TAKE MY HANGING BASKET
- pt. four, 1967 -
There was always a form of declension
to the times. Those 'times' soon became
a changeable factor : "a'changin", as it
was heard. Which was too bad because
all it meant to me was decline - which
maybe shared some root with the word
'declension,' but I don't know. In the jazz
loft environment, it might always as well
have been 1946. It seemed as if these
fellows never changed. Their forms of
music may have changed, but they didn't.
I never much knew the difference between
what I may have been hearing, and some
of it did just grate and get annoying. I
hated most the speed-freak solos, those
meandering, fast and staccato horn blasts
and things, chords broken out by note and
than each note chased back upon itself anew.
It was tiresome and seemed gratuitous and
vain to me. Fast was fast, and it all just
became a noisy jumble sometimes. There
was one piece I always remember, from
something called 'The Shape of Jazz
To Come,' or something like that. It was
called 'Lonely Woman.' It most every
time nearly brought me to tears. I never
knew what it was about it that did this.
Just something. Ornette Coleman, another
fascinating guy, played this plastic
saxophone, something called a Grafton,
I think it was. And his quartet had no
'Chord' instruments - piano or guitar -
which too was a real break. All that was
a surprise. It was a pure form of things but
experimental too - this was a 1959 thing -
and even in 1967 it remained austere, bleak,
and striking. No big deal, I just always liked
it. It crawled. It slinked. No bombast, none
of that roll-away-the-stone Earth-shaking
crap. These were thoughtful men, thinking
thoughts with music. They were strange
and weird, No words to describe.
It was the slowest, most odd, low wail of
feeling I'd ever until then heard. It represented,
in its strange ardor, as well, some small and
trembling inkling of what I was going through
then and there. Like a heavily varnished wall,
or some very old Chinese fixture, it stood
with its mastery, a mystery. Should I say,
again, impossible to explain with words.
A pitfall of music - the sound, not words -
is that it can carry you away. I always figured
words ruined that. If anyone every began singing
and trying to scat their way through a routine,
(notwithstanding the previous situation described
a little while back, with Nina Simone), the words
just got in the way. When you're caught up in
the making of clouds and weather, the single and
silly raindrops of words destroy the scene and
start the patter - at the expense of the music.
Multi-leveled again, you can't be in two places
at once, sort of, and a heavy, deep, brooding
jazz musician never needs a stage clown along
to sing along. No, matter. I'm getting off-track.
(Which reminds me of another great, sleazy now
gone NYCity attraction - the off-track betting
parlor. If you're ever making a film and need a
crew of perfect, delirious, crazy street-types, go
back in time to an OTB parlor, and you've got
your cast of extras for sure. Just the fact that
they dared to call these places 'parlors' gives you
a clue to the mindless mendacity of whomever
thought this form of sanctioned horse-track
betting-from-a-distance up. Guys drooling
down their last 55 cents, and spitting up blood,
pactically anyway, leaning like dead stevedores
into betting-glass windows and putting down
money for a ticket on a three-legged horse with
no eyes or tail to win a three-minutes race
against an alphabet soup of better horses, and
then bewailing the loss at the small-TV size
finish line so as to get right back to the work
of booze, stagger and death. From all this, the
civic authorities were willing to make money?
Is that what Government was for? I forget)...
I never much saw any money flying around in these
places, my own included. I don't know if there was
any flying around, if it was held somewhere, if these
guys, and women, were pocket rich and that was it, or
if they had a stash somewhere, or even a contract.
Something they were living off. Never found out
either. In no situation did it ever seem that money
became a problem, or a focus either. They seemed
all pretty savvy about their own concerns, and there
were always things provided. No questions and not
even anything to steal. Frankly. Hand-to-mouth
existence sometimes keeps its own natural laws.
These weren't the muggers and thieves of old anyway,
they were regular people, schooled only as far as
had been necessary, mostly, whose next step in life
had been into the darkness of a breakaway existence.
The walkways and canyons of jazz music, maybe
black jazz music, but, whatever. These weren't the
'blues' guys you'd hear about, the roots music
guys of the old black experience (the kind Baraka
wrote about in his book called 'Blues People', which
purported to trace the black musical experience to
slavery and country). Nor had they anything to do
with the fey sing-along crap of the folk music crowd.
Mostly that was, already, by 1964, some concocted
media bullshit story to be tied into the academic
concerns of erecting a civil-rights and activist
edifice of 'people' - although they were complete
outsiders and interlopers - eventually sliding in
at home base to make money of their scheme. And
at the same time 'found' an entire junk genre of
exploitative and throwaway crap, early social-media
culturally-destructive pap music called 'pop.' Stolen
and run with, stripped of any authenticity at all.
By contrast, these loft dudes were urban blacks
long ago culturally infected with angst, dirt, sadness
and hardship, and the spoiling anger that goes with it,
whether St. Louis, Chicago, or New York.
If it had a name, it would be 'Deal.'