(from a Brick’s Picks in the LA Weekly, 2011)
We thought Raymond crossed the freeway. It doesn’t. When CalTrans dug their huge ditch right through Pasadena and filled it with the 210, Raymond was one of the old thoroughfares that was sundered. Swinging the car around in front of a huge church we swore we heard a saxophone. We stopped. Sure enough. It was a tenor, sounding huge. So we parked in front of the place, this St. Andrews Catholic Church, with its enormous, medieval bell tower we’d seen from the freeway a thousand times, and when we opened the big giant wooden doors out poured “Trane’s Blues”. It was the Carl Randall gig we’d forgotten about. The place was enormous inside as well, vast even, and very very ancient looking. Old Rome must have looked like this to the first saints. It certainly didn’t sound like this, though, not this huge tenor saxophone that filled the place with this whole new holy spirit, this John Coltrane tone and those Coltrane chords, or that Dexter Gordon smooth with the edges on, or what before that, Coleman Hawkins? Is that where this sound comes from, the sound you hear all over town on a good night, that modern tenor saxophone sound? The drummer wailed too, the keyboard sounded like a pipe organ in all this space, the bass was huge, everything was huge. When Elliott Caine began blowing trumpet his notes stung, it was almost shockingly savage, so loud and brash and brass and just how radical a thing jazz trumpet was way back then became clear, when Louis Armstrong so shook up a western civilization so wracked and rent by war and plague and revolution. This was crazy stuff, this jazz. We forget that now. But it’s bad, crazy stuff. It changed if not everything then a hell of a lot. If not the fundamentals of what we are—it echoed off these holy walls, and the saints weren’t fazed a bit—it certainly shook up the cultural innards forever. Cheryl Conley came out to close the gig. Nice, nice voice, very lively and quite lovely. Afterward there was a party at the parish hall. Wine flowed till the wee hours and people talked of jazz.
Outside, hushed and still, the city of Pasadena curled up for the night. We drove home thinking of the past, the ancient past, and wondering about the future, the immediate future. That big church will be there forever. But this music?