Sunday, March 15, 2020

A Portrait of Bud Powell: Dance of the Infidels" by Francis Paudras

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

"A heartfelt and deeply involving portrait. This often tragic tale, written with sincerity and affection, gives an inside look at an amazing musician, plumbing the depths of his life and music. Francis Paudras has captured the genius who was Bud Powell in this fascinating book, and Rubye Monet's translation has in no way diluted the beauty of his writing."
—Marian McPartland

"Francis Paudras is a hero who has dedicated his life to preserving the history of the great cultural figures of jazz through film, video, and radio performances; without his efforts many of the profound contributions of these artists would be lost. This book is a wonderful living document of his personal relationship with the genius Bud Powell, whose work will continue to shape jazz's legacy for generations to come."
—Herbie Hancock

“If I had to choose one single musician for his artistic integrity, for the incomparable originality of his creation and the grandeur of his work, it would be Bud Powell. He was in a class by himself.”
- Bill Evans

In terms of the style of Jazz referred to as Bebop, what Charlie Parker was to the saxophone, Dizzy Gillespie to the trumpet, Bud Powell (1924-1966) was to the piano: few Jazz pianists have ever rivaled his brilliance.

But the tragedy of his life is also exceptional in the annals of Jazz: he endured a brutal beating on the head by the police as a youth; electroshock therapy in psychiatric institutions; physical and mental abuse from people who fed him dangerous drugs to control him; malnutrition and tuberculosis; and, perhaps most painful of all, the indifference of his contemporaries to his talent.

Yet his musical intuition, helpless innocence, and humor made him an endearing and sympathetic character — especially to Francis Paudras, a young Jazz fan who met Powell in the late 1950s.

Paudras's generosity was boundless: he helped free Powell from unfavorable surroundings, gave him a home and a new life, encouraged him to create some of his finest music, and cared for him as if he were his child rather than his idol.

Paudras named his biography Dance of the Infidels after one of Bud’s more famous compositions. It is one of the more moving Jazz memoirs — and served as the basis for Bertrand Tavernier's film 'Round Midnight, starring Dexter Gordon. Here, for the first time in English, is a portrait of a friendship as surprising and heartbreaking as Bud Powell's timeless music.

The context for a full appreciation of what Francis Paudras has accomplished with heartfelt tribute to Bud Powell with his biography Dance of the Infidels  can best be explained in this excerpt from a 1964 interview that pianist Bill Evans gave to Randi Hultin in Oslo, Norway.

“Of all the musicians I ever loved—Bird and Stan Getz and Miles and lots of others that no one even knows I listened to—it was Bud who influenced me the most.

I was fifteen when I first heard Dexter's recordings with Bud. Then came Bird and Dizzy and the big bands ... they all influenced me, but Bud more than anyone else.

He was so expressive, such emotion flowed out of him! There are different kinds of emotion: there is the easy, superficial kind, and there is another kind, that doesn't make you laugh or cry, that doesn't make you feel anything but a sense of sheer perfection. That's what I felt with Bud.

It's a feeling we sometimes get from Beethoven.... It's not that it's beautiful in the sense of pretty or brilliant, it's something else, something much deeper. When people talk about the giants— Bird, Bud, Dizzy, and Miles—I think they underestimate Bud. They're always putting him down, saying he was this or that. ... But I never felt that way about him.”

Paudras’ biography makes Bud human and takes away the mythical and monstrous overtones that are all too often used to categorize and dismiss his greatness.

Earl 'Bud' Powell was the greatest of the pure bebop pianists. His flowing, linear style, underpinned by a spare left-hand comping which had its roots in the solidity of stride piano, but translated into the angular asymmetric accents of bebop, established the dominant approach of the period, and his influence can be felt in almost all pianists active in that idiom, with the exception of the man who was very much Powell's early mentor, Thelonious Monk. While he was a brilliant musician, however, Powell was a deeply unstable character who spent much of his adult life either incarcerated in institutions or on heavy medication, which proved almost as damaging as his illness.

How and why this book came about is very directly explained in the following Introduction by Mr. Paudras who is very candid in his disdain for those who went out of their way to hurt Bud and to take advantage of him during his all-too-brief life.

Everybody wants to be in the image of God. That's why I play jazz.

Before I could write this book there were such obstacles to overcome that at times I was afraid I would never do it. To begin with, there was something almost indecent in talking about Bud. How would I ever find the right words to express the intensity of my feelings, both for him as a person and for his music? I dreaded that my judgments might be deemed too absolute, my enthusiasm too excessive, and my deep emotions nothing more than blind passion. But now these fears have dissipated, leaving in their place only a serene determination.

The words that follow come straight from the heart. But they are also the fruit of a conscious decision: to stick as close as possible to my personal reflections, the thoughts I have hitherto kept entirely to myself. Rather than an anecdotal account, this book is an outgrowth of a long meditation beginning in 1956, the year I saw Bud for the first time.

I make no claim to reveal all the facets of Bud's interior world. The complexity of his genius is such that his personality, however likable and endearing, will probably always remain shrouded in mystery. Yet how dreadful it would be to let his vast contributions fall into oblivion.
If this great exponent of black American culture inspired me, a white European, to devote a book to his work, it is simply because I think his music is of universal scope. The work of Bud Powell is not only a message of love of a black artist for black people, it is also a message of great beauty, hope, and peace for all the peoples of the world.

My utter certainty of this has provided the impetus to take on the task, all the more so as Bud Powell's life and work seem thus far to have inspired no more from commentators than shopworn anecdotes and trivia. My passion springs not from some romantic infatuation, but from thirty consecutive years of deep and painstaking study of his music, a body of work I consider one of the most compelling in the history of music.

I should also add that I am quite aware of how most American jazz writers regard European amateurs, It has been said repeatedly that we have a romanticized vision of jazz and a false idea of the jazz world.

Such comments and criticisms have in no way made me want to modify my own point of view. The French may have less first-hand knowledge than those Americans who lived through these musical events, but apparently all of their combined knowledge has not enabled the American writers to produce the kinds of genuine studies that we, such true lovers of jazz, so yearn for.

Furthermore, after a lifetime devoted to this music, I still believe it's no accident that so many of the great American musicians found their ultimate consecration in France or elsewhere in Europe, where many of them came to spend their lives. From my own experience and that of other well-placed observers, I can affirm that they found our vision and ideas, not to mention our welcome, to their liking.

Many musicians felt out of place as the United States became increasingly commercial. A society where the opportunistic pursuit of immediate profits outweighed all other considerations was completely ill-suited to their artistic demands. Musicians like Billie Holiday, Lester Young, Kenny Clarke, Thelonious Monk, Fats Navarro, Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, and Bill Evans, to mention only a few, never totally accepted integration into a system that was antithetical to their personal artistic endeavors.

In their categorical refusal to compromise, they were following in the footsteps of the classical masters of the old world. It is easy to see how they might be more at home with Europe and its romantic spirit. Many American musicians have felt a deep nostalgia for the roots of a certain European music. Thelonious Monk, for example, once said in an interview, "We loved Ravel, Stravinsky, Debussy, Prokofiev, Schoenberg, so I guess we had to be influenced by them." If Africa is largely responsible for the rhythms and the pulse of jazz, its structure, melodies, and harmonic conceptions more often than not hark back to earlier European creators. During a lecture in Houston, Texas in April 1928, Maurice Ravel said, 'American folklore? But just what is your folklore? Indian melodies? Are they American? Negro spirituals? Blues? Are they what is meant by American?"

Ravel seems not to rule out the development of a new European school that would be the continuation of classical music. He probably never imagined that the only ones to lay claim to the advances of the great classicists would be the American school represented by Art Tatum, Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, Bill Evans, and the like. After Frederic Chopin, Claude Debussy, Gabriel Faure, Maurice Ravel, and Lili Boulanger, after Richard Wagner, Alexander Scriabin, and Sergei Rachmaninoff, Europe was seeking the continuity of its romantic impulse. We were to find it in the American music called jazz, the classical music of tomorrow.

Readers of this book will soon become aware of a gulf between reality and fiction, between the facts about the period when Bud lived with me and the accounts of other writers who took it upon themselves to recount this period of time. The discrepancies are so glaring as to cast doubt on these writers' reliability in other matters and to make one realize how cautious one must be when reading their accounts of his earlier life as well. They could very easily have checked their facts by asking those directly concerned, but of course it's simpler to repeat whatever gossip comes quickly and easily to mind. In so doing, they kept alive a legend that did only harm to Bud. None of them ever bothered to take a long, hard look at his music, which is the only subject really worth our interest.

If I sometimes seem less than charitable to certain persons, I make no apologies. My only aim is to do justice to a man who, in his lifetime, was rarely treated with any of the consideration he deserved. All I care about today is to show as best I can the arbitrary quirks of misfortune and the downright ill-will he came up against time after time throughout his tragic life. In the conspiracy of silence that always surrounded Bud, there were many who shamelessly and constantly took advantage of him.

Last of all, I gladly omit those musicians who pillaged and parodied him, and the others—those who deliberately deserted his work and today feign ignorance of his very name, the better to claim the fatherhood of musical forms of which he was the true innovator.”

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