Sunday, September 24, 2017

Minton’s: Then and Now


© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


While reviewing a previous newspaper clipping in my files on the reopening of Minton’s Playhouse, the New York City birthplace of Bebop in the early 1940’s, I was reminded me of the excellent chapter on the subject in Mike Hennessey’s biography of drummer Kenny Clarke – Klook: The Story of Kenny Clarke [Pittsburgh: The University of Pittsburgh Press, 1990].

I thought it might be fun to combine a feature that describes what it was like at Minton’s during the formative years of the style of Jazz now known as Bebop with a description of the then current plans to reopen the club over 75 years later as described in the newspaper article.

Minton's – The Beginning

© -Mike Hennessey, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“The part played by Minton's Playhouse in shaping the course of jazz history has been abundantly documented; but it was such a vital and significant chapter in the personal story of Kenny Clarke, and so central to his role as a key innovator, that I make no apology for recapitulating here one of the revelatory, true stories in jazz - a true story which has become a veritable legend and, like all good legends, has been decorated with a good deal of fanciful and subjective embellishment.

Minton's Playhouse was a shabby, unprepossessing room -part of the Hotel Cecil building - on Harlem's 118th Street between Seventh Avenue and St Nicholas, which, in 1940, did not offer any outward sign of becoming a research and development centre for young musicians intent on taking jazz in dramatically new directions. Yet Minton's was to become the crucible in which many of the elements of the new jazz were fused.

Henry Minton, the man who gave the venue its name, was a former saxophone player who became the first black delegate to Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians. He was, by all accounts, a diligent representative of the musicians he served, and when he opened the Playhouse, he did it to provide his musician friends with a place to play and a place to eat.


Minton loved his food and was no mean cook. Initially the Playhouse was largely patronized by the more elderly of the neighborhood’s citizens, but when, in 1940, Minton appointed Teddy Hill as manager of the club, a new era began. Hill, who had fronted his own band since 1932, had become disenchanted with band-leading because of the rapa­cious habits of certain impresarios and he was only too willing to assume the responsibility of booking the musicians for the Playhouse. When he took over, the band in residence was a mainstreamish dixieland outfit led by Albert 'Happy' Caldwell, a tenor saxophonist from Chicago.

Teddy decided to replace Caldwell and, ironically, the man he picked to assemble a new group for the club was the man he had fired from his band a year or so earlier for being a wayward non-conformist: Kenny Clarke. The poetic justice of this was firmly emphasized by Klook when he recounted the story in the ensuing years. Kenny also said, in an interview with Francois Postif, that it was Dizzy Gillespie who was largely responsible for his being hired by Hill. 'Dizzy liked the way I played and recommended me - and Teddy had a great admiration for Diz.’


Kenny took over the musical direction of Minton's early in 1941:

It was a great success right from the beginning, because it was the ideal place for us. It had a bar, a back room with veiled lights, a podium for the musicians and little tables for the guests.

To begin with, I put together a quartet. I had wanted to have Dizzy on trumpet, but he was with Cab Calloway's band. So I hired another trumpet player who'd been with us in the Hill band: Joe Guy. He was twenty years old and playing a little bit like Dizzy. In the Hill band Dizzy had played both lead and solos, but when he wanted to save his lip, Joe would take some of his solos and almost unconsciously, I guess, he copied Dizzy's style.

Kenny's first choice for the piano chair was Sonny White - a man he described at the time as his favourite New York piano player and a very close friend.

I loved Sonny and the way he played and he was such a sweet person. We were so close he used to tell people that we were cousins. But Sonny at the time was Billie Holiday's accompanist and he loved that job so much that he didn't want to leave it. He was a tremendous piano player in the style of his idol, Teddy Wilson.

The man who got the gig on piano was twenty-four-year-old Thelonious Sphere Monk, who had previously been working with gospel groups on the church circuit. On bass, Kenny hired Nick Fenton, on the recommendation of his friend Joe Guy. Nick, a former violinist, appealed to Kenny because he had a flawless sense of time. 'I thought it was a pretty good combo/ Kenny said, 'and as we started working together it emerged that we all had much the same idea of the direction in which we wanted to take the music.’


Minton's had long been a favourite haunt of musicians and singers because of the twin attractions of its authentic soul food and its policy of welcoming sitters-in, and Kenny felt that the quartet could provide a perfect musical foundation for visiting soloists.

On Monday nights it was Teddy Hill's custom to offer an open-house welcome to members of the cast of the current show at the celebrated Apollo Theatre on nearby 125th Street, and they would come to feast on ham hocks, fried chicken, grits, black-eyed peas, barbecued ribs, hot biscuits and good bonded whiskey. They would also come to listen to the most stimulating and adventurous jazz music to be heard anywhere in New York at that time.

Though Teddy Hill, the bandleader, had been outraged at the unorthodox indiscretions of Dizzy and Klook, Teddy Hill the manager was delighted to make Minton's a nursery for the young lions who wanted to push back the frontiers of jazz.

Ralph Ellison wrote, in a 1959 article for Esquire,

It was Hill who established the Monday Celebrity Nights and who allowed the musicians free rein to play whatever they liked. Perhaps no other club, except Clark Monroe's Uptown House, was so permissive, and with the hospitality extended to musicians of all schools, the news spread swiftly. Minton's became the focal point for musicians all over the country.

At the beginning, musicians dropped in just to listen  - because the Kenny Clarke Quartet was pioneering some new ideas. Former members of Teddy Hill's band were regular visitors, as were the musicians from the bands which played the Apollo.
Minton's was open from 10 p.m. until four in the morning and Teddy Hill's open-house policy on Monday nights - an off-day for most musicians - was introduced on the basis that musicians who were allowed to come and eat for nothing would also be ready to play for nothing. And it proved to be a most successful policy. After supper, musicians would go to the bar to drink - paying this time - and listen to the music. And they would go up and jam with the quartet - if they were up to it.

When the Jay McShann band was playing at the Apollo, its twenty-year-old alto saxophonist started to be a regular cus­tomer. His name was Charlie Parker. He would come and eat fried chicken and then sit in. Recalling the arrival of Parker on the scene, Kenny Clarke said:

He was absolutely marvelous. Personally I never heard him play badly. And whenever we had any free moments, Monk and I would go to the Apollo, or to Monroe's Uptown House at 133rd Street and Seventh Avenue, to catch him. He played alto at that time like Lester Young played tenor - and we enjoyed that very much because it was a higher sound, more penetrating. Being in Kansas City, I think Charlie picked up a lot from Lester, particularly in the rhythmic sense  -  though he went a little further musically.


It was the same with Dizzy and Roy Eldridge. Dizzy had started out as a disciple of Roy's, but he wanted to make the style more musical, to put more music in the rhythm things than Roy did. Monk was also moving in that direction - so we formed a little clique, all working towards the same goals.

Charlie Parker had been jamming regularly at Monroe's Uptown House - working for tips - since he was eighteen. When he returned to his native Kansas City in 1939, he was hired by Jay McShann, with whose band he worked until July 1942. Parker was not a regular at Minton's in the early days of Klook's residency. But he came very much into the picture later - because Klook quickly recognized Bird as a musician of formidable stature with fresh and fearlessly innovative ideas totally concordant with his own.


Talking to Ross Russell about his first impressions of Charlie Parker, Klook said:

Bird was playing stuff we'd never heard before. He was into figures I thought I'd invented for drums. He was twice as fast as Lester Young and into harmony Lester hadn't touched. Bird was running the same way as we were, but he was way out ahead of us. I don't think he was aware of the changes he had created. It was his way of playing jazz, part of his own experience . . . We laid a few dollars on him and got him to move from Monroe's down to Minton's. Teddy Hill refused to put another man on the payroll, so we decided to pool our money and give him an allowance. I invited him to the pad I shared with Doc West, another drummer and a good cook. We set him up to meals. He could really eat. He was thin and half-starved. He was trying to live off the kitty at Monroe's.

The revolutionary task force was now complete and it was in the hyper-stimulating atmosphere for which Minton's became famous that, night after night, Kenny Clarke further developed the techniques with which he had started to experiment some ten years earlier.


Charlie Christian had been the first sitter-in to be co-opted into the sanctified inner circle of Minton's. He became a virtual resident of the Playhouse. In a little more than a year, the genius of this self-effacing, soft-spoken guitarist from Okla­homa had propelled him from relative obscurity to stardom with the Benny Goodman band. According to Kenny Clarke, Charlie was crazy about the Minton's rhythm section. The Playhouse provided an atmosphere and a freedom that was a complete contrast to working with the Goodman band and reading arrangements all the time. In that band he wasn't able to play the things he really wanted to play. At Minton's there was nothing written - everything was free and improvised, and Charlie was in his element. He was a very shy person and was not very close to the musicians in Benny's band. He didn't know New York and so he found Minton's a very welcome spot where he could relax and play what he wanted. 'Most of the time he just kept his amplifier in the Playhouse so that he could play with us every chance he got,' Kenny said.

It was Charlie Christian, said Kenny (quoted in Leonard Feather's From Satchmo to Miles), who first used the word 'bebop' to describe the musical style that was being fashioned night after night at Minton's. Kenny had an enormously high regard for Christian and he would probably have become a full-time member of the group had he not succumbed to chronic tuberculosis in February 1942 at the tragically young age of twenty-five.

And it was Charlie Christian who helped Kenny Clarke to create one of the first of the bebop originals. Kenny has recalled in several interviews how he and Christian were at the Douglas Hotel on St Nicholas Avenue one day, visiting a friend who played ukulele.

I fooled around with the uke for a bit and then Charlie took it out of my hand and showed me how it was possible to make all kinds of chords 'by just stretching your fingers right'. He handed back the ukulele and I started experimenting. I got an idea that sounded good and went up to my room in the hotel and wrote it out. I called it 'Fly Right'. Later Monk helped develop the number and Joe Guy took the manuscript to Cootie Williams. Cootie had Bob McRae make an arrangement of it. Cootie used to play it at the Savoy Ballroom. It became his theme. He recorded it on Columbia.


In From Satchmo to Miles, Leonard Feather observes,

It was typical of the prevailing resistance to change that a recording of 'Fly Right' by Williams's band was not released until almost thirty years later after a researcher discovered it. Meanwhile Clarke had recorded it with a small group of his own in 1946 (for Charles Delaunay's Swing label) under its other title, 'Epistrophy'.

Identifying the precise authorship and evolution of licks, which became lines, which became compositions, is some­times a complex exercise, as in the case of 'Salt Peanuts'. French pianist Henri Renaud recalls a comparable tangle in connection with another Minton's opus:

In the early sixties I was playing with Kenny and Jimmy Gourley in the Blue Note. One night I started to play a tune I had heard on an Al Haig Prestige recording - 'Opus Caprice'. After the first few bars Kenny gave a big grin of recognition and said, 'Ah! "Pagin' Doctor Christian"! That was a piece Charlie wrote which we used to play at Minton's.'

Nowadays it is universally known as 'Rhythm-a-ning' and associated with Thelonious Monk. I once asked Al Haig where the tune came from and he said it was a traditional children's song. The first four bars of the song feature in Mary Lou Williams's arrangement of 'Walkin' and Swingin" for the Andy Kirk orchestra, recorded for Decca in 1936. Mary Lou was one of the first to discover Charlie Christian and it was she who recommended him to John Hammond.

It seems to me very possible that Thelonious Monk, who was the resident pianist at Minton's, used the first four bars of 'Pagin' Doctor Christian' in 'Rhythm-a-ning'. Klook's spontaneous reaction when I played the passage in the Blue Note that night showed that he recognized it as a Charlie Christian theme.

Another indispensable - and irrepressible - sitter-in with the modern-jazz minstrels of Minton's was, of course, John Birks Gillespie who, in 1941, was relieved of his duties in the Cab Galloway Orchestra after a stormy altercation with the leader - the famous spitball incident which is fully chronicled in Dizzy's autobiography, To be or not to Bop.


Dizzy became a regular at Minton's where the nightly jam sessions, as he says, 'were seedbeds for our new, modern style of music'. After acknowledging Thelonious Monk's contribu­tion to the bebop revolution in the harmonic and spiritual areas, Dizzy says:

It was Kenny Clarke who set the stage for the rhythmic content of our music. He was the first one to make accents on the bass drum at specific points in the music. He'd play 4/4 very softly, but the breaks, and the accents on the bass drum you could hear. Like, we called them dropping bombs.

The Minton's stage was no place for pretenders or fledgling musicians of a nervous disposition, because a most harrowing fate awaited those who failed to measure up: the withering, corrosive scorn of Thelonious Monk (so, at least, the legend has it). The men from Minton's were very much an elite corps who protected themselves against unwelcome sitters-in by working out themes that were too complex and intricate for run-of-the-mill players.

Recalling the Minton's era, Kenny Clarke said,

We didn't really play bebop then. You know how people in show business always put labels on things - just to sell them more. I can understand that - but we never wanted to be called beboppers, because what we did, we invented tunes and chords so that people we didn't want to play with us just couldn't get up on the bandstand. That's why we did that. Well, we had musicians from all over New York wanting to get in on the act and eighty per cent of them just couldn't play our music. And we sure didn't want to sit and sweat and back up somebody who wasn't doing anything to inspire us. It was important to our enjoyment of the music - and its development - only to have people playing with us who fitted in with what we were doing. So when we had unwelcome sitters-in we used to play different chords and things to discourage them.

Now, in the blues, they would maybe play four chords; Monk would play twenty chords and completely lose them. Sometimes he would say to them, 'Man, get off the stand - you're not playing right.' So the guy would say, 'But I thought we were playing the blues' - and Monk would scowl and say, 'That's not the way we play the blues here; we changed all that.' Monk could be very snide when he wanted to be - nothing fazed him. He'd say anything to anybody if he thought it right. So people were always excusing him - because he could be very outspoken. That's the way he was. If he had got his face broken every time he did something like that he would have been dead at twenty-one. Sometimes he was just plain insulting. 'Oh, man/ he'd say in disgust, 'you just can't play.' That was the way he would eliminate them. It was really a joke.


And quoted by Ross Russell in Bird Lives!, Kenny explained:

Pretty soon Minton's got to be a bad place for older cats. Dizzy began coming up regularly and that gave us the four key instruments - trumpet, alto, piano and drums. That, plus a good bass, was the band of the future. One night, after weeks of trying, Dizzy cut Roy Eldridge. It was one night out of many, but it meant a great deal. We closed ranks after that. To make things tough for outsiders, we invented difficult riffs. Some of our tunes used the 'A' part of one tune, like 'I Got Rhythm', but the channel came from something else, say 'Honeysuckle Rose'. The swing guys would be completely hung up on the channel. They'd have to stop playing.

Illinois Jacquet has recalled how Monk used to play in fiendish keys to discourage the less gifted musicians from staying too long on the stand, and it seems more than likely that such devices were employed in order to keep the music on a high and innovative level. In a 1968 interview with Crescendo contributor Les Tomkins, Kenny Clarke said:

Sometimes when we kept other players off the stand by deviating from the bar lines and so forth, it was done purposely and maliciously, I must say. But things like that must be done in order to accomplish a purpose you believe in. A great change had to be brought about. Jazz had undoubtedly reached stagnation point and it needed to move on to something more valuable and worthwhile - something comprehensive, but technically complicated - to raise standards of musicianship. That was the purpose entirely.

Reading the stories about the unceremonious treatment meted out to visiting musicians who couldn't quite cut it, it always seemed to me that this was somewhat out of character for Kenny Clarke, whose concern was always to help and encourage musicians to develop and to build their confidence. I have heard many stories about the way in which he gave young players and singers a chance to sit in with him, sometimes in the teeth of militant opposition from his fellow musicians.

And in an interview with Burt Korall, published in the 5 December 1963 issue of Down Beat, Kenny said, There's no truth to the story that we purposely played weird things to keep musicians outside the clique off the stand. All we asked was that the musician be able to handle himself. When he got up on that stand, he had to know….’

Contrast this statement with one Kenny gave to Leonard Feather: 'We'd play "Epistrophy" or "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm" just to keep the other guys off the stand, because we knew they couldn't make those chord changes. We kept the riffraff out and built our clique on new chords.’

The apparent inconsistency in Kenny's recollections is, I believe, not too difficult to explain. Such conflicting statements occur from time to time in Kenny Clarke interviews and, though partly explained by memory lapses are, in my view, more properly attributable to an inherent, deep-rooted desire in Kenny's psyche to emphasize the good-natured and whole­some side of life - just as he would do when recalling his childhood. I'm certain that, had it been left only to him - rather than to the abrasively critical Thelonious - there would not have been such a high casualty rate on the Minton's band­stand. The negative interpretation of Kenny's allowing Monk to do what he himself probably shrank from doing would be that Klook was wanting in moral courage. But anyone who knew Kenny Clarke would immediately torpedo that theory. It is simply that he had genuine compassion - and when recalling the Minton's days to Korall, he was almost certainly expressing a personal, not a collective, point of view.

On the other hand, many of the musicians I have talked to about Klook have indicated that he didn't suffer musical fools, impostors or incompetents gladly - not in any show of arrogance, but simply because of his total commitment to professionalism and his lifelong conviction that the customers were entitled to expect musicians to set themselves the highest standards of performance.

At all events, whatever the hazards that faced would-be sitters-in, there was no shortage of musicians eager to prove that they could hold their own with New York's jazz elite. Sometimes on the small Minton's stage there would be as many as twenty musicians jamming together.

The members of the clique were no respecters of reputa­tions. Sitters-in had to put up or shut up - and they included Chu Berry, Benny Carter, Coleman Hawkins, Johnny Hodges, Willie 'The Lion' Smith, Lucky Thompson, Ben Webster and Lester Young; Harry James, Hot Lips Page, Charlie Shavers and Cootie Williams - and the sixteen-year-old Miles Dewey Davis Jr, who was studying at Juilliard at the time; and Clyde Hart, Jess Stacy, Art Tatum, Mary Lou Williams and Tadd Dameron.


As Kenny Clarke told Leonard Feather many years later, 'Tadd was one of the first pianists playing eighth-note se­quences in the new legato manner. I heard him playing flatted fifths in 1940 and it sounded very odd to me at first.’

The Minton's stage was certainly no place for faint-hearts, but such was the wildfire excitement that the new music generated that even illustrious bandleaders put their reputa­tions at risk by sitting in with the resident clique - among them Duke, Count Basie, Andy Kirk, Artie Shaw and even Charlie Christian's boss, Benny Goodman.

One of the most persistent sitters-in at the Playhouse was a black saxophone player known simply as 'the Demon', whose principal claim to fame was that he was quite extraordinarily awful. Trumpeter Joe Wilder remembers the Demon:

He was the worst player ever to enter Minton's. He was horrible. When I used to go there, Eddie 'Lockjaw' Davis was more or less in charge of the band. The group would be playing away like mad and the Demon would take out his horn and stand sort of menacingly in front of the stage until, ultimately, one of the guys would say wearily, 'OK, Demon, come on up and play.' And the Demon would take the stage. But he didn't play one chorus. He played fifteen. Finally, Jaws would go in search of Teddy Hill who would hurry to the stand, stand in front of it with his arms folded and holler, 'Get off my goddam bandstand, Demon!' It became a standing joke.

Thelonious Monk's style of playing put a great deal of emphasis on accents and dynamics and this caused Kenny Clarke to modify his drumming approach:

I had to change my style to play with this clique. Monk's using accents and things made me play accents more myself, on the bass drum. And I needed to play lighter because we weren't using a straight beat. I couldn't play brushes all the time, so naturally I played the top cymbal and used the bass drum for punctuations. When people came into Minton's they'd say, 'Hey, listen to that drummer's accents on the bass drum; man, I never heard that before!'

Those formative years, it was a pattern that had to be perfected like anything else. But our unity of style came from our association; that was an unconscious thing. I have always believed that three or four musicians cannot play together if they dislike one another. But for us, we were great friends, we began to learn from each other. We developed a style and a co-ordination that had never previously existed. At Minton's we played traditional tunes like 'How High the Moon', 'Stomping at the Savoy', and things like that - they were popular in those days. But Monk was also composing a lot of pieces, and he made us play them. He would start out the tune and we had to follow. But he always liked to explain just what he was doing - he would run through the chords and melody with us.

The musicians we most liked to play with at Minton's were guys like Don Byas, Lester, Hot Lips Page, Diz, Bird, Freddie Webster, Tadd Dameron and Miles. Most of the musicians who played there were young -I was one of the oldest and I was still under thirty. You know, we hadn't really set out with the idea of developing any particular style of jazz. It just happened like that. When you think back, you tend to say, 'Well, those guys were really doing something!' But it was really unconscious.

Occasionally Kenny would take a break from the drums and play a set on vibraphone while Jack The Bear' Parker or Kansas Fields sat in. 'But,’ he said later, 'I gave up vibraphone after I heard Milt Jackson in 1945.'


Unhappily, very little of the potent music from those epic Minton's days was captured on record. While many of the visiting musicians recorded individually, away from the Play­house, the great spontaneous sessions themselves went largely unpreserved for posterity. However, in May 1941, as Ross Russell notes in Bird Lives!, a recording enthusiast, Jerry Newman, using a portable turntable, glass-based acetate discs and a cumbersome amplifier, began recording sessions at Minton's and Monroe's.

Writing of one of the tracks, 'Down on Teddy's Hill', Russell says, That Clarke was indeed the founder of the new percus­sion style is evident. One hears a forcing beat, a delicious complexity of polyrhythms, and an unusual awareness of the needs of the soloist.'

Some of the Minton's and Monroe's recordings were later issued on the Xanadu and Everest labels and feature, as well as the club regulars, Kermit Scott, Don Byas, Joe Guy, Hot Lips Page, Rudy Williams, Al Sears and Roy Eldridge. The repertoire is predominantly standard material - 'Sweet Georgia Brown', 'Stompin' at the Savoy', 'Indiana', 'The Sheik of Araby', 'Mean to Me', and so on - but there are also a couple of takes of 'Epistrophy'.

Of that whole band of rebels, renegades and kickers-over of musical traces, the most assiduously eccentric, without doubt, was Thelonious Sphere Monk. Talking about his memories of Minton's many years later, Kenny recalled:

After we finished work, Monk and I would head for the same subway station. He was living downtown on 61st Street and I was living uptown on 146th Street - so we took trains going in different directions. But it was torture for me every night because Monk would be very, very drunk. He would wait with me on my platform talking away for a few minutes, then he would cross the rails to catch his train on the opposite platform. And I was always afraid that he was going to connect with the electric rail and electrocute himself. But I guess God must look after drunken musicians, because Monk made it safely every night!

Although Minton's was, in Ross Russell's phrase, 'the bebop laboratory', its redoubtable regulars were not the only pioneers of the new music. Bud Powell and Max Roach made signal contributions, as did Fats Navarro. And when Charlie Parker was asked in 1953 to name the key founders of the new school he added Don Byas and Ben Webster. But unquestion­ably the most important of these was Bud Powell, even though he was not a participant in the early Minton's sessions. Dizzy Gillespie, in his autobiography, asserts categorically that Bud never played at Minton's - though Illinois Jacquet, in the same book, says he did. Kenny himself couldn't remember Bud at the Playhouse in the early days, but he recalled playing there with him in 1947. Certainly, Bud was a major contributor to the bebop revolution.


Without diminishing in any way the indispensable creative input to the new movement made by Charlie Parker, Charlie Christian, Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk, I believe it is fair to say that the parts played by Kenny Clarke and Bud Powell have been consistently underestimated by jazz writers. In the case of Bud Powell, his psychological problems were undoubtedly a major factor in his failing to achieve his due measure of recognition from writers and from the jazz public at large - although he was massively revered by his peers. In an interview with Francis Paudras in Paris in 1984, Kenny Clarke said, 'Bud and Charlie Parker were on the same level. Bud was as strong on his instrument as Charlie was on his -and after a while there was a sort of quarrel because Bud knew more about harmony than Bird. Charlie was always a little bit jealous of Bud.’ And Arthur Taylor, who worked with Bud Powell in 1952, told me in 1966:

Bud and Bird played a couple of two-week engagements at Birdland and they were always getting at each other. Bird would cut off Bud's solos and take the tune out, so Bud would hit back by only half-playing behind Bird. But Bud was the greatest ever as far as I am concerned . . . It's hard to play jazz piano without playing something Bud played; and if you don't play something he played, well you're not really playing jazz piano.

Paudras, admittedly a dedicated champion of Bud Powell, quotes musicians such as Sonny Stitt, Sonny Rollins, Paul Bley and Bill Evans as regarding Bud as a master - and Allen Eager as having been more impressed by Bud than Charlie Parker.

In Kenny Clarke's case, he had first of all to contend with the fact that drummers are popularly regarded as peripheral con­tributors to the evolution of jazz. The old line about a band consisting of 'fifteen musicians and a drummer' still has a disreputable currency. Kenny was additionally handicapped by his own modesty and humility which, though estimable human virtues, tend to militate against achieving a just level of celebrity. And both Kenny and Bud, having exiled themselves in Europe in the late fifties, were certainly victims of the 'out of sight, out of mind' rule.

According to Dizzy Gillespie, Kenny's role 'was just as important a contribution as mine or Charlie Parker's or Monk's.’


The last word on the subject I will leave to Kansas Fields, a contemporary of Kenny Clarke's and a one-time fellow exile in Paris, who recalled in a March 1986 interview published in Cadence magazine:

I used to tell Klook when they were bopping at Minton's, I said, 'Man, I'm waiting for you to make a mistake, 'cause it sounds like you're going to make a mistake - but you always come out.’ He said, That's bop for you, man, that's bebop!' They call him the father of bebop drums, and he was.”

Minton’s – The Reopening


© -Kia Gregory/The New York Times, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

1/6/2013

This old dive in Harlem has been shuttered for about as long as it had been open. Yet Minton’s Playhouse will always be known as the cradle of bebop, where the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk and Charlie Parker jammed into the night.

Efforts to reopen Minton’s Playhouse on West 118th Street, which first closed in the 1970s, have sputtered.

Minton’s Playhouse had a brief resurgence several years ago. The new owner hopes to add Southern cooking on fine china to the listener’s experience.

Money woes long ago left the doors locked and the electric blue marquee on West 118th Street dark.

But on a recent frigid morning, there were signs of life, a steady beat with far-reaching reverberations: hammering inside by construction workers, and a public hearing notice for a liquor license taped to the window.

The applicant is Harlem Jazz Enterprises L.L.C., led by the businessman Richard D. Parsons, who played trumpet growing up in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn; headed two Fortune 500 companies, Citicorp and Time Warner; and has always wanted to open a jazz spot in Harlem. “I love jazz,” Mr. Parsons said in an interview. He recalled the snappy supper clubs of the 1950s and ’60s, when good music and good food made uptown “something special.”

“And you must know the whole story,” he continued. “I took my senior prom date to a place called the Hickory House, and we heard Billy Taylor. And I still remember it. It was my first adventure in being a grown up, to listen to some good jazz.”

Mr. Parsons said such clubs had disappeared. “They have some jazz venues,” he said. “But most of them you wouldn’t go to eat. And the elegance has kind of left the building.” His aim, he said, “is to try to create that feel.”

Recently, there has been a turnover of jazz clubs in Harlem. The popular St. Nick’s Pub, which opened in the ’60s, shut down in 2011 after the police raided it for not having a liquor license. The site of the well-known Lenox Lounge began the new year with a new owner, Richard Notar, a former managing partner in the Nobu restaurant chain. The previous owner of the Lenox Lounge, who has trademark rights to the name, plans to open a new venue on Lenox Avenue.

Efforts to revive Minton’s Playhouse have sputtered.


Henry Minton, a tenor saxophonist, opened the club in the late 1930s on the first floor of the Cecil Hotel. About 40 years later, it closed and the city seized the property from the landlord, Cecil Hotel Corporation, for back taxes. In 1987, the city handed it to the Harlem Community Development Corporation, which made Housing and Services Inc., a nonprofit, low-income housing developer, the landlord. The building became an apartment complex for formerly homeless adults.

In the mid-1990s, a group of investors that included Robert De Niro and the restaurateur Drew Nieporent was interested in the Minton’s Playhouse space, as was Quincy Jones. In 2006, the jazz club impresario Earl Spain, after leaving St. Nick’s Pub, reopened Minton’s, only to see it close in 2010.

The difference this time, Mr. Parsons said, was capital. “That’s the bottom line,” he added. “People have not put capital in upgrading these venues, and making them competitive with other venues in town. There’s no question that people can’t wait for Minton’s to open. But no one is going to sit in a place that essentially is in its down-on-the-heels, 1950s version of itself.”

If all goes according to plan, in June, Mr. Parsons — in concert with the celebrity restaurateur Alexander Smalls, a longtime friend, as executive chef — will unveil two “brother-and-sister restaurants,” sharing one kitchen, along this dull stretch of West 118th Street. Minton’s Playhouse will reopen in its original location, in the hotel’s old dining room; a new dinner club will open on the building’s St. Nicholas Avenue storefront. Mr. Parsons said that for now he was using his own money to make the clubs happen.

Curtis Archer, president of the Harlem Community Development Corporation, said, “After some false starts, we’re really pumped for this to happen.” He added, “There is really nothing there,” referring to that side of St. Nicholas Avenue.

Minton’s will be a jazz house, with echoes of a bygone era. The menu will feature Mr. Smalls’s brand of Southern revival cooking, served on fine china. And the music will run from smooth, classic jazz to hard-charging bebop after dark. The Cecil will be a lighter, noisier Afro-Asian-American brasserie, Mr. Smalls said, celebrating foods from the African Diaspora.

“You have the most important elements in many ways of the African-American experience, — the jazz, the food, our social sensibilities, our creativity, our liveliness,” Mr. Smalls said. “It’s all in this fantastic corner on 118th Street and St. Nick’s.”

The plan is also, with the help of local organizations and nonprofit groups like their landlord, to use the restaurants to develop a hospitality training program, a job-readiness program for young African-American chefs and a community food program. “The important thing to do,” Mr. Smalls said, “is make this business, and make it sustainable, so we can be an instrument in supporting the community.”

For now, Mr. Parsons is already imagining the house band. Now retired, Mr. Parsons, the former chairman of Citicorp and the former chairman and chief executive of Time Warner, is also chairman of the board of the Jazz Foundation of America, which helps support older jazz musicians. “There’s all these old jazz musicians that still live uptown that the Jazz Foundation looks after,” he said. “And these guys, if they could get a gig, they would.

“And, if Alexander gets his groove on with his cooking,” he added, “we can’t miss.”

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Remembering Sheldon Meyer – Jazz Editor

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

For all the reasons explained below, Sheldon Meyer was one of the most important persons in the Jazz World of the second half of the 20th Century. 

Indeed, had he not interceded on its behalf in his capacity as editor for Oxford University Press, much of the written history of Jazz might not be available as either a primary or a secondary source.

His contributions to Jazz documentation are inestimable, yet, very few Jazz fans know his name.

The posting of this feature is intended to help correct that deficiency. 


“Sheldon Meyer, a distinguished editor of nonfiction books who was almost single-handedly responsible for the Americanization of Oxford University Press in his more than 40 years there, died on Oct. 9 [2006] at his home in Manhattan. He was 80….

Mr. Meyer … made Oxford a major publisher of books about American popular culture — notably jazz and musical theater — and in so doing helped democratize scholarly publishing in the United States….

In Mr. Meyer’s early years with Oxford, he sometimes had trouble persuading dusty dons across the Atlantic that baseball and Basie were fit subjects for a European publishing concern founded in 1478.

‘Now they’re tremendously supportive,” Mr. Meyer told The New York Times in 1988. “They’re delighted because the books do well and they reflect well on American culture. The whole field now has an aura of respectability about it.’”
- Margalit Fox, The New York Times, October 18, 2006

"I had an advantage in staying at one place for forty years. I never could have done the jazz list if I was moving around to three or four publishers during that period. It is kind of an extreme irony that the greatest university press in the world, with these high standards, should become the major publisher of jazz, broadcasting, popular music, all these areas. But I was there at the right time and I had a group of people at the press who had enough flexibility and understanding to let it go forward. Now everybody is enormously proud of this whole thing. I couldn't ask for a better career."
- Sheldon Meyer as told to Gary Giddins

“I have a huge library of books on jazz and popular music. Probably half of them were published by Sheldon and Oxford. To contemplate the condition in which the documentation of jazz and American popular culture would be in had Sheldon Meyer never lived is a gloomy act indeed. …

It is in this light that the great body of Sheldon Meyer's work must be seen. And no one has ever more fully embodied the dictum that an institution is the lengthened shadow of one man than Sheldon Meyer. What the world of jazz owes him is beyond estimate, and most of its denizens don't even know his name.”
Gene Lees, Jazz author

It is tremendously limiting and very unfair of me to refer to the late, Sheldon Meyer solely as a “Jazz Editor,” but I like to think of him that way, that is when I’m not thinking of him as “Sheldon Meyer – Baseball Editor” [another of my favorite subjects].

I thought perhaps that readers of the blog might be interested in the following excerpts from Gene’s view of Mr. Meyer’s significance to Jazz publications during the second half of the 20th century [March, 1998 edition of his Jazzletter].

Few have placed a larger footprint on the written documentation of and opinions about Jazz than Mr. Meyer.  

If you stay with Gene’s essay to the end, not only will you have learned more about a great man – Mr. Sheldon Meyer – but you may also find yourself shedding a tear or two about the current and future state of Jazz research and documentation. 

© -  Gene Lees/Jazzletter; copyright protected; all rights reserved.; used with the author's permission.

A Lengthened Shadow

“Something catastrophic for jazz has happened in New York. I refer to the retirement at the age of seventy of Sheldon Meyer.

Sheldon Meyer, until recently senior vice president of Oxford University Press, is one of the most important men in jazz history, and if in fifty years various persons are researching this music in this time, they will be deeply in debt to him; and probably they will never have heard of him. He is a tall, indeed imposing, man with a round face, remarkably smooth and youthful skin, and equally youthful manner and bearing. He has a droll sense of humor, a quick laugh, and a remarkable lack of pretension for one whose career has been so creative and important.

Gary Giddins recently wrote in the New York Times Book Review: "'Midlist' is an industry euphemism for those writers who do not scale best-seller charts.

"Until the recent spate of articles about the woes of publishing, it never would have occurred to me that I was a midlist author. I write books about jazz, and from where I sit, midlist sounds like a promotion. Yet, along with several colleagues, I have never felt professionally marginalized in the publishing world, and for that we have one man to thank. On the occasion of his retiring from Oxford University Press, Sheldon Meyer merits, at the very least, a flourish of saxophones, a melody by Jerome Kern and a high-kicking chorus line salute. Over the past forty years, Meyer turned the world's oldest and most staid publishing house into the leading chronicler of jazz, Broadway musicals, popular-song writers, broadcasting, and black cultural history. And he and his masters made money at it."

A small number of editors have achieved great prominence, among them Harold Ross of the New Yorker and Maxwell Perkins, who brought to the world Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Wolfe, and others of that stature in the time when fiction still held sway as the major literary act. I think Sheldon's name, in the non-fiction area, belongs at that level.

Sheldon spent the first few years of his career at Funk and Wagnall's, joining Oxford in 1956. Funk and Wagnall's had published Marshall Stearns' pioneering The Story of Jazz. Through Stearns, Sheldon met Martin Williams, who was to become a friend and adviser, as well as writing a number of books published by Oxford. At Oxford Sheldon published Gunther Schuller's Early Jazz, which, as Gary Giddins points out, "remains the most important musicological statement on jazz's infancy."

I came to know Sheldon through James Lincoln Collier, whom I also did not know at the time. Writers about jazz are often notable for an ill-concealed jealousy and a sullen conviction that they alone know anything about the subject, that it is or should be their exclusive domain. Collier proved to be an outstanding exception. He had read some of the Jazzletters and told Sheldon about me, saying, "You should be publishing this guy." Then he wrote me a letter saying he thought Sheldon Meyer at Oxford University Press would be receptive to a collection of my essays. It was an act of generosity that would change my life.

I wrote to Sheldon Meyer, who had published several collections of the exquisite word portraits of Whitney Balliett. Quite timidly, I began by saying, "I am well aware that collections of essays don't sell." And I got back a letter saying, somewhat testily, "Mine do." He said he would very much like to consider a collection of my pieces. After reading a number of them, he told me on the telephone, "You have a reputation as a songwriter and as an expert on singing. I think our first collection — " and I nearly choked on that word first " — should be about songwriting and singers." It became Singers and the Song (a title he gave it) and it would win the ASCAP Deems Taylor Award. So would another collection of my work that Sheldon would publish, Waiting for Dizzy. (I've won it three times. Gary Giddins has the record: he's won it five times.)

In addition, Sheldon published my Meet Me at Jim and Andy’sCats of Any Color, and Leader of the Band: The Life of Woody Herman, and Singers and the Song II, due out in June — an expanded and altered version of the first book. He published Jim Collier's biographies of Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, and Duke Ellington. He published Ted Gioia's West Coast Jazz and, more recently, The History of Jazz, and two books by bassist Bill CrowJazz Anecdotes and From Birdland to Broadway, after reading some of Bill's delightful pieces is the Jazzletter.

Sheldon published Reid Badger's A Life in Ragtime: A Biography of James Reese Europe', King of Ragtime: Scott Joplin and His Era by Edward A. Berlin; Philip Furia's The Poets of Tin Pan Alley (the best book on lyrics and lyricists I've ever read) and Ira Gershwin: The Art of the Lyricist; Joseph P. Swain's The Broadway Musical; Mark Tucker's The Duke Ellington ReaderThe Jazz Scene by W. Royal Stokes; Arnold Shaw's The Jazz Age; Gene Santoro's Dancing in Your Head and Stir It UpThe Frank Sinatra Reader by Steven Petkov and Leonard Mustazz; Bebop by Thomas Owens; The Jazz Revolution by Kathy I. Ogren; Too Marvelous for Words: The Life and Genius of Art Tatum, by James Lester; Ira Gitler's Swing to Bop; Leslie Course's Contemporary Women Instrumentalists, and many more, including a new encyclo­pedia of jazz, on which Leonard Feather and Ira Gitler were working when Leonard died. Ira is completing it.

And Sheldon commissioned and published American Popular Song by Alec Wilder and James Maher, one of the most important books in American musical history.

I have a huge library of books on jazz and popular music. Probably half of them were published by Sheldon and Oxford. To contemplate the condition in which the documentation of jazz and American popular culture would be in had Sheldon Meyer never lived is a gloomy act indeed. Most of those books would not have found an outlet without him.

And aside from the jazz books, Sheldon published Lawrence W. Levine's Black Culture and Black Consciousness, Albert J. Raboteau's Slave Religion, John Blassingame's Slave Community, Robert C. Toll's Blacking Up, Nathan Irvin Huggins' Harlem Renaissance, A. Leon Higginbotham' Jr.'s In the Matter of Color, Thomas Cripps' Slow Fade to Black, Richard C. Wade's Slavery in the Cities, and a two-volume biography of Booker T. Washing­ton by Louis R. Harlan's.

It is highly unlikely that the standard "commercial" publishing houses would have risked publishing such works, certainly the jazz books.

I once asked who actually headed Oxford, and was told that it was a group of anonymous dons at the university in England. I thought this was a joke; I learned that while the statement may have been hyperbolic, it was not exactly untrue. There is a certain amorphous quality about the upper level of Oxford University Press, but Sheldon Meyer lent to his division dignity, direction, and decision. When he started publishing books on jazz, his "masters," as Gary Giddins called them, questioned him. As Sheldon told Gary:

"I had some problems in the mid-60s. The head of the press in England said he had begun to notice some odd books appearing in the Oxford list, and I said, well, I'm responsible for them. Since he was a papyrologist — a guy working with old documents, old rolls of paper — he didn't have much connection with this world, to say the least. So I said to him, 'Well, look, as long as these books are authoritative and make money, it seems to me they're appropriate for the press to publish.' Fortunately for the future of my career, that turned out to be correct."

Read between the lines of that and you'll realize that Sheldon laid his career on the line to publish books about jazz. Thus it came to be that probably the oldest publishing house in England became the premiere publishing house on contemporary American culture.

As he told Gary Giddins, "I had an advantage in staying at one place for forty years. I never could have done the jazz list if I was moving around to three or four publishers during that period. It is kind of an extreme irony that the greatest university press in the world, with these high standards, should become the major publisher of jazz, broadcasting, popular music, all these areas. But I was there at the right time and I had a group of people at the press who had enough flexibility and understanding to let it go forward. Now everybody is enormously proud of this whole thing. I couldn't ask for a better career."

Sheldon Meyer has been an editor of brilliance, and if there is such a thing in editing, even of genius. I began to get a bad feeling a couple of years ago when his close friend and long-time professional associate, Leona Capeless, one of the finest copy editors I've ever known, retired from Oxford. And now that Sheldon too has retired, my unhappy capacity to reach conclusions I don't like tells me that much chronicling of American cultural history is never going to get done. The loss to America and to the world is inestimable.

In the past few years, I have been only too aware that primary sources of jazz history, and popular-music history, are being lost to us. The great masters, the men who were there, are slowly leaving us. I do not know who said, "Whenever anyone dies, a library burns." But it is true: almost anyone's experience is worth recording, even that of the most "ordinary" person. For the great unknown terrain of human history is not what the kings and famous men did — for much, though by no means all, of this was recorded, no matter how imperfectly — but how the "common" people lived.

When Leonard Feather first came to the United States from England in the late 1930s, he was able to know most of his musical heroes, including Louis Armstrong and Jelly Roll Morton. By the end of the 1940s, Leonard knew everybody of significance in jazz from the founding figures to the young iconoclasts. And when I became actively involved in the jazz world in 1959, as editor of Down Beat, most of them were still there. I met most of them, and became friends with many, especially the young Turks more or less of my own age. I have lived to see them grow old (and sometimes not grow old), and die, their voices stilled forever. And so, in recent years, I have felt impelled to do what I can to get their memories down before they are lost, leading me to write what I think of as mini-biographies of these people. This has been the central task of the Jazzletter. And always underlying my efforts in the past ten years has been the quiet confidence that, thanks to Sheldon, these works would end up between hard covers on library shelves for the use of future music historians. That is no longer so.

When I wanted to know something about one aspect or another of music history in the 1960s, I could pick up the telephone and call these older mentors, such as Alec Wilder or my special friend Johnny Mercer, or Robert Offergeld, music editor of Stereo Review when I wrote for it and one of the greatest scholars I have ever known. If I wanted to know something about the history or the technique of film composition, I could telephone my dear, dear friend Hugo Friedhofer, who wrote his first film music in 1929. There was nothing worth knowing about film music that Hugo didn't know; and not much for that matter about the history of all music. I can't call Hugo any more. Or Dizzy. I can't call Glenn Gould either. Gerry Mulligan was ten months older than I. Shorty Rogers died while I was researching the Woody Herman biogra­phy; I was to interview him in a week or two.

Now, when my generation is gone, there will be no one much left who knew Duke Ellington and Woody Herman and Ben Webster and Coleman Hawkins. All future writers will be dependent not on primary sources, which all of these people were for me, but on secondary sources, which is to say documents. And earlier writings. And I have found much of the earlier writing on jazz, such as that of John Hammond and Ralph J. Gleason, to be unreliable — sloppy in research, gullible in comprehension, and too often driven by personal and even political agendas. Errors — and lies — reproduce themselves in future writings.

It is in this light that the great body of Sheldon Meyer's work must be seen. And no one has ever more fully embodied the dictum that an institution is the lengthened shadow of one man than Sheldon Meyer. What the world of jazz owes him is beyond estimate, and most of its denizens don't even know his name.

Sheldon continues as a consultant to Oxford, completing projects he initiated. But no writer who has dealt with him thinks Oxford will continue developing these hugely significant projects. And therefore much of jazz and popular-music history is going to go unrecorded, lost forever. We are fortunate, however, that Sheldon Meyer managed to get as much of it preserved as he did.

Salud, Sheldon. We all owe you.”

Salud, Gene, We all owe you, too.

[Mr. Lees passed away on April 22, 2010]



Friday, September 22, 2017

Julian and Nat: The Adderley Brothers

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


“A great popularizer, and a leader in the soul-jazz style of the '6os, Cannon was a much-loved figure who helped keep jazz before an audience at a time when it was losing listeners. ...

Long a critically undervalued figure, Cannonball Adderley's status as a master communicator in jazz has increased since his sadly early death. The blues-soaked tone and hard, swinging delivery of his alto lines are as recognizable a sound as anything in the aftermath of bebop and, while many have been quick to criticize his essentially derivative manner - Cannonball frequently fell back on cliches, because he just liked the sound of them - there's a lean, hard-won quality about his best playing that says a lot about one man's dedication to his craft….

Adderley's regular quintet has often been damned with such faint praise as 'unpretentious' and 'soulful'. This was a hard-hitting, rocking band which invested blues and blowing formulae with an intensity that helped to keep one part of jazz's communication channels open at the time of Ornette Coleman, Eric Dolphy and other seekers after new forms….”
- Richard Cook and Brian Morton, The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.

Julian “Cannonball” Adderley made his New York debut at the Cafe Bohemia in June, 1955, a moment which has gone down in jazz legend. It is a much told tale, but one that bears repeating. Julian and his brother, trumpeter Nat Adderley, had journeyed from their home in Florida to New York to spend some time in the city soaking up the jazz scene. At the time, the trumpeter had worked briefly with Lionel Hampton, but the saxophonist was a total stranger on the New York stage.

The Adderley Brothers made their way directly to Cafe Bohemia, where bassist Oscar Pettiford held the residency. His current saxophonist, Jerome Richardson, was absent, and the band began without him. As Nat Adderley explained to Jazz author Kenny Mathieson in 1997, what happened next has taken up permanent residence in Jazz lore.

“Julian and myself had our horns with us, not because we expected to play, but we didn't want to leave them in the car - this was New York, right? So what happened then was that Charlie Rouse came into the club, and when Oscar saw him come in, he called him over to sit in for Jerome. Charlie didn't have his horn, but Oscar had seen that we had our cases, so he sent Charlie over to borrow the horn. That was Oscar for you, I guess. But the thing was, Charlie knew Julian - he had met him in Florida, and knew that he could play. So Charlie said to Oscar that Julian didn't want anybody else to be blowing his horn, but he would sit in instead. Now, Oscar wasn't real happy about that, but he let him come up, then he called I'll Remember April at a real fast tempo. I'm talking murderous, man. And Julian just flew across the top, and left everybody with their mouths hanging open.”

When the saxophonist produced an equally dazzling performance on Pettiford's Bohemia After Dark, the bassist offered him a gig, and the word went around the New York musicians that a hot new property was in town.

Kenny Clarke, the drummer in Pettiford's band, had a record date for Savoy scheduled at the end of June, and invited both Adderley brothers to take part. It featured a variation on Pettiford's band, minus the leader, with Donald Byrd (trumpet), Jerome Richardson (tenor sax and flute), and a rhythm section of Horace Silver (piano), Paul Chambers (bass) and Clarke.

Savoy grabbed the chance to record a second session in July, this time under the saxophonist's own name, before he signed to EmArcy Records. It featured a quintet in which the brothers were joined by Hank Jones (piano), Chambers and Clarke.

The Savoy material was later collected as Spontaneous Combustion: The Savoy Sessions, and included two sides cut by a quartet led by Clarke on a separate date, featuring Nat but not Julian. As recording debuts go, it is not earth-shattering, but does reveal that the saxophonist was already well down the road to mastery. He sounds like a seasoned player from the outset, and on cuts like 'With Apologies To Oscar', 'Bohemia After Dark' or a lithe reading of 'Willow Weep For Me', he reveals his command of line, phrasing and rhythmic momentum, whatever the tempo.

And then there are the blues performances, Hear Me Talkin' To Ya from the first date, and Spontaneous Combustion and the slower Still Talkin' To Ya from the second. They lay down a bedrock of blues invention and expression which the saxophonist would exploit to the full in the next two decades.

As Peter Keepnews noted in his sleeve notes for the album release, 'the special value of Adderley's music was never that there was anything startlingly "new" about it, but rather that his was a style simultaneously "modern" in conception and solidly rooted in the traditions of jazz'. Those traditions included not only Charlie Parker, to whom Adderley was continuously and tiresomely compared, but also to earlier swing era stylists like Coleman Hawkins (his first hero) and especially Benny Carter.

After an initial stutter in the late-1950s, Cannonball Adderley's subsequent career brought him a great deal of success, and a great deal of rather deprecating criticism from those who saw him as selling out his jazz heritage in pursuit of it. He arguably did more than any other single musician to popularise the idea of soul jazz, and his 45 rpm single hits of the early 1960s (usually edited-down versions of album tracks, but sometimes made specifically for that purpose) conjured up an image of a much earlier phase of jazz history, but it would be entirely wrong to dismiss him as simply a populist with a shrewd feel for public taste (which is no hanging offence in any case).

Adderley followed his own musical instincts in everything he did, and they did not always coincide with the critical agendas of the day.

As Chris Sheridan points out in Dis Here: A Bio-Discography of Julian “Cannonball' Adderley, that kind of reaction is “the cross borne by many of those who consolidate rather than innovate.... Unfortunately, there is no more potent kiss of death in the eyes of so-called "purists" than a taste of popular and therefore financial success, but this cannot alter the fact that Mr Adderley's music was full of exhilaratingly naive freshness and always swung hard. As Nat has observed, he appreciated their "hits" for the security they afforded and for the people they pleased, but he always wanted the chance to “play whatever he pleased.”

The Adderley brothers had grown up in Florida, where Julian acquired his familiar nickname, said to be a corruption of “Cannibal,” inspired by his formidable appetite.


Julian Edwin Adderley was born on 15 September, 1928, and Nathaniel three years later, on 25 November, 1931 (that is the commonly accepted date, although Chris Sheridan gives it as 21 November, apparently on Nat's authority).

Their father, also Julian, was a cornetist, and started both boys on the trumpet as children. Nat stuck with it, and adopted the cornet as his horn of choice from 1950, but Julian chose to switch to saxophone, seemingly inspired by hearing Coleman Hawkins with the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra. Their musical careers would remain intertwined until Julian's death from a stroke while on tour on 8 August, 1975 (the saxophonist suffered from diabetes, as did Nat).

They formed their first band as youngsters (they were eleven and eight at the time), and continued to develop through school and college. After graduating, Julian took a job teaching and ran a band on the side, including a stint leading a band in the army, where his fellow musicians included Nat, trombonist Curtis Fuller and pianist Junior Mance.

Nat was the first to spread his musical wings beyond their home. In 1954, having also taken a teaching qualification, he joined Lionel Hampton's band for a time. Any further thought of teaching careers was put aside after the Bohemia debut in 1955, and both men turned their full attention to music.

Julian was signed by EmArcy Records (the label was an imprint of Mercury Records) immediately after the Savoy dates, and set about forming his first real band, with Nat on cornet.

He cut several highly manufactured sessions for his new label, including an octet date for his eponymous debut in July, 1955; a With Strings album in October of that year; a ten-piece band for In The Land of Hi-Fi in June, 1956; and an album of tunes from Duke Ellington's musical Jump For Joy, cut with trumpeter Emmett Berry, a string quartet and rhythm section in 1958, with fine arrangements by Bill Russo.

The essential musical core of his work for EmArcy, however, lay in the
sessions with his quintet, in which Nat was joined by a rhythm trio featuring Junior Mance's rolling, bluesy piano, Sam Jones on bass, and drummer Jimmy Cobb. They recorded most of the material for the albums released as Sophisticated Swing and Cannonball Enroute in February, 1957, with the sessions for Cannonball's Sharpshooters following in March, 1958. The problem was that much of this music was not released until considerably later, and the lack of support for their working quintet contributed both to its demise, and to their departure from the company. All three albums were eventually gathered on an excellent 2-CD compilation as Sophisticated Swing: The EmArcy Small-Group Sessions in 1995, along with Nat Adderley's To The Ivy League From Nat.

There was to be no immediate success story, however. A combination of inexperience and financial naivety led to the break-up of the band as a working unit in 1957. Both Julian and Nat went off to work as sidemen for a time, the trumpeter with J. J. Johnson and Woody Herman, and the saxophonist in what was to be a crucial stay with Miles Davis, in a period which encompassed the recording of Milestones and Kind of Blue, as well as Adderley's equally memorable contributions to Gil Evans' New Bottle, Old Wine for Pacific Jazz in 1958, and the joint Davis-Evans classic Porgy and Bess, also in 1958. Adderley also had the chance to join Dizzy Gillespie at that point, but told Ira Gitler in 1959 (quoted in Ashley Khan's Kind of Blue) that his decision to plump for Miles had two motivating factors: “I had two things in mind. I had the commercial thing in view, like I wanted to get the benefit of Miles's exposure ... I figured I could learn more than with Dizzy. Not that Dizzy isn't a good teacher, but he played more commercially than Miles. Thank goodness I made the move I did.”

The trumpeter initially hired Adderley for his quintet, because, according to the saxophonist, “he didn't dig any of the tenor players around and Trane had left.” Coltrane then returned to the band, making up the famous sextet on Kind of Blue. In his autobiography, Miles explained that he saw the possibility of developing a “new kind of feeling” by exploiting the contrast between “Cannonball's blues-rooted alto sax up against Trane's harmonic, chordal way of playing, his more free-form approach,” a wish which was handsomely fulfilled. Adderley's albums with Miles and Evans undoubtedly constitute some of the highest peaks in his recording career, and must be considered central to any assessment of his musical standing.

Cannonball also recorded several other significant albums during his tenure in the trumpeter's band. Somethin' Else, a one-off session for Blue Note on 9 March, 1958, featured Davis in his last appearance as a sideman. The saxophonist began recording for Riverside in July, 1958, opening his account with Portrait of Cannonball with a sextet featuring another Florida hornman, trumpeter Blue Mitchell, and pianist Bill Evans. Alabama Concerto, recorded in late July and early August, 1958, was a folk-derived project originally credited to composer John Benson Brooks, but later reissued as an Adderley disc.

A more compelling date in October, 1958, teamed the altoist in a vibrant collaboration with vibraphonist Milt Jackson on Things Are Getting Better, a relaxed, swinging showcase for two players imbued from top to toe in the blues. A quintet date from 3 February, 1959, originally issued as Cannonball Adderley Quintet In Chicago and subsequently reissued as Cannonball and Coltrane, featured Miles's band minus its leader (a similar personnel completed a Paul Chambers session for Veejay on the same day).
Just before leaving the trumpeter's employ, he cut another Riverside date in April-May, 1959, released as Cannonball Takes Charge. Several of these sessions would certainly fall into any list of his most important discs.

The experience gained in the two years of that association with Miles had helped the saxophonist mature into an even more fully rounded player, and he re-emerged ready for the challenge of leading his own band again in 1959, albeit in a very different musical direction to the modal explorations which characterised Kind of Blue.


His recordings had already established his credentials as an alto saxophonist with an equally secure grip on driving bop tunes, blues and ballads, an irresistible sense of swing, and an alto sound which had something of Charlie Parker's diamond-hard luminescence, mixed in beautifully proportioned fashion with the rich, buttery elegance of Benny Carter, the occasional whiff of an earthy, jump band saltiness, and a touch of sanctified gospel feel. Those were the classic constituents of hard bop, and Adderley was about to establish himself as the most popular exponent of the genre.

The sound which would give him his most overt commercial success had already been prefigured on funky tunes like Nat's compositions Another Kind of Soul on Sophisticated Swing and That Funky Train on Cannonball Enroute, Sam Jones's Blue Funk from Portrait of Cannonball, or Julian's own Wabash from In Chicago.

It was their version of Bobby Timmons' This Here (aka 'Dis Here') which really caught on big, however, and helped move the band onto another plane, in commercial terms at least. The tune was taken from their Riverside album Cannonball Adderley Quintet in San Francisco, record at the Jazz Workshop in October, 1959, with a band which featured Nat on cornet, Timmons on piano, Sam Jones on bass, and Louis Hayes on drums. Orrin Keepnews had promised Adderley that he would record the band whenever the saxophonist felt ready, and remained true to his word when he received an excited call to report how well things were going in the four week stint at the Workshop.

The live recording was born of necessity (the availability of an appropriate studio in San Francisco) rather than careful planning, and proved to be one of those serendipitous masterstrokes which can arise in apparently unpromising circumstances. It opened in unconventional fashion with a lengthy spoken introduction from the saxophonist, which, among other things, established the verbal authority for the Dis Here version of the title in the course of his oration on soul. His verbal rapport with his audience was a feature of his style, and an indication of his ability to communicate easily and directly with them. An affable personality may have helped grease the wheels (and infuriate the purists), but it was the music in all its funky, soulful, swinging joy which established the LP as an even bigger seller than the single, and propelled the saxophonist onto another level of stardom.

Our culture predisposes us to link artistry with suffering, a stereotype which
Adderley gleefully pushed aside. Chris Sheridan puts it thus: “Unlike some jazz musicians, his style was a mirror image of his personality: large, eloquent, outgoing and above all predisposed to the sunnier side of life, despite a rare eloquence in interpretation of jazz's most basic material, the blues. It was a sense of optimism in much of his playing that echoed that of trumpeter Clifford Brown. Neglecting his gifts with the blues, many commentators thus wrote him off as of narrow emotional range.”

His effusive music had a verbose, easy going lyricism which permeates the San Francisco date, and retains its charm largely intact. In addition to Dis Here, the album included a great take of Spontaneous Combustion and a version of Bohemia After Dark, Adderley's own You Got It, and Randy Weston's Hi-Fly, while later issues added Monk's Straight, No Chaser. It is solid, swinging and unpretentious stuff, but with much powerful, inventive and expressive jazz improvisation along the way.

It was the harbinger of much to come in a similar vein. Timmons had not been his first choice as pianist when he was putting the new quintet together - he had offered the job to Phineas Newborn, but the pianist would only agree to join the band if he received featured billing, and Nat already had that (the band was always billed as “The Cannonball Adderley Quintet featuring Nat Adderley”). Timmons proved a fortunate alternative, and although he did not stay long in the group, he not only provided them with that initial hit, but also its follow-up, Dat Dere, drawn from a session on 1 February,1960, shortly after Nat Adderley had cut his own best known tune, Work Song (aka 'The Work Song'). It is one of the most archetypal of all hard bop compositions, and appeared on his own album of that name, along with another hard bop classic, Julian's Sack o' Woe.

In a precise parallel with his brother, the cornetist had also signed to Riverside after cutting albums with Savoy and EmArcy, and chose an unusual line-up for what became his classic album. His cornet was featured alongside guitarist Wes Montgomery, who had been recommended to Orrin Keepnews by Cannonball the previous year and was cutting The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery back-to-back with this session, and either Sam Jones or Keter Belts on cello. Not all the manipulations of personnel were quite as planned - as Orrin Keepnews revealed in his reminiscence on Nat in The View From Within, the two cuts with no piano resulted from Bobby Timmons dropping out “on account of a little drinking.”

Work Song was recorded in January, 1960, and contains some of Nat Adderley's finest playing on record outside of his brother's bands. It was one of several albums he cut for the label, including Branching Out in 1958, with saxophonist Johnny Griffin and the trio known as The Three Sounds (comprising pianist Gene Harris, bassist Andy Simpkins and drummer Bill Dowdy), and That's Right, a 1960 date with a five-strong saxophone section, as well as the subtly arranged Much Brass with trombonist Slide Hampton from 1959. He was never a great virtuoso, but evolved a distinctive signature on cornet, blending a rich tone and earthy warmth with the horn's inherent touch of astringency to great effect, and developed an individual and expressive voice of his own, which included a sparing but effective use of the very low registers of the horn, as well as lip-busting explorations at the opposite end of its range.

The early 1960s were a busy and productive time for the Adderley brothers.  Despite receiving lucrative offers elsewhere, Adderley remained with Riverside until the label's demise in 1964, and neither he nor Keepnews was about to ignore a winning gambit. His remaining albums for the label included several more live sets, including The Cannonball Adderley Quintet at The Lighthouse in 1960, with English pianist Victor Feldman now installed at the piano, doubling on vibes. The saxophonist then expanded his group to a sextet in 1961, adding saxophonist Yusef Lateef to the personnel, while the Austrian pianist Joe Zawinul took over the stool he would occupy for a decade, before moving on to Weather Report via Miles Davis.

The choice of a second white European pianist brought Adderley some flack from those who felt his band should give preference to black cats, but, like Miles, he was colour blind when it came to music, although he was active in support of civil rights issues. The sextet are featured on Cannonball Adderley Sextet In New York, cut at the Village Vanguard in January, 1962; Jazz Workshop Revisited, a return to the scene of earlier triumphs in September, 1962, which introduced another of Nat's best known compositions, The Jive Samba; Cannonball In Europe, recorded in August, 1962, but not released at the time (other live material from European tours of that period has also surfaced on the Pablo, OJC and TCB labels); and Nippon Soul, cut in Tokyo in July, 1963 (again, other concert recordings have also emerged on various labels from that tour).


His studio albums for Riverside included Them Dirty Blues, the album cut on 1 February, 1960, which featured Dat Dere; The Poll Winners, the only recorded meeting of Adderley and Wes Montgomery in May-June, 1960; Know What I Mean?, a rare quartet date from 1961 named for one of the saxophonist's favourite catch phrases, with Bill Evans on piano, and the MJQ-derived team of Percy Heath and Connie Kay; The Cannonball Adderley Quintet Plus, a fine session from May, 1961, with pianist Wynton Kelly augmenting the quintet, allowing Feldman to play more vibes than usual; African Waltz, a 1961 album with a big band accompaniment; and the self-explanatory Cannonball's Bossa Nova, a cash-in on a current fad from December, 1962, which had the merit of using a Brazilian group that included pianist Sergio Mendes and drummer Dom Um Romao.

The stability of personnel undoubtedly contributed to making the Adderley Sextet one of the great ensembles in all modern jazz. Lateef, whose instruments included flute and oboe as well as tenor saxophone, was, like drummer Louis Hayes, a native of Detroit (bassist Sam Jones, on the other hand, belonged to the Florida contingent). He had cut his teeth with the likes of Roy Eldridge and Dizzy Gillespie in the late 1940s, but was also given to a more experimental impulse which was reflected in his work with Mingus prior to joining the sextet, and in his own subsequent albums for Impulse! and Atlantic in the 1960s and 1970s. His earlier discs, including sessions for Riverside and Prestige, had been relatively more straight-ahead affairs (although often with a distinct Eastern flavour in the music, as in The Centaur and The Phoenix from 1960, or Eastern Sounds the following year), and he was on the cusp of a more outward bound approach in his two years with the sextet, from late 1961 to 1964.

His introduction not only added depth to the ensemble and a new, distinctive and occasionally disruptive voice and tonal colour to the band's front line, but sparked the two resident hornmen to even greater efforts. Lateef also brought a striking variation into the band's repertoire, introducing compositions which stretched their music in unaccustomed directions. That was evident right from the outset on In New York, cut only three weeks after he joined the band (although he already sounds pretty much at home). Challenging compositions like Planet Earth and Syn-anthesia on that album, or Brother John, his tribute to John Coltrane featured on Nippon Soul, nestle a little uncomfortably amid the more amiable blowing vehicles, but bring a newly charged dimension to the music which was heightened by his more 'out' approach on all of his instruments.

The tension which his contributions brought to the music generally worked well as a contrast with the band's more settled directions, and often produced dramatic responses from his colleagues, while Zawinul fitted sweetly into a unit which boasted one of the best rhythm sections around in Jones and Hayes, who laid down a relentlessly swinging and superbly focused rhythmic foundation under everything the band did. The pianist contributed a great deal of material to the band's book in his long tenure with them, on both the more populist and the more advanced facets of their music. Zawinul recalled the feel of the band for Brian Glasser's book In A Silent Way.

“We did nothing but work, man, 46-47 weeks a year, and often under the best circumstances. A lot of the time we really had fantastic fun. In Europe, I hadn't had a chance to play bebop, and Cannonball was the first gig where I could really stretch out, a solo on every tune. I feel Sam Jones and Louis Hayes were really instrumental in my really getting down with this. Sam Jones is one of the greatest walkers of all time, and Louis has one of the gifted right hands - his cymbal beat is dangerous. And though I was still green for a while, Cannonball would let me play trio tunes with Sam and Louis. In Philadelphia, in a club where it's 90 per cent black, I'm playing my shit and we have those people on their chairs. I used to check out how people accepted me, and it showed me I was right to do this.”

The demise of Riverside took Adderley to Capitol, where he continued to rack up commercial successes, opening his account with (surprise) a live album, Cannonball Adderley - Live!, recorded in August, 1964, with a young Charles Lloyd replacing Lateef on tenor. His tenure with Capitol produced around twenty albums, many of which were forgettable by comparison with his earlier work. The creeping sense of relying on formulaic solutions which was evident even in the Riverside years became more and more marked as the decade progressed. Nonetheless, there was also much strong stuff emerging. He scored further successes with tunes like Mercy, Mercy, Mercy, which provided his biggest hit of all in 1966, and Country Preacher in 1969, both prime slices of greasy, sanctified funk written by Zawinul.

He experimented with a flavour of African drumming on Accent On Africa in 1968, and with electronics on The Price You Got To Pay To Be Free in 1970 (among others), played soprano now and then, and chipped in the occasional vocal, as did Nat. He renewed his association with Orrin Keepnews when he signed to the Fantasy label in 1973, and cut solid albums like Inside Straight (1973) and Phenix (1975), a double LP which looked back to many of his classic tunes with various members of his past bands, and carried the odd intimation of a more radical direction which was always part of his work, notably in his solo on a remake of 74 Miles Away, a modal tune by Zawinul which the pianist described as “a very natural groove based on just one chord” -  A flat minor. It was originally recorded in 1967 on an album of that name, and stands alongside tunes like Hippodelphia or Rumplestiltskin as one of Zawinul's more exploratory pieces for the band.

Bass player Walter Booker confirmed the tension which simmered between the pianist and the more conservative Nat Adderley over the direction of their music, and eventually led to Zawinul's moving on at the end of 1970. He told Brian Glasser that Zawinul was responsible for the direction in which the music was going in the late 1960s, but “Joe always wanted to go further and do more, and Nat was holding it back,” while the leader took a middle position and reaped the musical benefits:

“Cannon moved on in a number of ways, but Nat was a straight-down-the-middle sort of guy - that was the way his tastes ran. He and Cannon never had any overt problems with it, because they did a tremendous job of adjusting to each other, which is not always automatic between brothers. So to say there was a certain amount of pull between Joe and Nat is quite accurate. ... Cannonball's personality was a very relaxed one. He was not gonna get uptight about musical differences. He'd find a way to work things out ... and if the way to work it out was to step back and let these guys bounce off each other, what the hell!”

Cannonball was at work on an album at the time of his unexpected and sadly premature death at the age of forty-six. The saxophonist's career had traced a parabola described succinctly by Chris Sheridan:

“He began more loved by musicians than by critics, and ended more loved by the public than by the critics. In between was an intense period when, first with Miles Davis, then with his own re-formed quintet, Cannonball was lauded by all camps.”

If the saxophonist was always ready to toss in one of his stock licks, it was not because he could think of nothing else to play -he did so because he enjoyed playing them, and liked the way they sounded, which just about sums up his philosophy when it came to making music.

Orrin Keepnews described him as:

“ … one of the most completely alive human beings I had ever encountered;  a big man and a joyous man, intensely loyal to his associates, but also the kind of star who volunteered his services as a sideman (at union scale) for the record dates of men he liked and respected like Jimmy Heath, Kenny Dorham, Philly Joe Jones. He came up with the idea of his producing albums that would present either unknown newcomers or underappreciated veterans; he felt that his name might help their careers (Chuck Mangione first recorded as a Cannonball Adderley 'presentation').”

Whatever the tensions and frustrations, Joe Zawinul was in no doubt about the leader's merits, and as a leading musician who worked closely with the saxophonist for a decade, was well placed to reflect on them when asked to compile a CD anthology in the late 1990s: “Cannonball is one of the greatest musicians of all time. I played with him nine and a half years, and not one time did I hear him searching for something on the horn. Not that he wasn't improvising, but his reaction time was so quick. You never felt he was looking for it. He hardly ever practised. There was no reason for him to practise. And Cannon's tone! I played with the guy, but I'm not a music listener who sits around and plays old albums, so when I listened to his recordings it was his tone that struck me first. It was just awesome. His sound in the lower register is so beautiful, and the sound didn't get skinny going up. Some players sound nice in the bottom then go up, and they don't have it. Cannonball had the most beautiful control of his entire instrument.”

With the notable exception of Julian's work with Miles, however, the Adderleys rarely sounded better than when they were blowing together on some sweet, strong, funky hard bop, or putting the soul in soul jazz.

This piece draws heavily from the following bibliography: Chris Sheridan Dis Here: A Bio-Discography of Julian Cannonball Adderley , Cary Ginell, Walk Tall: The Music and Life of Julian “Cannonball” Adderley, Ashley Khan's Kind of Blue, Kenny Mathieson, Cookin’: Hard Bop and Soul Jazz, 1954-1965, Orrin Keepnews, The View from Within, Brian Glasser, In A Silent Way and numerous liner and insert notes by a wide variety of authors.