Just an infinitesimal bit of all the jazz that’s ever been

(from a Brick’ s Picks in the LA Weekly, c. 2007)

Several years ago i can remember walking into a posh Valley jazz joint and realizing, alas, no one else had wandered in. The place was so empty that the lounge area where the musicians set up away from the main dinner room seemed cavernous….which was too goddam bad, as one of the best pianists in jazz was up there with a remarkable quartet and the music was simply stunning. Chuck Manning was subbing for the regular saxophonist, and the stuff he came up with…free thinking rushes of chords that just filled up all that space in the room, or low tones, held, that flowed over the rhythm section in shades of blue…wow, and when he and the pianist met in the middle entirely new compositions burst out of whatever standard they were doing, completely new creations that took the breath away and then disappeared forever when they got back to the head and the traditional melody fell into place. Oh man, this jazz music is so ephemeral. All the recorded jazz that there is in the world—your entire music collection—it’s just an infinitesimal bit of all the jazz that’s ever been and will never be heard. Improvisation, it comes, and it goes. If you’re there, you’re lucky enough to hear it and maybe later you’ll remember a bit of it, can even pick out a trace on the piano, or try and write about it. Maybe a photo you took will spark a snippet in your mind’s ear. Maybe, just maybe, there’s even a recording somewhere. Those recordings….jazz fanatics can be driven mad by those, like that junkie following Bird around, desperately trying to catch every last note of his solos on a wire recorder before the bartender threw him out for not buying anything. Imagine that poor tortured bastard, haunted by all Bird’s solos that the world never hear again unless he can catch the sounds on his tinny little machine…and imagine his desperation as he was tossed again out into the street, hearing Bird’s alto spinning brilliance into the air that disappeared like a morning fog in the brutal summer sun….

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Med Flory

(LA Weekly, 2005)

On 52nd Street alto saxophonist Med Flory once gave Charlie Parker his last five dollars. Bird paid Flory back bigtime, though, when Med arranged his solos into Supersax. Bird…Med’s eyes light up. The wisecracks cease. He’s one of the kids who heard “Ko-Ko” and flipped. Parker revealed whole new dimensions, musical universes. So what if bop drove the folks away? The hell with popular shit. On this night John Heard will anchor the rhythm section, guests will sit in, Carl Saunders will play miraculous trumpet. The sets will be bop, blues, maybe a casual vocal. Med’ll sit on his beat-up sax case, take a deep breath and blow like a crazy mother, eyes wild, lost in progressions. Then, remembering it’s his 79th birthday, he’ll come up for air, wiping the sweat from his eyes. “I just love to play, man” he’ll say, as the pianist unravels the melody.

So long, Med Flory

(March, 2014)

The thing about Supersax is that the stuff sounds so great really really loud that you can blast it at a crazy party full of rock’n’rollers and they notice, move, swing without even knowing they’re swinging, and finally ask what the hell that is. It’s Charlie Parker. That’s Charlie Parker? Well, it’s a mess of horns all doing Charlie Parker. They spark one up and listen, get lost in it. Just like that the song ends. Let it play through they say. So you leave the album on. Jazz fans are made one at a time.

Rest in peace Med Flory, from me and Phyllis. We had a helluva lot of fun at your gigs–oh those demented nights at Jax–giving you lifts, dropping by your pad. You and that dog of yours. Your stories. Your jokes. Your be bop. You old viper you.

I don’t see the point in writing about jazz, you once told me, it’s like dancing about architecture…but you do it somehow. Keep it up. I just nodded, said thanks, made a joke. Always with the jokes. Two great big guys making jokes.

The problem with old be bop guys is they gotta go one of these days. All the smartassery and fire and craziness and fanaticism and melodic invention disappears with the light. Poof. They’ll come a day when there will be none of them left at all. A whole revolution–Charlie Parker’s revolution–reduced to academia and anecdotes. No mistakes. Just perfection. And you know what death perfection is.

Ah well. The world’s a smaller place when a big lug dies.

This isn’t very good, I know. I meant to say more, say less. Talk about your shows. All these memories piling up. Not sure what goes where. So I winged it. I can hear his laugh.

So long, Med Flory.

[And here is a pick in the LA Weekly for a Charlie O’s gig from 2005.]

On 52nd Street alto saxophonist Med Flory once gave Charlie Parker his last five dollars. Bird paid Flory back bigtime, though, when Med arranged his solos into Supersax. Bird…Med’s eyes light up. The wisecracks cease. He’s one of the kids who heard “KoKo” and flipped. Parker revealed whole new dimensions, musical universes. So what if bop drove the folks away? The hell with popular shit. On this night John Heard will anchor the rhythm section, guests will sit in, Carl Saunders will play miraculous trumpet. The sets will be bop, blues, maybe a casual vocal. Med’ll sit on his beat-up sax case, take a deep breath and blow like a crazy mother, eyes wild, lost in progressions. Then, remembering it’s his 78th birthday, he’ll come up for air, wiping the sweat from his eyes. “I just love to play, man” he’ll say, as the pianist unravels the melody..

(Here’s Supersax roaring through Bird’s KoKo. Play it loud.)

Supersax...Med Flory looming in the middle.

Supersax…Med Flory looming in the middle.

Saxophonery

[from a Brick’s Picks in the LA Weekly, c 2009]

We dig saxophone. Sometimes more than anything. Saxophones are sooo jazz. Almost iconic of the whole music. Trumpets were once, a long time ago, and clarinets had their sweet little run too. But Coleman Hawkins, big solid hard blowing Hawk, he put the sax up there in a spot no one has really been able to bounce it from for any serious stretch of time. Lester Young came in right after that, so spooky and perfect and lackadaisically gorgeous…if Coleman Hawkins put that boot down solid then Prez just kinda slid in like a man in his socks on a smoothly waxed floor. Then Bird just turned everything inside out with his bebop thing, stepping here and there and everywhere at once almost. You try to follow those footsteps. Just listen to a solo and try to follow it. Try. Was that work or what? Your eyes crossed, huh? And then Trane? Oh man. You put Trane’s thing on top of Bird’s thing on top of Hawk’s things and all around Prez’s thing I mean, man…..you got harmonics gone nuts, fingers going crazy, you got all that forced air rushing through that crazy saxophone (and it is crazy…look at one close up) and notes and chords flying free from that bell, making crazy patterns, and if you could see them, if the notes were different colors, they’d be filling rooms, filling whole night clubs, all squiggly flatted fifths and minor sevenths and whole bars of chords piling up everywhere. Piling up like fluff or soap bubbles, wonderful notes everywhere, just pouring out of a saxophone like some kind of crazy fountain. Think of that next time you’re sitting there in some jazz joint, the sax man blowing his ass off. Imagine all those notes. Not even the piano emits as many notes (and those would be neatly stacked or maybe scattered across the floor like shards of a glass enclosure.) Nope, it’s the sax that makes the most sound in jazz. There’s just more jazz to be heard coming out of it. Music theory this ain’t. It’s just that we dig the sax.

Coleman Hawkins and Charlie Parker

Coleman Hawkins blowing, Bird listening.

Charlie Parker

I just saw this picture of Charlie Parker on Facebook:

Charlie Parker.

Charlie Parker’s funeral.

He’s in the box. I see Leonard Feather there, a pall bearer. Charlie Mingus watches from the church door. That was the day they buried Charlie Parker.

Charlie Parker. The man that changed everything in jazz. Everything. There was jazz. Then there was Charlie Parker. And then there was a new jazz. All the jazz before Charlie Parker was rendered obsolescent, unless it could deal with Charlie Parker. The “Now’s the Time” that’s playing here, in my room? It was war. Revolution. A scythe. Either you played it like Bird played it, or you settled into the big band circuit.  There you become instant history, you were nostalgia. Now was the time and you weren’t from Now. You were Then. Rarely does a cultural change happen with such annihilating suddenness. Charlie Parker was the Revolution brought to music, as merciless as Lenin. Continue reading