Archive for February, 2011

NPR Music on a Weekend in Durham

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The Thousand Autumns of Gene Smith

Tomorrow morning I depart Raleigh-Durham for Newark, NJ and then 30 days with these stops along the way:

Tokyo, Hitachi City, Yokohama, Nagasaki, Minamata, Okinawa, Saipan, Tinian, Guam, Iwo Jima, and Honolulu.

Smith made tapes in Tokyo in 1961-62, a lot of tapes.  No jazz jam sessions, but many intriguing conversations and things off Japanese radio and TV.  Yesterday JLP Research Associate Dan Partridge pointed me toward some notable recordings and I spent a few hours listening.  It was something to hear Smith working with photographer Jun Morinaga in the darkroom, with Morinaga speaking almost no English and Smith no Japanese, yet they seemed to get along perfectly.  The movements and sounds of the darkroom are universal.  Lots of laughter.  A few years later Smith wrote the introduction to Morinaga’s legendary, impossible-to-find book, River: Its Shadow of Shadows. When I was working in Smith’s archive in Arizona three weeks ago I found several warm letters from Morinaga to Eugene-san.  He’s still active in Tokyo and I hope to see him next week.

Close readers of the JLP book will recall that it was the night before Smith left for Tokyo in late September 1961 that Sonny Clark and Lin Halliday were shooting heroin in the hallway while Smith was playing vinyl records of Edna St. Vincent Millay reading her poetry and actress Julie Harris reading Emily Dickinson.  You may remember that drummer and loft resident Frank Amoss was out and about that night.  On the tapes you can hear Frank offering to give Gene a ride to Idlewild Airport.  Knowing of my looming trip this week, Frank emailed me from southern California and asked, “You need a ride to the airport?”

I’ll blog as possible from the road.  Dan Partridge will offer a series of posts about what he’s hearing on the tapes.

-Sam Stephenson

p.s. The great Durham band Superchunk is playing in Tokyo on Monday night.  I first saw them at the Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro, NC in 1994.  What a small world.

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Where is Gene Smith in this picture?

In the fall I posted this picture and asked this question and I didn’t hear anything definitive.  Maybe there’s not enough information.  But I’m trying again.  I’d be grateful for any suggestions anybody has.  Next Saturday I’m heading to the Pacific for 4+ weeks walking in Smith’s footsteps.

- Sam Stephenson.


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Scenes from Branford Marsalis Event

A nice crowd turned out for the 90-minute event, filling the pews in the lower part of the Hayti Heritage Center sancutary, with the last 45 minutes being Q&A.  Many of the questions were about what can be done to make jazz hip.  Branford said he wasn’t worried about it – that his only concern is playing the best music he can play.  But there was agreement that the deadened “shhhhh” culture of the jazz clubs and the exclusive jazz club at large don’t help.  I played a clip from Monk’s 1958 Five Spot recording of “Misterioso” in which you can hear loud conversations from the audience during his solo.  Branford pointed out that Le Poussin Rouge in NYC is a positive new atmosphere for music.  There was also a lot of talk about the proliferating jazz programs in schools, much of which jibes with recent posts here about MFA writing programs.  Branford doesn’t blame the schools – the schools aren’t stopping anybody from playing great music – but there is a certain kind of individualism that is promoted, whereas in the era of the scene at 821 Sixth Avenue the music came from more of a shared tradition and repertoire.  I played clips of two tracks from his “Braggtown” album, named for a Durham neighborhood, which was recorded, as all of his albums in recent years, in the Hayti sanctuary.  Perhaps playing to his adopted home town crowd, Branford gave a number of plugs to North Carolina and the South in general, mentioning food and names like Faulkner and Welty and Tennessee Williams.  Current musicians he praised were Derek Trucks, Aaron Goldberg, Wynton and the J@LC band, Stephen Riley, Ben Wolfe, John Ellis, Prince, and the guys in Dave Matthews’ band.  Below are some photographs by Frank Hunter.  (There is no audio recording, we’re sorry to say).



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The Amazing Randi

This morning I stumbled upon this article in the LA Times online.  It concerns the magician James Randi, aka The Amazing Randi, who had a radio show on WOR in the mid-1960s that Eugene Smith was known to record on his tapes.  Smith and Randi became friends and it was the magician who built a security system in 821 Sixth Avenue to protect against intruders and thieves.


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Jazz and Race Reader

Here’s a very thoughtful post from Ethan Iverson in response to my post a couple of days ago.  The more I think about it, Ethan should edit the Jazz and Race Reader with another musician of his vintage, say Orrin Evans (his name comes to mind because, if I remember correctly, he and Ethan once played duo piano gigs together and he’s been outspoken recently about race in jazz, too, and I like his and Tarbaby’s music as I like Ethan’s and TBP’s).  A thorough book like Ethan suggests could become an instant classic, with new editions that people reach for forty years later.  They could tour a show behind it, blending music and talk.  Sparks could fly, in a productive way.  It would help immensely for a visionary patron to step forward and help buy the time to get this done, and there’d need to be a publisher with enough patience and passion to work through the onslaughts of permissions required to assemble this kind of compendium.

*Update:  I spent a couple of hours today reading some of the links on this debate provided by A Blog Supreme.  It’s important for me to stress that I still haven’t read Sandke’s book.  But after catching up a little bit on this furor, I have a couple more thoughts:  1) I believe Sandke’s main point has validity.  2)  I also believe that Southern black church music is underserved in the jazz annals; in other words, white liberal critics and historians who might have bent over backwards to emphasize the black background of jazz actually didn’t go far enough in a key sense.  3) (I’m just throwing this in for kicks):  The Piedmont Blues as a basis for jazz is underserved in the annals, and this influence includes a lot of black musicians, of course (Thelonious Monk’s father played harp in the rail yards of Rocky Mount, NC), but it also includes some white hillbilly types who swung their asses off on some strings.

This is complicated stuff.


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A Conversation between Branford Marsalis and Sam Stephenson

JAZZ THEN AND NOW / A Conversation Between Branford Marsalis and Sam Stephenson, Director of the Jazz Loft Project

Thursday, February 10, 7 p.m. / Hayti Heritage Center, 804 Old Fayetteville Street, Durham, North Carolina

Presented in conjunction with The Jazz Loft Project: W. Eugene Smith in New York City, 1957-1965, an exhibition at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, February 3-July 10, 2011

For a decade Sam Stephenson and his colleagues at the Center for Documentary Studies have been studying a dilapidated loft building in New York City that was a legendary after-hours jazz haunt from 1954 to 1965. Photographer W. Eugene Smith documented the scene in thousands of hours of tapes and thousands of photographs, providing a poignant look at the off-stage lives of iconic and ordinary musicians alike.

In this wide-ranging conversation, Stephenson and world-renowned saxophonist Branford Marsalis will talk about how jazz has changed since the days of this underground loft scene. Marsalis and Stephenson will discuss what has been gained and lost now that jazz is accepted in the most hallowed halls and conservatories in the world, after being considered “gutbucket” outlaw music since its inception. The conversation will also extend to a variety of topics, including Marsalis’s decision to move to Durham, his reasons for recording all his albums today in the Hayti Heritage Center’s sanctuary hall, and more.

Jazz fans will also enjoy attending related events in Durham occurring this weekend:

Thursday, February 10. The Pinhook presents Brian Blade, February 10, 9 p.m.

Friday, February 11. Duke Performances presents the Wayne Shorter Quartet featuring Shorter, Danilo Perez, John Pattituci, and Brian Blade. Page Auditorium, Duke University, 8 p.m. Tickets

The Jazz Loft Project exhibition open all weekend at the Nasher Museum of Art.

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