Not Giving Up on Jazz in NYC

This week there was an interesting email roundtable on Nate Chinen’s blog.  The last two entries, by Andrey Henkin and Ben Ratliff, ponder whether New York City is still the best “farm” (Ratliff’s term) for jazz.  I like Ratliff’s hopeful wish for the future.

Back in the spring of 1964 Gene Smith made a priceless nocturnal recording on the fifth floor of 821 Sixth Avenue in which he caught saxophonist Zoot Sims and others lamenting the decline of the scene.  The clubs were dead, they said; the jam session scene was dead, too.  Zoot described resorting to a gig playing with strippers in Boston.  Bassist Vinnie Burke suggested there was a pall cast by JFK’s assassination (November 1963).  “It’s like Lincoln repeating itself,” said Burke.  Later in the morning saxophonist Clarence Sharpe knocked on the door and entered with his wife Shofreka.  Within minutes he and Zoot were blowing a blues, soloing and trading fours for about ten minutes.  Then, Smith’s tape ran out, mid-tune, and we have no idea what happened next.

We know the music lived on in general.  Zoot recorded several classic albums after 1964 (including this and this among many others) and C-Sharpe played enough good music to inspire Stanley Crouch to write a moving piece about him in the Village Voice on March 24, 1987 (I wish I could link to the piece but it doesn’t appear to be online).  Crouch called C-Sharpe “a figure glowing in the shadows.”

In today’s Times Ratliff and Chinen list their top 10 albums of 2009 and they offer a number of recorded reasons to believe the music isn’t dead.  But the possibility that the music might harvest more successfully on farms outside of NYC in the 21st century is interesting to ponder.  Certainly, at mid-20th century, the scene at 821 Sixth Avenue could have happened nowhere other than NYC.

- Sam Stephenson

Comments are closed.