More Hall Overton Fingerprints

There are two new blog entries revealing a fascinating connection between Charlie Parker and Edgar Varèse plus 1957 jam sessions involving Varèse that could have taken place in Overton’s loft in 821 Sixth Avenue.  Alex Ross mentions it here after the ICE blog mentioned it here.  Musicians listed in these sessions include Teo Macero, Art Farmer, Hal McKusick, Frank Rehak, Ed Shaughnessy, Charles Mingus, and Overton.

Overton hosted sessions with some of these same musicians on a regular basis.  For example, his fellow 821 tenant Dick Cary kept a daily diary and on April 21, 1955 he jotted,  “Thelonious Monk and gang upstairs.”  Upstairs was Overton’s studio.  Two days later a concert at the 92nd St. Y included these musicians:  Overton, Charles Mingus, Art Farmer, Teo Macero, Eddie Bert, Kenny Clarke, and Monk.  It’s likely this was the “gang” Cary referred to.  It matches up with other information we have for this period.  The Varèse sessions in ’57 included four of the same musicians plus Hal McKusick and Ed Shaughnessy, both known to frequent Overton’s studio.

The man was everywhere, and nowhere, always preferring the background.  A major research project on him would be fruitful.

Unfortunately, a basement flood in the New Jersey home of Overton’s widow Nancy in the 1990s ruined most of the professional belongings he left behind.  A few tantalizing pieces survive:  scores, the datebook for the last year of his life, and a dozen reels of tape including the only complete performance of his Huckleberry Finn opera (conducted by Dennis Russell Davies at Juilliard in 1971) and some sessions with Teddy Charles, Ed Shaughnessy, and others.  His datebook for 1972 (he died in November that year) is meticulous, so we dearly miss what might have been found in the 1950s and 60s editions.

By the way, Gene Smith didn’t move into 821 Sixth Avenue until 1957 and his tape work didn’t become obsessive until 1959.  So it is unlikely that we’ll find the Varèse sessions if they did occur in Overton’s loft (we still have about 800 hours yet to hear).

-Sam Stephenson

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