I was at an event a couple nights ago when it was announced that Jim Hall has died. People gasped audibly. The lady next to me began to cry. That’s when I knew for sure it wasn’t a hardcore jazz crowd. Jazzers just sigh and move on. There’ll be a nice memorial, a lot of the departed player’s music on the radio for a few days. Then on to the living. Jazz musicians have been dying since the 1930’s. That’s when the first generation began to go in large numbers. (Life spans were shorter then, and they began to go in their fifties.) After a few generations all that death becomes part of the music’s natural cycle. Sad, inevitable. Rock’n’roll fans will be there in a generation themselves. But rock fans now are in for an endless wave of the sixties greats dropping off, and it’ll be hard, and they’ll cry. Maybe because rock is a music of youthful days, and old age seems somehow cruel and ironic. I don’t know. But I do know that the social media is awash in mourning when a rock hero dies, almost to the point of tedium, whereas jazz fans let it go after a day or two. Two different ways of looking at the same thing. It’s just that jazz people are so used to it.
A buddy of mine, a jazz historian of long standing, told me once how he’s watched entire generations of jazz–entire styles–disappear. He used to interview the 1920’s classic jazz people but then they were gone. He’d interview the swing era people of the 1930’s…but they disappeared. The be boppers of the forties are nearly all gone now, he said. Next comes the great Blue Note era, maybe jazz’s greatest period. So many heroes. So many obituaries. Barely a week goes by now without one. Jazz fans sigh.
I think being a jazz fan has made it easier for my rock fan side. When the heroes of my youth begin to go I doubt I’ll be overcome with sadness. Oh, I’ll be sad, but not too much. It’s just the way things go. As the sixties rock stars head toward the precipice it’ll just be part of the cycle. Their time to go. My generation, the seventies people, will follow soon afterward. That’s the way it goes. People go from living to history. Some go from living to forgotten. Maybe forgotten forever. That too is the way it goes. Not everyone makes it into history. In fact, almost nobody does. Almost everyone around you now will be utterly unknown in two generations. Like they never were.
If you hang around jazz bars long enough, you’ll run into old timers telling you about the old days. They’ll be dropping names. I’ll know some, but not know others. You don’t remember him? They’re surprised. He was so so hot man, he was the best, he blew them all out of the room. You sure you never heard of him? I promise to look up the name. They sigh. If I remember, I’ll look up the name later. I have all these jazz histories here on my desk I’ll search. Several websites. Sometimes I just google. Maybe there’ll be a mention somewhere. An album review–if he ever recorded one. Maybe just a sideman credit on another’s record. But sometimes there’s no mention at all. A guy who blew them out of the room is not mentioned at all. He’s forgotten. And once the people that knew him are gone, he’ll be gone forever. History isn’t fair, it’s not nice, it can be downright cruel. Best not to think about it now, though. Best just to be that cat who blows them out of the room, all of them. Best to live while you’re living.
I suppose that’s why people write memoirs. Three or four or a hundred generations from now someone will crack them open and your whole life will come alive again, to somebody anyway. And that’s worth something. That’s what I think these are, all these stories I write. I never try to publish anything. Or even put them on any other blogs. I just have this idea I should print them all out, put them together, and hide them in my safe deposit box. Then after the world ends some archaeologist will find them, and the strange little world I live in full of characters and weirdness and music and babes and laughs and ideas will come back to life. And for some reason that seems important. Like it’s not the death that bothers me, it’s the forgetting. Like we never were.