Sunday, February 19, 2006

History Loops

In 1938, 1939, we were old enough to hang out and stay out until three, four in the morning on Central Avenue and it was a fun place. There was the excitement of the after-hours spots and the drugstores and things that had the malts and food late at night, where people could meet after whatever job they had. The Fifty-Fourth Street Drugstore was probably the prime place after-hours. It was a big spot. They had all kinds of food there. In the drugstore and places like that they had the jukeboxes and we could hear things like "Jack the Bear" by Duke Ellington and featuring Jimmy Blanton on bass. Jimmy Blanton inspired Mingus. We just played that over and over again. And all the celebrities were out at night, anybody you wanted to see would be there. If the Ellington or Basie bands or a big fighter like Jack Johnson, who was the heavyweight champion of the world, were around on a Friday or Saturday night, they'd probably be hanging out in there. It was great, because you could mingle with them. You knew they were real people, which was always great as a young player. We heard people on records and they're standing there!

-Buddy Collette
Central Avenue Sounds

When I started going to shows, all the punk rock kids in N.Y. used to go to this record strore called the Rat Cage on the east side. We'd all be there or at a club called A-7. All the hardcore bands would play there and all the kids at the shows were in bands. That time and that scene was really important. To go to see bands, friends. To see your heroes, the Bad Brains, just kicking it on the steps outside. To know that they're real people, alive like you. That's what that was all about. Being alive.

-Adam Horovitz
Beastie Boys Anthology: The Sounds of Science (liner notes)

The more you read about music the more it all sounds like the same story. Take the story related in Can't Stop Won't Stop about the moment in 1979 when New York indie labels began trying to record hip hop. They approached all the big DJ's, like Grandmaster Flash, but they were uninterested in recording, probably because they couldn't understand how it could work (hip hop at that time being basically more of a way of partying than a style of music--the DJ spinning records, extending the breaks, maybe cutting and scratching, b-boys dancing, and MC's getting the crowd pumped up and rapping, the whole thing lasting for hours). Instead, Sylvia Robinson of Sugar Hill Records walked into a New Jersey pizza parlor, heard a guy rapping along with a bootleg tape of Grandmaster Caz, and told him and a couple friends to come in to the studio and make a rap record. "Rapper's Delight" was three nobodies with no real rap experience, ripping off most of their rhymes from established Bronx MC's. It seems like an odd story that owes its existence to a fluke in history. But...

Reading Central Avenue Sounds made me want to check out Ken Burns' Jazz documentary from the library. In the first volume, they talk about Freddie Kepard, an important early jazz trumpet player (described by Wynton Marsalis as being next in the lineage of trumpets after Billy Bolden), who moved from New Orleans to Los Angeles, where he was approached by a label who wanted to record him. He would have been making THE FIRST JAZZ RECORD. He turned them down, afraid that the recording would have allowed other musicians to copy his style. This was apparantly an obsession with Kepard, to the point where he would drape a cloth over his hand while he played live so no one could copy his fingering technique (which sounds a lot like the stories of Eddie Van Halen turning his back to the audience when he used to play "Eruption" back in the club days). Instead, the first jazz record is made by The Original Dixieland Jazz Band--a group of white guys from New York--and it sells more than every record pressed up to that point combined. Later, asked about the "negro" origins of jazz music, they deny it! They insist that negroes could not have come up with something so sophisticated, and even claim that the black bands playing jazz had STOLEN IT FROM THEM!


Blogger Unknown said...

Re: Burns' JAZZ - Wayne Shorter came into the video store I was working at when this was airing on PBS. Excited, I asked him if he was watching the show. Shorter replied, "Nah, I lived it."

I'll never forget that.

2/19/2006 9:48 PM  
Blogger Charlie said...

JAZZ is amazing. I have the box set, it's greatness.

2/24/2006 9:27 AM  
Blogger Chris Oliver said...

I sort of watched it when it was on, but I couldn't really devote my full attention to it for 2 hours a night, however many nights in a row. So it's great watching it now. I'm just on the second disc.

Paul, that's a great story.

2/24/2006 11:56 AM  

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