By Matt Cooper (this article also appears on the Workers Liberty website)
The 1950s saw a revival of interest in “folk” music in Britain and the USA. Folk revivalism in Europe has a long heritage going back to the early nineteenth century and was largely allied to nationalist movements.
European nationalists sought out, and often invented, national cultures on which to base their claims for statehood. This was not always an illiberal project — it was based on the idea that a common identity was the basis for national self-determination and that in turn was the basis for democracy.
Composers helped the search for common identities: thus Greig researched Norwegian hardanger fiddle music and orchestrated folk tales, Bartok adapted Hungarian folk dances into his work, and Glinka interpreted the balalaika music of the Russian peasantry.
In the 1930s this “nationalist” view of culture re-emerged in the state policy of the Soviet Union. It was a million miles way from the cultural policy of the Bolsheviks in the early years of the Russian Revolution.
The Bolsheviks were for free artistic expression, and if their policy had a tendency it was towards modernism, cosmopolitan internationalism and the avant garde.
Like all else democratic and progressive in the Russian Revolution, cultural experimentation was abandoned and subverted with the rise of Stalinism. In 1934 the USSR adopted an official cultural policy of socialist realism.
Socialist realism had two elements. The first, and the one that is unusually emphasised, was that the measure of good art is the degree to which its message was “progressive”. That was in practice synonomous with the interests of the Soviet bureaucracy. As one supporter of the new orthodoxy put it in the 1930s, “A writer today who wishes to produce the best work that he is capable of producing, must first of all become a socialist in his practical life, must go over to the progressive side of the class conflict… unless he has in his everyday life taken the side of the workers, he cannot, no matter how talented he may be, write a good book, cannot tell the truth about reality”.
In Britain or the US Stalinists, and those who lived in their intellectual shadow, began to like any old crap so long as it toed the party line. In Soviet Russia and its satellites it was accepted that art and culture be put at the service of the “people” and “socialism”, or rather the state that claimed to embody these. In the USSR it was dangerous to think otherwise. Writers who refused to adapt to the new thinking were executed or died in labour camps.
There was a second element to socialist realism — an element of folk culture. One of architects of socialist realism, Andrey Zhdanov, stated, after the Second World war, that music should be, “realist and of truthful content, and closely and organically linked with the people and their folk-music and folk-song.”
The idea was that music should not only carry a socialist message but also be the “people’s” music, a national music, music that is not “owned” and only enjoyed by a cultural elite but of everyday life. In Russia this came to mean regimented state folk ensembles that make Riverdance look like an honest, restrained and tasteful expression of Irish culture.
Outside of Russia, coming as its did at the time of the Popular Front where the Communist parties sought to align themselves with the “progressive” section of their own ruling classes against fascism, this very quickly came to mean promoting a nationalist conception of folk music.
Of course the Communist’s approach could also attach itself to a living tradition. This was particularly true in the USA which had a strong and living tradition of workers’ song, both black and white. Woody Guthrie was someone in this tradition. He became intellectually close to the Communist Party while never joining. A writer and performer of real merit, his songs often transcended the kind of doggerel and simplistic propagandising that characterised what passed for “socialist” song-writing at the time.
It is impossible to say whether the folk revival in the 1950s and 1960s in Britain and the USA were directly caused by the ideas and the members of the Communist parties, but it is certain that they were heavily influenced by the Communist line.
In Britain one of the major protagonists for the folk revival was A L Lloyd, a card-carrying CPer, as were some performers such as Ewan McColl (although he left the CP in 1953, he continued to bear its politics). The CP ran a Workers’ Music Association and its record label, Topic, was the first British folk label.
In the USA the folk-song collector and folk-promoter Alan Lomax was a CP member, as were key performers such as Pete Seeger (like McColl, Seeger left the CP — in 1950 — but continued to hold its beliefs in music).
The folk-revival had programmed into it the idea that there was an authentic workers’ music that was superior both in its folk-style and its political content to the pop music of the day. This “authenticity” was something of a concoction. The folkies were, at heart, middle class urbanites. The folk revival in the USA happened in Greenwich Village and university campuses; in Britain it happened in rooms above pubs in middle class suburbs.
The invented nature of the tradition it claimed to stand in can be seen in its attitude to the blues Most of the important blues artists in the US in the 50s played in electric bands in the north, but this is not what the folk purists wanted. When John Lee Hooker played New York and when Big Bill Bronzy played in Britain, they had to go acoustic, and imitate a Southern country blues style for the white middle-classes. They were not “allowed” to present the revolution in popular music that they were really engaged in.
Folk music was also seen as politically of the left. Tribune had a folk music column until the mid-1960s.
The folk revival was not a bad thing. It engendered interest in music beyond the increasingly bland pop-mainstream, which after the rock and roll of the mid ’50s had fallen back into saccharine crooning. Much of what collectors like Lomax collected was interesting in its own right and suggested new musical directions. It was not merely bucolic reaction. Out of the folk-revival grew the 1950s British skiffle boom and out of that eventually came the British beat bands, including the Beatles.
But these developments were opposed by many folk purists. Folk became a straitjacket — performers were expected to work within the tradition. Even when they wrote there own music it was expected to be musically conventional (and above that meant acoustic) and “realist” in its lyrical approach.
By the early 1960s new folk writing consisted either of “protest songs” — topical songs that showed folk’s political engagement — or songs which simulated the form of the “folk canon”. The template for this was Woody Guthrie, who mixed political songs, traditional songs, and songs that sounded very much like traditional ones although he had written them. It is at this point in the story that Bob Dylan comes in.
In the early 1960s, when Dylan came on the folk scene in Greenwich Village, he consciously modelled himself on Woody Guthrie — sang his songs, mimicked his clothes and his political engagement. It soon became clear that Dylan had a greater and more mercurial talent than his idol. After a throwaway album of folk standards, Dylan’s real debut as a songwriter was The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. Here Dylan went beyond the protest song.
Typically a protest song would retell a news story, sometimes with a bit of editorialising. Indeed Phil Ochs, a protest singing contemporary of Dylan’s, called his first album All the news that’s fit to sing. Sometimes there would be calls to action, such as Pete Seeger’s Which side or you on? But the songs on The Freewheelin’… and its follow up The times they are a-changing’ did not fit these templates. The questions raised were often rhetorical; they offered no answers. In many ways Dylan’s most famous protest song, Blowin’ in the wind was not a protest song at all. It mentions no specific injustice, and offers no answer; it was a demand to think. As Dylan commented at the time, “Too many of these hip people are telling me where the answer is, but oh, I don’t believe that.”
The complexity and texture of Dylan’s lyrics gained Dylan a huge following. (As opposed to his music, which was derivative; his guitar playing, which was mediocre; and his harmonica playing, some of which was diabolical.) Bizarrely Dylan’s non-specific “message” raised him in the eyes of many to the spokesperson, if not the leader, of a new movement. The designation clearly revolted him, and eventually angered him. In his next set of songs, the carefully titled Another side of Bob Dylan, he began to question the ideas of the left, the morality and motivation of himself and those around him. In My back pages he writes:
“Equality, I spoke their word
as if a wedding vow
but I was so much older then
I’m younger than that now”
As Dylan stated, “Me, I don’t want to write for people any more — you now, be a spokesman. From now on I want to write from inside of me… the bomb is getting boring because what is wrong goes much deeper than the bomb… I’m not part of no movement…” For those who expected folk to be about the repetition of received truths and comforting consensus, it was something of a shock, but it really was no preparation for what was to come.
Dylan’s first albums had been musically unexceptional, old folk and blues tunes recycled. But all along something else musically had been happening in the world. While the folkies were singing to themselves, while mainstream pop was sinking into a pit of pink glop, black urban America had created a new, dynamic, electric music. For a long time this had been designated a “race” music, and then Rhythm and Blues, and despite Rock and Roll (which was R&B played by white people) it had really passed the American mainstream by.
In Britain, to the disgust of the folk purists, some moved beyond acoustic blues and started to discover the electric R&B. Bands like the Rolling Stones, the Animals and the Beatles took black urban music back to the USA.
For Dylan these developments were a way to cut himself out of the cocoon of folk music. Dylan gathered a group of (white) electric blues musicians around him. In response to the heckler in the Albert Hall in 1966 demanding that he play folk music he responded that, “This is not British music, this is American music, now come on.” Popular music had at last very imperfectly come to terms with a changed world. While modernism had transformed the visual arts, jazz had been transformed by bebop and orchestral music was comfortable with dissonance, pop music was still swaddled in easy certainty and formal order. Folk music even more so. Dylan splashed out with shocking colour and let rip a splenetic howl.
Freed from the assumption that songs should be realist, topical and in service to a movement’s immediate political requirements, Dylan looked to the avant garde, the absurdist and the surreal to develop his lyrics. This kind of experimentaion underlay a trio of albums, Bringing it all back home, Blonde on blonde and Highway 61 revisited.
The story of the huge confrontation created between Dylan and his folk audience, a section of which booed him for these years, has been well told. But what it is difficult to understand is enormity of what Dylan had wrought. This was loud, raucous and challenging music. He played American music, the music brought to the UK by the Beatles and Stones, but played with more energy than either. And welded to this were rich and multilayered and at times downright oblique lyrics, that demanded to be listened to, demanded to be questioned. This was pop-music as art, serious, literate and modernist. It was a cultural watershed.
So when someone shouted “Judas” at Dylan when he was playing his electric set at the Manchester Free Trade Hall, there was a political background to it all. The “purist” heckler was demanding that music was not modern, was rooted in tradition, even if that tradition were invented. It was a demand that easy questions be given and that the audience could already mouth the answers. It was a demand not to be challenged, confronted and questioned.
As Irwin Sibler, a leading member of the left-folk establishment in the early sixties who denounced Dylan’s electric turn, and later recanted, put it: “Dylan is our poet — not our leader”. Of course in time he ceased to be that, but that is another story.
I’ve just attended a long overdue tribute to the great poet of Birmingham and the Midlands, Roy Fisher. Roy himself couldn’t be there, but sent greetings. Four poets who admire the man and his work – Luke Kennard, Ian McMillan, Peter Robinson and Jacqui Rowe – read and explored Roy’s poems, written over 55 years. I was pleased that the opening reading – by Ian McMillan – was Roy’s powerful evocation of a favourite jazz pianist, the now nearly forgotten Joe Sullivan. The evening closed with a recording of Roy himself playing superb jazz piano, accompanying the Birmingham singer Ruby Turner. I suggest listening to Mr Sullivan himself, before reading Roy’s poem:
The Thing About Joe Sullivan
By Roy Fisher (1965)
The pianist Joe Sullivan,
jamming sound against idea
hard as it can go
florid and dangerous
slams at the beat, or hovers,
drumming, along its spikes;
in his time almost the only
one of them to ignore
the chance of easing down,
walking it leisurely,
he’ll strut, with gambling shapes,
underpinning by James P.,
amble, and stride over
gulfs of his own leaving, perilously
toppling octaves down to where
the chords grow fat again
and ride hard-edged, most lucidly
voiced, and in good inversions even when
the piano seems at risk of being
hammered the next second into scrap
For all that, he won’t swing
like all the others;
disregards mere continuity,
the snakecharming business,
the ‘masturbator’s rhythm’
under the long variations:
Sullivan can gut a sequence
In one chorus-
-approach, development, climax, discard-
And sound magnanimous,
The mannerism of intensity
often with him seems true,
too much to be said, the mood
pressing in right at the start, then
running among stock forms
that could play themselves
and moving there with such
quickness of intellect
that shapes flaw and fuse,
altering without much sign,
so wrapped up in thoroughness
it can sound bluff, bustling,
just big-handed stuff-
belied by what drives him in
to make rigid, display,
shout and abscond, rather
than just let it come, let it go-
And that thing is his mood:
A feeling violent and ordinary
That runs in standard forms so
wrapped up in clarity
that fingers following his
through figures that sound obvious
find corners everywhere,
marks of invention, wakefulness;
the rapid and perverse
tracks that ordinary feelings
make when they get driven
hard enough against time.
Cecil Bustamente Campbell: musician, producer and originator of Ska. Born 24 May 1938; died 8 September 2016
One Step Beyond … and memories of my party-going days …
RIP Prince Buster
“I am happy, like a myna/Life in a caravan, thinking about my friends/Let’s go to the garden,” go the upbeat lyrics from “Khandahar,” a poem first written in English and then translated to Farsi by two Afghan sisters, ages 9 and 12, who were living in a trailer in the migrant and refugee camp in Calais, known as the Jungle.
“Khandahar” is one of 13 tracks on “The Calais Sessions,” a benefit album recorded in the camp involving about 20 refugees and visiting professional musicians. The music ranges from Middle Eastern-inflected pop to Iraqi rap to tunes from the Balkans and Spain. Some pieces are love songs. One mourns the death of a Syrian brother. Others are joyful instrumentals set against a backbeat of traditional percussion.
BBC Radio 4’s Book of the Week is Upbeat, Paul MacAlindin’s inspiring account of the creation of the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq.
I’m proud to recall that back in 2009 Shiraz Socialist publicised and supported this initiative and its brave young founder, Zuhal Sultan, then 18.
Inevitably, an “anti-imperialist” idiot sent in a BTL comment to the effect that Zuhal and the Orchestra were collaborators: we were surprised and honoured to receive this reply from Zuhal herself:
I wonder, if creating a youth orchestra is a propaganda? As the one who created it, it took me a year of hard work and sacrifice, and yes, I needed help from abroad as my voice wasn’t heard by my own governement when this initiative was just an idea. I needed help from abroad as there were no coaches to teach those young musicians, I needed help for reasons beyond anything you can think of. Later on, the office of the deputy prime minister noticed and helped funding a large amount of the project. It has nothing to do with politics.
I really hope that you can appreciate all the hard work that went into this by myself, the team who pulled this through and the hard working young musicians rather than being cynical.
Founder and Artistic Director of the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq.
Anyway, here’s what we posted back in August 2009; you can still follow the justgiving link to make a donation, as well:
Iraq: amidst the carnage, the music of hope
As the fascists who seek to deny the peoples of Iraq any form of reconciliation, stability or civil society strike again in Baghdad, it is easy to despair. Perhaps, then, this is the right moment to draw your attention to another face of Iraq, the inspiring young Baghdad pianist Zuhal Sultan.
Zuhal, still just 18 years old, has formed the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq (NYOI), bringing together 35 young musicians from across the religious, racial and regional/national divides. It includes Sunnis, Shi’ites and Kurds. The orchestra’s repertoire includes Beethoven, Haydn, Gershwin, a commissioned piece by NYOI’s composer-in -residence Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, and new pieces by Iraqi Kurdish and Arab composers. They have toured throughout Iraq and Zuhal has visited the Wigmore Hall in London as a soloist and accompanist for the British tenor Andrew Staples. She would like nothing more than to take the orchestra on a similar tour. Internationalists, liberals, the left and humanitarians have, quite rightly, hailed the bridge-building work of Daniel Barenboim’s West-Eastern Divan Orchestra. Zuhal Sultan and her young colleagues deserve similar support as they embark on their brave musical journey of hope and reconciliation: send a donation, large or small, to the grassroots fundraising site http://www.justgiving.com/nyoiraq/
You’ll not only be supporting a brave young woman and her colleagues, but putting another nail in the coffin of sectarianism, nihilism and fascism.
Above: live performance of Wholly Cats, c 1940 with the Benny Goodman Sextet inc Count Basie and Charlie Christian
There is some doubt about Charlie Christian’s date of birth, but most informed opinion now puts it at 29 July 1916.
Charlie was a very important and influential musician, revered in jazz circles as a pioneer (though not the inventor) of the electric guitar and a precursor of the bebop revolution, though he died in March 1942 (of TB, like many other great African American musicians of that generation), before Parker and Gillespie put bebop (or just plain ‘bop’, as it became) on the jazz map.
But his influence goes far beyond jazz, and continues to permeate all of popular music right up to the present day, due to his mastery of the electric guitar. I think it’s fair to say that Jimi Hendrix, B.B. King and George Benson are Charlie Christian’s children just as much as Barney Kessel, Jim Hall and Wes Montgomery.
Christian’s big break came in 1939, when an initially unenthusiastic Benny Goodman was persuaded (by John Hammond, Goodman’s socialite brother-in-law and a keen champion of racially-integrated jazz) to recruit him for the Goodman Sextet.
Goodman’s biographer James Lincoln Collier (in Benny Goodman And The Swing Era) gives a good account of how Charlie’s influence and musical ideas developed from there:
Although Christian eventually played with the [Benny Goodman] big band for a brief period before his death, for the most part he played only in the Sextet, and it was with the small group that he made an enduring mark on jazz. Aside from bringing the electric guitar to national attention, he is best known for having contributed ideas to the bop movement which would begin to coalesce around 1942. For one thing, Christian was using some of the upper notes of the chord — ninths and elevenths — more frequently than other jazz players. He was also prone to substitute a diminished chord for the dominant seventh in places. The boppers would eventually develop these practices to the point where chromatic alterations and the upper-chord notes would be a major characteristic of the music.
For a second thing, Christian liked to use long lines of unaccented eighth notes. This was in part due to the nature of his instrument. It cannot be made to accent notes with anything like the subtlety of a wind instrument. But it was also a matter of taste — Charlie Christian liked to run long lines. There is a surprising lack of syncopation in his work. The use of long lines of relatively uninflected notes also became a characteristic of bebop.
Christian habitually phrased against the grain of the tune. Jazz musicians have always played asymmetrical phrases, but there is nonetheless a tendency to design a solo to match the two-, four- and eight-bar segments most tunes are constructed of. Christian persistently played phrases of odd lengths — one of three-and-a-half bars, followed by another of five, and then one of two — interjected at irregular points in the chorus. This use of disjunctive phrasing was also typical of bebop.
Finally, Christian frequently ended phrases on the second half of the last beat of a measure. This is the weakest point in a measure, and in most standard music, ranging from the operas of Mozart to the worst material from Tin Pan Alley, phrases are ended at stronger points, often at the first beat of a measure. But this inclination to plunk down at a weak point also became a characteristic of bebop.
(from Benny Goodman And The Swing Era by James Lincoln Collier, pub: Oxford 1989).
But, as it turned out, Charlie Christian didn’t live to see or hear the musical revolution he’d set in train: in 1941 he contracted TB and died in March 1942 from associated pneumonia in a Staten Island sanatorium. He was buried in Harlem in the cheapest coffin available. His advocate, John Hammond, wrote, “He was a sweet loving man with few defences against the world. His only resource was his music and when he was unable to play he was unable to live.”
[NB: I’d like to acknowledge the assistance of Digby Fairweather’s entry on Charlie Christian in the Rough Guide To Jazz, by Carr, Fairweather and Priestly, 1995]
Jim Denham writes:
A born-again Christian semi-Stalinist folk musician may seen a strange friend for Shiraz Socialist and for me in particular. Karl Dallas and I never met in person, but had a number of exchanges by email and via below-the-line comments here at Shiraz. We had some especially sharp disagreements over the saxophonist Gild Atzmon, who Karl continued to defend -and, indeed, to promote in both senses of the word – long after it should have been obvious to him that Atzmon was a vicious antisemite and dangerous reactionary. Mind you, Karl was far from being alone on the left in his softness on Atzmon, and at least (unlike, say the SWP) seems to have been motivated by naivety rather than cynicism and sectarianism.
But for all of that, Karl remained courteous and friendly. I never doubted his fundamental decency, his often personally courageous commitment to what he understood to be socialism and the self-evident sincerity he demonstarted in every aspect of his life. He was living proof of something I’ve long believed: that it’s possible (on the broad left, at least) to have sharp political differences with people, yet still like and respect them. Our shared love of music certainly helped maintain friendly terms. Karl was a frequent contributor to the Morning Star (and its forunner, the Daily Worker), and it only seems right and proper to reproduce that paper’s tribute to him (NB: we’ve only republished the main obituary; it’s worth following the link for several other appreciations):
KARL FREDERICK DALLAS, who died on June 21 at the age of 85, will go down in history as the father of British folk-rock journalism.
But for those who worked with him at the Morning Star or assisted him organising gigs to raise awareness and funds for numerous movements and for those who stood next to him as human shields in Iraq, joined his hunger strikes or even watched him don donkey ears to keep our community swimming baths open, he’ll be remembered for his solidarity wherever human injustices and inequalities prevailed. He was one with us, the people.
Dallas was brought up in a socialist family and was named after Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. From the age of seven, he was a peace activist. It was then that he accompanied his mother, a single parent, on a demonstration against Chamberlain’s appeasement of Hitler.
From an early age he set his heart on a career as a poet and lyricist. He understood the value of the arts, specifically the protest song, as a cultural unifier.
Describing his most political songs as “love songs with a universal message,” Dallas summed this up in an encouraging declaration of hope: “People survive despite everything.”
Via a stint as a publicist for Billy Smart’s Circus, he came to journalism and his work was informed by his own considerable skill as a musician. Dallas had a knack of scouting out the best talent around.
At first using the name Fred Dallas, it would be the mid-’60s before he became widely know as Karl Dallas, having established himself as the most influential music journalist in Britain.
He was a contributor to Melody Maker from the 1950s to the 1970s and continued his political interests by writing for the Daily Worker — later the Morning Star — and self-published the magazines Folk News, Acoustic Music and Jazz Music News among others.
Dallas was a popular figure, gaining interviews from even the most elusive of all artists such as Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Davey Graham and he was known to gain access to Pink Floyd when no other journalist could.
Throughout his career, he kept his professional integrity by writing what he thought was important and never allowed friendship to influence what he would write.
At some point, he came to the conclusion that “music was a murderous business,” having seen too many creative sensibilities destroyed by a capitalist industry and those controlling it.
Dallas was a rock and folk survivor. A recovering alcoholic and a member of Alcoholics Anonymous since the early 1980s, he never forgot October 9 1979, the day he had his last drink. It was this personal struggle with his own demons that, perhaps, made Dallas so akin to those whom he affectionately called “the walking wounded” who “soldiered on.” Having considering himself an atheist with an inclination towards paganism, Dallas converted to Christianity in 1983.
He retired from full-time journalism in 1999. Even so, he continued to work ceaselessly, celebrating the multicultural richness and diversity of Bradford where he made his home — he had left London and moved there with his wife in 1989.
Speaking out against the EDL, he assembled crowds in peaceful, multifaith opposition to racism and fascism. Having had his songs recorded by the likes of Ewan MacColl and The Spinners, Dallas ran songwriting workshops and he was a regular at Bradford’s Topic venue, where his composition Hamba Khalie, Sala Khalie, with its lyrics: “Go well, stay well, safe journey home” became the folk club’s signature finale.
He wrote plays, novels and poetry like there was no tomorrow, along with online music reviews and he remained a loyal contributor to the Morning Star. His work for Bradford Radio included weekly debates, a jazz show and film reviews and he was at times a quirky broadcaster. His marathon eight-hour Midsummer Night’s Radio Madness Show — at Midnight is remembered with particular fondness.
He was a regular guest at Fairport’s Cropredy Convention and set up his tent there for the last time in 2013, meeting briefly with old friends and enthusing over the raw energy of the Yorkshire band The Dunwells. The most poignant moment of that weekend for me had to be sitting next to him when Fairport sang Who Knows Where the Time Goes. He had seen so many bright lights cut down in their prime but it was the loss of Sandy Denny that seemed to haunt him most.
Back in 1981, on the occasion of Dallas’s 50th birthday, folk-rock musician Roy Harper predicted: “Karl Dallas will outlive us all.” With a massive backlog of writing, published and unpublished, he leaves enough of a mark to ensure his voice will live on.
He lives on also in the most vulnerable and would-be silenced of society to whom he gave his support, at times risking his own safety and even his life. A man of words, a maker of songs and verse and a teller of tales, he embraced new technologies and was an eager advocate of the selfie-broadcast.
Shortly before his death Dallas announced on Facebook: “I’m living one day at a time and planning a fun-filled funeral. Try and be there.”
A lifelong activist and comrade, he will be sorely missed. But it is a small comfort to know he remained with us for the summer solstice, when the tilt of the earth was most inclined towards the sun.
Our kind thoughts and condolences are with his wife Gloria, his children Molly and Steven and their families.
Sad news: the great Scottish sax player Joe Temperley has died. He played in Humph’s band between 1958 and ’65, then went to America and found himself, in October 1974, playing the baritone sax at Harry Carney’s funeral: as a result he was invited to step into Carney’s shoes in the Ellington band (by then being run by the Duke’s son Mercer), the ultimate honour for a baritone sax player.
Since 1990 he’d been the acclaimed veteran star of the Lincoln Centre Jazz Orchestra, with whom he can be heard here (on bass clarinet) playing a lovely rendition of Ellington’s The Single Petal Of A Rose:
RIP Joe Temperley, jazz musician: b (Fife Scotland) 20 Sept 1929; d (NYC) 11 May 2016
The ONLY song for today. Dorham (1924 – ’72) was a somewhat neglected figure, whose misfortune was to have emerged just as Gillespie, Brown and Davis were stealing the scene. But on a good day (as here) he was their equal. A lovely version of a great song:
When I was a lad first getting into jazz I wanted a copy of Eddie Condon’s biography, ‘We Called It Music’, which I’d heard was an informative and entertaining read: but how to get my hands on a copy? The old memory’s not all it might be these days, so I cannot recall how I got the idea, but somehow I learned that a jazz trumpeter called John Chilton ran a bookshop in Bloomsbury, London and so I sent the shop a book token I’d been given, with a note asking if they had a second-hand copy. The book arrived a few days later, plus a friendly note from John and postal order for the change I was owed! That was my only direct dealing with John Chilton, who has died aged 83.
I did, however, get to hear John play on several occasions, starting with a Sunday lunchtime session at a rather grotty pub in Clerkenwell called the New Merlin’s Cave, and then at a number of rather more prestigious venues where his Feetwarmers were backing George Melly. In fact, the Feetwarmers became Melly’s backing group and John his de facto road manager and musical director from the mid-70’s until the early 2000’s.
But John had a parallel career as a jazz historian and writer. His seminal ‘Who’s Who Of Jazz’ was described by Phillip Larkin as “one of the essential jazz books” and his biographies of Coleman Hawkins, Louis Jordan, Sidney Bechet and (together with Max Jones) Louis Armstrong won many awards and remain indispensable works on their subjects.
He also happened to be, by all accounts, a very decent and generous human being – well, he did, after all, send me that postal order.
Revisiting his ‘Who’s Who Of Jazz’ for the first time in a while, I’ve just noticed this forward by one Johnny Simmen of Zurich., which I think stands as a good, brief, epitaph:
“Rex Stewart, Bill Coleman, and Buck Clayton were the first to mention the name of John Chilton to me. They all said that he was a fine trumpeter and led a good band. ‘That boy is amazing’, Rex told me, ‘and I mean it’, he said, emphaising the point. Later on, when Bill and Buck expressed similarly flattering opinions, I concluded that Chilton had to be a pretty exceptional musician. I finally managed to hear a few of his solos and realised at once that they had not exaggerated one bit.
“Some time later, I received a letter from England, turning the envelope I saw to my surprise that the sender’s name was John Chilton. Perhaps he wanted me to investigate the possibilities of an engagement in Switzerland? No, there was no mention of this, but John – he had received my address from Bill Coleman – that he was in the process of writing a dictionary of American jazz musicians, from the very beginning up to the inclusion of musicians born before 1920. He asked if I had any information on doubtful points.
“From the tenor of the letter, I could tell at once that John is as deeply involved in the history of jazz and the men who play ‘the real thing’ as he is in his playing and arranging. Having gradually got fed up with phoney ‘jazz journalists’ over the years, I was glad to find out that John Chilton is an entirely different proposition. He has the ability, perseverence, and enthusiasm to tackle and finish such a demanding work. It is my opinion that this is one of the truly valuable books on jazz musicians. It is the work of a musician whose knowledge of jazz and love and devotion to ‘the cause’ is unsurpassed.”
Below: John on trumpet with the Bruce Turner Jump Band in 1961 (the still picture shows trombonist Johnny Mumford):
NB: Telegraph obit, here