Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Rahsaan Roland Kirk playing his flute and tenor sax one-handed after his stroke. Posted by Hello

Rahsaan Roland Kirk

My first encounter with the music of Rahsaan Roland Kirk [1935-1977] music was through my uncle. I would read Down Beat magazine in the high school library and I became fascinated with the pictures they'd print on him. Who was this guy? What was he doing? And most importantly, what did it sound like?
Since my uncle was a jazz fan, I asked him if he had any of Kirk's albums. He lent me "Introducing Roland Kirk" and "We Free Kings." I put on the latter and I must have played the first track (Three For The Festival) at least a dozen times before I let the record continue. I never heard anything like that! And needless to say, I was hooked.
Since I was pretty young (13 in 1973) at the time, opportunities to go see him in concert were limited by my age, distance and family economics.
June of 1977: The jazz radio station announced that Rahsaan was playing at Concerts By The Sea in Redondo Beach. This was a club that didn't serve food, so the minimum age was 21. At the time, I was two months from my 18th birthday. A friend of my dad told me that the club was unofficially cool about minors as long as you didn't try to order booze. I decided to give it a try.
Saturday night, June 25, 1977: I made the 90 mile drive from Lancaster to Redondo Beach. To my relief, they let me in without so much as a second glance.
Because it was my idol, I resolved to record the concert. I hid the tape recorder in the Polaroid camera bag I brought with me. The pictures came out terribly (see above). Also, at the time, I didn't think you needed to spent a whole dollar on a cassette tape when you could get a pack of three for that amount! Given that, I'm surprised the sound is as good as it is.
I sat in the second row of the small theater style club. The waitress approached and I ordered the first of several Cokes. When the lights went down, the band entered- but without Rahsaan. They played a couple of songs, but I didn't record them. I only had two 90 minute tapes & didn't want to "waste" them.
Finally, Rahsaan was announced. The band {Hilton Ruiz, Steve Turre, Phillip Bowler & John Goldsmith} struck into "Bright Moments." After a pause, the side door opened and a very gaunt man was led to the stage by the vocalist, Michael Hill. It was shocking and disturbing. This didn't look like the robust figure from the magazines and album covers.
While still standing, he took up his tenor and started "Softly, as a morning sunrise." While the band continued the vamp, he sat and played the rest of the night that way.
Kirk had suffered a stroke about a year and a half previous to this that left his right side paralyzed. He modified his instruments to allow one handed playing. He even had a flute made with a 90 degree angle so that it could be played more easily (see picture above).
Initially, I didn't record his between song talks either. I wish I would have recorded them all. At one point during the first set, someone became impatient and yelled out "Play your horn!" Without missing a beat, Rahsaan replied "I been playin' my horn for 30 years! I just wanted to talk to y'all. So many artists get on the stage, play, leave & and never say a word - not even the names of the songs!" The audience applauded loudly.
To me, the best song that night was "Yesterday." He explained it wasn't the Beatles' song "Yesterdays." It has great feeling and pathos.
Some of the subjects of his monologues that are on the tapes include Duke Ellington, Stevie Wonder, The Osmonds, Disco, & Boogie Woogie. I wish he were still around so that he could verbally and musically deal with people like Kenny G!
By the time the third set rolled around, I was recording everything. In what I would later come to know as true Los Angeles fashion, most of the audience didn't stick around for the end.
After the last set, I saw that Rahsaan was left setting in his chair on the stage and a few people were approaching and greeting him. Dare I? Well, I did, but I didn't say anything of consequence; just the usual lame "I'm a big fan" or something similar.
During the long drive home, I decided I'd see Rahsaan's last night (Sunday). But on Sunday morning, I realized I didn't have any more cash. Since this was before the ATM, I had no easy way to get more. Oh well, I'll just catch him the next time he comes into town. Unfortunately, he died less than six months later, on December 5, 1977.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

The Concert Program (outside) Posted by Hello

The Concert Program Posted by Hello

Autographs of Buster Cooper and Cat Anderson Posted by Hello

Autographs of Barney Bigard, Marshal Royal, Bill Berry and Britt Woodman Posted by Hello

Duke Ellington

Duke Ellington [1899-1974] is my favorite musician of all-time. One of my few regrets is that I didn’t get to see him live. The sounds that he got out of his orchestra defy description. Right now, Ellington and his associates are hogging up most of the space on my iPod.
Ellington used to play at Disneyland during spring breaks. In the summer of 1973 (I was 13), I tried to get my mother to take me to Disneyland to see him (yes, I was a weird kid). My argument was that he was old and he probably wouldn’t be doing this too many more times. But unfortunately, it wasn’t convenient and I had to miss him.
Spring of 1974 rolls around and it’s announced that Ellington will again play at Disneyland. Maybe this time I can go! But as it gets close to the date, Louis Bellson and his orchestra are substituted for Ellington, who is too sick to make the gig. Within a few weeks, Ellington is dead.
The next year, the Los Angeles County concert series had Cat Anderson and the Ellington All-Stars as one of its FREE concerts. Again (reference the Pablo Jazz Festival post), I’m still pre-driving age. Fortunately, my grandfather is a fan of the Big Bands and Ellington in particular. (He always told me that if he could play sax like Johnny Hodges, he wouldn’t care if he could play for no one but himself.) He agrees to take me.
The horns were all Ellington alumni. I can’t remember who was in the rhythm section, but I don’t think they were Ellingtonians. That’s probably why I didn’t get their autographs! But it was a 6 piece horn section with a rhythm section. On trumpet, there was the high flying Cat Anderson [1916-1981] and Bill Berry [1930-2002] on cornet. Trombones were Britt Woodman [1920-2000] and Buster Cooper [b.1929]. On the reeds were Marshal Royal [1912-1995] and the legendary Barney Bigard [1906-1980]. Bigard was the co-composer of "Mood Indigo" and was a crucial element in Ellington’s sound during the early years of the band. Bigard was with Ellington from 1928 to 1942 and later spent several years with Louis Armstrong’s All-Stars. Not a bad resume.
I collected the autographs before the concert and all the musicians were gracious and accommodating. It was a great concert, but I remember we were leaving as the last tune, "I’m Beginning to See the Light" was being taken out with Cat Anderson screaming high notes over a spirited ensemble ride out. My grandfather also used to take us to Dodger games and seemed to be a pioneer of the early exit to beat LA traffic!
Even though I didn’t get see Ellington in person, I still count myself fortunate that I was able to see so many of his important players over the years. I especially find myself flashing back to this concert when I hear Barney Bigard and Cat Anderson on the Ellington recordings.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

The ad for the concert Posted by Hello

The others Posted by Hello

Basie Posted by Hello

The Pablo Jazz Festival

I thought I’d start this blog with a story about the first jazz concert I ever attended.
I grew up in Lancaster, California. It was a small town in the Mojave Desert and located approximately 70 miles northwest of Los Angeles. It was 1975 and on the L.A. jazz radio station, KBCA 105.1 (later to be KKGO, later to be defunct), they were running commercials for the Pablo Jazz Festival. It was at the Shubert Theater in Los Angeles.
The festival was to feature Joe Pass [1929-1994], Oscar Peterson [b. 1925], Ella Fitzgerald [1917-1996] and Count Basie [1904-1984]! At the time, I was a 15 year old high schooler and a few months away from legal driving age. Fortunately, a friend of mine, fellow saxophonist Bruce Schaefer was also interested in going. Even better, he was a year older than me, and thus was a licensed driver. Thanks, Bruce, wherever you are!
We decided that since we were going all this way to attend the concert, we should go for the best seats possible. The top ticket price was $15, a princely sum to a teenager back then, but it was a small price to see such a line up. (Using the government’s inflation calculator, I found that $15 in 1975 has $53 worth of buying power today!)
The concert had several dates. We chose March 26, 1975, a Wednesday (it must have been spring break). It’s frightening to realize that it’s been 30 years already; where does the time go?
The concert turned out to be fantastic. I particularly remember Al Grey and Jimmy Forrest taking solos that stood out. Jimmy Forrest did a version of "Body and Soul" that I still haven’t been able to find a recording of.
Afterwards, it was time to collect autographs. Through some information from a musician friend of my mother’s, I was able to find out how to get backstage. I brought Count Basie’s "Evergreens" album since it was gatefold and had a lot of empty white space inside. I was able to get headliners Basie, Peterson, & Fitzgerald to sign. Additionally, I got lead alto Bobby Plater [1914-1982], trombonist Al Grey [1925-2000], Basie’s longtime rhythm guitarist Freddie Green [1911-1987] and Ella’s accompanist at the time, pianist Tommy Flanagan [1930-2001] (he was on Giant Steps!).
What a start!

Friday, March 18, 2005

Me and my Stritch Posted by Hello

Mission Statement

Hi! I'm starting a blog to talk about jazz. I'd like to share some of the photos I've taken at various concerts and also show the autographs I've collected from a lot of great artists.