Monday, December 4, 2017

Joe Pass: “Passalaqua - The Poet of the Guitar”

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“His approach was characterized by great melodic facility, harmonic sophistication and a natural, easy command of swing, and the music he made was both invigoratingly inventive and thoroughly accessible. Like Charlie Parker and other great melodists in Jazz, Joe Pass had the singular gift of improvising lines of natural, singing clarity and firm inner logic.”

- Pete Welding

Back when the World was young, I worked for a residential treatment center that specialized in offering care to adult, psychiatric schizophrenic patients.

At the time, residential treatment centers and day treatment centers were fairly new for patients with this diagnosis.

They were designed as an alternative to hospitalization as there was a developing clinical view in those days that such admissions, besides being very costly, did little to help in providing the long term care patients with this diagnosis required.

To a certain extent, the new clinical perspective embraced the notion that stabilizing schizophrenic patients in order to protect them for doing injury to themselves or to others might involve hospitalizations, but helping them to function is less restrictive settings after such inpatient stays might ultimately prove more helpful and healthy for all concerned.

The “do’s” and “don’ts” of residential treatment centers were just becoming highly regulated by the states that licensed them.

Sadly, in addition to the many other challenges they face, along the way, many adult, psychiatric schizophrenic patients develop alcohol and drug abuse as a secondary diagnosis.

Interestingly, many of the “clients” in our residential treatment center responded well to art and music sessions offered in a milieu environment [broadly speaking, one which allows the clients to mingle with each other rather than to be in isolation].

Since I had a “background as a musician,” in addition to my administrative work, I was honored with the role of leading the weekly music therapy session which largely consisted of having guest musicians perform at the center or in playing recordings.

For whatever reasons, perhaps appropriately subconscious, I was really smitten with guitarist Joe Pass during the period of my involvement with the residential treatment center and frequently played his records [CDs were still fairly new at the time].

One day, one of the clients picked up the LP jacket sleeve and read aloud Joe’s given name: “Joseph Anthony Jacobi Passalaqua.”

He turned to me and in a moment of extreme clarity that such clients sometimes have, said: “Passalaqua – The Poet of the Guitar.”

Obviously, I’ve never forgotten that remark. And I’ve also never forgotten that residential treatment center and its many clients. My years there were in many ways and for many reasons, one of the high points in my life.

Residential treatment centers, alcohol and drug rehabilitation and music had all had an earlier involvement in my life, but not in any formal sense.

By way of background, although we barely understood any of its inner workings, let alone how it connected to the “outside world,” I was part of a group of young musicians who were among the earliest supporters of a place called Synanon.

Founded in Santa Monica, CA in 1958 by Chuck Dederich, Synanon was a residential treatment center that existed for the expressed purpose of helping drug and alcohol addicted musicians and other artists.

Synanon was located in an old brick building situated a few yards from the beach and the ocean on the Pacific Coast Highway [California Route 1]

We would drive to it along Santa Monica Blvd. [no freeways, yet] bringing bags of used clothes, groceries and a few schimolies to donate to the musicians and artists in residence at Synanon. Sometimes we’d participate in jam sessions while we were visiting.

One of Synanon’s most famous “graduates” was none other than Jazz guitarist Joe Pass who was just concluding his residence there during my initial visits.

Like so many of his contemporaries from the Jazz world of the 1940s and 50s, Joe had gotten lost in the “world” of heroin addiction.

Fortunately, for all Jazz fans, Joe found his way again, and a big “Thank You” is owed to Chuck Dederich and the folks at Synanon for “saving my life” and to Richard Bock of Pacific Jazz records for help in re-launching Joe’s career.

Dick recorded Joe in a number of different contexts and had a role in Joe’s introduction to Gerald Wilson’s big band. Kudos to Gerald as well for featuring Joe as not too many big bands have a guitarist as one of its primary soloists.

Dick Bock’s first association with Joe dated back to the Pacific Jazz recording – The Sounds of Synanon [PJ-48. He recruited John Tynan to write the following liner notes for the album.  At the time, John was the west coast editor of Down Beat magazine.

© -  John Tynan, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


“There are times in the ironic drama of Life when happiness and fulfillment bloom out of misery and despair. The modern jazz Sounds Of Synanon were born in the deepest misery and degradation and in the most hopeless despair, for the seeds of the music were planted in seven individuals whose lives had been blighted by drug addiction. Arnold Ross ... Joe Pass ... Greg Dykes ... Dave Allan ...Ronnie Clark . . . Bill Crawford ... Candy Latson ... These are the seven who had forgotten how to hope; who existed from fix to fix; whose pursuit of heroin may be traced through jails and penitentiaries, sanitariums and hospitals and suicide attempts, to a final day in each of their lives when, like drifting flotsam, they were cast against the sanctuary of Synanon House.

Synanon exists to save lives by keeping the drug addicts who live there away from the narcotics that enslaved them. And what is Synanon? It is people getting well. Inside the forbidding red brick old armory at 1351 Ocean Front, Santa Monica, Calif., the miracle of rehabilitation is a 24-hour phenomenon. Between midnight and dawn or at bustling noon a sick addict may appear at the reception desk, seeking help.

"No dope fiend wants to get well; he wants to want to get well," is a hard-boiled saying at- Synanon House: But-the residents there share an aggregate knowledge of dope addiction so practical in its intimacy that no new member's fantasies are ever swallowed as facts. The foundation's residents are humanists; they are not sentimentalists. And if they live to save lives and battle the monster of addiction, they are determined to fight with utmost efficiency, unencumbered by the baggage of a do-gooder attitude that puts more value on intentions than on results achieved. Synanon is for work, not dreams.

Fulcrum and inspirer of the work at Synanon House since September 1958 when the foundation was established, Charles E. "Chuck" Dederich is still at the helm of the organization. (The opening track in this album, “C.E.D.” is dedicated to him,) In the first article on Synanon to appear in a national publication, this reporter wrote in Down Beat magazine in January 1961, "An educated and eloquent man, Dederich, at 47, bears t he physical scars o f his own long sickness - alcoholism. He hasn't had a drink in five years and now runs the foundation with an understanding, strength, and a determination that is contagious."

A professional statistician, Dederich for many years held top positions in advertising, merchandising and public relations. For the last 10 years, before I quit drinking,' he said dryly, I was a promoter-in the negative sense of the word."

Walker Winslow, author of The Meninnger Story and If A Man Be Bad and an authority on mental health problems, has had ample opportunity to study Dederich and his techniques. "'Dederich,’ Winslow said, 'is an intuitive psychologist. He's one of the best I've encountered, and I think any good psychiatrist would agree with that. He has taken the rationalizing mechanisms of the addict and the alcoholic and has neutralized them. Then, too, he has a remarkably positive personality. By expressing himself firmly to these people, by holding them in line firmly, he's expressing a real concern for them. His approach is probably the only way of reaching them and holding them, and his firmness really discourages the phonies who wander in.’

"Winslow considers Dederich's refusal to compromise as crucial. I've seen opportunities here', he said, 'where a compromise would have gained a few dollars for the foundation in the case of a member earning money and bringing it in regularly. But if this person were damaging the organization, even slightly, Dederich wouldn't hesitate to throw him out.’

Since the appearance of this writer's report in Down Beat, Synanon has benefited by the attention thus drawn to it. John Tranchitella, president of Los Angeles Local 47, American Federation of Musicians, organized and staged a benefit concert in cooperation with Down Beat in April 1961, from which funds were raised to keep the foundation going. Through sympathetic and influential political contacts, a bill was passed into law in the California state legislature that placed Synanon under the jurisdiction of the state Board of Medical Examiners, thus gaining recognition of Synanon by the state as a legal place for the rehabilitation of narcotic addicts. Television cameras have probed the corridors of Synanon House; TIME and LIFE magazines, respectively, have printed a favorable article and photo essay on the organization, thus bringing the Synanon message into the homes of America.

Donations have poured into the tax exempt foundation from businessmen and a wide variety of sympathizers, and there are now several Synanon houses established in the Santa Monica area. On the other side of the coin, however, there remains the implacable opposition of the city of Santa Monica, whose civic fathers have long sought to evict the Synanon residents. The foundation was convicted in a Santa Monica court of a technical violation of a housing ordinance and Chuck Dederich served a brief term in the city jail as a result of this.

Still, Synanon carries on, A new house-presumably outside the Santa Monica city limits-is being sought. This is no easy task, for although addicts come and go through its doors-some with a slim chance for life, others to return to the needle of death-the number of permanent residents is steadily increasing.

But the work goes on. An important manifestation of Synanon's work may be heard in these Sounds Of Synanon. There are but a small number of addicted musicians in residence there but the jazz group they have created is a constant morale builder. Consistent with the group consciousness of the residents, there is no leader as such. As a matter of policy and mutual agreement the musicians work together, This is not to say that talent and experience do not prevail in matters musical. And pianist Arnold Ross is the recognized dean in this respect.

"Like all addicts who come to Synanon for help. Arnold Ross was desperate." this reporter wrote in Down Beat. "His first visit ... was in May, 1959. He described the events leading to his arrival.

"I'd tried to kill myself,’ he said matter of factly, ‘and landed in County General hospital. They found needle marks on me, and I was booked for 'misdemeanor-marks. When my case came up, my lawyer told me the only way I could avoid the county jail was to commit myself to Camarillo for treatment. So I did. Then, when I got out, I went with (a) club group. I was back on dope fast. I quit the group and tried to kick again by myself, but I couldn't make it. So I came to Synanon.' "Heeding a variety of rationalizations, he didn't remain this first time. But last July 7 (1960), Ross returned and stayed.

"Pianist Ross enjoyed a rising reputation in the late 1930s and '40s with a variety of bands, including the late Glenn Miller's army orchestra and Harry James (1944-47). In 1950, Ross says, while on a tour of Europe as accompanist to a name singer, he started his first serious heroin habit.

"When we got back,' he continued, I kicked.  But soon I'd started another. After that, there was no turning back. Today, at 40, Ross has turned back. Or, to state it more accurately, he has taken a new turning. He has taken and accepted the Synanon way.

Joe Pass (Passalaqua), one of the most exciting talents on jazz guitar to emerge in recent years, is a native of New Brunswick, N. J., born January 13, 1929. He began formal study of guitar at age 9, sticking with these lessons, he says, about a year. By then, he was gigging around his hometown. He had several small groups in Johnstown, Pa., before leaving on a tour with the Tony Pastor band. This was of short duration; he had to leave the band and return to school. He chronicles the balance of his life as follows: Left school and got a Local 802 card. I gigged around Long Island, Brooklyn, and started goofin'-pot, pills, junk. Traveled around the country with different tours. Then I was drafted into the Marine Corps. I was in a year. Meantime I'd been in and out of hospitals and seeing doctors and so on. In the Corps,

I played cymbals in the band, worked in a small group at N.C.O. and officers' clubs. Then I got busted. I moved to Las Vegas and worked the hotels there. Busted again. After that i spent three years and eight months at the U.S. Public Health Service Hospital at Fort Worth, Texas. Then I went back to Vegas. I recorded with Dick Contino on Capitol and with several other commercial groups. Meanwhile, I was in and out of jails for narcotics violations. I came to Synanon from San Diego after a final 'marks beef.'" At the time this album was recorded, Joe Pass had been at Synanon 15 months.

Trumpeter David Allan was reared, and attended high school, in Chicago where he was born April 1, 1928 into a musical family. His father, he says, was a songwriter and song-and-dance man in vaudeville. At age 12 he was playing in a jazz band with his two cousins. He spent 1946 and '47 with army bands in the U.S. and in the Philippines. Following an honorable discharge from the army, Allan settled in Southern California where he formed a jazz group with pianist Don Friedman, tenorist Lin Halliday, bassist Don Payne and drummer Gary Frommer. During this period he played regularly with Chet Baker, Ornette Coleman, Joe Maini and Russ Freeman. Allan attended Whittier College, Whittier, Calif., and, he says, was one semester short of securing his bachelor's degree in economics "when addiction caused me to leave college." Before coming to Synanon, he was committed to the U. S. Public Health Service Hospital at Lexington, Ky.

Greg Dykes, trombonist and trumpeter, who plays baritone horn in this album, was born in Los Angeles, January 20, 1931. This is his story: "My father was a music teacher and I started playing trumpet at around 10. Through school I played music as a hobby. After high school, I played two years in army bands. While in hospital in Fort Worth. I changed to baritone horn and valve trombone. I worked in local (Los Angeles) big bands, but have done very little work in jazz. In 1958,1 became associated with Art Pepper who helped me a great deal. Now I feel that I am just scratching the surface; I'm starting to write music, too. As is the case with my life in Synanon, my life in music is just beginning." Ronald Clifford (Ronnie) Clark is another native Angeleno, born September 19, 1935. He attended high school with trumpeter Don Cherry and drummer Billy Higgins and began playing alto sax. Then he stopped playing, he says, until 1959, when, while living with schoolmates Cherry and Higgins, he started on string bass. At the time of this recording, Clark had been at Synanon 11 months.

Bill Crawford, a member of Synanon's board of directors and the band's drummer, was born in Seattle, Wash., February 3, 1929. He began musical studies at five years and pursued the study of harmony and clarinet for two years at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. While at the conservatory, Crawford says, he smoked marijuana for the first time. "I never returned to school after that, he recalls. "I spent the next 10 years smoking weed, shooting dope, going to jam sessions in Los Angeles and San Francisco, in and out of jail and working at various jobs-including four years repairing cash registers with the National Cash Register Co." Crawford arrived at Synanon in October, 1959. At the time of the recording he had been studying drums for one year under volunteer teachers Eddie Atwood and Bill Douglass, well known Hollywood musicians who donated their professional services to Synanon.

Conga drummer, Candy Latson, born in Houston, Texas, April 21, 1936, relates: I've had no musical experience. But I'm a great admirer of Candido and I'd like to become a good conga drummer. I started playing just one year ago at Synanon when I just happened to see an old conga sitting in the corner. I started tapping and have been tapping what I feel ever since. I would like to learn to play the conga drum very much. All I do know is to play what I feel. But I have a lot more to say, because I feel a lot more. Latson, at the time of the recording, had been at Synanon 21 months. …

In the last analysis, this album would not have been made possible without a combination of generosity and unselfishness on the part of individuals and business concerns that helped the musicians of Synanon in ways tangible and otherwise: Hollywood's Professional Drum Shop and Drum City; the aforementioned drum teachers and bass teacher Ted Hammond; Don Randall of the Fender Sales Co.: who donated a guitar and accessories; Gaines and Stein Music Co.; Pedrini Music Co.; Remo, Inc.; Reggie Olds, of the F. E. Olds Co., who donated a horn to the band; and Los Angeles disc jockey Frank Evans, of KRHM-FM, “one of our biggest supporters,” in the words of board member, Bill Crawford.

After so many words, it remains evident that mere words cannot begin to tell the story of the men who make these Sounds of Synanon. Let their music tell it instead.

- John Tynan”