Thursday, October 28, 2021

Part 4- Herb Snitzer's Glorious Days and Nights - A Jazz Memoir

 © Copyright ® Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“In 1959, the Ornette Coleman quintet was booked for two weeks at the Five Spot Cafe, and they stayed four months. The word went out, and the place was jammed every night. The group came on every night, and the music coming out of these young men was unbelievable. It was like a breath of fresh air. I spent a lot of time with them, going to see them sometimes five nights a week, making sure I caught part of their session. The tragedy for me is that I don't have any of those negatives. I have no idea what happened to them. My whole Ornette Coleman file is gone.”

- Herb Snitzer

4    On the Bus with Pops and Duke

“The truth of the matter was that basically none of us running the magazine [Metronome] had the slightest idea what we were doing. Would writing stories about young black musicians help our circulation? We had no idea. We didn't take surveys. We had no business plan. We were a bunch of kids in our mid-twenties flying by the seats of our pants. And it seemed to be working. We were so naive we went balls open without regard to how we might be received.

Some of our subscribers, those who were used to seeing white faces in the magazine, wanted to know why there weren't more stories on the reigning white stars like Benny Goodman, Woody Herman, or Maynard Ferguson. They had very little knowledge of Max Roach or John Coltrane. Dizzy Gillespie was, however, a well-known jazz player and performer. Despite the complaints, we were intent on staying with what we were doing because we felt that this was the cutting edge of American culture.

The Montgomery bus boycott took place in 1955, and the Supreme Court adjudicated it in 1956, ruling that blacks deserved equal treatment in public transportation between states, and then came the march on Montgomery, and we were all young enough and impressionable enough and liberal enough to be influenced by the bravery of the men and women who stood up to the white bigots. We saw a direct connection between these emerging black artists and the emerging new culture that one day would lead to the end of Jim Crow. On some level, we said to ourselves, This is our mandate. This is how we can contribute to the movement, and this is what we're going to do.

The new editor Dave Solomon was as adamant about this as anyone. He just didn't pick up on the clues from Bob Asen, who said, "Hey, let's do something else as well." Bob wasn't objecting to our focus on the young black musicians, because he was a musician himself, and he could understand this transformation that was taking place in the jazz world. He just wanted the magazine to be more like Downbeat, our competition.

I didn't say anything, but I sided with Dave. Covering the jazz scene in New York in the late 1950s was electric.

One of the great evenings was opening night of the Or-nette Coleman quintet at the Five Spot. The place was absolutely jammed. You couldn't move. In the audience that first night were Thelonious Monk, Leonard Bernstein, and a whole raft of jazz musicians who came out to hear this young soprano saxophonist from Texas with a reputation for making music in a way that had never been done before, free-form jazz music. It was so democratic in the way they went about it, it seemed as if there was no structure to what they were doing. Adding to the mystique was that Ornette played his music on a plastic white saxophone that looked like a toy. With him were Don Cherry, whose little trumpet also looked like a toy, Billy Higgins on drums, and Charlie Haden, a bass player who eventually became as famous as anyone in the jazz world.

The Ornette Coleman quintet was booked for two weeks, and they stayed four months. The word went out, and the place was jammed every night. The group came on every night, and the music coming out of these young men was unbelievable. It was like a breath of fresh air. I spent a lot of time with them, going to see them sometimes five nights a week, making sure I caught part of their session. The tragedy for me is that I don't have any of those negatives. I have no idea what happened to them. My whole Ornette Coleman file is gone.

I became friends with Ornette. We were the same age. We took to each other as two creative guys, he with his jazz, me with my photography. He invited me to the group rehearsals, and I took one photo of him and his group in casual clothes that appeared in the December 1961 — and last — issue of Metronome. Usually when they performed, they got all dressed up in suits and ties and white shirts. I stayed friends with Ornette for a long time, and then life took its turns, and we went our separate ways.

I spent a great deal of my time in the Village covering the jazz people who were in town performing. I'd go from Ornette playing at the Five Spot to Basin Street East, a much more upscale club where I saw Ella Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee, Quincy Jones, Lenny Bruce, and Billy Eckstine.

I also got to cover the Newport Jazz Festival, where one year I slept on the beach alongside Pony Poindexter, a soprano saxophonist," as my guest." We didn't have a place to stay, and everything was booked, so we took sleeping bags and slept under the stars next to my camera equipment.

New York City was teaming, not just with music, but with politics and social change. When I lived in New York there were no photographic galleries. If we wanted to show our work, we had to show them in coffee houses. My first exhibition was at the Ninth Street Coffee House in the mid-forties, where I would go to hear the Beat poets when they were in town. I saw Gregory Corso and Neal Cassady, and I'd also go to the Seven Arts Coffee House, where I met Robert Penn Warren and Mort Sahl.

One of the other great jazz venues was the Apollo Theater in Harlem. I had no fear about getting on the subway and going up to 125th Street with my equipment on my shoulder. That's where I first photographed Miles Davis, backstage, in 1960.They knew me by then, and I could come and go as I pleased. Miles was up and coming, and he had a great group that included Paul Chambers on bass, Jimmy Cobb on drums, John Coltrane on saxophone, Cannonball Adderley on alto saxophone, and Wynton Kelly on piano (who tragically died at forty years of age).

Miles Davis was an innovator. He wasn't such a nice guy. Even when he was starting out, he was difficult, but when he and his group started playing, I started shooting. Miles seemed reasonable with me early on. And once again, when he started playing, the music really resonated with me. It was music like I had never heard before. It really got through whatever defenses I had. I couldn't wait to hear Miles. His music just did something to me, like the first time I heard the Beethoven violin concerto as a kid. It just knocked me out.

What I recall about that first performance was that Miles played it very straight. He looked very conservative, with short hair and wearing a conservative suit with a white shirt and tie. He wasn't interested in theatrics. He just played his music. I don't recall having any interchange with him. I stayed at arm's length.

I also got to spend a bit of time with LeRoi Jones, who later changed his name to Amiri Baraka. We were about the same age, and I met him at one of the clubs. He was married to Nettie, a white Jewish woman. LeRoi was trying to make his mark. I was trying to make mine. It was like what Cynthia Ozick says, "You become part of the nerve of your generation." That's what we all were doing — unbeknownst to us. We weren't so philosophical about it. One of his plays had been published, and I hung out with him in their apartment. It wasn't special. It was in the course of living. I tell people, when you're in New York, you can walk down the street and see all kinds of famous people.

One of the highlights of my time at Metronome was my road trip with Louis Armstrong, whom everyone in the business called "Pops." The public called him "Satchmo," but none of his friends ever called him that.

We knew that Pops was going up to Tanglewood to perform, so we called his manager, Joe Glaser, to see if we could come along for an article in the magazine.

Joe Glaser and Joe Kennedy were part of the Mafia. The Kennedy connection to the Mafia is well documented in a recently published book on Bobby Kennedy and FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, by Burton Hersh. These guys used to run booze down from Canada during Prohibition, and when that ended, Joe Glaser had contacts with every nightclub and gin joint in America. He became the head of ABC Booking, the biggest booking agency in New York. Joe managed Louis Armstrong.

As you can imagine, no one screwed with Louis or tried to cheat him out of money, because they'd have to answer to Joe Glaser. I have a wonderful picture of Joe Glaser talking to Trummy Young, Louis's trombone player.

Two days before the trip, I went to see Trummy Young. I wanted to get to know him, so I would have a contact when I showed up for the trip. I also wanted Trummy to introduce me to Louis.

Trummy and I had a nice chat, and I said, "I'll be up to Queens in a couple of days," and we shook hands. When I arrived at Louis's house I didn't feel alone.

I saw Trummy standing outside the bus, and we shook hands and talked. Louis came out of his house, down the steps, and he walked over to Trummy.

In that deep, gravelly voice, he said good morning to Trummy, and they talked jive, "Cool, cool," and I just stood there in awe. Louis turned to me and said, "Good morning," and I fumfetted and hemmed and hawed, until I could finally get it out: "Good morning, Mr. Armstrong." Trummy, meanwhile, was cracking up. Pops smiled and turned and got on the bus, and I thought to myself, Jesus, what a schmuck you are.

We got on the bus and headed north toward Connecticut. This was no Greyhound. It was a yellow school bus with no air conditioning, no bathroom facilities, and rigid seats that made it impossible to sleep during our trip back in the middle of the night.

After we reached Connecticut, Pops had to go to the bathroom. We stopped, and he went into a restaurant. When he asked where the bathroom was, he was told the bathroom was off-limits to blacks. I guess they didn't recognize him. But as Pops walked back to the bus, a car screeched to a halt and a couple of college kids ran over to him to get his autograph. Racism was nothing if not inconsistent.

When he returned to the bus, he was furious. I had not yet seen a look like that on his face. To make Pops furious was doing something, because usually he was so mellow.

I will never forget the look on his face. The most famous entertainer in America, and he couldn't use the bathroom because he was black. This only reinforced the political and social ideas I was forming.

We stopped at another place, and he went to the bathroom. He got back on the bus, and the bus started up, and it was at this point that I made my most famous Louis Armstrong photograph of him holding a cigarette, his white shirt open, and you can see a Star of David hanging around his neck.

Louis stared straight ahead, not saying anything as I took pictures. I then went back and sat with Trummy, and I took some pictures of Trummy and Barney Bigard, the great clarinet player in the group. Later on, his singer, Velma Middleton, a large woman, stood up on the bus and fell. She was in pain, and we were afraid she had broken a rib. Everyone talked a long time about how to find a doctor, but no one did anything. When the bus arrived at the site of the concert, the show went on as scheduled. Velma never did see a doctor.

When we got Tanglewood, Louis changed into his tuxedo and patent-leather shoes, and it was a whole other world. Pops was treated as royalty, and when he came out and played in the old, small Tanglewood bandbox, he was in his glory. I made a series of six pictures of Velma dancing, and from that one evening I made a series of photographs that are going to live forever.

The picture of Louis Armstrong wearing his Star of David has become iconic. Photography in general, and my work in particular, creates a story. When the viewers see the photo, they want to know under what conditions the photograph was made and who was there. In this case they want to know, Why is he wearing a Star of David? He wasn't Jewish, was he?

No, Armstrong wasn't Jewish. But when he was a child, he was befriended by a New Orleans Jewish family, the Karnofskys. He didn't know his father. His mother was a prostitute. He was on the streets when the Karnofskys took him in, fed him, clothed him, and gave him a place to stay because they saw this young talent. One birthday they gave him the Star of David, and he wore it his whole life. He was buried with it.

When I knew and photographed Louis Armstrong, he always had an integrated band, and it's my contention that Louis found a way to pay the Karnofskys back by always having a Jewish bass player. He had Jack Lesberg, and then he hired Mort Herbert, who was on the bus with us that day. Was that accidental? Was "Pops" feeling the civil rights movement of the time? Was he in sync with it? Yes, I am going out on a limb, but Glaser? Herbert, Lesberg? Accidental? Maybe so, but then again, maybe not.

Louis Armstrong, like Miles Davis, didn't care what color you were. All he wanted to know was. Can you play? When Miles hired Bill Evans to play the piano, he got static from some of the members of his band. Miles said, "You find me a black piano player who can play as well as Bill Evans, and I will hire him." And that was the end of it. Miles didn't give a damn about color, and Pops was the same way.

Later I had a photo session with Trummy Young, who invited me to come see him in his apartment in a hotel on Times Square. I walked down the hallway leading to his room, and I could hear him playing scales. Now, Tommy Young is regarded as one of the best trombone players of all time. I knocked on the door and went in, and I said, "How long have you been practicing?"

He said, "About two and a half hours."

I said, "You've been running scales for two hours?"

He said, "Herb, Pops pays me very well. If he heard me being sloppy, that would be the end of it." So even with all the shucking and jiving Pops was doing, you had to play. Pops was a serious musician, and he didn't want you fucking up. So there was Trummy, one of the greats, playing scales, making sure his chops were right up to where Pops wanted them to be.

That's the musician side of Louis Armstrong. Pops really enjoyed performing. He really enjoyed making music. He was such a joyful man in his own right, but he was also a demanding leader. He paid his people very well, and in return he expected them to be serious about their music.

The last time I saw Louis Armstrong was in a restaurant around the corner from the Metronome offices called the Copper Rail. It was a hangout for black jazz musicians on Broadway.

I was sitting at the counter eating a soul food dinner. After the meal I planned to head to some clubs. I was chowing down when Pops walked in and sat down right next to me. It was very unusual for him to be just hanging out in the city.

He recognized me from our bus trip, and we shook hands. "How are you doing, Pops? Nice to see you." Once he sat down, I decided I wasn't going to move, even if he sat there all night. It was a good thing I didn't have to go to the bathroom.

Once Pops sat down, the word got out. Other musicians started to drift in, and the place filled up with people having fun and joking and laughing. When jazz musicians get together, it's like a carnival.

It was a hot night. The little fan over the door didn't do much. I can't say Pops and I had dinner together, but it was so joyful. You could feel the love coming from everybody, from the men and women who were there. I didn't have my cameras that night!

Louis Armstrong was an extraordinary artist, and he single-handedly changed American music. He made the solo important, and central, and we have not come off that dime since. This one man transformed American music all by himself. He grew up during a time of segregation and racism, and who knows what he could have done had he been in an era where this no longer was important.

It was a real honor to know him.

Another time I rode the bus with the Duke Ellington orchestra. They were playing at the Westbury Music Fair out on Long Island, so it wasn't a very long trip, but it was memorable nevertheless.

I first met Duke at Randall's Island in 1959. He was born in 1899, so he was sixty years old, and at that age he was still a very handsome man. I've seen pictures of him when he was in his twenties. He must have been very popular with the ladies because he was not only attractive, but he was also very creative, the perfect combination for attracting women. I remember that Duke wore a jacket made of upholstery material. It was fall, and he wanted to be warm.

That night when I photographed him, very few photographers came and you were allowed to get very close, so I was able to walk to the edge of the stage and shoot up at him while he was performing. I doubt that he was more than three feet away from me. I made a whole series of photos of him, and then I didn't see him again until I took that bus ride to Westbury.

To my mind, Duke Ellington is the single greatest American composer, outshining George Gershwin or Irving Berlin or Leonard Bernstein. Bernstein was in awe of Duke Ellington.

Duke never won a Pulitzer Prize for music. The story goes that when he was passed over by the Pulitzer committee, Duke said: ‘Fate has been very kind to me. Fate did not want me to be famous too young.' The jazz critics were in an uproar, with both Ira Gitler and Nat Hentoff writing scathing pieces supporting Duke.

Duke wrote over twenty-five hundred compositions. I once had a conversation with a music critic. I said, "Look, the reason Ellington isn't rated with Gershwin and Berlin is because his music isn't Eurocentric."

"What does that mean?" he asked.

I said, "He doesn't use cellos and violins. If he would have used cellos and violins instead of trombones and saxophones, Duke would have been played on every classical music station in America. But if you transcribe his music, which people have done, into European instrumentation, you would see the greatness of his compositions."

Duke would compose on Tuesday night, and on Wednesday morning the orchestra would be rehearsing the compositions he had written the night before.

Duke's orchestra — I never called it a band — was one of the finest groups to come together and play. He had Johnny Hodges on alto saxophone. Ellington composed a piece called "Jeep's Blues" for Hodges, whose nickname was Jeep. He had Paul Gonsalves on tenor saxophone, Jimmy Hamilton on tenor saxophone and clarinet, Clark Terry on trumpet, and Juan Tizol on trombone, among others. Sam Woodward was on drums.

Duke was a pianist and a very good one. Duke would play the piano and lead the orchestra from behind the piano. Duke had led his orchestra from the time he was eighteen years old. He came from Washington, D.C., part of the black middle class of the city. His parents wanted him to be a doctor or a lawyer, but all he wanted was to play his music. By the time I first met him, a lot of the other orchestras were going out of business. Rock'n'roll was coming in, and it was getting harder and harder to pay the salaries of so many men. But Duke was able to keep his orchestra together because of the royalties he made from writing his compositions.

The other event that sustained his orchestra was a concert it performed at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1956. I wasn't there, but everyone who had an interest in jazz heard about it, and fortunately the concert was recorded. The orchestra was playing, and Duke called out, "The Diminuendo in Blue and Crescendo in Blue." In between was an interlude by Paul Gonsalves on the saxophone. When they hit the break, Gonsalves played fifty-six choruses. He went on for almost thirty minutes, and while he played the sedate white audience got up and started dancing in the aisles while many other spectators rushed toward the stage.

At the end everyone was going crazy, and when Paul finally stopped, Cat Anderson, the lead trumpet player, began playing these high E notes, at which point the place went wild. Everyone was shouting and screaming, and

Duke was saying, "We got lots more. We got lots more." But Duke didn't have lots more, because the man who ran the festival, George Wein, was so afraid there'd be a riot that he asked Duke to calm things down. It must have been thrilling to be there.

So when I got on the bus for the ride to Westbury, I was in total awe of him. I sat with Johnny Hodges, a most droll guy who played the sweetest music. Jeep was very quiet, wasn't overly effusive, but he could be quietly sarcastic. I enjoyed his company. Paul Gonsalves, who was even quieter, had a problem with being on time. Sometimes — including this trip — Paul didn't even make the bus. His seat was empty.

We arrived at the Westbury Music Hall, and everyone set up. The crowd began filing in, and still no Paul. As the Ellington orchestra began its first number, I could see Paul walking down the aisle from the back of the theater carrying his saxophone case.

As soon as the song hit a break, Paul was supposed to play a solo. I could see him up on the stage, frantically putting together his saxophone. Only seconds before it was his turn to play. The band stopped, and Paul was sensational.

After the concert I said to Hodges, "Man, I guess that's going to teach Paul a lesson." Jeep said, "Oh no, that's not going to teach him anything. Paul does that all the time." I thought to myself, How nerve wracking!

Duke Ellington was a gentle person who had a very hard time firing people. At one point Charles Mingus was playing bass in the band, and Charles was so disruptive that Duke no longer could abide his behavior. Duke said to Mingus, "Charles, I believe it's time for you to find other employment."

Duke was always very gentlemanly. You could see and feel this when he was on the stage. He was a very serious musician. He never really got his due as a pianist, but I loved his playing. I thought it was very delicate and sensitive.

Of course, the end of the Ellington story came when he died in 1974. I was living in upstate New York, and I opened the New York Times one morning, and I saw there was going to be a funeral for Ellington at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine on May 27. I told my wife, "I'm going to New York City."

I grabbed an overnight train from Westport, New York, and I arrived in New York City at eight in the morning. The funeral was scheduled for the late afternoon, but I wanted to make sure I had a seat close to the front. I went right to the church, and I was one of the first people there. By the time of the funeral, there were three thousand people inside the church and seven thousand more outside.

Every significant jazz musician who was in town that day was there. Count Basie came walking down the aisle crying like a baby. Duke and Count, who were contemporaries, had a wonderful relationship. Ella Fitzgerald came (and sang), as did Sammy Cahn, the composer, and Stanley Dance, Duke's biographer. I remember seeing Hodges and the rest of the orchestra.

We were all teary. It was an afternoon of tears. Father O'Connor gave the eulogy. Throughout the ceremony, everyone cried.

Even after Duke's death, his orchestra was able to go on, led by Mercer Ellington, Duke's son. Today it's all different musicians, whites as well as blacks. Back then it was all black except when Louis Belson was the drummer, 1943-52. Louis was married to Pearl Bailey for thirty-eight years.

Nineteen sixty was a changing year in the world of jazz; it was a year where perennial favorites no longer held sway in many of the musical categories. This change was also evident in the larger political and social world of black Americans as more and more moved into elected positions of authority. We at Metronome did not really equate the two, rather we were only interested in the fact that Cannonball Adderley and John Coltrane replaced Paul Desmond (alto sax) and Stan Getz (tenor sax) as winners in the Metronome reader's poll. This was also followed by the diminished position of the Stan Kenton and Woody Herman bands. Taking over first and second places were Count Basie and Duke Ellington, respectively, followed by the Maynard Ferguson band, with the now renowned Quincy Jones orchestra coming in sixth.

I can still recall with great joy the night I photographed Quincy's orchestra at Basin Street East, with Billy Eckstine singing his heart out while the band blew behind him. The music is still available on a CD with my photographs on the cover.

The influence of African American musicians in mainstream jazz was becoming more and more apparent as evident within other categories of the 1960 jazz poll. Thelonious Monk replaced Bill Evans in the piano category; J. J. Johnson took over first place in the trombone section.

One category that remained almost all white (first seven places) was clarinet: Jimmy Giuffre, Tony Scott, Buddy DeFranco, Benny Goodman, Pete Fountain, Pee Wee Russell, and Art Pepper, before African American player Jimmy Hamilton (Duke Ellington Orchestra player) breaks into the top ten at eighth place.

But it was evident that "the times, they were a changin'." The 1960 jazz poll broke it down this way: Drums: Max Roach; Guitar: Wes Montgomery; Vibists: Milt Jackson; Small Groups: The Modern Jazz Quartet; Female Vocalists: Ella Fitzgerald, followed by Anita O'Day, Nina Simone, and Sarah Vaughan. Frank Sinatra still held the number-one male vocalist position, with Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross taking over first place in Vocal Groups.

What is truly amazing is how many of the musicians mentioned in the 1960 reader's poll remained on top for years and years to come. Yes, Julian (Cannonball) Adderley took first place, but he was followed by Ornette Coleman (third place), Sonny Stitt (fourth), Johnny Hodges (fifth). Phil Woods placed tenth. Phil, a great jazz ambassador, is still making music, still blowin'. In the trumpet section right behind Miles Davis was Dizzy Gillespie, Art Farmer, Lee Morgan, and Maynard Ferguson breaking into the top five. 

The changeover was coming. We did not actually dwell on color as much as comment on the type of music being listened to by the jazz audience, and there was no doubt that the listening audience was getting younger and younger, more in tune with what was happening at the time rather than on what had been going on before. This change took place gradually, and continues today within the American culture and psyche; witness the fact that someone who calls himself an African American became the first to reach the highest office in America. Yes, there were others — Jesse Jackson, Shirley Chisholm — who were never really taken too seriously.

But President Barack Obama is the real deal.”

To order the book directly from the University of Mississippi Press please use this link.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please leave your comments here. Thank you.