Here are some of my jazz heroes, caught on good-quality film: Eddie Condon (guitar), Wild Bill Davison (cornet), Pee Wee Russell (clarinet), Wille ‘The Lion’ Smith (piano), Morey Feld (drums) and an unexpected but welcome guest, ex-Goodman vocalist Helen Ward (note how she insists upon her ending to I’ve Got A Crush On You)
The date is 1963, which is relatively late in the careers (and lives) of most of those present. Pee Wee died in 1969, Condon and The Lion in 1973. This seems to be an informal jam session at Condon’s club, and the relatively high-quality film gives the engaged viewer a tremendous sense of intimacy: the close-ups of Pee Wee are, alone, priceless. And, please note: with a two-fisted pianist like The Lion, a solid rhythm guitarist like Condon, and a capable drummer like Feld, you don’t need a bass in order to swing:
This latter-day Condon jam session puts me in mind of something the late Richard M. (“Dick”) Sudhalter wrote twenty years ago, about these musicians and their friends (the “Condon gang”) in their heyday in 1940′s New York:
“it’s all an awfully long time ago. All the incomparable one-off characters who light up those records are gone now, their voices stilled. A world without Pee Wee? Without Bobby [Hackett] and Brad [Gowans], Bud [Freeman] and Ernie [Caceres] and Jack Teagarden? Who’d have thought it possible?
“All this brings thoughts of Gentleman George Frazier, and some words he wrote in a 1941 Down Beat. The subject was Nick’s [jazz club], but George was really talking about the music it housed, and the incomparable guys in the dark suits up there on the stand.’Nick’s is a small place,’ he wrote, ‘but there are those who love it … The beers are short and there never is a moment when you can’t cut the smoke with the crease in your pants, but still there are those of us who … in days to come will think of it and be stabbed, not with any fake emotion, but with a genuinely heartbreaking nostalgia. We will think of this place at 7th Avenue and 10th St., and all of a sudden the fragrant past … will sneak up on us and for a little while we will be all the sad old men.’
“Perhaps we never know until it’s too late, that nothing is forever. By the time we realize that, there’s often little left save the ache, the regret, and the sense, as in that medieval phantomland of Daphne Du Maurier’s The House on The Strand, of Elysium glimpsed briefly, then lost in the glow of some heartbreaking sunset.
“But the music. Ah, the music: ever fresh and penny-bright, as new as tomorrow, all the more because it owes nothing to time or to the tin god Novelty. It perseveres and prospers, outliving the moment of its creation, the circumstances — even the creators themselves. Promise and proclaimations it affirms; and in doing so it reminds us, as did that lost New York, of just how good things — and we, all of us, –can be.”
H/t: Roger Healey
“It seemed suspicious at the time, and it still does now.”
Back in the 1970′s, when I was working at the British Leyland Longbridge plant, I began to feel strange. At first, my fingers, hands and feet began to feel weak and uncoordinated. Gradually it got worse, and I started falling over. For some time my GP didn’t take this very seriously (he understood that I normally only required his services for the purposes of sick note-provision), but I eventually persuaded him to send me to hospital. At the hospital, I overheard a doctor saying to a colleague, “I bet it’s Guillain–Barré syndrome” – and that was the first time I’d ever heard of the condition.
It was explained to me that it is a disorder affecting the nervous system, usually triggered by an infection, and that there is no treatment: it simply has to run its course. The hospital doctors assured me that I’d make a full recovery eventually, and so I did (as far as I’ve ever been able to judge), but it took about six months. What the doctors didn’t tell me (thank goodness) was that not everyone does, in fact, make a full recovery: some patients are left with severe motor and sensory damage and in rare cases it can be fatal. I only found this out years later when another victim, the Catch-22 author Joseph Heller appeared on Desert Island Discs and talked about it.
For several years after my experience, I never met, or heard of, anyone else who’d had the condition, until in 1981 Tony Benn had to interrupt his campaign for the deputy leadership of the Labour Party due to a mystery ailment that turned out to be … Guillain–Barré syndrome.
I remember thinking at the time that Benn must have had a much milder version of it than mine, as he was only out of action for a few weeks. But still, I liked to boast to my friends that with both myself and Benn as victims, it was clear that Guillain–Barré syndrome was a ruling class plot against their most dangerous enemies.
Now it seems that my old suspicions are shared by none other than Mr George Galloway, who writes in an exceptionally perceptive obituary of Tony Benn (over at the appropriately-named Socialist Unity blog):
“At the height of his campaign when he seemed to be about to carry all before him, Benn was struck down by an obscure illness The Guillain – Barre Syndrome which attacked his nervous system, confined him to bed, and left him shaky on his legs for the rest of his life. It seemed suspicious at the time, and it still does now. Especially after what happened to Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez and other left-wing leaders in Latin America.”
That sound pretty conclusive to me – especially when in the below-the-line comments at Socialist Unity, the blog’s proprietor and Labour PPS for Chippenham, Mr Andy Newman, reveals that he too was once struck down by the “obscure illness”!
Disappointingly, Comrade Newman down-plays the conspiracy angle: “Dunno, people just get ill, and I imagine that it was a stressful as well as exhilarating time for him, and his body was susceptible to illness . I had a rare variant (chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy /CIDP) of Guillain–Barré syndrome myself, it does happen.”
Well, Comrade Newman may not see the obvious when it stares him in the face, but I do: Benn, Castro, Chavez, Newman himself – not to mention yours truly: it’s clearly a plot. Thank goodness the ever-vigilant and clear-sighted Comrade Galloway is on hand to cast light into the darkness, and expose yet another CIA/ Mossad conspiracy!
Above: Crimean referendum. Below: Austria 1938:
NB: the big, central circle was for “yes” votes
I was not the only, or the first, observer to notice the remarkable similarities between the strategy, tactics and justifications use by Putin in his his invasion of the Crimea and those used by Hitler in the Sudetenland in October 1938 - Hillary Clinton noted it as well. The comparison annoyed some of Putin’s sub-Stalinist apologists (including some who, against all the evidence, protest that they’re not that at all), and produced some sneering references to “Godwin’s Law” in the more worldly-wise sections of the bourgeois media.
What the wiseacres seemed not to notice was that nobody claims that Putin nurtures Hitlerian plans for world domination: just that his methods in Crimea bear a remarkable similarity to Hitler’s land-grabs in defence of “German-speaking peoples” and to restore historic borders before WW2. To point that out has nothing to do with “Godwin’s Law” and everything to do with having a grasp of history and an ability to draw appropriate analogies.
Today’s farcical referendum conjures up another highly apposite analogy: the Anschluss incorporation of Austria into Greater Germany, confirmed by a plebiscite in April 1938.
The description that follows is excerpted from the account given in Karl Dietrich Bracher’s The German Dictatorship (Penguin University Books, 1973):
The incorporation of Austria had not only remained the first and most popular objective of National Socialist expansionism … but … [was also] its most promising starting point. The Greater German-nationalist demands for self-determination lent effective support to the strategy. Versailles was a thing of the past; an effective defence by the West for this relic of a broken system was hardly likely…
The pseudo-legal seizure of power in Germany served as a model for the planned peaceful conquest … the German Army was working on plans for the invasion of Austria … On 11 March followed the ultimatum from Berlin; Seyss-Inquart [pro-Nazi Austrian Chancellor] after unmistakably clear telephone instructions from Goring in Berlin, opened the borders to the German troops on 12 March 1938, while the Austrian National Socialists took control of the regional governments …
So the coup worked … Amid enormous jubilation of a partly National Socialist, partly mislead population, Hitler moved into ‘his’ Linz and then on to Vienna, where church bells rang out and swastika banners were hoisted on church spires. And on 13 March he proclaimed the ‘reunification of the Ostmark [East March]‘ with the Reich. In tried and true fashion, there followed a Greater German plebiscite on 10 April 1938, which yielded the routine 99 per cent ‘yes’ votes.
At last! Spring is here. And here are two pieces of music to celebrate:
Billy Holiday (lyricist/composer, Irene Kitchings):
Any other suggestions?
Shocking news that still hasn’t quite sunk in. The general secretary of the RMT, and probably Britain’s most militant trade union leader, Bob Crow, has died aged just 52. Regular readers will know that some of us at Shiraz have had our criticisms of him (and the RMT regime he presided over) in the past, and it would be hypocritical of us to pretend otherwise now. But we never doubted his commitment to our class and to basic trade union principles.
An RMT comrade writes:
Above: © Martin Rowson, Guardian, 2014
Mark Ellison QC’s report into the Met’s handling of the Stephen Lawrence case, confirms what the family and most informed people suspected: that police corruption (as well as institutional racism) played a major part in the apparent shambles that followed the murder. As Mark Daly, who investigated the case for the 2006 BBC film The Boys Who Killed Stephen Lawrence, writes in today’s Independent:
It seemed to me that there were too many mistakes, too many irregularities to be attributed to incompetence or casual racism. We strongly suspected corruption. And Detective Sergeant John Davidson had been singled out by the Macpherson inquiry in 1998 as a critical figure. What Macpherson didn’t know — and he didn’t know because the Metropolitan police failed to fully tell him — is that Davidson was a suspected corrupt officer. Macpherson was effectively working with one hand tied behind his back.
And it’s beginning to look as though Met corruption may account for another failure to properly investigate a killing: the 1987 axe murder of private detective Alastair Morgan (which Shiraz reported on in 2011). The Ellison report has found a direct link between the Lawrence and the Morgan cases. Crucially, it seems, DS John Davidson can be linked to the inadequate and inconclusive Met inquiries into both killings.
Today’s Times carries the following article:
Detective who rode into the sunset
Detective Sergeant John Davidson retired from the Met in 1998 on health grounds to a life in the sun on a full police pension. He and his wife , Evelyn, moved to the Mediterranean island of Menorca, where they run the Smugglers bar and restaurant.
Yet for Mr Davidson, 68, allegations of corruption and a relationship with Clifford Norris, father of one of Stephen Lawrence’s killers, refuse to go away.
Mt Davidson joined the police in Glasgow in 1968 and transferred to the Met two years later. From the early 1990s his name was linked in intelligence reports with corrupt officers in southeast London nd by 1996 he was facing a disciplinary hearing over alleged links with a businessman.
In August that year a medical report stated that he should be considered for medical retirement on grounds of tinnitus. Documents uncovered by the Ellison review reveal that his boss, commander Roy Clarke, was angry at the proposal. He wrote: Davidson is, in my opinion, attempting to avoid a Discipline Board and to obtain an enhanced pension in the process.”
However, in 1998 he was allowed to step down. He gave evidence for three days at the Macpherson inquiry and was described in its final report as an “abrasive” witness.
The Ellison review found that he was often referred to in intelligence files as corrupt. In 2000, a report concluded that “Davidson’s history as portrayed by intelligence available suggests that he had no integrity as a police officer and would always have been open to offers from any source if financially viable.”
Yesterday Mr Davidson was not at his home in Menorca. In correspondence with Mr Ellison’s team, he has denied any involvement in corruption. The restaurant is up for sale, for £290,000.
At least one other senior policeman had a direct involvement with both the Lawrence and the Morgan cases: former Met Commissioner Lord Stephens, who was found by the Ellison team to have withheld key evidence of police corruption from the Scotland Yard legal department, which was in charge of disclosure of information to the Macpherson inquiry. He also played an important role in the fruitless investigations into the Morgan murder. While he was commissioner, nearly all the material gathered by Operation Othona, a top-secret anti-corruption operation set up by the Met in 1993, was shredded.
Following on from similar focuses devoted to Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, Schubert and Webern, March 7 will celebrate the great impressionist’s music through recordings dating from the 1930s to the present day.
Performers involved include pianists Pascal and Ami Rogé in a recital from Wigmore Hall (including a two-hand arrangement of Boléro), the Nash Ensemble, and New Generation Artist mezzo Clara Mouriz. There will also be a series of downloads called Ravel Revealed exploring aspects of his life.
Now, of course, there’s a lot more to Ravel than Boléro (my personal favourite is Daphnis et Chloé) but I couldn’t resist bringing you this 1934 film (below) as a foretaste:
Better than Torville and Dean, eh? George Rafters all round!
Now The Sun (which, like the Mail, has a record of publishing pictures of young girls with little clothing on) joins in:
Look, the truth is that back in the seventies, the left (reformist and revolutionary) was all over the shop on this issue. I’m pleased to say that my comrades and I (in what’s now the AWL) took a firm line on the question of under-aged sex and supported the principle of an age of consent (gay and straight) of around 15 or 16 – but there were some on the left who didn’t. Even a candidate for leadership of the Labour Party (in 1992), Bryan Gould, expressed sympathy with PIE, in a letter politely declining their invitation to him to sponsor their campaign.
The fact that some now-respectable figures in the Labour Party didn’t regard this as a particularly worrying issue, and didn’t protest about the PIE’s affiliation to the NCCL at the time, is symptomatic of the way things were then. That doesn’t make it OK, but it’s how it was, as the left struggled to come to terms with sexual politics, and sophisticated paedophiles cynically utilised the gay rights/sexual liberation agenda to legitimise their cause in the eyes of naïve idiots on sections of the left at the time.
It’s significant that amongst the loudest voices raising the alarm about the PIE at the time were gay activists, who didn’t want to be associated with paedophilia.
The far left, with one or two exceptions (the IMG and the pre-fusion WSL, neither of which now exist) was hostile to the PIE.
I know it’s what old gropers and their apologists always say, but on this matter it’s true: the past is another country. That doesn’t excuse those who were negligent and/or indifferent at the time, but it is the context.
And, certainly, the Sun and the Mail have no right to witch-hunt anyone over this .
PUTIN: HANDS OFF UKRAINE!
‘The Stop the War Coalition opposes imperialist interventions wherever they occur, and by whatever government carries them out. We didn’t stop the war in Iraq, but we did create a mass anti war opinion in Britain and throughout the world. That tide of anti war opinion has made itself felt in the past few days. We now have to reject all attempts at intervention in Ukraine and call upon President Putin to to develop a foreign policy which is based on equality and justice, and the rights of national sovereignty. We will demonstrate on Saturday against this intervention. It is the aim of the anti-war movement to ensure that Putin is forced to abandon the attack on Ukraine now that the country with which Russia is supposed to enjoy a ‘special relationship’ has carried out an exercise in national self-determination.’
[NB: if it's not obvious...ONLY JOKING!]
I recently came upon a stash of old jazz magazines, including some copies of ‘The Jazz Record’, edited by pianist-bandleader Art Hodes and his sidekick Dale Curran between 1943 and 1947. It’s fascinating stuff, full of contemporary reports of what was going on at Nick’s in Greenwich Village and what the likes of Pee Wee Russell, Sidney Bechet, Eddie Condon and James P. Johnson were up to. The piece reproduced below is from the January 1945 edition of the magazine, and I found it particularly moving. Clarinettist Rod Cless is now all but forgotten, but in the early 1940′s was a well-known and popular figure on the New York jazz scene. He died in December 1944 as a result of a fall over a balcony after heavy drinking, and then drinking some more from a bottle or flask smuggled in to him in hospital. This obituary – by someone who is obviously a close friend – strikes me as worth republishing as an example of how jazz people mourn:
By James McGraw
The rain fell from our hats in rivulets and formed little puddles on the warm mahogany. The old bartender looked annoyed as he served the two drinks we had ordered. We drank the raw whiskey in silence and pushed the shot glasses in front of us to indicate another round. Ray Cless fidgeted with his change. My finger traced designs with the water on the bar. Ray lit another cigarette while the other one in the ash tray still burned. He had brought cartons of them all the way from Greenland for his first leave from army duty in sixteen months. He had come to New York to celebrate the leave with his brother Rod.
We had been like this all the way in the cab. The wind slapped the rain against the misted windows with a force that made it sound like hail. The tires hummed a dirge on the wet pavement. We were wet and cold and gloomy. We tried to make conversation. Whatever subject we chose ended up the same way. No matter what we tried to talk about, Rod’s name was soon brought in and then we became silent again. That’s the way it was when we left St. Vincent’s Hospital and started up to the Medical Examiner’s Office at Bellevue and stopped off at this bar for a drink we both needed badly.
The doctor in the white apron at St. Vincent’s had been polite. Polite and nice in an officious way. He had asked Ray the usual perfunctory questions about relatives, names, dates of birth and so forth. He had escorted us down to an oven-hot basement to identify the body. He had said, “There are the remains of Rod Cless.” No reflection on him. he was hardened by the sight of corpses every day — every hour. He could not be held accountable for saying , “There are the remains of Rod Cless.”
How was he to have known that the real remains of Rod Cless were not on that cold slab before him? How could the poor fellow be expected to know that the best remains of Rod Cless were at that very moment and always would be rooted deeply, indelibly in the hearts and minds and souls of myriad jazz lovers in all corners of this war-torn world? How could he ever understand the lasting enjoyment that Rod’s clarinet had brought to all those who had been fortunate enough to hear his music? Did he ever experience the great thrill of hearing Rod play Eccentric and notice the technical mastery with which he handled his instrument? Did he hear him on records with Muggsy’s Ragtime Band or did he happen to catch him any night this past summer at the Pied Piper with Max Kaminsky when it was 90 outside and 120 in?
No, Doctor, those are not the remains of Rod Cless. His remains are scattered widely — in churches and in saloons, in brothels and in sewing circles, in fox-holes, submarines and bombers, in drug dens and in missionaries’ huts, in schools, in offices, in factories, in spaghetti joints on the south side and in Harlem rib emporiums, in tawdry dance halls and in glittering night clubs — everywhere you look — north, South, East, West, up or down — he’s there and he’s playing the clarinet; blowing his top and loving it, putting his heart, his soul, his guts, yes, his very life into that slender piece of black wood.
Why did he do it? Because he loved it and because tens of thousands of others love it. He was born to be a jazzman and he died just that. No more, no less, Doctor. Here is how it happened:
He was born George Roderick Cless in the year 1907 in Lenox, Iowa. At the age of 16 he played saxophone in the school band. Later, his family moved to Des Moines and at the age of 20, Rod went to Chicago. That was in the days when Chicago was the “toddling town.” Rod hung around the speaks where the finest jazz was being made. He listened for a while and he practiced constantly and then he took a job with a small band. Before long the quality of his playing (he doubled on alto and clarinet) was found out by such noted Chicago jazzmen as Teschmaker, Freeman, Condon and McPartland. Soon he played many dates with these men in top-notch bands and came to be known as one of the outstanding musicians in those parts. One night he went to the Sunset Café to hear Louis’ outfit. Johnny Dodds was sitting in. Rod listened to the clear, beautiful notes that came from Dodds’ clarinet. He was playing Melancholy Blues. The purity of tone and the amazing flash and brilliance with which Dodds used his instrument, decided Rod that this was it. Here is what he was after and he would settle for nothing less. At every opportunity he listened to the wondrous melodies, the variations which Dodds could produce from a well-worn clarinet. He took some lessons from Johnny. He knew now he was on the right path. He never played the sax again. From there he went to Spanier’s Ragtime Band. Read the rest of this entry »