This week, Tuesday, July 6, the temperature hit 103 in Central Park, a record high for that day in NYC, according to the New York Times. Because of the heat we canceled our CHAOS MANOR event scheduled for Fort Greene Park on Wednesday.
In the JLP book I researched the weather for many particular days documented on Smith’s tapes. It was important because 821 Sixth Avenue had poor heating and no cooling. In the summer months the windows were always wide open and there is more traffic noise from Sixth Avenue recorded on Smith’s tapes.
Here are the temperatures for the July 6 dates during the jazz years in the loft, according to the daily New York Times for July 7 each year:
1954: 96 (5th straight day over 90, making headlines)
1956: 72 and rain (local baseball games rained out)
1958: 82 and thunderstorms
While trolling these papers, a July 7, 1956 article on the Newport Jazz Festival by John S. Wilson caught my eye. Wilson said that one band represented a “summary of jazz…in a sense.” It was Coleman Hawkins on tenor, Buck Clayton on trumpet, J.J. Johnson on trombone, and Dick Katz on piano. Wilson said Hawkins and Clayton represented an older style of jazz while Johnson and Katz represented more modern styles. “The resultant fusion of styles,” Wilson wrote, “was basically swinging, middle-road jazz.”
Wilson then reported a panel discussion in front of an audience of 800. It’s hard to imagine any jazz panel drawing 800 people today. According to Wilson, Newport Festival founder George Wein told the audience that 85% of them (based on a show of hands) knew nothing about Louis Armstrong because they hadn’t heard Armstrong’s seminal Hot Five and Hot Seven recordings. Wein then went on to criticize the current music Armstrong was playing. Wilson quoted Wein this way: “Why is Louis Armstrong successful today? Because he is a great entertainer. Not because he is a great jazz figure. He is not playing now with one-tenth of the potential that he had when he made those Hot Five and Hot Seven records.”
Wilson goes on:
Mr. Wein said it was the fault of the public that such successful jazz musicians as Mr. Armstrong and Mr. (Dizzy) Gillespie tended to play at a level that was below their real capability. It was also the fault of the public, he said, that new jazz groups looked for “a gimmick, a new sound, a new approach” instead of “great music.” The public will only accept “gimmicks,” he said, not good music. “You must go hear what the musician is trying to play,” he urged, “not what you want to hear.”
So, even 54 years ago there was an audience-artist disconnect in jazz. Wein’s complaints could be cut and pasted into some articles about music today. There are some people today, though, who believe that the artists don’t care enough about the audience; i.e. that jazz has become too much of an art music without enough entertainment value.