Gigs in Atlanta are always festive. All kinds of family and friends sitting on the right side of the stage. Walter's momma and sister, Chris' wife and daughter, Marcus Printup's mother, so many people. Soulful people, Mrs. Pearl Fountain. Some of Sherman's people. Frank's grandson, the irrepressible William Edward Lee (age 7 with blue jacket and khaki pants) running all around, dancing to the music with controlled abandon.
The last night of a tour is always bittersweet, but this gig was fun. The blues was on the menu and people were hungry. The tour was, as always, revelatory. New and old friends, all kinds of different stuff happening on the bandstand. We mainly played the Vitoria Suite and our arrangements of Chick Corea's music.
Whenever I announce Chick's music, someone yells,"Yeah!" above the general murmur of approval.
I pointed this out to our audience last night and said that I told Chick and that he was happy about that response.
The cats' dedication is evidenced by the attention to detail they give to each song on every concert. On stage, I say we have an embarrassment of riches. And we do. Everywhere I turn, Ted, Vincent, Carlos, Marcus…....Ryan, Vic. Bam! A lot of ability writing, playing and teaching. A lot of soul and love of the music and experience. Ali.
I consistently receive a plethora of wonderful comments about how generous all the guys are when interfacing with students, audience members, and staff. Generally we speak to student groups after soundchecks and sometimes after gigs. I love when guys who are not scheduled to teach come in and share a few anecdotes with the youngsters.
Of course, everyone is bone tired now. We normally have a group toast in the intermission of the last gig of a tour. We missed it last night. The President of Moorehouse College, Dr. Robert Franklin celebrated his birthday at our concert which was presented by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. I love him and the orchestra also for doing their best to play my Blues Symphony (which I still need to do LOTS of work on). Normally we get out right after the gig.
Tonight, there are so many great musicians in Atlanta, I go with my boy Milkshake to Danny and Terry Harper's jam session at Churchill Grounds and play till 2 in the morning with a room full of swinging trumpeters including their son Terence. It was a late-night affair with great warmth and the feeling of informal profundity that good jazz brings to a space.
John Robertson came in around 1 and played all kinds of piano. His son James, 12 and of sterling personality, was already there tearing up the place and is someone to watch out for on the alto sax. Now, at 7:30am we are on I-85 staring hard at 16hrs of driving. No soon as we finish lunch, Frank and Boss Bragg strong arm me into going to a rib restaurant. We circle Lexington, North Carolina for 1hr looking for Lexington One Barbecue. Frank and Lolis wrote THE book on BBQ- 'Smokestack Lightning', so you can't tell him anything about it.
They get a couple of chopped shoulder sandwiches and I cajole them into stopping at North Carolina Central so's I can see Branford and his students. Book (branford) gives us the directions and at 4pm we fall into a room full of students and talk about and play jazz music. We conclude by playing some modern counterpoint on Sweet Georgia Brown. It's so much fun playing with him, I want to laugh. I remember how Gerry Mulligan used to smile like a mischievous kid when telling me,"Hey, let's play that counterpoint." Yeah me and Book riffed on it for a while to great mutual enjoyment. Even Frank admitted he liked it. Boss Bragg said the music was cool but he enjoyed the educational questions (about mouthpiece sizes and what not). Now we are back on that same road except it is 6:20pm.
Two hours just evaporated like that. The sky is giving way to headlights, and birds cut stark unpredictable rhythms against the fading horizon. Soon, trees are shadows and there is only asphalt, white lines, green and blue signs, and specks of intermittent yellow. In order to avoid finishing my arrangements for next weeks concerts, I put on a recording of William Warfield singing Aaron Copland's arrangement of the American song, 'The Golden Willow Tree' with Mr. Copland himself conducting.
I knew Mr. Warfield, and I swear I can hear the feeling of how orchestra members who are not playing listen to him on this recording. Copland's arrangement is spare and beautiful and imaginative and bubbling. Mr. Warfield's voice is full of the sweet, anguished fire and intelligent pride I hear in Lester Young. The song is poignant and rich, but I confess I don't quite understand the meaning of it. If anyone does, please let me know.
We're out here. Still in the swing seat.
Early in the 21st.
Driving through Alabama on Hwy 72 at 7:30 in the morning. Some 11 hrs.
Earlier 15 men played an evening of jazz in Conway at the University of Central Arkansas. The cats have been very consistent and serious about 110 percenting it on this whole tour. Last night was no exception.
Many highlights. From Elliot's thematically concise and acrobatic offering on 'Straight Up and Down' (plus he's suffering from a serious stomach virus and shouldn't even be on a bandstand) to Vincent's singing on Joe Turner's Blues (pure soul, imagination and Ooo-Ble-Yew). The rhythm section was loping all night long and Carlos had his hard hat on.
The saxophone section played with absolute dedication and synchronized nuance on the very last song of the night (Ted's arrangement of 'Old MacDonald') on the second to last night of the tour. Before the gig Ali, Vincent, and Sherman all scrunched over their computers working on arrangements for next week's concerts in the House of Swing with Ute Lemper.
My 7th grade teacher, Sr. Lee Ann, was there. She was such a great teacher.
I still show off letters with her lyrical and meticulous handwriting. After an hour or so of meeting with our audience and talking to young musicians, I had the opportunity to sit with her for a minute. We shared jokes and pleasantries and stories. She told me, "I have loved you for a very long time." It felt like someone putting a blanket over you as you struggle to sleep through a cold night.
Well, now we are under steel gray skies passing southern, ranch-style homes, alongside some railroad tracks, past an occasional field of cotton, passing small businesses bearing people's names—-Lula's, Roy's, Beryl's and the winner of the contest this morning goes to a lounge, 'Stagger Lee's.' Frank said that's because of how people walk out of there.
I grew up down the street from railroad tracks and always feel something when I hear a train or see some tracks—tales of journeys upon journeys from the Underground Railroad to 'The City of New Orleans' to the Glory Train.
On I-565 east passing the Davidson Center for Space Research, the shuttle and some earlier rockets announce themselves proudly against the sky. Their beautiful, streamlined architecture change the mood of the highway and cast a long shadow over a chain-gang with fluorescent yellow uniforms and orange trash bags.
Places like Stagger Lee's, yeah, I was in those too. As a boy, I never liked the smell of stale beer in a lounge in the day time.
At night it was ok because everybody was looking for something. In the day you can already see.
5 o'clock Sunday afternoon driving through the Texas panhandle 20 miles from Amarillo.
Big Sky Country for sure. Wide open spaces with crucifixed power lines stringing one ranch to the other. Aluminum grain elevators glisten in the setting sun and rise out of the brush dotted plains with the purposeful permanence of the functional.
From way off you can smell cattle sloshing in their holding pens on the last leg of a bad journey.
Water towers announce the presence of a main street, a high school, something to eat.
Here we go.
A strip mall. Civilization.
On the road at 5:30 am leaving Los Angeles headed east to Mesa, Arizona.
The sky over the road ahead (as far as the eye can see) is pink-blue-yellow haze with shavings of smoke gray clouds and orange searing the expanse with no identifiable logic or pattern whatsoever.
I'm telling you that every dreamy, unmanaged, wisping, floaty shape against the horizon inspires optimism and is celebratory of freedom. And here comes cars, cars, cars with so many rapidly passing headlights and there go smaller, red-eyed tail lights guiding us through the immediate landscape in syncopated polyphony with the criss-crossing brights of vehicles who zoom rank and file through the arteries and veins of this concrete maze we call highways and Frank is sleeping.
Boss Bragg, not ever given to much talk, takes in the new sun as it peeks through looming mountains. We speed past waking neighborhoods that we will never know.
I called Chris Beiderbecke last night in response to his comments about this sentence in my post 'Egyptian Blues':
"From Buddy Bolden's first revolutionary notes, to Bix Beiderbecke's decision to play this music in spite of his family's disrespect of 'nigger music', to Benny Goodman's historic integration of his band (before baseball), to John Coltrane's 'Alabama', jazz musicians have always known—-when YOU are free, I become more so."
I apologized to him and his family for the justifiable misunderstanding caused by the quotations in this sentence. My quote around the term 'nigger music' was meant to indicate that this was a prevalent national sentiment about jazz at that time, not to imply that it was a direct statement from or teachings of Bix's parents.
I extend this apology also to any others who may have misinterpreted my intended meaning.
I used Bix's decision to play this music in spite of his family's lack of support AND the obvious cultural obstacles, as an example of a personal quest for freedom through jazz.
In combining his family's concerns with the national attitudes about jazz at that time, I gave an unintended inference. One of the beauties of this forum is that it allows people who would never meet or speak to one another to communicate freely without the cloak of anonymity.
I enjoyed the conversation with Chris and always welcome comments that spark meaningful dialogue.