Archive for Loft Veterans

Behind the Scenes of a Doc Film Based on the Jazz Loft Project

A new documentary film based on The Jazz Loft Project is currently in post-production.  For more information and to see several production stills, go HERE.

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Musings from a Jazz Drummer

Ron Free

Ron Free

The Museum of Photographic Arts in San Diego, current host of the JLP exhibition, posts this blog entry from drummer and loft inhabitant Ron Free, who spent several years in San Diego after his New York loft years.

-JLP Staff.

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Scenes from Thelonious Monk Highway Marker Ceremony

The event on Friday May 4 at the Booker T. Theater in Rocky Mount was magnificent.  I was honored to be part of the program.  As I told the warm, engaged audience of a couple hundred, one of my passions is to reconnect jazz to the South (other than New Orleans, which in my opinion gets more than enough credit).  The people of Rocky Mount and the NC Department of Cultural Resources deserve some credit for their efforts in this reconnection, in particular Mavis Stith and James Wrenn, President and Vice President, respectively, of the Phoenix Historical Society.  It was also wonderful to spend more time with Thelonious Monk’s cousins Pamela Monk Kelley and Edith Monk Pue.  Their father, Conley Monk, was a first cousin of Thelonious, and Pamela is a family historian.  Monk’s son T.S. Monk contributed a video commentary, and Monk’s esteemed biographer Robin D.G. Kelley, an old JLP friend, contributed poignant remarks that were read by James Wrenn.  In my remarks I focused on my childhood and youth seventy-five miles east of Rocky Mount and some of the findings in my Oxford American article.  Here are some photos:

Early arrivals for the 5pm event.

Early arrivals for the 5pm event.

The Booker T. Theater on the Douglas Block

The Booker T. Theater on the Douglas Block, the black business district of Rocky Mount during segregation.

Monk family members gathering for a photo.

Monk family members gathering for a photo.

Pamela Monk Kelley, middle front, Edith Monk Pue, second from right.

Pamela Monk Kelley, middle front, Edith Monk Pue, second from right.

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Pamela being interviewed by local TV.

Pamela being interviewed by local TV.

-Sam Stephenson

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Thelonious Monk N.C. Highway Marker Unveiling

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This Friday May 4 in Rocky Mount, NC I’m proud to take part in a couple of ceremonies to unveil a North Carolina Historical Highway Marker in honor of Thelonious Monk’s birthplace and childhood home.  HERE is a piece about the events from Rocky Mount’s Chamber of Commerce and HERE is a piece from the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources.

Also, HERE is my 2007 piece in Oxford American about Monk’s return to North Carolina late in his career.

-Sam Stephenson

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From Frank Amoss

Drummer and former 821 Sixth Avenue resident, Frank Amoss, checks in with the following note:

Jack Reidling, one of the world’s finest pianists, passed away on June 23.  His memorial service was well attended by musicians and admirers from all over Southern California as well as from his home town of Fremont, Ohio.  The following quote was printed out and distributed.  I think it aptly applies to survivors and devotees of Chaos Manor.

” Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaim….WOW! What a ride.”

By Hunter S. Thompson

-Frank Amoss

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Sonny Clark, Pt. 2 in Paris Review

HERE is my new entry for Paris Review Daily.  It is a continuation of my previous entry about Sonny Clark.

-S.S.

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Recently Found

Lou Tannen's Magic Store Catalog No. 12

Lou Tannen's Magic Store Catalog No. 12

The Jazz Loft Project continues to catalog audio. Recently, I heard the following items on W. Eugene Smith’s reel to reel recordings.   ~Dan Partridge

  • Smith asking Carole Thomas to pick up a can of ammonia capsules from the drugstore: “…like they use on airplanes. They also snap me awake if I get very sleepy. And also, if we get airsick….” Presumably, Smith wanted these as pick-me-ups for his long sessions in the darkroom.
  • A radio discussion with seven psychiatrists, shortly after they attended the Congress on Mental Health Conference in Montreal. One of the experts was Smith’s doctor Nathan Kline.
  • Smith talking to “Tommy Johns” (Janda) about loft denizens, including Ronnie Free. He tells Johns that Free has moved to North Carolina, when actually Free was in Charleston, South Carolina at that  time. Free’s current trio played as part of the JLP presentation in Winston-Salem yesterday (Thursday) so Smith was actually accurate at the time I was hearing this recording.
  • Comments on the radio from Elia Kazan from a show hosted by the National Theater Academy.
  • Peter Lawford reading from Jack Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums on WNYC’s “Spoken Words.”
  • Long John Nebel’s late night radio show featuring James “The Amazing” Randi. One of the recent Long John Nebel Show episodes featured a short debate about how many total satellites was too many at that time. The numbers were in the single digits. A recent web search suggests close to a thousand satellites orbiting the earth today. The segment featuring James Randi was a prerecorded interview with Long John Nebel which allowed the live guests to bolster themselves with coffee and to take a dinner break provided by show sponsor Carnegie Delicatessen. Both Long John and The Amazing Randi worked as magicians. During this prerecorded coffee break segment, Randi surprises Nebel by telling him of the weekly gathering of 30-40 New York magicians in a cafeteria in close proximity to  Lou Tannen’s famous magic shop on 42nd Street (120 W 42nd Street on the 12 floor, at that time). This important community gathering occurred on Saturdays at 3:30. It should be noted that Randi and Nebel were both friends of Smith. When I corresponded with Randi in 2005, he told me he helped Smith install a security system in the loft at 821 Sixth Avenue. If anybody remembers this Saturday gathering of magicians or Louis Tannen’s shop, please share your stories with us.

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Dr. Billy Taylor (1921-2010)

I had only two opportunities to chat with Dr. Billy Taylor.  The first time I called him about 821 Sixth Avenue.  I asked him if he knew Hall Overton and he said, “Of course.”  He didn’t remember taking part in any jam sessions at the loft but he fondly remembered Overton as a congenial colleague and comrade.  The second time I called him was in regard to my research on Thelonious Monk’s background in North Carolina’s coastal plains, a background Taylor shared.  Taylor was born in Greenville, Monk forty miles away in Rocky Mount.  Taylor told me that even though he and Monk moved north as kids (Monk to New York, Taylor to Washington, DC), they often acknowledged that they were “fellow Tar Heels,” sometimes mockingly, sometimes dead serious.  They knew North Carolina was an umbilical part of their heritage and make up, in a manner not unlike, say, Italy for Martin Scorsese or Russia for Bernard Malamud, two great artists born in Manhattan and Brooklyn, respectively.  I always wondered if Taylor and Charles Kuralt talked much about their shared North Carolina roots when they were doing the CBS Sunday Morning show.  If anybody knows if that is part of a public record somewhere, I’d like to know about it.

A Blog Supreme has a number of pertinent Taylor links, and Ethan Iverson of The Bad Plus has a thoughtful comment plus a link.

-Sam Stephenson

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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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Daniel Kramer at CDS Recap

Daniel Kramer at CDS, Duke University, October 2010. (C) Arline Cunningham

Daniel Kramer at CDS, Duke University, October 2010. (C) Arline Cunningham

Two weeks ago photographer Daniel Kramer and his wife Arline Cunningham visited us at the Center for Documentary Studies.  The purpose of their visit was for Dan to listen to Gene Smith’s loft tapes and hear himself chatting with Smith about Bob Dylan and photography and other topics in August 1965.  At the time of these loft recordings Dan had completed a year – 366 days – photographing Dylan.  Smith and his longtime girlfriend and professional associate Carole Thomas were attempting to launch a new journalism magazine, Sensorium, and Smith wanted to use a spread of Dan’s photographs of Dylan in the inaugural issue.

Dan had first met Gene Smith in Columbia’s Studio A in NYC on June 16, 1965 when Dylan was recording “Like a Rolling Stone.”  Dan told us:  “I noticed Gene Smith in the room and I went up to him and I said, ‘I’m a photographer and I love your work, Mr. Smith.  Thank you for doing it.’  Gene said, ‘What are you doing?’  I said, ‘I’m photographing Bob Dylan.’  Gene said, ‘Me, too.’  Then he said, ‘Gimme your name.’  I didn’t have a pen and Gene said, ‘How can you walk around without a pen?’  So from that day on I’ve always walked around with a pen.”

Smith eventually enlisted Kramer to put together a spread on Dylan for the first issue of Sensorium alongside work by Smith’s friends Henri Cartier-Bresson, Red Valens, and David Vestal, among others.  In my work and travels on JLP over the past decade, I’ve learned that the kind of impulse Smith had to include an unknown young photographer in a new venture like this – a venture Smith was staking his life and resources on at the time – is an impulse only artists have.  Maybe I should rephrase that:  Others may have the impulse, but only artists act on it.  It felt right to Smith – he liked what he’d seen of Kramer’s work – and that’s the only thing that mattered to him.

Sensorium eventually failed.  The inaugural issue never launched.  Smith’s reputation, already suffering, was in more tatters.  But he didn’t turn away from Kramer.  They had a mutual friend in photographer Philipe Halsmann who told Kramer in private: “Gene has a lot of problems.  But he still has his power.  You can trust him.”

“Gene went to bat for me after Sensorium failed.” Dan told us.  “He thought I could do it.  He thought I could finish my work on Dylan and he thought it was important enough for a major magazine spread and eventually a book.  I owe him a lot.”

Clay Felker, an old associate and correspondent of Smith’s, published Dan’s first Dylan spread in the New York Herald Tribune’s Sunday magazine.  A couple of years later Dan published his book documenting Dylan for 366 days.  It was a period when Dylan went from traveling with armfuls of suitcases to traveling with 18 wheel trucks.  (Here is a link to a recent edition of Dan’s original work from that period).

Daniel Kramer at CDS, Duke University, October 2010 (C) Arline Cunningham

Daniel Kramer at CDS, Duke University, October 2010 (C) Arline Cunningham

Dan and Arline also spent a couple of days listening to Smith’s tapes with JLP Research Associate Dan Partridge.  They told many intriguing stories.  Dan and Arline spent a lot of time with Gene and Carole.  After Gene and Carole split up in the late 1960s, Gene showed up despondent, on Dan and Arline’s doorstep.  Gene walked in with a bottle of scotch and sat at their table and told his life story and drank all night.  Dan says it never really occurred to him to turn on a tape recorder – the moment seemed too intimate.  I wish he had.

In Dan Partridge’s office one of those days two weeks ago Dan Kramer was talking about things he wanted to do, current goals, and he muttered:  “One of my problems is I don’t get out of the day everything that I should.”

The following day we were all huddled around a speaker listening to Smith’s tapes from August 1965 – me, Dan, Dan, and Arline – and suddenly on the reel we could hear Kramer, forty-five years ago, mutter to Smith, “One of my problems is I’m not…how can I explain this?  I don’t get everything out of the day that I should.”

Arline broke up laughing, and so did the rest of us.

Daniel Kramer, Sam Stephenson, Dan Partridge at CDS.  October 2010. (C) Arline Cunningham

Daniel Kramer, Sam Stephenson, Dan Partridge at CDS. October 2010. (C) Arline Cunningham

One day soon we’ll have a video clip of Daniel Kramer’s talk at CDS, edited by him for this blog.

-Sam Stephenson

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