Archive for December, 2010

ESP

ESP 1001: Ni Kantu En Esperanto

ESP 1001: Ni Kantu En Esperanto

Many of W. Eugene Smith’s reel to reel recordings have blank labels.  Recently, I cataloged one of these reels that begins  with a recording featuring Alice McLeod (Alice Coltrane) in the middle of a conversation. She briefly mentions a time when a dog joined her at the piano and played some notes with its paw. This casual conversation continues with several other voices, one  mentioning dolphins and their “fantastic” communication, a topic that also shows up following one of the Thelonious Monk big band rehearsals that took place in the loft in 1964 and can be found on one of Smith’s reels. You can read about this Monk conversation  in the prelude to Robin DG Kelley’s excellent Thelonious Monk:The Life and Times of an American Original.

This Alice McLeod conversation soon ends when a second microphone is turned on and Julius Balbin recites his Esperanto translation of Babij Jar or “Babi Yar,” the poem by Yevgeny Yevtushenko. “Babi Yar” is an inspiration and a subject of Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 13 in B flat minor (Op. 113, subtitled Baby Yar). Balbin survived his experience as a concentration camp prisoner of Auschwitz so his reading of this poem about the 1941 Nazi directed massacre at Kiev held some visceral power, even without understanding his Esperanto rendition of this poem.  It becomes clear while listening to this tape that Balbin reads this poem as part of a developmental rehearsal for the first ESP disk Ni Kanto En Esperanto. I also heard the voice of ESP label founder Bernard Stollman or perhaps Duncan Charters reading an explanation of the Esperanto language and demonstrating the Esperanto language. . At various junctures in this recording, Smith chimes in to direct the recording he’s engineering. They also refer to “Maceo”, who is likely Maceo Gilchrist who appears on ESP 1005: The Byron Allen Trio.  Kanto in Esperanto came out in 1963 so we know this recording was made before that record release and after Alice Coltrane moved into the loft at 821 Sixth Avenue.

“There is less noise around here on Sundays, or very late at night” says Smith, as they plan for a follow up recording session. Naturally, the activity of the wholesale flower district, where Smith’s 821 Sixth Avenue loft was situated, made for a high level of ambient noise except for late nights and Sundays.

We’re excited to find a second tape featuring Alice Coltrane. She lived in the loft for a month or so after returning from Paris and this may be from that era. Or she might have returned to visit and play a session or two after having her residence there. Hearing a recording that led to the inception of the grand ESP label is thrilling.  Since this reel isn’t labeled, then there might be others of equal importance in the remaining as of yet uncatalogued reels.  Another tape I recently cataloged, revealed the beginning of a jam session featuring Jimmy Stevenson and Warren Bernhardt from January of 1964. So these finds make us optimistic that the remaining collection of these recordings may yet yield the Ornette Coleman practice tape or the Diane Arbus photo meeting that oral histories have confirmed as taking place at 821. Or maybe some surprises like this one with Alice, Smith, and the ESP crew.

You can read more about Jules Balbin in this interesting profile by Alexander Kharkovsky ( which provided some background for this post). And a great interview of ESP Disk founder Bernard Stollman by Clifford Allen from allaboutjazz.com (2oo5).

-Dan Partridge

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All Roads Lead to Newton Grove

All Roads Lead to Newton Grove.  By Pamela Monk Kelley.  2010.

All Roads Lead to Newton Grove. By Pamela Monk Kelley. 2010.

All Roads Lead to Newton Grove is a new book on the Monk family history by Pamela Monk Kelley.  Her grandfather, Theodore Babe Monk, and Thelonious Monk’s father, Thelonious, Sr., were brothers.  They were born and raised in Newton Grove, North Carolina.  Thelonious, Sr. moved to Rocky Mount for work in the growing railroad town.  Pam’s father Conley F. Monk moved to New Haven, CT many years ago.  Pam still lives there with many family members, working as an educator.

Pam’s book has rare and previously unpublished recollections from family elders concerning Thelonious Monk’s father.  As Robin D.G. Kelley (no relation to Pam) first disclosed in his great biography of Monk, Thelonious Sr. was confined to the State Hospital for the Colored Insane (known as Cherry Hospital today) in Goldsboro, NC for most of his adult life.

All Roads Lead to Newton Grove has a previously unpublished photograph of Hinton Cole Monk, the pianist Thelonious Monk’s grandfather who was born into slavery in Newton Grove in 1852.  There is also a photograph of Monk’s widow Nellie Smith Monk standing on the porch of the white Monk plantation house, which is still there today.  After Monk died Nellie began attending the family reunions in North Carolina.

The book has moving discussions of the intermixing of the races in the Monk family and the resulting variances in skin colors.  In 2009 a member of the white side of the family, Matthew Monk, contacted Pam and a heartfelt reunion took place.  Matthew is a descendant of Archibald Monk, the original white patriarch, slaveowner and landowner.

There has been talk of a big, integrated Monk family reunion in Newton Grove in the future.  The North Carolina Museum of History and Department of Cultural Resources has been interested in aligning the reunion with their upcoming four-year commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.  Sherman’s March went right through the Monk plantation site (Hinton Monk would have been thirteen) and the Battle of Bentonville was about less than ten miles away.

Pam’s sister, Edith Monk Pue, an ordained bishop, recently moved back to Dunn, NC, which is fifteen miles away from Newton Grove.  Pam had a book signing in Dunn over Thanksgiving weekend.  There’s a photograph of Thelonious at the piano on the cover of her book (image above).  Knowing the historian that Thelonious was musically and personally, I believe he would have liked what Pam has done to honor the family history – the whole family, not just the famous musician.

You can buy All Roads Lead to Newton Grove by clicking here.

Here is my 2007 piece on Monk’s North Carolina background in the Oxford American magazine.

-Sam Stephenson

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Steve Martin & Deborah Solomon at the 92nd St. Y

While I’m passing around articles (that many of you are probably reading anyway) I thought I’d add these two links to finish off the weekend.  The first is to a piece from the New York Times earlier this week about the 92nd St. Y appearance of Steve Martin and Deborah Solomon.  This story is profoundly disheartening.  The Y is supposed to be one of the public places in our culture where serious things can still happen.  The second link is Steve Martin’s Op-Ed response in today’s Times.  What a smart, thoughtful guy.  Maybe public conversations are the next thing that need to be refreshed by Adam Shatz’s new model for building a vital jazz audience.

-S.S.

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Adam Schatz: Building the Jazz Audience

Here’s an inspiring, hopeful piece by Ben Ratliff in today’s New York Times describing efforts by Adam Schatz to build a new jazz audience using gigs, venues, and promotions that have mostly been used in the iconoclastic rock and hip-hop worlds.  Schatz says, “Jazz has been so tainted by a pretty self-righteous attitude.  It kills any desire for people to go out and discover it.”  Amen to that.  Sounds like he’s almost trying to recreate a loft-like circuit.  I’m going to contribute to the fund he needs to document today’s scene outside of the exclusive, clubby structures that currently define it.  I’d also like to try and help him bring this vision to the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area, which has a longstanding alt-music scene that continues to evolve and thrive as the region does, too.  A few of us have believed that jazz and this alt-audience are a romance waiting to happen.  Schatz seems to have the guts to do something about it.  Bravo.

S.S.

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Another Weird Collection of NYC Recordings

Check out this new Wall Street Journal article by Will Friedwald concerning a collection of recordings made by somebody named Boris Rose.  Make sure to read the first comment to this article by Joe Lang.

-S.S.

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A New Name and Story from the Loft

Drummer, Vinnie Ruggiero; trombonist, Benjamin Jacobs-El; bassist Butch Warren. Others and location unknown. Circa 1962, NYC.

Drums, Vinnie Ruggiero; trombone, Benjamin Jacobs-El; bass, Butch Warren. Others and location unknown. Circa 1962, NYC.

In February 2009 after this article by Nate Chinen in the New York Times, JLP Coordinator Lauren Hart got a call from Antoine Sanfuentes, Vice President and Deputy Bureau Chief of NBC News Washington.  He wanted to talk about bass player Butch Warren and other under-sung jazz musicians.  Antoine turns out to be an accomplished drummer and photographer in his own right.  He’s also a historian/documentarian.  When he’s not helping the Washington bureau or traveling to places like Afghanistan or Africa he’s doing deep research on the life and career of his friend and fellow D.C. resident Warren, and other jazz musicians.

This week Antoine called me with a story about 821 Sixth Avenue that he heard from trombonist Benjamin Jacobs-El.  He sent me the photo above which shows Jacobs-El playing with Warren on bass and another 821 Sixth Avenue legend Vinnie Ruggiero on drums.  The photo is from NYC circa 1962.  The other two musicians are unidentified.  Anybody recognize them, or the mural/place?.

Jacobs-El told Antoine that he went to 821 Sixth Avenue “once” around 1961-62, when he was 21 or 22 years old.  He took part in a jam session there with baritone saxophonists Jay Cameron and Ronnie Ruber, a French piano player, and a white bass player.  The white bass player mostly likely was Jimmy Stevenson.  French piano player?  We are working to figure that one out.

Both Cameron and Cuber were in Slide Hampton’s band at the time.  At some point during the night Cameron asked Jacobs-El if he could read music.  Jacobs-El had graduated from NYC’s High School for Performing Arts and then spent three years at Juilliard, so he answered, yes, of course.  The next day Jacobs-El joined Slide’s band.

This is a good example of the kind of career opportunity the lofts provided, well described to us recently by Detroit saxophonist Wendell Marshall.  Jacobs-El also mentioned Kiane Zawadi’s loft to Antoine, the same loft that Wendell described as being part of this “circuit of lofts.”  Jacobs-El had his own loft on 18th Street, too.

Jacobs-El told Antoine that he dropped off the scene while with Lionel Hampton in 1966 after getting married and having children.  He spent 31 years raising his family on St. Croix.  He played with Ellington alum Jimmy Hamilton there for nine years in the 1980s.  He now lives in Huntsville, Alabama.  Sounds like an intriguing man.

The weird thing about the Jazz Loft Project is that after all these years of research there’s still so much left to do.  1025 cd’s remaining to hear, for one thing, but there’s all sorts of ancillary research coming from the tapes and the oral history work.  This morning I found this Slide Hampton album on a few web searches.  Veterans of 821 Sixth Avenue jam sessions are all over Slide’s lineup here.  Slide is still alive.  We haven’t reached him.

And next week Antoine will call and mention another new name, or he’ll casually send another jpg like this one above.  And Dan will discover two more names or items on the tapes.  When do you stop?  If you want to keep going, where do you find the money?

- Sam Stephenson

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1025 compact discs remaining

smith jazz loft scans nov 07 073

The process of transferring and preserving Gene Smith’s 1740 loft tapes resulted in 5089 compact discs of recorded material.  Jazz Loft Project Research Associate Dan Partridge has been listening to these cd’s since 2003.  This week he counted the ones he hasn’t heard, yet.  The number is 1025.  So, he’s 4/5 done hearing everything.  When human history ends Dan will be the only person to have heard every one of Smith’s tapes.  Not even Smith heard it all.  Sometimes Smith turned on the recorder and left the room, or left the building.  Duke University should give Dan an honorary PhD when he’s done.

Dan gets to hear Monk and Don Cherry and Alice Coltrane and Zoot Sims and Paul Bley, stuff nobody’s ever heard before.  Yesterday he said he heard Smith’s cat Tabun birthing kittens.  Nobody’s ever heard that.  In the photo above, we aren’t sure which of Smith’s cats that is.  It doesn’t look full grown to me.  It could be a young Tabun, or one of Tabun’s kittens grown up as a teenager.  Or it could be a young Pending, or Brunhilda, or Tiger, or Quasimodo, or Al Most.  More research is required to get to the bottom of it.  When the JLP is packed up for mothballs, that research may be still undone.

-Sam Stephenson

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