Friday, December 10, 2010

New York, 1979.

I just read an obituary in "The New York Times," of a jazz musician named James Moody who died just yesterday at the age of 85. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/11/arts/music/11moody.html?hp Though I never heard Moody play, at least I was never aware that I heard him play, his obituary brought me back.

When I was just 21 and a graduate student at Columbia University, there was a bar in my neighborhood, on 114th and Broadway called the West End. It was a big, dusty place, with no cover charge, where you could buy a beer for two dollars and pretty much spend the night communing with that.

But the real attraction of the place wasn't the beer or the lack of incandescence. It was the jazz. Jazz has been pretty much dieing since it was born, whenever that was, and the West End was home to dieing jazz musicians.

Just about every night featured a combo, four guys, three or five, who had played with Basie and Ellington and were now out on their own. Supplementing their social security or their savings by playing from 10PM to 2AM for, primarily, Columbia grad students.

The musicians were old pros, Ellington himself had said this about Russell Procope, a saxophonist and clarinetist whose band I used to hear: 'He's an utterly sober and reliable musician, always to be depended upon." The musicians were restrained. They were in for the long-haul. There was no longer any big time to be had. They were playing not for a hit but for their lives.

One bass player I remember, though I've lost his name, never opened his eyes. He pawed at his huge instrument like a bear at a beehive, leaning on his bass for balance. He looked like half of a couple at a dance marathon. He wouldn't be standing if it weren't for his partner.

Regardless, every once in a while, from his stand-up bass, a line would emerge, and for a riff or two, all was perfect in the world.

You might even be moved to buy another beer to nurse.

7 comments:

bob hoffman said...

One of the joys of being an amateur musician is the immense appreciation you develop for professionals. Until you try it yourself, you can't really understand how astonishingly good the real players are. Even without beer.

Tim Parry said...

Thanks. Made me go back in time when a jazz combo actually played jazz instead of elevator music.

Anonymous said...

Tim parry

There's plenty of great improvised jazz in manhattan..more than ever from dizzys, iridium to the standard and the vanguard. Hold yr own wake. That elevator music is in yr head. I suggest you get off at the next floor

Sasha Kolnitznikoff

Tore Claesson said...

As an amateur blues guitarist myself I can only chime in with Bob Hoffman. It's humbling.

Michael Jacobs said...

I've been a trumpet player since high school. I'll never give it up. The Muse wouldn't never speak to me again if I did.

geo said...

I am without musical talent, but I do understand, Miles' quotation--"It's taken me all my life to learn what not to play."

Tim Parry said...

Sasha Kolnitznikoff

Thanks for the tough love, Sasha. Here in the provinces, we just get elevator music. It's probably my own fault.

Keep the faith.
Tim