[Just found this essay....I'm not sure how much I agree with now--certainly not all of it--but it's pretty interesting.]
I swear, I think I have had a stroke or something. My memory is completely trashed. I couldn’t remember Johnny Hodge’s name either, which is absurd. I can see why the boppers would choose him as their symbol of anti-bop. His elegance, understatement, nuance and tone could be viewed in the fomenting revolutionary culture of the times as “tomming” maybe. I wouldn’t agree, but I could see where he could be the unfortunate victim of the tides of change that way. When you first brought up Ellington’s sax player, though, the first guy I thought of (without being able to remember his name) was Paul Gonsalves, who is one of my favorite tenor players. That guy, to me, was a precursor to avante-gardistas to come. (Email from Vince Meghrouni)
What he [Med Flory] told me was “we didn’t care about Louis Armstrong or any of that old shit” and then he went on to explain how Bird had made all of that stuff obsolete and stupid. Playing to the crowd. Entertaining people. He especially hated Johnny Hodges’ playing, because he played things for the ladies, played things to sound pretty.
It was bop philosophy from a pure be bopper. And I realized that Bird and Monk and Bud and the rest were the originators, yes, but they weren’t the true believers. Originators create something new from the old, but they are very much of the old. They are creating from it, out of it, reacting to it…but very much in it. There’s a continuum. But their immediate followers, the kids: they are the ones who actually begin with the creations of the originators, and are themselves children of the new without any of the context of what made the new different from the old. What made the new new. These kids become the hardcore, the fanatics, the genuine revolutionaries. They are the ones who reject everything prior to the movement (artistic, political, religious, whatever) that they have adopted. Bird liked all kinds of music. Bud was steeped in older pianists. Monk refused to call himself a bopper. But the kids that went and saw them in the late 40′s and early ’50s, with their instruments or wire recorders at the ready….that’s where you pick up the white hot fire of the be bop ethos. Those of us who come along later, with our historical perspective, well of course we recognize how Johnny Hodges was so wonderful. Certainly he was not as brilliant or revolutionary as Bird, but then I don’t think Bird could never play a couple notes as achingly beautiful as Hodges. But try and get a Med Flory to admit that. It’s impossible to him. It makes no sense. And he speaks of Bird in the same hallowed tones that Russians in the thirties and forties used speaking of Lenin, or conservatives now speak of Reagan, or hippies use when talking about Dylan. Or rock fans our age use talking about the Pistols and Germs. One of those you-had-to-be-there, you-had-to-breathe-it things
Of course, he loves Stan Getz. He loves Prez. But then neither was blowing those gorgeous tones at the time of the bebop revolution. Prez was earlier, and Stan perfected his sound later. It’s like that guy Rush at Wednesday’s party telling us about Exene sneering “hippie” at him. Of course it was utterly absurd. Exene would tell you that now, I’m sure. But by the logic of the revolution at that moment, well….
Cultural revolutions are fun. People really don’t get hurt that much. Oh, I mean some do—I remember laughing when I stumbled onto a fatter, balder (but certainly no smarter) Quiet Riot on a public access show, talking about their upcoming tour of Montana and complaining bitterly about all the new Seattle bands—but no one gets killed. (Well, there were fistfights sat the debut of one of Richard Strauss’ works, but then those were Germans….) But political revolutions…now those are scary.
Ya know, next time my pal Dean throws one of those jazz bashes of his ya gotta come. Med is one of my favorite people. Bop runs white hot in his veins, in his playing. It’s really something to see. I like Wynton Marsalis a lot, I listen to his albums, but deep down he is a revivalist. You can see it when you compare it with unbelievable clarity when Med Flory takes off on his ferocious alto solos. Med’s the real article. There are other old boppers out there—Jackie McLean, for instance—but Jackie continues to grow, to change with the times, the New Thang, the Trane stuff…he is part of living jazz. Med Flory is unrepentantly Bird all the way. This incorrigible bebop fanatic. He explores the music within the boundaries set by Charlie Parker. There’s plenty of room to explore there, of course. It’s something to experience. I’ve seen him play in Dean’s living room these pure, white hot and absolutely alive solos that could have been recorded in 1950. Not in any sense retro. Just uninfluenced by the changes afterward. Trane means absolutely nothing to him. Hell, Sonny Rollins means nothing to him. And when he finally goes, then with him and with the few like him will go the last living links to that revolutionary time.
When I was first learning about jazz back in the ’70′s I just knew that Stan Getz was some lame white square who couldn’t play. That Trane absolutely blew him off the stage atNewport; that Stan stood terrified in the wings wondering how the hell he was gonna follow that act. And how he bombed.
Years later, I found out that Getz and Trane didn’t even play on the same night. That Getz, of course, went down a storm. That Trane thought Getz had the most beautiful tone you could have. And to be honest, I listen to a lot more Stan Getz than I do John Coltrane nowadays. But back in the ’70′s, the young Trane fanatics pretty much controlled the press that I had access to–Rolling Stone and all the white kid hippie mags. And they were true believers. And John Coltrane’s stuff was soooooo radical. I mean “A Love Supreme”? It was revolutionary. A beautiful, even achingly beautiful, maelstrom. And all the young kids went nuts with it; it had the power of the crazy crude and exhilarating rock records they were raised on, but was several levels beyond in depth and sophistication (and chops, obviously). I remember bringing home a Sonny Rollins record to my college apt and my jazz fan roommate sneering at it. He said “I really don’t care about any of that stuff”. SONNY ROLLINS! The 60′s New Thang/Free Jazz revolution was so ferocious that Sonny fucking Rollins was branded a reactionary! He, the saxophone colossus himself! Like how the Bolsheviks executed all the other leftists for being counter-revolutionaries. It’s so weird—Sonny did all these crazy records in the ’60′s; for me they are brilliant records. But the old guard dismissed them as they were not the astonishing intellectually precise stuff he did in the ’50′s (thanks, Jon, for pointing that out to me). And the kids despised it because it was not Trane, and was adamantly free of any spiritual context (which is probably one of the reasons I dig them so.). They remain pretty much unrecognized. I suppose jazz is sooo intellectual these kinds of things are inevitable. And those beliefs, to the true believers, can last a lifetime. Mike Watt was once raving about Trane in one of his long pronouncement emails. I mentioned if he liked that stuff then he ought to check out “East Broadway Rundown”. He answered back and I realized that my suggestion made no sense to him at all. It was not part of the canon. Trane’s got a church dedicated to him up in ‘Frisco. It’s kind of hard to imagine attending mass at St. Newks Cathedral.
I was listening to one of my brother Jon’s favorite Rollin’s records this morning, “Sonny Meets Hawk”. Coleman Hawkins—who must have been an infinitely patient man—plays his wonderful style around which Sonny Rollins goes absolutely nuts. He’s playing these crazy, and just plain weird, fractions of notes I guess (I’m a musical illiterate so forgive me here) in which the melody becomes clear only when you step back and listen to it without focusing on each individual tonguing [I have no idea what that means now]. Kinda pointillistic, I guess. I’m sure you know the record by heart, Vince. But as I blasted it along the 134 freeway today I was just stunned at how goddamn avant garde it was. Would be even today. And yet he was already by acclaimation—this is 1963—a has-been by that point. Go figure. (As a sidenote, it’s odd that the composer of “Picasso” would be considered conservative….)
So hey, I should wind this up. I am not denying revolutionaries anything (well, as long as they don’t kill and imprison folks or generally fuck things up….) When I was a kid I was caught up in the whole punk rock revolution. And though this will not make any sense to any of the pure jazzers out there–it was one of the most exhilarating intellectual periods of my life. It was a wildly pure and uncompromising time. Anyone who went through it will tell you the same thing. We rejected everything. Primitivism was a sign of purity, of the real, and chops were automatically suspect. It was ideas over skills. Concept over composition. Funny over serious. An amazing time. Nowadays—indeed any other time—such notions would be absurd. But hell, they were pure oxygen at the time. That’s the nature of a revolution, I guess. It sure seems stupid later. But at the time, it is the only logical course of action—hell, the only conceivable course of action. I got rid of almost my entire record collection in 1978 and 1979. Hundreds of albums. Dumped them and started anew. And Med Flory could dismiss a truly exquisite player like Johnny Hodges as a musical whore who sells out the music to make the girls swoon. In so many words, anyway. (And Satchmo was treated like a hack in the ’60′s–and he invented the goddamn music.) Sid Caesar as the great bebopper Progress Hornsby had a guy in his band on radar, to warn them “in case we come anywhere near the melody.” Hell, it made sense at the time.
Wow. Thanks for setting this off, Vince. It’s good to clear out the cerebral cobwebs every once in a while.
ps: Freddie Hubbard was on Chet Hanley’s show once for an amazing three hours. All these wonderful stories about just about everyone you could name. He talked about Lee Morgan and all the great times he had playing with him. Chet mentioned something about “Sidewinder” or something, or maybe Freddie’s “Red Clay”—you know, one of the classic tunes. Freddie was dismissive. They didn’t want to play any of that stuff, he said. None of the popular stuff. They played the bebop. The real music. He wasn’t been pompous or a jerk at all. It’s just that among the great cats the only thing that really matters is the serious bop. It was like asking a physicist about statistics or a Shakespearian actor about television. We may love popular culture, but to them, it’s basically a waste of time. Something to pay the bills. BeBop, I suppose, is the ultimate intellectual art form. It has to be accepted entirely on its own terms. Med was arguing with my brother and a drummer once at Dean’s place about jazz and popular music. The very hip jazz drummer was arguing that you sometimes have to give in a bit to popular tastes so that people can understand what is being done. He wasn’t talking Kenny G., he was talking “Sidewinder”. Otherwise, they said, you’ll never be able to expand the audience. If you want to get people, the young people to listen to jazz, you have to make it a little easier for them to listen to, otherwise they’ll be scared off. There won’t be an audience. “Then the hell with ‘em,” Med replied, “Fuck ‘em.”