[JPL] Bob Dylan's Talkin' Jazz

Larry Appelbaum jumpmonk at hotmail.com
Tue May 24 14:52:35 EDT 2011


thanks for this, Tom. i think i now have to read this book.

> tom reney <tr at wfcr.org>
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> Ed Bradley's interview with Bob        Dylan will be shown on 60 Minutes this Sunday, December 5        (2004).  Given Bradley's interest in jazz, I'm curious to see if        Dylan is questioned about the substantial jazz content that is        included in his memoir CHRONICLES, VOLUME ONE.  As a longtime        listener to Dylan and reader of numerous interviews and        biographies on him, I've been very pleasantly surprised at the        numerous mentions he makes about the music.  
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> He recounts playing "The Water Is        Wide" with Cecil Taylor, who "could play regular piano if he        wanted to", and another occasion at the same "creepy but        convenient little coffeehouse on Bleeker" in which he played        with Billy Higgins and Don Cherry.  
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> He relates this about        seeing Thelonious Monk at the Blue Note on 3rd        Street. "Sometimes he'd be in there in the afternoon sitting at        the piano all alone playing stuff that sounded like Ivory Joe        Hunter-- a big half eaten sandwich left on top of his piano.  I        dropped in there once in the afternoon, just to listen-- told        him that I played folk music up the street.  'We all play folk        music,' he said.  Monk was in his own dynamic universe even when        he dawdled around.  Even then, he summoned magic shadows into        being."
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> He mentions many records, including        relatively obscure Ellingtonia like Tourist Point of View and        the Tattooed Bride, and the Gil Evans recording of Leadbelly's        Ella Speed.  "If I needed to        wake up real quick, I'd put on Swing Low, Sweet Cadillac or        Umbrella Man by Dizzy Gillespie.  Hot House by Charlie Parker        was a good record to wake up to.  There were a few souls around        who had heard and seen Parker play and it seemed like he had        transmitted some secret essence of life to them." 
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> He's downright rapturous in his        appreciation of two Harrys: Arlen ("In Harold's        songs...the cosmic Somewhere Over the Rainbow... I could hear        rural blues and folk music"); and Belafonte ("He had ideals and        made you feel you're part of the human race...that rare type of        character that radiates greatness, and you hope some of it rubs        off on you...You know he never took the easy path, though he        could have.").  And hyperbolic towards Sinatra's Ebb Tide: "I        could hear everything in his voice-- death, God, the universe,        everything." 
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> Even though it wasn't released          until several years after Dylan's conversion from folk music          to rock'n'roll, he relates the controversy that ensued to          Miles Davis's Bitches Brew, "a piece of music that          didn't follow the rules of modern jazz, which had been on the          verge of breaking into the popular marketplace until Miles's          record came along and killed its chances. Miles was put down          by the jazz community. I couldn't imagine Miles being too          upset."
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> In the only musically        technical passage in the book, albeit a cryptic one, he credits        Lonnie Johnson with showing him a guitar style that was "more        active with more definition of presence...I had the idea he was        showing me something secretive."  (Coincidentally, I just read        an interview with Stones' bassist Bill Wyman in which he        recounts a significant encounter with Lonnie J on a NYC street        when the Stones first came to the States.  And there's some        great footage of Lonnie in the new DVD series of the 1960's        American Folk Blues Festival concert tours; Lonnie's shown being        introduced by Sonny Boy Williamson, playing solo and with        Victoria Spivey.)
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> He devotes several pages to Robert        Johnson, the initial impact of hearing the 1962 release of        Johnson's 1936-1937 recordings, King of the Delta Blues        Singers.  "From the first note the vibrations from the        loudspeaker made my hair stand up....When Johnson started        singing, he seemed like a guy who could have been sprung from        the head of Zeus in full armor....The songs weren't customary        blues songs.  They were perfected pieces...They were so utterly        fluid....short punchy verses that resulted in some panoramic        story-- fires of mankind blasting off the surface of this        spinning piece of plastic."  And upon seeing the photographs of        Johnson that appeared only in the past 20 years. "He looks        nothing like a man of stone, no high-strung        temperament...wearing an unusual gilded cap like Little Lord        Fauntleroy.  He looks nothing like a man with a hellhound on his        trail.  He looks immune to human dread and you stare at the        image in disbelief."
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> His adoption of the name Bob Dylan        is tied not only to Dylan Thomas, but, in typically convoluted        fashion, to jazz singer Dave Allyn, whom he mistakenly describes        as a saxophonist.
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> And in language that echoes Ralph        Ellison's insights about how black musicians often gave whites a        key to their own identities, he describes an amazing odyssey in        which he leaves a rehearsal session in San Rafael, CA in        complete dejection only to wander into a barroom where an        unnamed jazz singer and combo are performing.  "Something was        calling me to come in and I entered, walked along the long,        narrow bar to where the jazz cats were playing in the back on a        raised platform in front of a brick wall.  I got within four        feet of the stage and just stood there against the bar, ordered        a gin and tonic and faced the singer.  An older man, he wore a        mohair suit, flat cap with a little brim and a shiny necktie.         The drummer had a rancher's Stetson on and the bassist and        pianist were neatly dressed.  They played jazz ballads, stuff        like Time on My Hands and Gloomy Sunday.  The singer reminded me        of Billy Eckstine.  He wasn't forceful, but he didn't have        to be; he was relaxed, but he sang with natural power.  Suddenly        and without warning, it was like the guy had an open window to        my soul.  It was like he was saying, 'You should do it this        way.' All of a sudden, I understood something faster than I ever        did before.  I could feel how he worked at getting his power,        what he was doing to get at it.  I knew where the power was        coming from and it wasn't his voice, though the voice brought me        sharply back to myself. I used to do this thing, I'm thinking.         It was a long time ago and it had been automatic.  No one had        ever taught me.  This technique was so elemental, so simple and        I'd forgotten.  It was like I'd forgotten how to button my        pants.  I wondered if I could still do it.  I wanted at least a        chance to try.  If I could in any way get close to handling this        technique, I could get off this marathon stunt ride...This was        revelatory...I had that old jazz singer to thank."
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> Tom Reney
>         "Jazz à la Mode"
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