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Music_222_Hennessey__Mintons__1994

Music_222_Hennessey__Mintons__1994 - Warning Concerning...

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Unformatted text preview: Warning Concerning Copyright Restrictions The c0pyright law of the United States (Title '17, United States Code) governs the making of photocopies or other reproductions of copyrighted material. Under certain conditions specified in the law, libraries and archives are authorized to furnish a photOCOpy or other reproduction. One ofthese specified conditions is that the photocopy or reproduction is not to be “used for any purpose other than private study, scholarship, or research.” If a user makes a request for, or later uses, a photocopy or reproduction for purposes in excess of “fair use,” that user may be liable for copyright infringement. This institution reserves the right to refuse to accept a copying order if, in its judgment, fulfillment of the order would involve violation of copyright law. Printing note: lfyou do not want to print this page. select pages 2 to the end on the print dialog screen. KIOOK THE SIDRY 0’} KENNY (lARKE MIKE HENNESSEY "MANN: ~, ‘37, m UNIVERSITY OF PITTSBURGH PRESS WM 5 Minton’s 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 neighbourhood'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 37 Klook: The Story of Kenny Clarke become disenchanted with bandleading because of the rapa~ cious habits of certain impresarios and he was only'too Willing to assume the responsibility of booking the music1ans for the Playhouse. When he took over, the band in reSidence was a mainstreamish dixieland outfit led by Albert 'Happy Cald- well, 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 fl”. 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 1nterv1ew with Francois Postif. that it was Dizzy Ciillespie who was largely responsible for his being hired by Hill. Dizzy liked the way I played and recommended me e and Teddy had a great admiration for Diz.’ . I , Kenny took over the musical direction of Minton 5 early in 1941'. r at success ri ht from the beginning, because it was the ideal glxzsfdrgu: it had a banga back room with veiled lights, a podium for the ’ ' s and little tables for the guests. . mt'l'sdgzrglin with, I put together a quartet. I had wanted to have Dizzylpn trumpet, but he was with Cab Calloway’s band. 80 I hired iaiiot .8: trumpet player who'd been with us in the Hill band: JoeIGuy. (:11;er twenty years old and playing a little bit like Dizzy. In the Hill brain 1' “32: had played both lead and solos, but when he wanted to save is 1p, '0d would take some of his solos and almost unconstiously, i guess, he copie 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. We I loved Sonn and the way he played and he was such a sweet person. were so closghe used to tell people that we were cousmsfiut Sonny at hhe time was Billie Holiday’s accompanist and he loved that 10b so much t. at 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 38 Minton’s hired Nick Fenton, on the recommendation of his friend Joe Guy. Nick, 21 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 wouid 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 pm. 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 39 Klook: The Story of Kenny Clarke 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 cus— tomer. 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 marvellous. 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 7 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 Kiook'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 oi the changes he had created. It was his way of playing jazz, part of his owr experience . . . We laid a few dollars on him and got him to move frorr Monroe’s down to Minton’s. Teddy Hill refused to put another man or 40 Minton’s 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 Okla— homa 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 41 Klook: The Story of Kenny Clarke Douglas Hotel on St Nicholas Avenue one day, visiting a friend who played ukulele. around with the uke for a bit and then Charlie took it out of my hi‘fileachd 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 .iLater Mon 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, ' ' ‘ ' din of ’Fly It was ical of the revailing reSIStance to change that a recor g Right’ I:133I13Williams’fband 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 Swang label) under its other title, ’Epistrophy’. Identifying the precise authorship and evolution-of licks, which became lines, which became compOSitions, is some,— times 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: earl sixties l was la ing with Kenny and Jimmy Gourley in the brldsiloteYOne night I startzd to play a tune I. had heard on an Al Haig Prestige recording 7 ’Opus Caprice’. After the first few bars. Kennglgave a big grin of recognition and said, ’Ah! "Fagin Doctor Christian . T at was a piece Charlie wrote which we used to play at Minton s. . d Nowadays it is universally known as ‘Rhythrn—a-ning and assoc1ate with Thelonious Monk. I once asked A1 Haig where the tune came from and he said it was a traditional children’s song. The first four bars pf thee-1 song feature in Mary Lou Williams’s arrangement of ,Walkin an Swingin" for the Andy Kirk orchestra, recorded for Decca in 1936. Magy Lou was one of the first to discover C(liiarlie Christian and it was she w o n ed him to ohn Hammon . rel?r:eme:isdto me verJy possible that Thelonious Monkawho was the resident pianist at Minton’s, used the first four bars of Fagin Dhocto; Christian’ in ’Rhythm—a—ning’. Klook’s spontaneous reaction w en d played the passage in the Blue Note that night showed that he recognize it as a Charlie Christian theme. Another indispensable — and irrepressible — sitter-in with the modern-jazz minstrels of Minton's was, of course, John 42 Minion’s Birks Gillespie who, in 1941, was relieved of his duties in the Cab Calloway 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 contribu— tion 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 7 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 e 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 43 Klook: The Story of Kenny Clarke 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 Livesl, 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 '1 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 Iacquet 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 44 Minten’s 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 ne...
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