This interview first appeared in the ‘Jazz At Ronnie Scott’s’ magazine of November-December 1996. It doesn’t seem to be available anywhere on the web, so I’ve republished it here. I think it’s a classic, especially as the interviewer, the late Jim Godbolt, was known as something of a curmudgeon, but met his match in the legendarily irascible Mr Braff; we start with Godbolt’s introduction:
That very perceptive and admirably descriptive critic Whitney Balliett, commenting on jazz trumpeters/cornettists, pointed to the diminutive stature of Louis Armstrong, Roy Eldridge, Bix Bederbecke, Charlie Shavers, Ray Nance, Bobby Hackett and Miles Davis.’The larger the lyric soul, it woud seem,the smaller its house’, wrote Balliet. This was his introduction to a monograph on Ruby Braff; five feet four inches and notorious for an equally short fuse.
I knew the stories about Reuben: his favourite tune is Just Me, Just Me, and that his favourite book is ‘Mr Hyde and Mr Hyde’.Indeed, one of is albums s entitled Me, Myself and I, described in the Penguin Guide to Jazz on CDs, LPs and cassettes as ‘Mainstream Jazz at its very best’, a tome Ruby obviously has not read, for him to be advised in what category he is generally placed in jazz literature.
Another tale concerning the forthright Mr. Braff was when he was appearing in a package led by festival organiser George Wein at Ronnie Scott’s Club. Wein was the pianist, Ruby the cornettist and when Wein commenced a solo Braff, heard all over the room on the microphone, said to Wein, ‘Keep it simple, George, don’t try and express yourself.’ Yet another story was record producer Dave Bennett enquiring of Ruby, ‘Didn’t you once share a flat with Kenny Davern? ‘ And Braff’s curt response was, ‘No, he lived below me, where he belonged.’
My interview with him (and our very first meeting) at the Dean Street, Soho, flat where he was staying, didn’t get off to a flying start. We shook hands, he howled in pain. He then introduced me to guitarist Howard Alden, grunting, ‘If you’re going to shake hands with him, please don’t break his fingers, he needs them to play with me tonight.’ And things got worse. Ruby doesn’t look at you; he grimaces and glowers. He doesn’t talk. He rasps, growls, grunts and grates. Emphatically so when he took exception to my opening comments, the thrust of which was that he was born in 1927, very much younger than those who seemingly, inspired him — Louis Armstrong, Bix Beiderbecke, Bobby Hackett and others of that ilk. Unwisely, I referred to him belonging to an older tradition.
RB: What the fuck do you mean by an older tradition! I don’t want to know about any older tradition! I’ve never played like anybody and nobody plays like me.
JG: Ruby, I am stating what people like Whitney Balliett and Max Jones and many others, have said about you.
RB: I don’t give a shit what’s been said about me. Most of it’s inaccurate anyway. I don’t care about most people. I have nothing to do with most people. The best thing to do in an interview is to take it from the source.
JG: May I ask you then, why, as a contemporary of, say, Fats Navarro and Clifford Brown, you don’t elect to play in the so-called bebop idiom?
RB: That’s a fucking dumb question! Do they play like me? I don’t play any style but my own. Do you go up to Johnny Hodges and ask him why he doesn’t play like this or that guy? Would you go up to Teddy Wilson and ask him why he doesn’t play like Lil Hardin or Bud Powell? Do you really wanna go on with this?
I had heard of interviews with Ruby that terminated suddenly, and this came very near to being one of them. I thought I would have to pack up my Walkman and walk. Desperately, I looked at my notes and my eye fell on the name of John Hammond.
JG: Can I ask you about John Hammond? Read the rest of this entry »
Felix Dexter 26 July 1961 – 18 Oct 2013
Charlie Higson and Paul Whitehouse pay tribute here
Well, it made me laugh:
Test yourself: how much are you hated by the Daily Mail?
Aisha Harris, writing at Slate, is worried by the media coverage of Charles Ramsey:
“Charles Ramsey, the man who helped rescue three Cleveland women presumed dead after going missing a decade ago, has become an instant Internet meme. It’s hardly surprising—the interviews he gave yesterday provide plenty of fodder for a viral video, including memorable soundbites (“I was eatin’ my McDonald’s”) and lots of enthusiastic gestures. But as Miles Klee and Connor Simpson have noted, Ramsey’s heroism is quickly being overshadowed by the public’s desire to laugh at and autotune his story, and that’s a shame. Ramsey has become the latest in a fairly recent trend of “hilarious” black neighbors, unwitting Internet celebrities whose appeal seems rooted in a ‘colorful’ style that is always immediately recognizable as poor or working-class…
“…It’s difficult to watch these videos and not sense that their popularity has something to do with a persistent, if unconscious, desire to see black people perform. Even before the genuinely heroic Ramsey came along, some viewers had expressed concern that the laughter directed at people like Sweet Brown plays into the most basic stereotyping of blacks as simple-minded ramblers living in the ‘ghetto, socially out of step with the rest of educated America. Black or white, seeing Clark and Dodson merely as funny instances of random poor people talking nonsense is disrespectful at best. And shushing away the question of race seems like wishful thinking.”
Perhaps surprisingly, Gary Younge at the Guardian takes the opposite view:
“Millions in America talk like him. But rarely do we hear them unless they are on Maury, Jerry Springer or America’s Most Wanted, the butt of some internet joke or testifying to a shooting in their neighbourhoods. Working-class African Americans are generally wheeled on as exemplars of collective dysfunction. So when Ramsey emerges as heroic, humane, empathetic, funny, compelling, generous and smart, there is a moment of cognitive dissonance on a grand scale. Here is a man with a criminal past and a crime-fighting present…
“…Unvarnished and un-selfconscious, charming and compelling, he reminds me of none so much as Muhammad Ali in his prime, who said: I am America. I am the part you won’t recognise. But get used to me. Black, confident, cocky.
“I’m looking forward to getting used to Charles Ramsey.”
If you’re one of the few people who hasn’t yet seen the film of Mr Ramsey in full flow, you can judge for yourself:
P.S: now there’s a song as well.
Former Dr Feelgood guitarist Wilko Johnson is preparing for a short farewell tour in March. This really will be ‘farewell': he’s been diagnosed with terminal cancer and, having turned down chemo, has less than a year to live. He’s just given this interview to Radio 4’s ‘Front Row’ and if you didn’t hear it when it went out yesterday I must INSIST that you listen, NOW.
It reminds me of Dennis Potter’s incredible 1994 interview conducted by Melvyn Bragg, but might just be even more powerful and moving, with its humour, philosophy and complete lack of self-pity:
“When the doctor told me, I walked out of there and felt an elation…I looked at the trees and sky and thought, ‘wow!’…
“…I’m a feather for each wind that blows. Why didn’t I work that out before? It’s just the moment that matters. Imminent death…makes you feel alive. Every cold breeze against your face, every brick in the road, makes you think ‘I’m alive’…
“…I’m a miserable person but that has all lifted…I’ve had a fantastic life. Anybody that asked for anything more would just be being greedy.”
He also talks a whole lot of sense about music and recording.
Below; Wilko on guitar, with vocalist Lee Brilleaux:
Review by Michael Steinman, reblogged from Jazz Lives:
Maria S. Judge’s book about her Uncle Jake — one of the most swinging musicians ever — JAKE HANNA: THE RHYTHM AND WIT OF A SWINGING JAZZ DRUMMER — is irresistible.
I write this in all objectivity, even though I have a connection to the book. When Maria let people know that she was collecting stories about Jake for this group memoir / portrait, I sent her my recollections of an hour spent with Jake before Sunnie Sutton’s 2006 Rocky Mountain Jazz Party.
I don’t mean to inflate my own importance by this: I am not sure Jake knew who I was before, during, or after his recital, but he HAD to tell stories as dogs have to bark and cats meow. So I was the delighted recipient of some of his best tales — affectionate, scurrilous, sharp, verifiable. My only regret is that I didn’t have my little digital recorder concealed to get Jake’s delivery — a Boston Irish W.C. Fields with expert comic timing — for posterity. I contributed a paragraph about that encounter, and I read the manuscript before it went to press.
But when a copy came in the mail two days ago I thought, “Oh, I know all this already,” and was ready to put the book on the shelf unread.
But Jake’s powers extend far beyond the grave, and I opened it at random. An hour went by as I stood in the kitchen reading, laughing, feeling honored to have met Jake and heard him play.
The book follows Jake from his family and birth in Dorchester, Massachusetts (1931) to his death in 2010. The family narratives are fascinating, because all of the Hannas seem to have been engagingly larger-than-life and the book begins not with serious historical heaviness but with the genial mood of a Frank Capra film. Here’s Jim McCarthy, a younger friend from the neighborhood:
We lived . . . two blocks away from the Dorchester District Courthouse. . . [which] was surrounded by a granite wall about two feet high that the guys used to sit on. When Jake sat there he’d straddle the wall and hit on it with his drumsticks. My mother and I were walking past the courthouse one day when we saw Jake playing the wall. ”Is that all you have to do?” my mother asked him. ”Just beat those sticks?” ”Hi, Mrs. McCarthy,” Jake said. ”Someday they’re going to pay me to beat those sticks.”
There are tales of Jake’s army service, his first meeting with Charlie Parker, “the nicest guy I ever met in my whole life,” working with Jimmy Rushing, Marian McPartland, Maynard Ferguson, and Harry James. Here’s drummer Roy Burns:
When Jake was playing with Harry James, Harry used to go “one, two, one, two, three, four,” with his back to the band, but his shoulders were slower than the tempo. So Jake finally asked him, “Harry, should I take the tempo from your shoulder, from the piano, or just play it at the tempo we usually play it?” Harry said, “Jake, you’re the leader.” Jake said, “Do you really mean that?” Harry said, “Yes.” Jake said, “OK, you’re fired.”
There are many more funny, smart, naughty stories in this book — but it is not all one-liners and smart-alecky. Jake comes across as deeply committed to his craft and to making the band swing from the first beat. And for someone with such a razor-sharp wit, he emerges as generous to younger musicians and his famous colleagues, affectionate and reverential about those people who epitomized the music: Count Basie, Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney. We read of his work with Woody Herman, on television with Merv Griffin, in Russia with Oscar Peterson, Supersax, the long run of jazz albums for the Concord label, a sweet sad encounter with Chet Baker. There are long lovely reminiscences by John Allred and Jim Hall, by Dan Barrett, and Jake’s wife Denisa — plus memorable stories from Scott Hamilton, Hal Smith, Charlie Watts, Rebecca Kilgore, Warren Vache, Jim Denham, and dozens of other musicians and admirers.
Uncle Jake is still with us — not only on the music, but in these pages. “Pay attention!” as he used to say.
May your happiness increase.
In the Captain’s Bar last night the duo Rantum Scantum were playing. Bobby Nicholson on guitar and vocals, Eddy Hanson on fiddle. Bobby Nicholson, writes funny, satirical songs. This is a recent topical one, Go and see the pandas:-
Things to do when nothin’s on the telly (recorded live, so sound quality not good:-
The poet Christopher Logue’s finest work was a version of the Iiliad, War Music, which is considered by those who know, to be the finest since Pope. He reinvigorated Homer by using contemporary idioms including advertising slogans (“Permanent Red” was a slogan for lipstick) and film directions (“Cut to the fleet”).
He also wrote plays, screenplays and (under the pseudonym of Count Palmiro Vicarion), pornography. But I (like most people) only really know him for his work for ‘Private Eye’ : the columns ‘Pseud’s Corner’ and ‘True Stories’, both of which were often laugh-out-loud funny and consistently the best features in the magazine.
‘True Stories’ was devoted to bizarre real-life incidents culled from newspapers round the world, involving ordinary people. Logue slightly re-wrote the items in a dead-pan style, turning them into surreal masterpieces. But – significantly – he often changed the names of those involved. They were, he explained, ordinary people – not celebs – and so should not be publicly humiliated.
Unlike most of the upper-class, public school shits who ran Privare Eye in the sixties and seventies, Logue was a decent and principled radical who campaigned against the death penalty, actively supported CND (at a time when it was still an honourable movement) and attempted to use his poetry (alongside Adrian Mitchell) against the Vietnam war. He went to jail for his anti-Vietnam campaigning.
I for one intend, belatedly, to read him
I hadn’t come across this Larkin poem before last weekend. It’s not one of his best, but it made me laugh:
The Life with the Hole in It
When I throw back my head and howl
People (women mostly) say
But you’ve always done what you want,
You always get your way
- A perfectly vile and foul
Inversion of all that’s been.
What the old ratbags mean
Is I’ve never done what I don’t.
So the shit in the shuttered chateau
Who does his five hundred words
Then parts out the rest of the day
Between bathing and booze and birds
Is far off as ever, but so
Is that spectacled schoolteaching sod
(Six kids, and the wife in pod,
And her parents coming to stay)…
Life is an immobile, locked,
Three-handed struggle between
Your wants, the world’s for you, and (worse)
The unbeatable slow machine
That brings what you’ll get. Blocked,
They strain round a hollow stasis
Of havings-to, fear, faces.
Days sift down it constantly. Years.
He’s on at 11.00pm on Wednesdays, BBC Radio 4. He had me laughing out loud. You’ve got six days to listen to this week’s programme:
- Andrew Lawrence:
What To Do If You’re Not Like Everybody Else
- Available now on BBC iPlayer
Listen to the latest programme