is I’ve stopped trying to keep up [with the scene], it’s more about what interests me and trying to do my own work. When I was an active journalist I tried to be everywhere and cover everything. I’m not trying to be an active journalist now, it’s not important to me to do that. What’s important to me are projects I’m interested in and what I want to work on. There’s much more behind me than in front of me and I want to make sense of and leverage that body of work.

How do you see these developments, like Transparent Productions, what Capital Bop is doing, impacting DC’s cultural scene in general?
The beat goes on, I’m just glad they’re doing it. The fact that oncoming cats are doing what they’re doing, you have to have faith in that.

How does your work on the annual Congressional Black Caucus Foundation jazz day impact the DC jazz community?
Its become an event that people like to go to, people that don’t necessarily attend the annual CBCF legislative conference come to that event. When that started it was just a panel discussion and a reception.

John Conyers sent out a letter, he wanted to do some jazz stuff and Cedric Hendricks was on his staff. And because I could write, I could program and I could organize production, I became a very useful piece of that puzzle. I started out working with that event as a volunteer in 1985. In 1992 I reached out to the shop steward at the new convention center – which is when they moved the CBCF jazz event from the Hilton to the Convention Center – to find out what the labor rates were so I could put together a budget. He said ‘you need to contact the CBCF, they’re looking at you to help them produce the conference.’ That’s not a job I was looking for, but I owe that to John Conyers.
Brower with his CBCF jazz day cohort Cedric Hendricks (photo: Michael Wilderman)

Once I got there, because I was one of the producers, I was able to push the jazz piece even further. By this time I’d been working in New Orleans, at Jazz at Lincoln Center… my range of contacts had grown exponentially. I had much more experience in terms of production, and not just production nuts & bolts but I had that concept of what it is to be a producer. So I was able to push it to another level.

When we first started doing the jazz event the record companies would underwrite the performance if we picked up the travel. Once the record industry died it became a different game in terms of sponsorship and how to keep that afloat. For the Foundation its all about every event earning more in sponsorship than it costs because the conference is a fundraiser for the overall work of the CBCF throughout the year.

We have resisted pressure from the Foundation to charge for the concert. So it’s a free event during the legislative week that has a high level of talent that the community can participate in. As the years have gone on the only thing left for the community to be involved in with no charge is the jazz event. This thing has reached a high level and now it’s an asset to the whole CBCF enterprise.

House Concurrent Resolution 57 (declaring jazz “an American national treasure”) resulted from the first CBCF jazz evening panel discussion in 1985. At the end of that session Jimmy Owens challenged John Conyers to do something legislatively for jazz. He took on the challenge. I was working as a stagehand at the Kennedy Center on the Kabuki Theater and a Japanese stagehand pointed to an artist and said “you see that guy there, he’s a living national treasure.” Bingo, that’s where that language came from! That next day I took what that guy said to me and finished drafting HCON 57.

What’s your overall goal for the CBCF jazz day?
Just that it’s important that an organization of that significance in the national African American community and the nation at large has seen fit to put a showcase around the music. It doesn’t happen with the Urban League, it doesn’t happen with the NAACP, nor with the black fraternities and sororities – it does happen at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Annual Legislative Conference. And the reason it happens is because John Conyers had that vision to add that piece as an issue discussion and it has evolved. Because of his stature he was able to create that space.

If there’s a study or something done in the jazz community, I’ve tried to have a presentation about it to open up the issue forum, because I know that much of that information is not broadly disseminated – even within those circles in the black community that claim they’re interested in the music. So we say, ‘let’s do it there, let’s bring together a panel of experts, let’s elevate a discussion.’ It became more of a day; we went from wanting a two-hour block of prime time for the issue forum and a town hall meeting on jazz, and then later have the concert, and keep a humanities element in it by having a meet-the-artist discussion so that people who don’t get into the issues forum still get to have some introduction to what people think about this music. I’m all about preserving our stake in this music, that’s my agenda; this music came out of our experience in our community, in the American context. Cedric and I are all about using that platform to keep that alive, that’s what WE can do.

I’m disappointed that JazzTimes, DownBeat and the rest of them don’t pay any attention to this event, but I think they’re gonna pay attention around HR2823 [Conyer’s new jazz support legislation]. The reason this bill was drafted is because John Hasse came to Conyers about getting more money for the Smithsonian jazz efforts. Cedric called me and I said if we’re going to do a new bill it can’t just be about getting the Smithsonian more money.

Conyers is planning to introduce this new jazz legislation just prior to Jazz Appreciation Month (April) in conjunction with an event that the Smithsonian is organizing called Two Johns, honoring John Conyers and John Coltrane on the 50th anniversary of “A Love Supreme.”

From the ideas we’ve gathered, in early 2014 we’ll have a new draft of the bill that we can circulate for comment until the end of February, then Legislative Affairs will draft the final bill in March to be introduced during Jazz Appreciation Month. That will give us a piece of legislative with some teeth; it will direct agencies of government to spend money in different ways on jazz.

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Slugs in the Wild Wild East

Some months back producer Zev Feldman got in touch to speak excitedly about a new, unreleased Charles Lloyd “discovery”. Seems there were two live sessions worthy of release from Charles’ first quartet, with Gabor Szabo on guitar, Ron Carter on bass, and Pete LaRoca Sims on drums. These two concert performances were subsequently slated for release on two discs by Resonance Records, which has specialized in unearthing previously unreleased live sessions from such masters as Bill Evans and Wes Montgomery. I had initially encountered the excitable Zev when we were part of a panel discussion here in the DC area at Joe’s Record Paradise on the subject of his Wes release Echoes of Indiana Avenue.

The Charles Lloyd Quartet recordings in question had been captured at Judson Hall in New York on September 3, 1965, and on an undisclosed 1965 date at the fabled Slugs’ Saloon. Zev knew of our annual Lost Jazz Shrines spring concert series at Tribeca Performing Arts Center, which one year focused on the legacy of Slugs’, an infamous joint which was about much more than the site of Lee Morgan‘s shooting. Being asked to contribute to the various year-end best of listings, as a writer-participant in the subsequent 2-CD set Manhattan Stories (Resonance HCD-2016), of course its a conflict for me to include this revelatory recording on my own lists, but I did want to share below the essay I wrote for the CD booklet on Slugs’, one of four essays in the extensive accompanying CD booklet, contributed by Zev, Michael Cuscuna, Don Heckman, and Stanley Crouch.

Charles Lloyd Slugs'
The place was dubbed “Slug’s in the Far East” because of its Wild Wild East location, situated in what was then a sort of East Village no man’s land, at 242 East 3rd Street, between Avenues B&C, an area now referred to as “Alphabet City”. And while the history of Slug’s doesn’t begin with that chilly February night in 1972 when the great, perpetually troubled trumpeter Lee Morgan was gunned down in the club Frankie & Johnny style by his enraged lover, it is unfortunate that singular event Slugs serves as epitaph for what was clearly a vital home to much that was uplifting and creative about jazz music of the late 1960s-early 1970s.

Bret Primack, in his pre-Jazz Video Guy days, made the trek there frequently. “It was a hairy walk from 2nd Avenue on 3rd Street over to the club. Past the Hell’s Angels headquarters and a lot of spooky East Village vibes in the late 60s,” Primack recalls. “Now it’s a totally different story over there; the Nuyorican Poets Café is on that block, the whole neighborhood has been gentrified.”

Slug’s music menu was pretty far ranging, featuring a number of artists who operated in the creative space between the hard bop of the day and the developing jazz “avant garde.” Jackie McLean in part achieved the broadening of Slug’s music policy, himself a restless explorer of the period who was stretching beyond the borders he’d known with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and the Charles Mingus Workshop. In early ’65 McLean, at the time lacking the city’s draconian cabaret card, leaving him scuffling for New York gigs, proposed a dollar admission and a door split for a Sunday matinee to owners Jerry Schultz and Robert Schoenholt. Witnessing over 200 people show up, Schultz got a glimpse of the future and began booking artists for regular gigs. As Schultz told me in a recent conversation from his current home in New Zealand, Slug’s rapidly grew a Tuesday-Sunday engagement policy. Soon the joint was jumpin’, becoming quite the jazz hang. “The Five Spot was closed, so I had the hottest club in town,” he insists. “Miles [Davis] came in once a week as a patron,” though voracious talent scout might be a more apt characterization of the trumpeter’s East Village forays as Charles Lloyd later learned to his apparent chagrin.
Slugs' exterior
Hangin’ outside Slugs’

Slug’s became not only a place to sample the music’s current doings but also where jazz might be going. Elevating Slug’s hipness factor was the presence of a number of edgy painters and poets of the day. As poet-author and retired arts administrator A.B. Spellman, himself a denizen of the East Village at the time recalls his experience, “I was at Slug’s probably 2-3 nights a week. Sun Ra had the Monday night slot and it was the steadiest work the band had so it developed some during that term. The black writers and painters were all regulars at Slug’s. In an eponymous book on him there’s a picture of my ex-wife and me at a table in Slug’s with Bob Thompson, probably the most prominent young black artist of the period. Amiri Baraka, then LeRoi Jones, was a regular. I didn’t mind seeing the sun come up then; didn’t go out until the third set and laughed at the squares who went home after the first set and missed all the new ideas.” Other painters who made the Slug’s scene included Larry Rivers and Salvador Dali. According to Schultz, one of LeRoi Jones’ early plays was staged at Slug’s.

So exactly who was developing those “new ideas”? Spellman has vivid memories of seeing such firebreathers as McLean, Ra, Kenny Dorham, Bill Barron, and Booker Little among many others on Slug’s narrow bandstand, as well as “Lee Morgan the week [though not the night] he got wasted… that was a blow to us all!” Sonny Rollins and Ornette Coleman plied their trade at Slug’s, as did Sam Rivers, free drummer Sunny Murray, and the unusual spectacle of multi-instrumentalist Howard Johnson’s Substructure, a band that included five tubas. “Slug’s was like no other jazz club ever,” Johnson reminisces. “It started out as just a neighborhood bar and never stopped being one. One day, the pianist LaMont Johnson wandered into the place, looked around and said to Robert and Jerry, “If you got a piano in here you could have jazz here every night.” He came back the next day with a list of piano warehouses and said that he would be happy to book the bands. [Slug’s] had a very hip, jazzy jukebox and the local cats hung out even in the daytime. Pretty soon some serious bookings started happening and the club was launched. For about a three year period I spent some part of every night at Slug’s, like checking into the office,” Howard remembers. “We heard people there for the first time: Jack DeJohnette, Steve Grossman, Lenny White… everybody, new or old.”

Other frequent Slug’s habitués included Philly Joe Jones, Freddie Hubbard, Blakey’s Messengers, Wayne Shorter, and Elvin Jones. Primack recalled catching Yusef Lateef, Archie Shepp, Herbie Hancock’s earliest sextet explorations, and Keith Jarrett’s rangy quartet with Dewey Redman, Charlie Haden, and Paul Motian. And of course the reason you’re reading this in the first place is because Slug’s was home to some of Charles Lloyd’s earliest band experiments, including the quartet with guitarist Gabor Szabo, drummer Pete LaRoca (Sims), and the Olympian bassist Ron Carter heard on this recording. Listening to the Slug’s session on “Manhattan Stories” one can hear the club’s Amen Corner testifying, particularly when Carter solos on “Slug’s Blues.”
George Avakian, the ace Columbia Records producer, who insisted Jerry book Charles on the spot, first introduced Schultz to Charles Lloyd. “The first time Charles played the club he had Herbie Hancock on piano,” Schultz recalls. Lloyd, who Jerry remembered employing several different rhythm sections at Slug’s, including the quartet with Keith Jarrett, Jack DeJohnette, and Cecil McBee that made Charles’ breakthrough album Forest Flower, eventually played several Slug’s stands per year over the course of nearly three years. Eventually Lloyd fell out with Schultz, irked that Miles had apparently purloined DeJohnette out of Charles’ band on one of Davis’ scouting missions to Slug’s. Even though he’d contracted a 2-week stint, and despite Schultz going to Charles’ place to plead re-consideration, as Schultz recalls it the saxophonist “flipped out and said Miles had stolen his drummer.”

Slug’s was by no means limited to small unit blowing sessions. Composers Frank Foster, Weldon Irvine, McCoy Tyner, Tyrone Washington, and Warren Smith found a home there to present their large ensembles and original works. The latter were presented as part of an agreement Jerry Schultz forged with jazz renaissance man Jim Harrison, who based on Jackie McLean’s enthusiastic recommendation became promotion manager of Slug’s from 1966 until the club’s 1972 closure. In partnership with Ernie Jackson, Harrison presented weekend concerts at Slug’s, which often included matinees. Where else in NYC jazz club parlance can you find a black man promoting jazz in a downtown spot? Harrison, who later published the jazz periodical Jazz Spotlite News, took to the place immediately because “the people were there for the music. They were hardcore jazz fans,” remembers Harrison, who also caught Charles Lloyd there “three or four” times.

Physically Slug’s space was pretty non-descript, one of those narrow clubs with a bar on the left soon as you walked in abutting a narrow bandstand sporting a well-worn upright piano, facing a brick wall with small tables & chairs. Pianist Stanley Cowell, who recorded at Slug’s with trumpeter Charles Tolliver and their first Music Inc. quartet, recalled Slug’s as “a long and narrow venue, the bar near the entrance, stage at the far end from the door; a no-frills, barn-like venue for the real music aficionado.” “The audiences were mostly Lower East Siders: very hip, knew the music, and a lot of the musicians,” Spellman recalled. Owing perhaps to Harrison’s booking policy, Cowell pegged the clientele, certainly unusual for that part of town and that period in history, as “often mostly black [patrons] who ventured into this somewhat depressed and potentially dangerous neighborhood. The feeling for me there was excitement, but an underlying fear of critical acceptance.

“The several times that I had attended [Slug’s] as a listener, the audience seemed favorable toward the newer music of the 1960s – free… Sun Ra, Shepp, [Albert] Ayler… But this evolved as time went on and some of the established, straight-ahead veteran groups began to play there, and a less hard-core, politicized audience began to attend from the suburbs and New Jersey as the venue became more established.” Obviously the word was out that artists like Charles Lloyd and the Jim Harrison presentations were doing something in the East Village that allayed any fears of navigating the hairy urban terrain around 242 East 3rd Street in that vital, roiling era of American scene change.

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