Blog # 60: The Reality of History
Like many other music students, when I was in high school and college I listened to all the greats; Chet Baker, Clifford Brown, Art Farmer, Miles Davis, Kenny Dorham etc. I was blown away by the talent of these people and really viewed them as I'm sure most kids view sports stars(I never followed sports). These guys were untouchable; they were perfect, even when they made mistakes. And in my view of history, I imagined jazz to be very popular before I was born. I saw photos of billboards saying 'Miles Davis Quintet Tonight, Horace Silver next week'. I assumed that these musical hero's of mine were playing sold out shows, with lines around the block. But the more I learn about Jazz and History, the more I question these thoughts.
Recently I downloaded a Kenny Dorham live recording off itunes from a club in Queens called 'The Flamboyan'. Its a good live recording, with Joe Henderson and Kenny Dorham in their prime being broadcasted over the radio. The disk jockey tells the radio audience that they can call in with requests. He also repeatedly tells people they should come out and that there is no cover, no minimum and that the band will play every monday night until 3 or 4 in the morning.(he even says the band needs the bread!). But most tellingly he implies that there is no one in the audience(!) and that they are essentially playing for an empty room. The announcer also says there are dance nights and latin music nights later in the week, and that monday is jazz night. (doesn't really sound like The Bluenote, The Vanguard, or Birdland)
I think we forget that no matter the talent, most musicians have played some shitty gigs during their career. We all play shows with packed houses, and have done some really depressing nights playing for just a couple people at the bar. I used to think light audiences were just a product of current music tastes, but apparently even great musicians like Kenny Dorham and Joe Henderson played some crappy gigs. While these guys are still just as great in my eyes, maybe its history that let people realize how great they are and maybe they were under-appreciated in their time too.
Another musician that comes to mind is Eric Dolphy; who I consider to be a phenomenal musician. He had his own voice on 3 instruments: flute, alto sax, and bass clarinet. Despite his talent, Dolphy had great difficulty finding any work during his life. I've heard stories of him surviving on a large bag of beans that he kept in his closet, because he couldn't affort any thing else to eat. He may have also developed diabetes from this diet, which later lead to his early death. He wasn't a junkie, his death may have been just the result of people not 'getting' his music.
Pop Jazz sells out tourist trap jazz clubs and big festivals. These musicians are on magazine covers and are sponsored by instrument companies. They are popular today, and will be forgotten in 20 years, because 'Pop Jazz' isn't really jazz. Its a watered down version for the general public and its stars have bright smiles and seductive eyes.
But Real Jazz is a different thing. It isn't necessarily glamorous, well paying, or popular. And these real jazz musicians probably won't win any beauty contests. But Real Jazz, as part of history, lives forever. People will never stop listening or talking about Real Jazz, but it will never be appreciated as much in its time.