© - Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
“Strongly opinionated and superbly literate, longtime Bay Area resident Grover Sales was the kind of jazz critic who left no doubt about where he stood on issues ranging from the genius of Lenny Bruce to the paucity of gay jazz musicians.
During a career that spanned 50 years Sales wrote about jazz, film and cultural politics and published widely in the San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, the Tiburon Ark and Gene Lees' Jazzletter. He wrote three books: Jazz: America's Classical Music, a biography of John Maher and, with his wife Georgia, The Clay-Pot Cookbook, which sold more than 800,000 copies.
Sales was also publicist for the Monterey Jazz Festival from its birth in 1958 until 1965, and for the hungry i nightclub. He also did freelance publicity work for artists such as Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Judy Garland and Dick Gregory, and wrote liner notes for several Fantasy recordings.
Over the years, he taught jazz history courses at Stanford University, the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, San Francisco State University and the JazzSchool.
Sales became a jazz fan at 16, after hearing a broadcast of Benny Goodman's band with drummer Gene Krupa, and later became what he called "an inveterate Ellington groupie" after hearing a recording of "Black And Tan Fantasy".
After serving in the Army Air Corps in Southeast Asia during World War II, Sales studied at Reed College in Portland, Oregon, and then settled in the Bay Area, where he received a BA in history from the University of California at Berkeley.
In addition to his wife, Sales is survived by a daughter and two stepsons.”
If you were a Jazz fan living in the San Francisco Bay area, sooner or later, you met Grover Sales.
Columnist, author, instructor in Jazz Studies at Stanford University in nearby Palo Alto, CA and for many years, Publicity Director of the Monterey Jazz Festival, Grover seemed to be everywhere in the world of Bay Area Jazz.
I met him on several occasions and he was always welcoming, engaging and directly to the point.
He wrote a book - Jazz: America’s Classical Music [New York: Prentice Hall, 1984; New York: Da Capo Paperback Edition, 1992] - to which I am constantly referring.
This foreword to Grover’s book was written by his great friend and Jazz author and essayist, Gene Lees.
“It occurred to me some time ago that I have, by accident, known most of the major figures in jazz history, some of them slightly and some of them intimately. Whatever I know of the subject I learned from them, not from books. Countless hours of conversations with them have long since sunk into my subconscious and shaped my thinking not only about jazz but about art in general and life itself.
One consequence of this experience is a skepticism toward histories of jazz, some of which are too technical for the layman, some of which reveal a limited technical grasp by the writer, some of which are at odds with the reminiscences of those who made it, and all too many of which have been political, serving one partisan purpose or another.
It is no surprise to me that Grover Sales has written a sensible, useful, and, to the best of my knowledge, accurate introduction to jazz, because that is a reflection of his character. His approach to the music has always been informed with the humility of the scholar. And in his various capacities as writer, lecturer on jazz history at San Francisco State University and—at one time—publicity director of the Monterey Jazz Festival, he too has had the opportunity to know many of the major figures in jazz.
A few months before he completed work on this book, Grover did a program at San Francisco State on the career of Dizzy Gillespie, using photographic slides and records to trace the life of this remarkable musician. The participants in this presentation included an audience of 300 students and faculty members, and the object of the exercise, Mr. John Birks Gillespie himself. At several points in the proceedings there was a suspicious mist in the eyes of Mr. Gillespie, a man in whom lives not only a brilliant musical mind and a vast sense of the world's humor but also a deep gentleness. Yes, I would say that Grover Sales is well qualified to describe and discuss the music of Dizzy Gillespie.
Jazz is a living music, not only in the sense that it is still evolving in our time, but in the sense that as a music that is substantially improvised, its emphasis is on the performance rather than on the writing. In jazz, the creator and performer are one. It is a music that has evolved through recording, and indeed it seems likely that had the phonograph not been invented, jazz might not have come into being. Certainly it could not have had its phenomenal rapid development from a folk music into an art music requiring enormous knowledge and skill. (During that seminar with Grover, Dizzy said that no question annoyed him more than the one about whether he ever played any "serious" music. "Men have died for this music," Dizzy said, and added with his customary dry wit, "You can't get more serious than that.")
Much of its history is preserved on records, albeit in the early days records with poor sound quality. And so the emphasis in an approach to jazz history must be on listening rather than reading. And it seems to me that if anyone were to follow this book very carefully, acquiring the records Grover recommends and then listening to them as he reads, he (or she) would come out at the other end with a rather considerable familiarity with the art, equipped now to appreciate and enjoy it on his own. I think this is an important point about this book: It is meant to be a linked listening-and-reading experience.
I believe this book does a major service for the art, particularly for the young, whether they intend to be players or appreciators, who will carry it into the future.
[Gene Lees is a former editor of down beat and a long-time contributor to Stereo Review, High Fidelity, and other major publications, as well as a composer and lyricist whose songs have been recorded by Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, and most of the major singers in jazz and popular music. He is the publisher and editor of The Jazzletter, whose subscribers include almost all the major jazz musicians.]
Following Grover’s death on February 14, 2004, Gene issued this essay entitled Vanished Friend in The Jazzletter [Vol. 22 No. 3]
Unthinking respect for authority is the greatest enemy of truth. — Albert Einstein
“... Grover Sales lectured on jazz history at Stanford, which he did also at various times at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, San Francisco State University, and other schools. Grover's lectures made effective use of his enormous collection of records and an equally wide-ranging archive of photographs, which he projected as illustrations. His lecture on Duke Ellington was outstanding, but then all his lectures were formidably informative.
The institution of jazz training programs at universities has produced generations of skilled musicians, though many of them have a cookie-cutter similarity to each other. Where are they all going to work when the audience has long been shrinking? The universities should be educating the audience as well. But, I have been told by academics, such "survey courses" are not popular. Really? When I did a lecture at the Santa Fe chamber music festival it was the best-attended they had ever had. Grover was there and participated in the discussion.
Grover used to lecture on jazz at the library in Tiburon, California — always to standing-room audiences that were backed up out the door. And he would go anywhere to preach his gospel of American music. He lectured to the very young and the aging as well: he taught at Elderhostel.
He drew on personal experience, having known just about everybody in jazz history. He once did an extended radio interview with Earl Hines as a pilot broadcast for Chevron. Hines sat at the piano and explained what he was doing to Grover, and talked about his past.
I met Grover in the fall of 1959, not long after I became editor of Down Beat. I came out to California to cover the Monterey Jazz Festival, which, the critic Ralph J. Gleason assured me, was doing it right. Grover was the festival's publicist, a position he held from 1958 to 1964. Gleason, who then wrote for the San Francisco Chronicle, said that this new festival was avoiding *he quicksand of commercialism in which, he said, the slightly older Newport Jazz Festival was sinking. He was right then; but in time, the Monterey Festival, no longer guided by its founder, the late Jimmy Lyons, would become one of the most flagrantly "commercial" jazz festivals in America. But it was superb in those early years, and Grover represented it with justified pride.
Somebody hung the nickname "Groove" on him, and it gave him an almost childlike pleasure. He was a handsome man whose comportment somehow made him seem taller than his six feet. He had a full head of wavy gray hair. He lived in Belvedere with his wife, architect and art collector Georgia Sales. It's a lovely community, across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco. He was more than a fixture in that area, he was a presence in its culture, a perpetual gadfly.
When Groove died on February 14, 2004, at the age of 84, the San Francisco Chronicle carried an obituary by Jesse Hamlin, that said: "Grover Sales, a veteran Bay Area critic, author and teacher who wrote about jazz, movies and cultural politics with passion, knowledge and biting wit, has died of kidney failure at Marin Convalescent Hospital in Tiburon.
"Mr. Sales was a lucid, literate, and opinionated man whose gift for language and pleasure in expressing his often contrarian views delighted and sometimes infuriated readers of his essays and reviews. His work appeared in a wide range of publication over the last 50 years, including The Chronicle, San Francisco magazine, the Los Angeles Times, the Tiburon Ark, and Gene Lees Jazzletter"
He wrote a book called Jazz: America's Classical Music, published by Da Capo Press, in print since 1984. It is a good brief introduction to jazz. He also wrote, in collaboration with his wife Georgia, The Clay-Pot Cookbook, a Book of the Month Club alternate which has thus far sold nearly 900,000 copies. It has been in print since 1974.
Grover wrote a number of pieces for the Jazzletter over the years, including in 1984 a carefully researched essay called Why Is Jazz Not Gay Music? Grover consulted (and so did I) the Gay and Lesbian archives of Los Angeles, whose people said they were well aware of the comparative rarity of homosexuality in jazz, particularly in contrast with the classical music world. A high proportion of "classical" composers in the United States, including Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland, David Diamond, Virgil Thompson, Giancarlo Menotti, and Samuel Barber, have been homosexual, but you would have trouble counting ten homosexual jazz musicians, a phenomenon on which Ralph Burns, who was homosexual, commented.
There was nothing biased in Grover's piece, he just examined a phenomenon. He was attacked for it by one of the few overtly homosexual jazz musicians, but the piece stands up, even now.
He was born Grover Sales Jr., on October 26, 1919, in Louisville, Kentucky, where his father was a prominent judge. Since it is not Jewish custom to name children after living relatives, and certainly not after yourself, it would seem the father was no more religious or conventional than Grover.
When he was sixteen, Grover heard a radio broadcast by the Benny Goodman band when Gene Krupa was in the drum chair. He told an interviewer years later, "It was a religious experience. I'd never heard anything like it. I went to bed and had a high fever. My mother had to rub my chest with Musterol, and I've never been the same since."
Grover lived in New York City from 1938 through 1940. It was there that he first heard Duke Ellington, specifically Black and Tan Fantasy. He said it was "an eerie and hypnotic minor blues that went far beyond Goodman. Immediately I ran to the local record store screaming, 'What have you got by Ellington? Give me all of it.' I have never lost the fever."
He attended the University of California at Berkeley from 1948 to 1951, graduating Phi Betta Kappa. He won a Highest Honors in history award in 1949. As well as being publicist for the Monterey Jazz Festival during its best years, Grover was a publicist for the hungry i, and, at various times, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus, the Royal Ballet, the Bolshoi Ballet, the Budapest String Quarter, Elizabeth Schwarzkopf, Woody Allen, Johnny Cash, Judy Garland, Andre Previn, Dick Gregory, and Lenny Bruce, surely a disparate lot. But Grover was interested in ail these people, and he wrote a movie script called The Trial of Lenny Bruce that has yet to be produced. It's based on the transcripts of Lenny's San Francisco trial.
For one of his jazz history classes, Grover designed a retrospective on the life and work of Dizzy Gillespie, whom he lavishly admired and loved. It used photo slides and records of course, but what made this class exceptional was that Dizzy was present. At the end of it, he was almost in tears, I think Grover said that he actually was in tears.
He later wrote: "When a clumsy journalist asked Dizzy Gillespie if he ever played any 'serious' music, Dizzy grew serious indeed: 'People have died for this music. You can't get no more serious than that.' Dizzy could have had in mind the plight of jazz fans in the Third Reich, where, if you were caught with records or magazines devoted to what Dr. Goebbels called 'American nigger kike jungle music,' you could be imprisoned — or even shot. This became the subject of the unique 1993 film Swing Kids, written by Jonathan Marc Feldman with obvious love and rare authenticity. Following disastrous reviews that revealed more about the critics than the film, it folded after a week in the theaters, but survives on video cassette and on Cable TV.
"Those of us who came of age in the 1930's to embrace big-band swing with religious intensity have no trouble accepting the premise of Swing Kids. But reviewers unfamiliar with Mike Zwerin's La Tristesse de Saint Louis: Swing Under the Nazis — or the careers of Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff who fled Hitler to found Blue Note Records — found it 'silly' and 'weird.'
"But the film's premise is rooted in fact. At the dawn of Nazi hegemony in the early 1930's, a close-knit band of dissident teenagers, as portrayed in Swing Kids, loomed in open rebellion against the regime, united by their adoration of Basie, Ellington, Ella, Django and frenzied jitterbugging in the soon-to-become verboten dance halls of Berlin."
In the first year of the Jazzletter, I was introduced to the Czech novelist Joseph Skvorecky, who showed me a short story called Eine Kleine Jazzmusik. It is a narrative about a group of young Czech jazz musicians at the time of the German occupation. Contemptuous of the Germans, they stage a jazz concert under their noses, mocking the conquerors. They are taken to a concentration camp and executed, all but their girl singer, who becomes the mistress of a German officer — and stabs him to death in his sleep. The story, Skvorecky told me, was true. That's what Dizzy meant, and those kids weren't the only ones who died for "this music."
Grover was incensed when various movie critics excoriated Swing Kids. He wrote: "The reactions of film reviewers who helped to ruin Swing Kids' chances for wide distribution seem akin to the notorious attacks on Ellington's 1943 Carnegie Hall premiere of Black, Brown & Beige by established music critics languishing in ignorance of the jazz experience. And Benny Goodman's epochal 1938 Carnegie Hall concert goaded the New York Times' first-string music critic Olin Downes to write: 'hard, shrill, noisy, monotonous . . . swing of this kind will quickly be a thing of the past.'
"Of the film, Janet Maslin in the New York Times wrote: 'Swing Heil is the battle cry of the swing kids, long-haired big-band-loving teenage rebels in Nazi Germany. You may want to read that sentence slowly, just to make sure it does not describe some missing chapters of Wayne's World or simply seem too nutty for words.' It escaped Maslin that Swing Kids wore long hair, wide English-style trousers, and gaudy ties to signify a dramatic break with the military.
"New York magazine's David Denby, from whom we might expect better, said: 'What the naive filmmakers don't seem to understand is that totalitarianism made rebellion meaningless. No one even noticed.' This amazing argument flies in the face of history: the Nazis did much more than merely 'notice' this musical threat to their ideology.
"In the Los Angeles Times, Kenneth Turan found the film 'unsatisfactory from just about every point of view. Awkward, hollow and emotionally heavy-handed, it transforms a sea of movie cliches onto those unfamiliar German shores.'
"Similar was the consensus in the standard video guides. Video Hound said: 'There is something disturbingly silly about the entire production.'"
I agree with what Grover wrote about that picture. And the film is corroborated by everything I have ever heard from jazz lovers (including Claus Ogerman) who lived under the Nazis.
Grover didn't suffer fools gladly, and particularly when they were critics. He could be scathing on that subject. He particularly detested the San Francisco Chronicle's music critic John Wasserman, who got drunk and killed himself in a car crash. Grover once called Wasserman "a ganglion of solipsism, the Rex Reed of San Francisco," saying:
"Rex Reed is somebody with no background, absolutely no judgment, and no taste. Rex Reed is a joke and is never taken for anything else. He has a counterpart on every major newspaper who is comparatively young and relates to the young reader — a brash, uninformed, arrogant writer who occasionally has a clever gift for smart-ass journalism and the bitchy aside ....
"It's very easy for somebody to write a vicious attack on a bad pornographic movie or a spaghetti western. That doesn't take any special talent. What does is for somebody like Judy Stone to review Bertolucci's 1900 and have a complete and thorough background about Bertolucci and the history of Fascism in Italy. She does her homework ....
"There's a great deal of difference between writing a serious piece of criticism about a serious work and making a career out of attacking Marilyn Chambers, Jerry Lewis, and Annette Funicello."
Whatever cause he took up, Grover did so with ardor. In common with some of his neighbors, Grover became incensed by the use of these ghastly noisy leaf-blowing machines by gardeners at ungodly early hours, and they raised the issue with the Belvedere city council. The council gave them a pat on the head and promised to make a study of the matter. Grover asked how come the British could throw out a government and replace it within days and Belvedere couldn't decide a simple issue without a "study." That got him nowhere.
So Grover rented a leaf blower, and on a day of a council meeting he went to the building and started the leaf blower and walked up and down by a window, blowing leaves out of the flower beds. The council of course couldn't hear its own hot air. But that wasn't enough. He went right into the council meeting, with the noisy monster going full blast.
Belvedere passed an ordinance restricting the use of these devices. It became a model for the country, adopted by one community after another. So if those infernal machines have fallen silent in the early hours in your town, you may owe it to Grover Sales.
If he sounds cranky on the subject of other writers, he was uncommonly generous to those he respected. If my attempts over these past years to record aspects of jazz history that seem in danger of being lost, then the jazz world owes Grover a debt. None of this would have happened without him.
He was an early subscriber to the Jazzletter and praised it to anyone who would listen. He sent copies of it to a friend named John Fell, who in turn sent them on to James Lincoln Collier in New York. That was about 1986. I couldn't in those days get a book published to save my life, and I was about to fold the Jazzletter. Collier, whom I did not know except by reputation as author of one of best jazz histories, took those Jazzletters to Sheldon Meyer at Oxford University Press, telling him, "You ought to be publishing this guy." Collier (who would become a very close friend) wrote me a letter saying that if I would submit an idea to Sheldon Meyer, he thought he might be receptive. I did, and Sheldon published Singers and the Song, which got rave reviews. There have been something like sixteen books since then, including my biography of Woody Herman. I owe it all to Grover Sales and Jim Collier, and I told Jim so when I called him recently about Graver's death. He said, "Oh, I think you'd have found some other publisher." I said, "I don't. And had I not found Sheldon, the Jazzletter itself would have died."
So you can imagine how I feel about Grover's passing from the scene. …
Georgia sent out an exquisite card when he was gone consisting of three lovely photos of Grover and two quotations, one of them from an unpublished autobiography, titled — typically Grover — Ragtime Cowboy Jew. "Looking back, I've been lucky to survive the approach of my eighties, lucky in my marriage, my travels, my teachers, my friends and my colleagues, and luckiest and most rare of all, to be able to combine my passion with my career." The other quotation: "And now, that little while, is all my life, and all reality, how long or brief it seems to be."
Atque in perpetuum, frater, ave atque vale.
Hail and farewell, brother.
The jazz world has lost its most passionate evangelist. I have lost a very dear friend.”