Friday, October 29, 2021

Part 5- Herb Snitzer's Glorious Days and Nights - A Jazz Memoir

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

"The great jazz photographer Herb Snitzer has produced here a masterful work. Glorious Days and Nights: A Jazz Memoir combines some of Snitzer's most famous pictures — including ones of Louis Armstrong, Lester Young, Nina Simone, and many others — with a moving personal account of the sympathetic journey of a young white photographer welcomed into a largely black world of jazz. The reciprocal empathy of Snitzer and his subjects testifies to the common humanity that unites us all. A moving book, perfect for our times."

—George Bornstein professor emeritus of English at the University of Michigan and author of The Colors of Zion: Blacks, Jews, and Irish from 1845 to 1945.

5    The Demise of Metronome

“The one glitch in the running of Metronome was that our editor, Bill Coss, was unreliable and drove Bob Asen, the publisher, to distraction until Asen finally let him go. In December 1960 Asen hired as managing editor David Solomon, who was in the promotion department at Esquire magazine. Asen was hoping that Solomon would bring a hip Esquire-like sensibility to the magazine — more politics, culture, up-to-date issues.

Solomon was hip all right. Solomon and Asen got into it almost immediately. Nevertheless, I had to give Dave credit: ideas spilled out of him. One time he told me to call President-elect John Kennedy, who was then at his family home in Florida — prior to his being inaugurated as the thirty-fifth president of the United States. I thought he was out of his mind, and I told him so. He said, "There are no black performers and no jazz performers at Kennedy's inaugural, and we should call Kennedy and tell him to do something about that."

I still thought he was asking for the moon. I said, "Just pick up the phone and call the president-elect of the United States, and when he answers, I'll just introduce myself and ask him to include Dizzy Gillespie at the inaugural ball. Just like that?"

Dave said, "Yep, just like that, Herb. Do it."

I went to my desk and called the information operator in Palm Beach. I asked for the telephone number for President-elect John Kennedy. She gave it to me.

I dialed, the phone rang, and a man answered. I said, "This is Herb Snitzer from Metronome magazine. I'd like to talk with President-elect Kennedy."

"He isn't available right now," was the reply. "I'm Pierre Salinger, his press secretary. May I help you?" Trying to stay composed, I told Salinger that Kennedy ought to invite Dizzy Gillespie to the inaugural ball. He said that Frank Sinatra was handling those details, and I should talk to him about it. He gave me his number in California, thanked me for calling, and hung up.

I dialed Sinatra's number, and his manager answered. I told him the same thing I told Salinger, that Dizzy Gillespie should appear at the inaugural. He said he'd deliver rny message to Frank, and we hung up.

To start the new year right, Metronome came out swinging even before the bells started ringing. On December 27,1960, we dispatched a telegram to President-elect John F. Kennedy, which read:




The telegram goes on for quite a number of columns, ending with the following:



The Metronome article announced:

Mr. Kennedy, through the offices of his swinging impresario, Frank Sinatra, declined the offer... 'there wasn't enough time to squeeze’ John Birks in. We sympathize, because we know that it has never been easy to squeeze Diz in.

We heard back that Sinatra was very angry with us for sending the telegram to the president-elect, but no more so than we were angry at Sinatra for forgetting his roots. Fortunately, we were three thousand miles away from Sinatra and safe from his verbal and sometimes physical responses.

Meanwhile, under Solomon's leadership, we were publishing a magazine every month that featured something truly revolutionary: our focus was on the young black jazz performers who were transforming music in America — the new young Turks of the era, the whole bebop generation — basically black artists.

Up to then, the magazine mainly wrote about the big-band performers, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, seldom focusing on the new personalities, and all of a sudden we were focusing on young artists like trumpeters Lee Morgan and Booker Little, and this young black kid from Texas known as Ornette Coleman with his plastic white saxophone. We proselytized, telling our readers how creative these individual black performers were.

In addition we also published the work of American photographers, because we as a staff took the view that we were publishing a cultural magazine, not a music magazine per se, and photography was an American art form. With my interest and love of photography and photographers and my interest in history, we brought into the magazine stories about these and other photographers: Mathew Brady, Alfred Stieglitz, Roy De Carava, Berenice Abbott, Aaron Siskind.

Dave also wanted to bring top American writers into the mix, and for the March 1961 issue we ran articles by Le-Roi Jones, Henry Miller, and Lenny Bruce, and in the April issue, a group poem — "Pull My Daisy" — by Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and Neal Cassady.

In that same issue we covered a historic evening that featured a duet with Dizzy Gillespie and Ornette Coleman at the Jazz Gallery downtown on St. Marks Place. Any time Ornette played was a big deal in the jazz world. People didn't quite catch on to his music any more than they did Cecil Taylor. It was all part of jazz to come, free jazz. When Dizzy and Ornette were scheduled to jam, everyone, including Dizzy, wondered what would happen.

The duet came about because of the editors of Metronome. When Dave Solomon went to interview Dizzy for an article, he brought with him an Ornette Coleman album entitled Change of the Century. Dizzy listened to the album, said little, but when Dave asked him if he would be interested in playing with Ornette, Dizzy said he would.

Ornette idolized Dizzy. It had been Ornette's dream to play with him. When Ornette and Dizzy both showed up, they embraced. Associate editor Dan Morgenstern later wrote:

“And so, there they were. For the younger man, who had come to New York with an LP on the market and considerable publicity, and from then on had made it on his own, it was a portentous moment. Ornette had played alongside his peers on many occasions, at Newport, for example. But this was a gesture of acceptance and warmth, the likes of which had so far been withheld. For Dizzy this was an act in the spirit of the jazz tradition which had given birth to himself. And for both men it was a challenge to do their best. But solemnity is not a Gillespian trait. "We are now," Dizzy announced, "going to play five different tunes, all at the same time."... The five different tunes turned out to be one, Bernie's by name. It began in unison, the group finding its way into firm time by the end of the statement. Ornette soloed first and it soon became apparent that he was not about to modify his approach for the occasion. What came out was Ornette Coleman; the harsh, sometimes fierce sound that is so definitely a jazz sound, the long explosive runs which never sound mechanical and seem to stem from the throat than the fingers; all of it imbued with that urgency which is basic to Ornette Coleman's playing.

Dizzy watched Ornette (who, eyes closed, neck bulging like a trumpeter's, horn held firmly aloft, is well worth watching)... When Ornette had spoken his piece, Dizzy came in, restating the theme in subtle paraphrase for momentary reorientation. And Dizzy explored, probed, and finally soared, swinging ferociously all the while. ... Dizzy was seasoned, beautifully structured and full of controlled power. They went out together.

Both maintained the integrity of their individual styles. Both cast their spells.

For our next issue, April 1961,I went to photograph Jazz Day at Macy's. Jazz musicians needed as many gigs as they could get, and when the PR guy from Macy's decided it would be a great kick to bring in a whole bunch of jazz musicians, when Macy's offered a decent payday as a sales come-on for the store, a number of top musicians jumped at the chance.

By 1961 rock 'n' roll was putting jazz musicians out of business. The Beatles would finish many of them off a couple years later. Except for the big-band stars like Benny Goodman, Cab Calloway, or Duke Ellington, musicians, especially the sidemen, the everyday guys, were having a hard time making a living. Back then they didn't have the Jazz Foundation, which today is trying to help out the older musicians who don't have anything (helping with health care and hospital bills). All they wanted to do was play their music. Why shouldn't they have had the right to do that? Why shouldn't the country have said, We value your art, and we'll take care of you? But it doesn't work that way in this country.

That afternoon at Macy's one of the featured performers was Jimmy Rushing, the singer of the Count Basie Orchestra before Joe Williams. Jimmy was "Mister Five by Five." He was short and fat, and boy, could he sing.

One time I was at a jazz festival in Virginia Beach. I was in the dressing room, sitting in the back when Rushing came in. He was up in age and he wasn't feeling well. And there were some other white people in the room.

I said to him, "Jimmy, sit down. Take a load off your feet. You don't look too well."

He said, "Herb, I don't sit when white people are present."

I thought he was putting me on. He wasn't. After all, when the group of Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross played in the South, they had to stay in separate hotels because Hendricks was black. So Jimmy would not sit down.

Jimmy sang at Macy's. J. J. Johnson, Dizzy Gillespie, Buddy Rich, Stan Getz, Lionel Hampton, and Gerry Mulligan played. An all-star crew. Jackie Gleason, the star of The Honeymooners television show, played the"i2th Street Rag" on the banjo. Later in the afternoon Benny Goodman finally showed up late, and when he finally arrived and gave the downbeat to "Avalon" with Teddy Wilson on piano, Gene Krupa on drums, and Lionel Hampton on vibes, the place went wild, with the Macy executives a bit nervous but the music won them over as well and the set was alive. Benny and company played it as if it were 1937.

Dan Morgenstern wrote, "After refreshments for the musicians and assorted free-loaders things got underway with Hamp, Gene, bassist Milt Hinton, pianist Horace Silver and Stan Getz." Stan was emotionally mercurial, at times charmingly open, other times very mean spirited. Zoot Sims once remarked that Stan was a "nice bunch of guys." His personality was determined by what his body was either needing or fighting off.

I saw Stan at Lewisohn Stadium, the crowd in a festive mood. He was on the same bill as Louis Armstrong, who went on first. It was classic Pops. Stan played beautifully in the spirit of Lester Young, and backstage, lending their

support were Armstrong's manager, Joe Glaser, saxophonist Gerry Mulligan, trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, and many others.

It was an afternoon of fun at Macy's, and we had a two-page spread in the April 1961 edition of Metronome.

By this time I knew quite a few of these musicians. I had known Dizzy Gillespie for thirty years. Dizzy Gillespie was anything but. He was a lot of fun, but he wasn't dizzy. I always called him J. B., which stood for John Birks Gillespie, his full name, because I couldn't call a grown man "Dizzy," especially when he wasn't — except when he was performing.

Let me tell you a story I heard about Dizzy. Dizzy was with the Cab Calloway band. They had finished a gig, and they were driving through the night, and they came upon a hotel. Dizzy went inside, and he was wearing a Moroccan fez, that red hat. The guy behind the desk says, "Can I help you?" Dizzy says, "My friends and I need rooms." The guy says, "We don't rent to niggers." Dizzy got all upset, and he said, "What are you talking about? I'm from Morocco. I'm African." The guy had to be stupid or drunk, and he said, "Oh, okay, that's different." He gave them all rooms for the night.

Dizzy went back out to the bus, and he said, "Okay, I have us all rooms. Don't say anything. Just come in and go to your rooms."

Dizzy told the guy, "I'm not an African American. I'm African, from Morocco." And that was okay. To me that was the height of imbecility.”

Lionel Hampton was another musician I saw a lot of. He gained his fame playing vibes, but he had started out as a drummer, a very good drummer. Lionel seemed like one of the most far-out musicians, as if he was not of this

world but from somewhere else. You could have a conversation with him, but even while he was talking, you'd think his head was somewhere else. He's on a different plateau, which was interesting because he was a rock-ribbed Republican. This guy was so into being a Republican, he made no bones about it.

I also got to know Benny Goodman. He used one of my photos of him on an album cover. When I met him, it was at his spacious penthouse apartment on the East Side of New York. He was making two thousand dollars a week when the average salary was forty dollars a week.

Benny was a businessman, and in the photo I made of him, he was in a suit with a white shirt and a tie, puffing on a pipe — very staid.

From what I understand from other musicians, Benny could be very nasty, just not a nice guy, and I figure that must have come from being so successful at such a young age. After all, early celebrity did in Stan Getz for a long time. Stan was eighteen years old, playing in the Woody Herman Orchestra, and he spent the next twenty years as a heroin addict, stealing, and landing in jail. If you "hit" very young, sometimes it's difficult to see yourself in perspective. You're really not as important as you think you are, Benny. You know? You didn't save the world. But in his own mind he did. He was famous, and he owned a radio program during the forties. When you think of swing you think of Benny Goodman and Fletcher Henderson. As a matter of fact, when the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra folded, Benny hired Henderson to do the arrangements for his orchestra, and when that happened, the Benny Goodman Orchestra soared. Fletcher was black, but at that time the country could only take just so many black orchestras.

Beginning with the July 1960 issue, Metronome featured a series of concerts that took place in the outdoor garden at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA). Editor Bill Coss and I came up with the idea. We wondered, How can we get jazz into the museum? We saw the relationship between modern jazz and modern painting. MOMA's director lived next door to Bob Asen, our publisher. Bob made the introduction, and Bill and I met with the director and told him what we wanted to do. He thought it was a great idea.

The first group to play was George Wein and his All Stars. George was the founder/producer of the Newport Jazz Festival. George is also a pianist. He had an interracial marriage fifty years ago. He presently lives in New York. The Playboy Jazz Festival and so many others are the product of George Wein's vision.

I can remember him starting off the concert, he nodded toward a sculpture of a full-bodied woman by Gaston LaChaise, and he said, "We're going to start the concert with a tune that reflects the sculpture. It's called That's a Plenty.'  And they started to play. It was great. That entire summer, every week, a different group played at the Museum of Modern Art, including Coleman Hawkins, Roy Eldridge, Art Farmer and his group, Jimmy Giuffre and his group. It went on for ten weeks like that.

Every week the garden was filled with people, and we set up a table in order to sell subscriptions to the magazine. We gave away free copies. The series brought us a lot of publicity, but it didn't do much for our sales. Every week Whitney Balliat in the New Yorker wrote about our concerts. We couldn't have gotten any better press. The New Yorker really legitimized what we were doing. But even at thirty-five cents a copy, we were hurting for subscriptions.

The MOMA concerts continued for two summers; 1961 saw the likes of Bud Freeman's All-Stars, Slide Hampton, trombonists Al Grey and Billy Mitchel, trumpeters Buck Clayton and Ted Curson, pianist Randy Weston, the Stars of Faith Gospel Choir—a virtual all-star group of jazz artists performed through the 1961 summer.

Desperation makes you do desperate things. In another attempt to bring the magazine to the attention of the public, in the July 1961 issue Dave Solomon wrote an article about a stripper. A freelance photographer by the name of Mario Jorrin had taken very provocative photographs of her, and Dave bought them and put one on the cover. Other shots of her were published inside the magazine. Dave really thought that publishing these photos would be terrific. None of us agreed with him, but he was the boss and he ran them. What this stripper had to do with jazz none of us could figure out. A few of us were offended, but if Solomon's aim was for her to draw attention to us, he certainly succeeded. This was 1961, the end of the conservative Eisenhower years, and the result was that several countries and many libraries banned the issue, calling it pornographic. People wrote in saying, "What are you doing? It's stupid. Who's idea was this?" And it was my understanding that Spain and Mexico and a couple of other Catholic countries refused to distribute the magazine. In today's world, it's nothing, but back then, fifty years ago, people got upset when they saw a little flesh. Again, it heightened our profile, but this didn't result in subscription sales. In 1961 we were up against rock'n'roll and the folk scene, and Downbeat magazine, which didn't have to worry about subscriptions because its owner wanted to lose money. He was making so much money in his other ventures that he used Downbeat as a loss leader, as a write-off. As for Metronome, we were up against it.

Bob Asen was furious. Dave Solomon was hardheaded, and he wanted what he wanted, until Asen couldn't take it any longer. Asen, tired of Solomon's dictatorial ways, put his foot down and cut him loose. He named Dan Morgenstern to replace him. Rather than bring in someone else, Bob asked me to take on the added job of associate editor. Dan and I became the last two editors of Metronome magazine, commencing with the October 1967 issue.

For the August 1961 issue, I went to the Virginia Beach Jazz Festival, where I took a photo of Buddy Tate, a great saxophone player and a very nice man. You would never know Buddy was a jazz musician. He could have been an accountant — until he put that saxophone to his mouth. He drove down to the Virginia Beach Jazz Festival from New York with trumpet player Buck Clayton. He described the trip to me. He said, "It's twelve hours from New York to Virginia Beach. We stopped, went to the bathroom, got something to eat, gassed up our car, all in one place, and we came here. We're going to spend thirty minutes performing, another thirty minutes joking with friends, and then we're going to get back in our car and head back to the old Mason-Dixon line. I don't want to spend any more time in the South than I have to."

That happened a lot. When Charlie Parker first went down South, he had in his band a trumpet player by the name of Red Rodney. Red was a red-haired young Jewish guy from Brooklyn, but he looked like a highyella, what white bigots called any light-skinned black. So Charlie and Red were able to travel and stay together because the whites thought Red was black. Isn't that stupid?

In August 1961 Dan said to me, "Why don't we take a picture of as many jazz trumpet players as possible." It was to be the kickoff for a series, with a shot of all the saxophone players to follow, and a shot of all the drummers next, and so on. We chose to do the trumpet players first because we figured if we could get Louis Armstrong, Roy Eldridge, Buck Clayton, Miles Davis, and all the others all in one picture, it would be sensational.

We invited thirty musicians. Dan and I called them up one at a time. If we didn't have their phone number in the Local 802 union book, we found them in the phone book. I started calling. I knew most of them, and I invited them to show up at the Harlem boathouse in Central Park. I said, "If you want to bring your trumpet, fine." Most of them didn't.

Some, including Louis Armstrong, who dearly wanted to be in the photograph, were out of town that day and couldn't make it. Art Farmer, a great trumpet player, wasn't available. We tried moving the date to accommodate Pops and Art and several others, but when we did that half the other guys couldn't come.

When I called Miles Davis and asked him to come, true to form Miles said he wasn't coming. Okay, Miles. But he was the exception. When the word got out as to what we were doing, it created a buzz, and on a hot August 1961 afternoon twenty-two jazz trumpet players arrived at the Harlem boathouse for the picture. The shoot and story appeared in the November 1961 issue entitled "The Trumpet in Jazz." It should have been "Pops Couldn't, and Miles Wouldn't."

I said to Dan, "How are we going to arrange them?" Dan was very cool about it. He said, "Let them seat themselves."

We decided to shoot the picture in an area where there were picnic tables.

I said, "Okay guys, we're ready. Why don't you take a seat here?"

I was shooting with a 35mm camera with no strobe light. I shot twenty-two mostly blacks guys against the bright sky.

If you look at the picture, you'll see that the front line included Charlie Shavers, Dizzy Gillespie, Roy Eldridge, and Buck Clayton, four of the great trumpet players of their day.

The other musicians positioned themselves, and I found it interesting that the white players drifted to the back, while the black players moved to the front. Among the trumpet players in the picture were Red Allen, Booker Little, Freddie Hubbard, Yank Lawson,Ted Curson, and so many others. Way in the very back of the picture is this white musician, a very young Doc Severinsen, who for years was the leader of Johnny Carson's Tonight Show band.

That was a wonderful day. It was incredible to get all these guys together and to see them react to one another, joking and carrying on. They were such a grand group. I just love jazz musicians. But that was the end of the road for Metronome magazine. A month later, in September 1961, Bob Asen told the staff that he was pulling the plug on the magazine.The last issue was December 1961, featuring on the cover saxophonists Coleman Hawkins and John Coltrane; Hawkins featured on our June 1960 cover and once again on our last issue. Bittersweet.”

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