On a muggy Thursday evening in Manhattan last week, six musicians formed a loose brass band, with sousaphone, snare drum and such, and stood before a banner that read “Justice for Jazz Artists—Fairness. Dignity. Respect.”
Trumpeter Kevin Blancq, who grew up in New Orleans and has lived in New York City for 30 years, led the musicians through “Li’l Liza Jane,” a brass-band and traditional-jazz standard. This was a rally organized in cooperation with Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians to promote ongoing efforts to get Manhattan’s key jazz clubs to contribute to a pension fund and to secure other rights, such as recording protections.
As they left Madison Sqaure Park, the musicians formed a miniature mock second-line parade, turning north on Park Avenue South and played “Bourbon Street Parade,” another standard of New Orleans repertoire. When they arrived at the Jazz Standard club, leaflets were handed out to the strains of “Mozartin’” composed by a Crescent City clarinetist and educator of great renown, Alvin Batiste.
Few would argue against the idea of pensions and other benefits for jazz musicians who play New York’s clubs. However, this particular initiative is complicated, folded as it is into an effort to expand the union’s scope of representation.
As James C. McKinley Jr. reported in a 2011 New York Times piece, after similar rallies were held in front of the Blue Note jazz club:
The disagreement between the union and club owners dates back to 2005, when union leaders joined the nightclubs to lobby the State Legislature for a reduction in the sales tax on tickets because the extra revenue would be used to pay for pension and health benefits…. The tax break was passed in 2006, but the union never hammered out a formal pact with the club owners.
As McKinley’s piece described, clubs have resisted the proposal for a variety of reasons.
That initiative is specific to New York City. Yet as I work on a book about “The fight for New Orleans jazz culture since the flood, and what it means for America,” the rally’s choice of repertoire pointed, for me, to more than coincidence. Continue reading “From New Orleans to New York: On The Care and Feeding of Jazz Culture”
I arrived in New Orleans the night after trumpeter Lionel Ferbos celebrated his 103rd birthday, which was July 17, at the Palm Court in the French Quarter, where he’d held a longstanding gig. On Saturday morning, word quickly passed that Ferbos had died.
As Keith Spera’s obituary in the Times-Picayune explained:
His life in music spanned the Roosevelt administration to the Obama administration, the Great Depression to the Internet era. Louis Armstrong was only 10 years his senior, but Mr. Ferbos outlived Armstrong by more than 40 years.
Mr. Ferbos was the personification of quiet dedication to one’s craft. Few people in his 7th Ward neighborhood realized he was a musician — they knew him as a tinsmith who had taken over his father’s sheet metal business. That occupation sustained him and his family for decades.
But he always nurtured a musical career on the side.
And there were some lovely quotes in there from trumpeter Irvin Mayfield:
“He proved that the greatness of the city of New Orleans is that ordinary people can be extraordinary on a daily basis…. Everyone has an opportunity to be something special. The culture gives us the opportunity. He was an example of that.”
Ferbos liked to say that he was “a melody man,” which is to say that he knew a lot of tunes and the correct way to state each melody. Continue reading “New Orleans Trumpeter Lionel Ferbos Dies at 103”
In conversation as on the bandstand, where he played his bass with graceful authority and achieved great renown, Charlie Haden was both soft-spoken and outspoken. In his life and his music, he was exceedingly gentle, drawn to simple beauty yet also at home within wild complexity and unafraid of controversial ideas and hard truths.
Haden, who died on Friday morning at 76, was a towering figure of American music. His influence and appeal reached into all quarters of jazz, and well beyond that genre. His ability to innovate helped sparked at least one musical revolution, as a member of the Ornette Coleman Quartet. His unerring sense of time and love of melody anchored and focused many distinguished bands, some of which he led. His radiant humanity and stalwart voice for social justice was both rare and powerful in any field.
As Nate Chinen reported in a New York Times obituary:
His death was confirmed by Ruth Cameron, his wife of 30 years. For the last several years he had been struggling with the degenerative effects of post-polio syndrome, related to the polio he contracted in his youth.
Charles Edward Haden was born in Shenandoah, Iowa, on Aug. 6, 1937 into a distinctly musical family, and grew up in Springfield, Mo. Long before he helped seed what is known as “free jazz” while in his early twenties as a member of Coleman’s group, along with trumpeter Don Cherry and drummer Billy Higgins, before he spent a decade in another landmark quartet led by pianist Keith Jarrett, alongside saxophonist Dewey Redman and drummer Paul Motian, before he formed his Liberation Music Orchestra, which blended avant-garde, big-band jazz, Latin American folk traditions with bold political statements, and showcased the compositions and arrangements of pianist Carla Bley, before his Quartet West, which played noir ballads inspired by Raymond Chandler novels and movie themes, before he worked with nearly any musician one could name on jazz’s radar and good many off that screen too, he was known as “Cowboy Charlie,” singing his way into listeners hearts at the tender age of two on his parents’ country-music radio show, “Uncle Carl Haden and the Haden Family.” Continue reading “Speaking Truth to Power, and Embracing Beauty: Bassist Charlie Haden (1937-2014)”
Nat Hentoff likes to say he was an “itinerant subversive” from the beginning. Growing up in a then predominantly Jewish Roxbury neighborhood within an otherwise largely anti-Semitic Boston, he grew defiantly individual and developed a strong sense of social justice while still quite young. In his memoir, “Boston Boy,” he recalled his defining moment of rebellion at age 12—eating a large salami sandwich on Yom Kippur, a day of fasting and atonement, while sitting on his family’s porch. He enjoyed not so much “that awful sandwich” as the experience of rebellion, combined with the knowledge of “how it felt to be an outcast.”
That sentiment is amplified by a phrase from one of Hentoff’s memoirs that provides the title for a wonderful new documentary about Hentoff by director David L. Lewis: “The Pleasures of Being Out of Step.” (There’s also a companion book, published by CUNY Journalism Press.)
On the film’s website, Lewis describes the film and its subject:
Pleasures profiles legendary jazz writer and civil libertarian Nat Hentoff, whose career tracks the greatest cultural and political movements of the last 65 years. The film is about an idea as well as a man – the idea of free expression as the defining characteristic of the individual.
Hentoff is a pioneer who raised jazz as an art form and was present at the creation of ‘alternative’ journalism in this country. Pleasures wraps the themes of liberty and identity around a historical narrative that stretches from the Great Depression to the Patriot Act.
In his recent New York Times piece, Larry Rohter provided some good context: Continue reading “New Film Captures Nat Hentoff, Still Gloriously Out Of Step at 89”