Bud In Dreamland
If I had to choose one single [sic] 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.
November 26, 1979
[N]o other pianist, and precious few musicians in any age,
speak to us with such electrifying urgency . . . I can imagine a day when . . .
[Bud] Powell will be recognized as one of the most formidable
creators of piano music in any time or idiom.
Visions of Jazz: The First Century (1998)
The Night the Gods Sang at Birdland
There’s only one place to be Monday night. Doors open at 8 p.m. Pay 75 cents and you can sit in the Peanut Gallery until four in the morning—no cover, no drink minimum. Even teenagers are sometimes allowed into this bullpen, which is cordoned off by low wooden railings, and located between the left side of the bandstand and the bar.
The clarion call is going out over the wireless. Symphony Sid’s mellifluous voice can be heard in more than 30 states across the country on the fledgling ABC Radio Network: “This Monday night in Midtown Manhattan at Birdland—The Jazz Corner of the World—come see the Miles Davis Nonet and the Lennie Tristano Sextet.”
In New Haven, Connecticut, Roger Brousso hears “Symphony Sid,” a.k.a. Sidney Tarnopol, son of Yiddish-speaking immigrants Isidore and Caroline, announce the upcoming show on the radio. Roger tells 20-year-old Sy Johnson—an aspiring pianist and arranger—about the big event. After Sy’s part-time job packing records at Decca that Monday, he hops into his pal’s car for the 80-mile drive from New Haven to Manhattan. For, in all the world, there’s only one place to be on the evening of Monday, March 13, 1950. The Jazz Corner of the World—Birdland!
Strangely, “The Jazz Corner of the World” is not located on a corner. The entrance is in the middle of the block, between 52nd and 53rd Streets, at 1678 Broadway. Although a sign outside reads “Seating Capacity—273,” after Sy and Roger descend the carpeted stairway into the darkly-lit, smoke-filled room, settling into the first row of the Peanut Gallery, the chattering crowd will far exceed capacity by showtime. Along the right wall, where there are booths and tables directly in front of the bandstand, dishes and glasses are clattering. There’s a cover charge to sit in this section where there are pricey food and drink menus. Drayton, the headwaiter, bends over attentively to take the order of a stylish grande dame in mink.
As the first set is about to begin, William Clayton “Pee Wee” Marquette, decked out in a black tux and white dress shirt, saunters to center stage, stretches himself up to his full height of three feet nine inches, and proceeds to deliberately mispronounce the names of half the musicians. If a performer wants his name pronounced correctly by “the Mighty Midget Master of Ceremonies,” he’ll need to pay Pee Wee a gratuity after the emcee holds out his left hand and says, “Hey Papa, ya got somethin’ for me?”, then blows smoke directly into the musician’s face with the huge cigar in his right hand. When pianist Horace Silver once refused to pay up, Pee Wee introduced him as “Whore Ass Silber.” No wonder Lester Willis (Prez) Young calls him “half a motherfucker.”
“Good evenin’ to ya all, ladies and gentlemen,” announces Pee Wee in his Alabaman-inflected soprano. “Welcome to the Jazz Corna’ of the World at 52nd Second Street and Broadway. As ya all know, we got somethin’ special for ya down here in Birdland this evenin’. Now let’s all get togetha and give a big hand for the great Miles Davis and his wonderful band . . .”
After the Miles Davis Nonet begins to play, Sy Johnson hears Mii-yaauu, Mii-yiiuu, and wonders, “Geez, what’s a cat doing out at the bar?” He turns his head to the left and sees Billie Holiday, the greatest jazz singer of them all, calling out, “Mii-yilles, Mii-yilles!” Billie has faithfully honored owner Morris Levy’s unspoken rule that patrons standing at the bar must buy drinks. A chorus of fluttering finches joins Lady Day in twittering obbligato as she coos Miles’s name. The live birds are in cages hung from the ceiling on the other side of the bar. Their presence is an homage to alto saxophonist Charlie “Yardbird” Parker, after whom Birdland, which just opened three months ago, is named. Murals with dramatic life-sized high-contrast black and white performance photos of Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Lennie Tristano, and other modernists, cover the wall.
Sy turns his head back around, looks to his right, and sees the entire Woody Herman Band packed into the crowd. Still settling in, he looks behind him, at the bottom of the stairs, and catches a glimpse of film stars Jimmy Stewart and Gary Cooper, with two very attractive ladies on their arms, being turned away. “Sorry, gentlemen and ladies. No room! No room!” He watches as the two couples, wistfully and reluctantly head back up the stairs and leave. Yes, there can be no doubt that, in this entire world, on this night, there’s only one place to be. But you better get here early!
Miles Davis is conservatively dapper, effortlessly elegant tonight. He’s wearing a light tweed Brooks Brothers suit with a thin, dark tie fitted loosely about the collar. During the next several decades the evolution of his attire will keep pace with the ever-shifting stylistic changes in his music, culminating in the garish costumes of his eclectic “fusion” experiments of the late 1980s.
Miles made his first statement before playing a single note. He’s the nominal “leader” of the band, but stands at the far left of the bandstand in a line with the other five horn players—not out front. There is an equality among the players in this new kind of music making: Miles is on trumpet, to his left are Sandy Siegelstein (French horn), J.J. Johnson (trombone), Bill Barber (tuba), Lee Konitz (alto), and, on the far right of the bandstand, Gerry Mulligan (baritone sax). The rhythm section is toward the back of stage left: Al McKibbon (bass), Max Roach (drums), and Bud Powell seated on a platform, playing an upright piano facing the back wall and pushed up against it.
These quiet revolutionaries are inaugurating a new movement in modern jazz, “the Birth of the Cool,” an understated ensemble chamber music emphasizing orchestral texture, structure, brilliantly nuanced arrangements, and brief solos, in serene protest to the lengthy, sometimes self-indulgent and skittish, high-flying, acrobatic solos of the high priests of bebop. Sy wonders how the fiery and tormented Powell, the greatest of the bebop pianists, will fit in here. Powell is no last-minute replacement—his name is on the billboard—and Miles loves the way he plays.
In his autobiography, Miles (1989), Davis would recall that “the whole idea of the Birth of the Cool band started out as a collaborative experiment. I wanted the instruments to sound like human voices, and they did.” He felt that Dizzy Gillespie’s and Charlie Parker’s music was “hip, real fast,” but “their musical sound wasn’t sweet, and it didn’t have harmonic lines that you could easily hum out on the street with your girlfriend . . . Bebop didn’t have the humanity of Duke Ellington.”
Many unemployed black musicians are critical of Davis for hiring so many white players, which, on this night, include Sandy Siegelstein, Bill Barber, Gerry Mulligan and Lee Konitz. Some black colleagues are especially unhappy with the hiring of Konitz since so many black alto sax players are out of work. Nearly forty years later, Davis recalled his response: “I just told them that if a guy could play as good as Lee Konitz played, I would hire him every time, and I wouldn’t give a damn if he was green with red breath.”
The last number of the first set is “Move” by Denzil Best, played at breakneck speed.
Miles takes the first solo. He’s already a master of musical space and of short, telescoped solos at medium tempo in the middle register of his instrument. In time, he will become “a virtuoso of style,” one of the great innovators in the history of jazz. But now, age 23, he struggles to keep up with the fast tempo he’s set. His uneven staccato playing, on tempo, feels forced. He’s a man running alongside a moving train, trying to get on board. The sound wavers, sputters, as he gasps out a flurry of eighth notes at the end of his brief solo. He just doesn’t have the chops to match the virtuosic pyrotechnics, at blazing speed, of the likes of Diz (Gillespie), Bird and Bud.
As each of the horn players solos, in turn, the Birth of the Cool band begins to open things up in response to the lively crowd. Pianist Bud Powell is taking the last solo on the tune as photographer Herman Leonard, standing on a ladder, leans over the railing with his Rolleiflex trying to get close-up pictures of the profusely sweating pianist. Powell’s right leg is digging into the platform at an odd angle, the foot pounding the floor, the pants riding up almost to the top of the shin; his shoulders are hunched up; his mouth emits a guttural song that intertwines with the torrent of notes the flattened fingers are hammering across the width of the keyboard. Even at the furious tempo Miles has set, and in the midst of all the noise and chatter, each note rings out in crystalline clarity like a trumpet call.
“Powell was playing very much in the spirit of the group,” recalled Sy Johnson a half century later. “He knew his role and his role, at that moment in time, was to be the best that he could be. He wasn’t showboating; there was no element of that. Bud was just responding [in the moment] in the fullest possible way. Brilliant doesn’t begin to describe his solo. It turned everybody’s head in the band around; guys were just staring back at Bud. Everyone in the audience was absolutely transfixed.”
Searching for metaphors to convey the experience of that long-vanished evensong from the midpoint of another century, Johnson spoke of “blurs and shapes that transcended notes. [There were] arcs and contours and hills and valleys and mountains and waterfalls. The music had burst through the boundaries of even a great Bud Powell solo. It was easily the most unforgettable night of my musical life, the most transcendent thing that I had ever heard. The gods were all singing that night in Birdland. If there was one place to be in the universe, it was there.”
After Powell finishes his solo, the band takes the piece out with the theme. “The place went nuts,” recalled Johnson.
The audience is standing. People are cheering: “Bud Powell! Bud Powell!” And screaming. The whole band turns around, and everyone in it is applauding, and saying: “Yeah, Bud! Yeah, man!” Everybody is looking at Bud. He gets up from the piano, his eyes as big as saucers. He flattens himself against the keyboard. The people don’t understand; they’re just screaming his name. He doesn’t know what to do. He doesn’t know what he’s done. What are they going to do to me? He recoils, like a cornered animal. He’s already in the corner—he’s fenced in, with the drums on one side and the wall behind him. He’s terrified.
Then, Gerry Mulligan, at the far right of the bandstand, puts his horn on its stand, walks across the stage, maneuvers around the drums, steps onto the platform, and walks up to Powell. As the crowd continues to applaud and call out Powell’s name, Mulligan “kissed Bud on the mouth. Hard,” recalled Johnson. “It was a gesture that said, ‘Bud, they love you.’”
Powell is startled. He wipes his lips with the back of his left hand. Mulligan then gently leads the now docile Powell, like a child, off the back of the bandstand.
End of the First Set, Birdland—Monday, March 13, 1950.
Bud in Hell: “Improbably Lucid"
Wednesday, January 19, 1949
Bud Powell is in the midst of a nearly 18-month confinement in Creedmoor Psychiatric Hospital in Queens Village, off Long Island, though part of New York City. During the course of his incarceration, he is subjected to insulin shock and electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). Beginning on February 4, 1948, until April 5, 1948, ECT is administered two to three times a week, during which time 21 grand-mal reactions are induced. At the end of these treatments, he is judged “unimproved.” Another series of 19 sub-coma seizures are induced after he is transferred to another ward, and continue until late June 1948. For all ECT treatments one electrode is attached to each of the frontal lobes, no anesthesia is used, nor restraints to prevent injury during convulsions.
During the second series of ECT treatments, Powell’s only child, a daughter, Cecelia June (“Celia”), is born on June 1, 1948 to his girlfriend, Mary Frances Barnes. Powell insists that her first name be Cecelia, after the patron saint of music. According to legend, when Cecelia (third century) refused to sacrifice to the Roman gods, a soldier was sent to behead her, but three blows to the head did not kill her. She survived half-dead for three days.
On this day, Powell and his mother Pearl are meeting with Anthony Graffeo, MD, a supervising psychiatrist at Creedmoor. Pearl is explaining to Graffeo that her 24-year-old son has been offered a chance to record as a leader for the Mercury record label. “This is a tremendous opportunity for my son,” she tells him. She requests that hospital authorities give him leave to make the record. “Patient and mother state that he is an excellent pianist who is in great demand,” writes the psychiatrist in his report. In his closing notes on the meeting, Graffeo paraphrases the usually taciturn Powell: “Pleads as he speaks, apparently feeling that he might have to stay here for a long time and subsequently lose the place he has struggled to get in the music field.” Leave is granted.
Earl Rudolph “Bud” Powell
During the blossoming of the Harlem Renaissance, which witnessed the emergence of international cultural icons Josephine Baker, Langston Hughes, Edward “Duke” Ellington, Zora Neale Hurston and Paul Robeson, Earl Rudolph “Bud” Powell was born into the heart of America’s Jazz Age on September 27, 1924. Folks were dancing when he came into the world, and continued to shimmy and shake throughout the Roaring Twenties, especially in Harlem. First there was the Foxtrot, then the Charleston, and then came the unspeakably “wicked” Black Bottom, whose name alone brought forth righteous indignation from the pious and God-fearing: “The music is sensuous, the female is only half-dressed and the motions may not be described in a family newspaper.” (The Catholic Telegraph).
Bud was the second child born to William Powell, Sr., an amateur stride pianist, and Pearl Young. The two had come up from Virginia to settle in Harlem, part of the Great Migration of Southern Blacks northward. They hoped to forge a better life as urbane city-dwellers. “[Harlem] is not a fringe, it is not a slum, nor is it a ‘quarter’ consisting of dilapidated tenements,” wrote activist James Weldon Johnson about that period. “It is a section of new-law apartment houses and handsome dwellings, with streets as well paved, as well lighted, and as well-kept as in any other part of [New York].” Bud would become the only progenitor of modern jazz, which began to emerge around 1938 in his birthplace, born and raised in Harlem.
Around the age of four or five, Bud begins picking out tunes on the piano. He soon receives formal piano lessons under the tutelage of his father. He is classically trained by local piano instructor, William F. Rawlins, who also teaches him music history.
Bud would eventually spend hours listening to Bach, Chopin, and other European masters with his friend, pianist Elmo Hope. On Sundays, the two boys enjoy playing Bach fugues for each other at Hope’s apartment.
When he is nine or ten the prodigy is put on display at Harlem rent parties, encouraged by his father to mimic the styles of the older generation of pianists, such as James P. Johnson (1891-1955) and Fats Waller (1904-1943). Later, after hearing him on the radio and records, he plays in the manner of his idol, Art Tatum (1910-1956). He is at center stage at these informal gatherings, a child in the midst of an adult world, often plied with cigarettes and alcohol—and endless song requests.
“[Bud Powell] had superior intelligence,” recalled Powell’s childhood friend, Freddy John, many years later. “He was brilliant, active, lively, with a quick mind and always so very creative. Then one day I heard that he had been busted, and then hospitalized in one of those horrible places where people just disappear.”
In Robert Mugnerot’s film Bud Powell: l’exil interieur (Internal Exile) (1999), John recalls those early days: “I knew Bud Powell in 1936 when we were young boys growing up in Harlem. Bud later translated the rhythms that we heard out in the streets into music. He translated the pulse and the beat of the Harlem I knew at that time.
“The majority of people know Bud Powell after he had shock treatments,” continues John. “I knew him before he had the shock treatments. I don’t know how you can destroy a man, destroy a personality. When we were growing up Bud was outgoing, an outspoken cat. He never bit his tongue. After the shock treatments, Bud was not the same Bud. He was not the Bud Powell that I liked anymore.”
John, overwhelmed with emotion, covers his face with his right arm and waves away the pitiless eye of the camera with his left hand. “That’s all, that’s all,” he says.
By the time Bud is 15, he’s quit high school to play professionally with his older brother William, Jr., a trumpet player, in his band Skeets Powell and his Jolly Swingsters. Bud’s younger brother, Richie (1931-1956), would become the pianist and arranger for one of the best and most popular combos of the mid-1950s, the Clifford Brown/Max Roach Quintet. Richie was killed, along with his fiancée, Nancy, and Clifford Brown, perhaps the greatest trumpet player of modern jazz, on June 26, 1956, when Nancy lost control of their car on a rainy night on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
By his late teens, Bud gains entry to Minton’s Play House where a new form of jazz is being created. In the early 1940s, he meets Thelonious Monk (1917-1982), one of the central figures of the revolution, who becomes a mentor and champion for the socially awkward teenager. Powell, in turn, becomes a lifelong advocate of Monk’s unique compositions, recording the latter’s “Off Minor” less than two years after the composer. Bud’s profound bond with Monk, who also suffered from mental illness, in effect, displaces the influence of his father on his future musical development. By his early twenties, Powell is already established as one of the leaders of modern jazz.
Powell’s history of lengthy confinements in mental institutions is set in motion when, on Friday, January 19, 1945, he shows up late for a one-nighter as the pianist for Cootie Williams’s sextet at a Philadelphia dancehall, Mercantile. When he showed up, recalled Williams two decades later, “he was full of something. He jumped up on the bandstand, and jumped up on the piano (laughs) while the band was playing. And after the date, he didn’t go back with us on the bus.”
Later that night, Powell was found at Broad Street Station where, according to a logbook entry of the Pennsylvania Railroad police, he was not only drunk and disorderly, but had also resisted arrest. He was severely beaten about the head and would suffer from headaches the rest of his life. When his mother Pearl came to Philadelphia to have her son released, he was in custody, talking incoherently, saying, “I own the Chrysler building.”
On February 1, 1945, he’s admitted to Pilgrim State Hospital, a psychiatric facility in Brentwood, Long Island, fifty miles from Harlem. When he is not acting violently, he’s describing himself as the “1935 Earl of New York” and his mother as the “Pearl of New York.” His father, he says, is “Sir William, Gallant Knight.” Then he tells the attendants: “I am what they’ve been waiting for: Jesus Christ.” Of course, his first name was Earl and, at that time in the musical world in which he was immersed, there was a Duke (Ellington) and a Count (Basie), and no doubt many around the Harlem music scene would have acknowledged his royalty, along with Earl “Fatha” Hines, as its Earl. On April 18, 1945, he was released from Pilgrim into convalescent care at his mother’s home, although many institutionalizations would follow during the next ten years.
Wednesday, February 23, 1949
On this day, a little more than a month after Bud and Pearl met with Dr. Graffeo at Creedmoor Psychiatric Hospital, Powell is given a brief respite from institutional life. Dressed in a dark business suit, starched white shirt and dark tie, he’s taken by a Creedmoor nurse for his debut as a leader of a trio that includes Ray Brown (bass) and Max Roach (drums). A handkerchief with an elaborate pattern is exposed from his breast pocket.
While the engineer gets ready, Powell warms up in the piano style of his father’s generation. The producer of the session, Norman Granz, later recalled that it was the most “fantastic music of [that kind] I’d ever heard in my life. I said, ‘Why don’t you do a record of that?’ [Powell] said, ‘No, no, I’m not gonna do that. I just wanted to show you I could do it,’” as a Kandinsky or Picasso would demur from offering a perfectly rendered representational painting to an exhibit of modern art.
Of the six tunes recorded that day, four are original compositions, beginning with “Tempus Fugit” (Time Flies), a 155-second performance of concentrated daemonic energy that Gary Giddins calls “a point of demarcation for jazz piano and for jazz itself.” He then eases into a ballad named after his infant daughter, “Celia,” a “hopeful, vernal melody,” in the words of biographer Peter Pullman, which “had been composed during the previous year’s hellish incarceration at Creedmoor.” He then performs “Cherokee,” with a faux Native American opening and conclusion, which contains an improvisation that equals, or surpasses, the landmark versions by Parker and Tatum.
“I’ll Keep Loving You,” another original, based on Richard Rodgers’s “You Are Too Beautiful,” is unabashedly, openly romantic, a lilting ballad that appeals directly to the heart. One hears the kernel of the soaring lyricism of Bill Evans (1929-1980), the most influential jazz pianist after Powell, in this performance. Evans acknowledged Powell as his primary pianistic influence, stating that “[Powell] had the most comprehensive compositional talent of any jazz player I have ever heard” and that “His insight and talent were unmatched in hardcore, true jazz.”
“Strictly Confidential,” his last original for the session, after a somber opening, happily and melodiously bounces along with a wayward inventiveness that perfectly captures the sprightliness and fun Powell could exude at medium tempos. He concludes with “All God’s Chillun Got Rhythm,” a 1937 jazz standard sung by Ivie Anderson in the Marx Brothers’ film A Day at the Races. It will become the standard by which all other versions of the tune are measured.
As Giddins observes, the emotional spectrum of the session is enormous, “each selection masterful in a different way.” The feelings range from “lacerating rage to [a] benign elegance associated with Fred Astaire or Teddy Wilson,” and, moreover, “for a man judged to be mentally incompetent, the equilibrium is exceptional . . . improbably lucid” in that “he thinks coherently and imaginatively at such forbidding tempos.”
As Powell reaches the midpoint of the 180-second “All God’s Chillun,” he cleverly interpolates Benny Harris’s catchy tune, “Reets and I,” which is based on the chord changes of the song, and several times, during his galvanic improvisation, seems to allude to “Tempus Fugit,” perhaps sensing that, when the final cadence is played, he’ll be whisked back into involuntary servitude in a back ward of Creedmoor. Even if the circumstances of the recording date were not so extraordinary, the session would be a landmark in the history of recorded jazz.
Thursday and Friday, March 3 and 4, 1949
John L. “Jack” Duffy, recreation instructor at Creedmoor, was determined to bring some good old-fashioned fun to the back wards where “treatment failures” languished.
The star soloist of the Rodeo Minstrel Revue of 1949, Creedmoor’s annual fundraiser and public relations outreach to the surrounding community of Queens Village, was undoubtedly Bud Powell. His release into convalescent care, or, “probation,” as Dr. Graffeo wrote in his report, had been delayed by Harry A. LaBurt, MD, Creedmoor’s Senior Director, to assure a topnotch centerpiece for the show.
In addition to a few afternoon performances confined to hospital staff, patients and their families, there were one or two evening shows that included reporters, politicians, the paying public from Queens Village, guest stars from the Broadway stage, and some professional musicians, “ringers,” sent by Local 802, the American Federation of Musicians, to enhance the performance of the Creedmoor Orchestra. Except for these annual events each March, visitors were confined to the day rooms.
The New York Daily News printed five photos from one of the 1949 shows, blackening the eyes of everyone on stage. This wasn’t necessary for members of the Minstrel Sextet who sang in blackface. No photos of Powell survive from the Minstrel Revue, so it’s not known if he performed in Stetson, vest, and cowboy pants, or, whether, as a black man, he performed in blackface. Photos survive that show men in Native American regalia doing a war dance and cowgirls high-kicking in a chorus line.
One imagines Powell using the rehearsals with the Creedmoor Orchestra to prepare himself for his recording date of 23 February 1949.
On April 16, 1949, Creedmoor releases Powell into the custody of his mother. “Depressive ideas are not obtained. Convalescent care is granted,” reads the report.
How I Stole My Jazz Education
I stole the Bible. Oh, no, not the one you’re thinking of, I mean the book that became the touchstone for my jazz education, Martin Williams’s Where’s the Melody? A Listener’s Introduction to Jazz (1963). It was a hardback with a shiny white dust-jacket of simple design. Apparently, no one noticed that the skinny 13-year-old kid who entered the bookstore in San Francisco’s Stonestown Emporium left it with a protruding stomach pushing against his jacket. Today I have a protruding stomach without benefit of a hidden book. Times change. I no longer have that stolen property, but rather, a beat-up paperback edition of the same book that I bought for a-buck-fifty many years later. I don’t know what happened to that other, pilfered copy, or why I stole it. If you want to read about the sin of stealing, check out Augustine’s Confessions.
There’s not enough time in the world to begin listing all my sins. Fortunately, this essay is about Bud Powell, not me, that’s why I’ve waited until now to introduce myself. The musically inclined may think of this third section of our narrative as beginning with a modulation to a related key. The digression will be brief. I’ll say just a few things about my education in jazz, quickly returning to our main theme, the life and art of Bud Powell.
I blame my brother, Paul, for the theft since he introduced me to jazz earlier that year, 1963, more than half a century ago. The oldest book I own was a birthday present he gave me, Leonard Feather’s The New Edition of the Encyclopedia of Jazz (1960), which is held together with masking tape. At the time of its publication, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman and Bud Powell were all alive.
The musician who had caught my brother’s fancy at that time was local (San Francisco Bay Area) jazz pianist Vince Guaraldi (1928-1976), best known as the creator of the music for the Charlie Brown cartoon features on television and for a hit song, “Cast Your Fate to the Wind.”
In the albums he recorded at that time, Guaraldi was sometimes joined by Brazilian guitarist Djalma De Andrade (“Bola Sete”) (1923-1987). My first musical judgment in jazz was that Bola Sete was a more interesting musician than Guaraldi. I eventually had about eight Bola Sete albums. Today I have just one, Tour de Force (1964), which I listened to a few hours ago—it was a thoroughly enjoyable, if not profound, way to spend 40 minutes while puttering around. Of Guaraldi’s music, there is no longer a trace in my vast collection of LPs, CDs and cassettes covering the entire history of jazz, from Scott Joplin’s pre-jazz “rags” (composed roughly between 1899 and 1914) to the furthest reaches of the “avant-garde,” or, as an old friend once informed me, “noise” by another name.
I began listening to the all-jazz San Francisco radio station KJAZ. I discovered a show on Sunday nights that devoted an hour to a single musician. The host was a jazz drummer with the unlikely name of Cuz Cousineau. His signature line was “I’m Cuz Cousineau and you know who you are.”
As a measure of my growing devotion to this music, I remember being so astonished by a performance of “African Cookbook” on KJAZ by the Randy Weston Sextet (1964) that I sent away for the record from Weston’s private label, Bakton. The record, when it finally arrived, had a sticker for a return address and such a homemade look that one could imagine Weston doing the packaging himself.
In addition to providing a large, evolutionary framework in which to place the various styles of jazz I encountered, Williams’s book validated my reservations about some of the music’s most highly regarded performers. In the essay, “Notes on Four Pianists,” he was critical of Oscar Peterson, Ahmad Jamal, Dave Brubeck and George Shearing. He concluded the section on Shearing by describing his basic stylistic debt as “simplified Bud Powell.” I also had problems with these four musicians, and, as a good critic can do, he helped me articulate the reasons why I didn’t fully enjoy their performances. As for John Coltrane (1926-1967), one of the seminal figures in the history of jazz, I could hear the utter sincerity of his spiritual quest as he evolved toward “free jazz,” but the aesthetic returns did not always seem commensurate with his efforts. When Williams stated that he could sometimes hear only five minutes of great music in a 20-minute Coltrane solo, this echoed my own listening experience. I figured Williams must be quite a brilliant fellow since he so often agreed with me!
A decisive moment in my jazz education arrived when I heard a pianist on KJAZ. I had no idea who I was listening to. The pianist played as though every note could be the last he ever played. The tempo was unreasonably fast. It was like watching a tightrope walker, to use a Nietzschean metaphor, suspended between man and an exalted state beyond “man.” Or, to borrow from another founder of existentialist philosophy, Kierkegaard, I directly encountered the “dizziness of freedom.”
Instead of casually lifting his hand, the pianist would use a rapid-fire arpeggio to physically move his right hand upward a few octaves, and then immediately begin the next musical idea. The pure technique rivaled that of Art Tatum. But Tatum’s playing, which astonished the classical giants Arturo Toscanini and Vladimir Horowitz, was comparatively prepackaged, and eventually worked up into recognizable routines (one knew the exact moment when his “improvisation” on Dvorak’s “Humoresque” would double the tempo), compared to what I was now hearing.
This music was somehow both vulnerable and exalted; it seemed, at certain moments, to teeter on the edge of madness. It was “pure improvisation,” musical composition in real time, in which the pianist, at one moment, seemed to be tumbling toward an abyss, losing his way; then, using an interpolation of a children’s song, “Go in and out the Window,” apparently to recover his equilibrium, he concluded with a long line of composed perfection. This music was of a different order, seemed almost to inhabit a different universe, from anything I had heard before. This was Bud Powell (1924-1966).
This became a new standard for me. But I soon discovered that it was seldom met, in or out of the jazz idiom, and least of all by Powell himself, who, after 1953, only fitfully recaptured the level of his peak years from the late 1940s to early 1950s, as mental illness and addiction took their toll.
I became fascinated by eyewitness accounts of Powell’s live performances, mostly unrecorded, especially from his all-too-brief prime years. One is described by Ira Gitler in Jazz Masters of the Forties (1966). It took place at the Three Deuces in the summer of 1947, when Powell and trumpeter Fats Navarro replaced Duke Jordan and Miles Davis for one set in Charlie Parker’s quintet. They played a tune by Powell’s closest friend, Thelonious Monk, “52nd Street Theme,” which had become a kind of anthem of modern jazz. “For twenty or twenty-five choruses,” writes Gitler, “[Powell] hung the audience by its nerve ends, playing music of demonically driven beauty, music of hard, unflinching swing, music of genius,” easily eclipsing the work of Parker and Navarro on that night.
I would search for LPs in old record shops, especially by my idol, hoping to come across some as yet undiscovered gem. I remember one shop, Jack’s Record Cellar, located at 254 Scott Street in San Francisco, which I learned about from Williams’s list of jazz specialty stores in Where’s the Melody? Records were stacked up high against the walls, nearly to the ceiling. The store was bright, unlike most jazz specialty shops, which are usually dark and dingy. Light streamed in through large Bay windows. The place was presided over by a bemused and laidback grey-bearded fellow who looked like his name should have been Jack even if it wasn’t.
When I returned home after one of my forays to Jack’s Record Cellar, I remember my disappointment as I listened to Powell’s version of the ballad “Moonlight in Vermont” recorded in June 1954. It sounded like the sleepy, slightly off-kilter, and uninspired hack work of a pianist playing background music in a cocktail lounge. Now, listening to that cut a half-century later, I realize that the main fault is that it falls short of the impossibly high standard Powell himself had set just a few years earlier; and, even more disheartening, his disturbed mental state, at any given moment, may intrude upon any merely aesthetic judgment. One is forced to consider the plight of a man, rather than the shape of his art. Powell would be committed to mental institutions at least five times between 1945 (after the fateful encounter with police at Broad Street Station in Philadelphia) and 1955.
A Genius in Decline
In March 1959, Altevia Edwards (“Buttercup”), Powell’s common-law wife, convinced him to move to Paris, where, like many American jazz musicians, he hoped he would be better appreciated than in his native land. During this last phase of his life, he seemed, at times, to recapture his former brilliance.
A month after Powell arrived in Paris, pianist Lou Levy, one of a vast legion of disciples, witnessed Powell playing “The Best Thing for You” at the Blue Note, a Right Bank jazz club, under new ownership, just north of the Champs-Elysees. He played, said Levy, “at a tempo you wouldn’t believe. That [tune] is a sort of roller coaster of [chord] changes, it goes through roundhouses of chords and sequences, and he did it like a loop-the-loop, chorus after chorus, relentless, with such strength.” Levy spoke of the “raw emotion, sheer jazz elegance and humanity” of “a night I’ll never forget.”
Ray Brown, the bassist who played with Powell on the epic recording date for the Mercury record label a decade earlier, when the pianist was granted a day’s leave from Creedmoor, was also at the Blue Note that night. “Man, I worked with him on 52nd Second Street, I worked with him with Bird (Charlie Parker), he never played better than this,” said Brown. He found himself getting up to walk the floor during Powell’s performance, trying to keep his riotous emotions in check.
Levy decided to come back to the club for several more nights but his idol didn’t come close to duplicating that first night’s performance, which, he said, “was the greatest jazz performance that I have ever been lucky enough to hear. I never heard anyone else who could make the piano sound like it was breathed into.”
The proportion of good or great performances, however, continued to diminish in Powell’s waning years. Yet his fans continued to show up in the faint hope they might catch him on a good night.
Christopher Finch, who grew up in the mid-1950s in a repressive English public school on the isle of Guernsey, had, along with his pal Tom Hugo, become a devotee of modern jazz. Tom was an aspiring pianist and Christopher a bass player. Since Tom’s parents were partially deaf, the teenagers could play their jazz records as loud as they liked. Christopher and Tom “aspired to be hipsters,” like the musicians they idolized. They patterned their attitudes, clothes and language after them. Although they lived more than 2,000 miles from New York, the two boys wholly identified with the jazz scene there, dreaming of 52nd Second Street, the Five Spot and the Village Gate.
By the time Christopher and his wife at the time, Janet, had a chance to hear Powell perform for the first time, in December 1962 at the Blue Note in Paris, Powell’s life and career were in steep decline. His alcoholism was out of control. For the first time in more than fifteen years he received second billing at a nightclub. On the marquee outside the Blue Note, his name was in much smaller letters beneath the headliner, tenor saxophonist Johnny Griffin.
Christopher and Janet sat at a table near the bandstand. They sat through a couple of sets of Griffin’s group with no sign of Powell. They were getting ready to leave when his hero, Bud Powell, entered the club around 1:30 a.m., “juiced to the gills but pleading with the manager to get up on the stand and play.” When Griffin’s last set was over, there were only two couples in the club, Christopher and his wife, and another couple preoccupied with making out.
Finch describes Powell’s face as that of a “dissipated gnome. When he laughed, I saw that half his teeth were missing. He looked close to 60. A quick bit of arithmetic told me he was 38.”
The manager of the club, Ben Benjamin, with virtually an empty house at 2:00 a.m., let Powell go on stage.
“It was the most ghastly performance I have seen by any performer, anywhere, at any time,” recalled Finch. “He could barely pick out a tune. He had not played half a chorus [of “Now’s the Time”] before I was wishing I was somewhere else.
“His pudgy hands seemed arthritic and he was relying less on manual dexterity than on a kind of spastic, robot-like body English. I could not walk out on a hero, though, and I listened with mounting horror as he fumbled his way through standards and originals alike, sometimes groaning and grunting the melody line as if trying to drag his fingers back on course.”
After Powell had played half a chorus of a standard, he stopped, looked at the 23-year-old substitute bass player, Gilbert Rovere, and said, “‘Where the fuck is my bass player?’ In the middle of [another] tune he stopped, looked at the kid, and said, ‘Who the hell are you? You think you know about jazz? Okay, you call it. You say what we’re gonna play. C’mon, kid. You call it.’
“Finally [Rovere] looked right at him and said, in good English, ‘All right—we’ll play I Remember Clifford.’”
This song, an exquisite ballad and part of the jazz canon, was composed by Benny Golson as a memorial to his friend Clifford Brown, who died in the same car accident that took the life of Bud Powell’s younger brother, Richie, in 1956.
“For a moment,” continued Finch, “it looked as if Bud would fall apart completely. Then he fixed his attention on the keyboard and began a version of ‘I Remember Clifford’ that was the single most beautiful, moving, and spellbinding piece of music I have ever heard. He took the tune very slowly and deliberately, as if experiencing each single note . . . Each chord was placed with loving care and used to underpin a rich texture of melodic inventions. His timing was immaculate. The emotional impact was devastating. In miniature, it was a tragic statement as powerful as Macbeth.”
Finch watched as Powell, without looking at anyone, walked out of the club into the night. Finch and his wife found a taxi. No longer able to hold back his emotions, “I wept all the way back to the hotel.”
An Expatriate Returns Home
After a five-year absence, the expatriate musician came back home to New York City. He arrived at JFK Airport with his caretaker, Francis Paudras, on August 16, 1964.
Powell’s return to Birdland, still located at 1678 Broadway, was a national story covered by Time and Newsweek. On opening night, 25 August 1964, he was met by jazz royalty: John Coltrane, Charlie Mingus, Thelonious Monk, and Max Roach. Several of his piano disciples greeted him, including Bobby Timmons, Wynton Kelly, Barry Harris, Walter Bishop, McCoy Tyner, John Hicks, and Errol Garner. Most of the pianists sat in the club’s bleacher section, the Peanut Gallery, so they could study Powell’s fingering on the keys.
Pee Wee Marquette was still the emcee, but was unable to introduce Powell’s trio over a thunderous ovation lasting 17 minutes. Marquette told Paudras afterwards, “Francis, I have been presenting at Birdland for more than fifteen years and have never been present at anything like this.” At last, Powell was able to launch into “The Best Thing for You.” The opening night performance received mixed reviews—high praise by Time, but a caution to lower one’s expectations by Down Beat critic, Dan Morgenstern.
During the course of the engagement, Powell began slipping away from his caretakers, usually to bum a drink, but, at other times, to seek out mentors and colleagues from his early years in Harlem. These escapades became a kind of “valedictory tour,” as he met with his estranged father, William, Sr., his childhood compatriot Elmo Hope, and his friend and mentor, Thelonious Monk.
When he continued to turn up late at Birdland, or disappear after a set, he was fired by management on October 11, 1964.
Powell played a few other gigs around New York City. A March 27, 1965 Memorial Concert for Charlie Parker was a disaster. In an interview with Peter Pullman, Morgenstern said that a performance of Monk’s “‘Round Midnight’” was one you “sat through, fidgeting, hoping that he would, you know, stop.” At Town Hall, on May 1, 1965, Powell concluded his last public performance with “I Remember Clifford.” He never returned to France.
In the last week of July 1966, he was taken to Kings County Hospital, Brooklyn, by Mary Frances, the mother of his daughter, Celia. Powell was terrified that he was about to undergo shock treatments. He wrote to Mary Frances: “Did you agree to let them do that to me again? I’m a writer and a composer, and these treatments are destroying my brain.” She assured him he would not receive electroconvulsive therapy.
When Powell realized he would soon depart his world of sorrow and occluded grace, he wrote a note to Mary Frances which read, in part: “(To Fran from Bud) I never knew the joy of laughter. . . after you were gone . . . I never knew the joy of living after giving you my love . . . It should never have been like it was for me . . . So long.” After being given the last rites of the Catholic Church, on Sunday, July 31, 1966, at 9:40 p.m., he died, age 41.
Monday, August 8, 1966
On this day, a throng of five thousand lines the streets of Harlem to watch the funeral cortege for Earl Rudolph “Bud” Powell, “the Earl of New York,” benighted son of “Sir William, Gallant Knight” and of “the Pearl of New York.” In the lead is the Harlem Cultural Council Jazzmobile: Benny Green (trombone), John Gilmore (tenor sax) and Lee Morgan (trumpet) are backed by Barry Harris (piano), Don Moore (bass) and Billy Higgins (drums). The Jazzmobile slowly makes its way up Seventh Avenue from the Unity Funeral Chapel in Brooklyn where the body had lain in state for three days surrounded by impressive floral displays provided by Duke Ellington, Max Roach, and Mary Lou Williams, among others. As the Jazzmobile passes the Renaissance Theater at 138th Street and Seventh Avenue, Morgan wails away at Charlie Parker’s “Now’s the Time.” On the way to the Church of St. Charles Borromeo on West 141st Street, the musicians play Monk’s “Round Midnight,” followed by Powell’s “Bud’s Bubble” and “Dance of the Infidels.”
“Dance of the Infidels” is announced by a dramatic fanfare, played in unison by the horns, leading into a quintessential bebop tune at medium tempo. At the piano Barry Harris seems to be channeling the spirit of the Master until one notices that he’s stolen half a dozen of Powell’s favorite licks. No matter. Jazz musicians have been doing this since the music began.
A lanky teenager with a thin mustache is loping beside the Jazzmobile, casually snapping his fingers to the sweet swing of the music. He’s the quintessence of cool. Falling in behind him are a group of effusive young boys in short pants, snapping their fingers, clapping their hands, waving their arms, smiling, as they joyously skip alongside the Jazzmobile. A uniformed honor guard, adding a touch of solemnity to the occasion, follows at a respectful distance. The music stops. The honor guard stands at attention. The pallbearers are lifting the casket up the stairs of St. Charles.
After the Powell family moved to the Harlem neighborhood known as Sugar Hill by the summer of 1934, just a few blocks from the Church, Bud and his pal, Freddy John, would sometimes sneak into the basement chapel of St. Charles where there was a pump organ in an alcove. Freddy would squeeze the pump while Bud played. After a few minutes an adult would usually chase them out. But today the Requiem Mass will be performed without interruption.
No, this is not hagiography. Powell’s music, all that matters now, will stand or fall on its own merits.
Of his legacy, Guthrie P. Ramsey, Jr., Professor of Music and Africana Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, asserts that Powell’s music reveals “one of the twentieth century’s most beautiful and fiercely adventurous musical minds” (The Amazing Bud Powell: Black Genius, Jazz History, and the Challenge of Bebop, 2013). Gary Giddins, in Visions of Jazz: The First Century (1998), designates Powell as “the central figure in the holy hexagram of jazz piano—Hines, Wilson, Tatum, Powell, Monk, Taylor,” and states that “he was our Schubert and Liszt rolled into one, perhaps the only jazz musician who could impart the stately melancholy of the former’s ‘Sonata in B Flat’ and the demonical exhilaration of the latter’s ‘Sonata in B Minor.’” And literary critic Harold Bloom, author of The Western Canon (1994), who haunted Minton’s Play House and other jazz clubs in the 1940s, and claims he gave Powell a copy of Hart Crane’s collected poems one night, places “Un Poco Loco” (Blue Note, May 1, 1951) on the short list of the “American Sublime,” along with works like Melville’s Moby Dick, as among the greatest of the country’s aesthetic achievements.
As to the life, no one would want to emulate it. I would not want to have been one of Powell’s “gatekeepers,” often paid to keep an eye on him, making sure he didn’t slip away between sets at a jazz club, or before a recording date, to bum a drink or get a heroin fix. (One of his favorite ploys was to snatch away the drink of someone sitting next to him at a bar, and then feign innocence, which, on one occasion at least, led to a severe beating.) Nor would I have wanted to be one of his “caretakers,” some of whom, like manager Oscar Goodstein and “wife” Altevia Edwards, exploited him for his fame and earning power; while others, like acolyte Francis Paudras and pianist Dede Emerson, genuinely loved him.
When Paudras, a classically trained pianist, age 15, heard Powell’s 1949 version of “All God’s Chillun Got Rhythm” on the radio, it was “like a lightning bolt, a sublime and blinding revelation.” Here we enter the mystical realm of the unspeakable, in which “the course of [Paudras’s] life was transformed. The power of this music became a part of my everyday gestures, my everyday acts.” I cannot quite follow him into these blissful ecstasies over his “Master’s” music, “the most important in the universe.” For my part, whenever I come back to the signature performances, whether after listening to Bach’s B Minor Mass, a Beethoven sonata, or an Indian raga, Powell still commands all my jaw-dropping attention, as he did when I first heard him on KJAZ as a 13-year-old kid.
I will not make facile claims for the inexorable link between madness and genius. Surely, psychological health is preferable to illness, a harmonious mind and body better than the fitful flare of brilliance out of a dissipated life. And “romantic agony,” part of Powell’s aesthetic arsenal, is best viewed at a safe distance and where no mortal weapons are ready at hand. I wish only to call attention to the occasional fugitive eruption of transcendence into the quotidian world that may occur from time to time, however unlikely the place and time of its appearance or the medium of inspiration.
Yes, I would have given anything to be at Birdland that night, just 12 days before my birth on 25 March 1950, as Powell, facing the back wall of the stage, brought forth into the unlikely venue of that smoky, dark-lit world some of the contours of the monumental tonal dreamscape in which he lived, moved and had his being—and wherein he found ecstasy, exultation, sorrow, joy, despair, beauty, terror, sardonic wit, confusion and consolation—and from which, even on his best nights, one suspects, he could only imperfectly testify to a fraction of everything he saw and felt.
Epilogue: Birdland Redux
No one quite remembers that Birdland performance as Sy Johnson does. During a long career as a jazz pianist, teacher, photo journalist, and arranger for a variety of Charlie Mingus groups (1971-78) and for the Lee Konitz Nonet, among others, he’s periodically canvassed friends about that night.
Gerry Mulligan (1927-1996) disclaimed ever kissing Bud Powell on the mouth. Lee Konitz (born 1927), who did double duty as alto saxophonist for both the Davis and Tristano groups, said, “No, I don’t think the Birth of the Cool band ever played Birdland. I remember one night we played the Royal Roost.” But when shown a photo from The Eye of Jazz: The Photographs of Herman Leonard (1990), which clearly shows Miles Davis’s trumpet and Gerry Mulligan’s baritone sax on Birdland’s club piano, he had to admit, “I guess I was there.”
Perhaps one night bled into the next in that post-war twilight realm of drugs, booze, movie stars, mobsters, intellectuals, poets, and musicians just struggling to get by. Some nights a brilliant performance would be played to an empty house. It was a world on the margins of the larger society, wherein insiders, “hipsters,” often despised the “squares” outside their precious domain. And it was a world where the races came together—exciting and dangerous.
The distinction between “high art” and “entertainment” had dissolved. Powell, like the other modernists, got his start in a dance band, when Swing was still America’s popular music. But then a new art form evolved out of the old. Did the new music offer anything more than an evening’s entertainment (> OF entre, between, and tenir, to hold, therefore the betwixt and between state, liminality)? Or had jazz become high art? What exactly is the difference between the two? Does it matter? Perhaps all art, “high” or “low,” is a conjurer’s trick by which the artist invites us to be willing captives, spellbound within an illusion (lit., “in-play” > Latin, ludus, a game, to play) so long as he or she holds center stage. Thus, art as process might be defined as the liminal state of play, a state which, as Thomas Merton says, enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.
Powell once told a French doctor that he dreamt at night that he was constantly playing the piano, and that, even when awake, he was prone to the same dreams. Pianist Elmo Hope claimed that Powell once drew a piano keyboard on the wall of his room at Creedmoor Psychiatric Hospital, played his “dream piano,” and asked his childhood friend what he thought of the music. He had a “desperate need . . . to cling to his instrument as the default spokesman for his self and soul,” says biographer Peter Pullman, knowing that his “anomie surfaced from the moment he left the stage.” One of Powell’s loving caretakers, Dede Emerson, stated the matter more simply: “At the piano he was mature; away from it he was a child. Everything he couldn’t say in life was in the piano.”
The time for Bud’s next solo is drawing near—the evergreen, eternal moment for which life was given to him. Within the ambiguous, disorienting, fluid and inchoate world of drifting smoke and clattering dishes—on the threshold of an experience not yet named—he now begins to “blow” his “dream piano,” breathing unimagined possibilities of life into the midst of a dazed and distracted congregation of hipsters, addicts, musicians, mobsters, movie stars, war veterans, flirtatious gals and guys on the make, teens, and couples out for a night on the town. He summons us all into a new world.
There is nothing more serious in life than play. If we have ears to hear, let us hear!
And now it’s time for another gig in Midtown Manhattan at the Jazz Corner of the World. Be sure to get here early, settle into a chair in the Peanut Gallery, and hope that the stoned idiot crammed next to you doesn’t topple over into your lap. Here comes the Court Jester himself, or “herself,” as some believe, “William” Clayton “Pee Wee” Marquette, towards stage center. Nothing is quite as it seems in Dreamland. Anything can happen. Everything is possible.
“Good evenin’ to ya all, ladies and gentlemen. And welcome to the Jazz Corna’ of the World at 52nd Street and Broadway. We got somethin’ wonderful for ya down here in Dreamland this evenin’. . .”
Crow, Bill, From Birdland to Broadway: Scenes from a Jazz Life (1992).
Davis, Miles, The Autobiography (1989).
Down Beat, “A Tribute to Bud Powell” (September1966).
Feather, Leonard, The New Edition of the Encyclopedia of Jazz (1960).
Finch, Christopher, “Growing Up with Bud: A Transatlantic Communion,” Quest (January/February 1978).
Giddins, Gary, Visions of Jazz: The First Century (1998).
Gitler, Ira, Jazz Masters of the Forties (1966).
Kernfeld, Barry, The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz (1988).
Leonard, Herman, The Eye of Jazz: The Photographs of Herman Leonard (1990).
Paudras, Francis, Dance of the Infidels: A Portrait of Bud Powell (1986).
Paudras, Francis, “Return to Birdland, 64,” CD, Mythic Sound, v.9, liner notes.
Pullman, Peter, Wail: The Life of Bud Powell (2012).
Ramsey, Guthrie P., The Amazing Bud Powell: Black Genius, Jazz History, and the Challenge of Bebop (2013).
Williams, Martin, Where’s the Melody? A Listener’s Introduction to Jazz (1963).
Bud Powell’s Funeral Procession
Bishop, Chris, Found Photos—Bud Powell’s Funeral Procession (posted 10-1-2009).
Bud Powell Funeral Procession—HD—Clip ID: 82690 (72 seconds) (8-8-66), efootage.com: Contemporary and Vintage Stock Footage.
Mugnerot, Robert, Bud Powell: ’exil interieur (Internal Exile) (1999).
The author spoke twice, by phone, with Sy Johnson about the Birth of the Cool date at Birdland of March 13, 1950, once on December 5, 2013 and again in early February 2014. These conversations were used to supplement Peter Pullman’s account of that evening in Wail: The Life of Bud Powell. The author also gratefully acknowledges Peter Pullman for reading his manuscript and offering numerous corrections and suggestions. Any remaining errors and faults are the author’s own.
Note: The descriptions of the March 13, 1950 date at Birdland and Powell’s funeral procession are recreations, not reportage.
. The finches were present at the December 1949 opening of Birdland, but may have died before 13 March 1950. At an unknown date, the performance photos were replaced by drawings.
. The early jazz piano style most directly associated with ragtime, and which had its origins around the time of World War I. Its main practitioners were Luckey Roberts, Willie “the Lion” Smith, and James P. Johnson. A distinctive feature was the “stride bass” adapted from the left-hand patterns of ragtime.
. Weldon (1871-1938) was a poet, educator, lawyer, diplomat and civil rights activist. He wrote the lyrics to “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing,” sometimes known as the “Negro National Anthem.”
. “Rent parties” were social occasions when tenants hired musicians to play and pass the hat to raise money to pay their rent. They originated in Harlem in the 1920s.
. In Mugnerot’s film, see below, the interviewee is identified as “Freddy Jone,” but no such person is mentioned in Peter Pullman’s exhaustive biography, Wail: The Life of Bud Powell (2012). Pullman does, however, mention a Freddy John who, although not a musician, was a close childhood friend of Powell, loved music and, according to Arthur Phipps, John’s second cousin, would become “more [of a] jazz musician than some jazz musicians.” (Pullman, p. 21)
. J.J. Johnson, a member of the Birth of the Cool band, confirms Freddy John’s opinion about Powell’s personality in those early years: “The real tragedy lies in the fact that because of Bud’s prolonged battle with mental illness, many so-called jazz buffs and curiosity seekers knew Bud only as an oddball or weird character. Only his old friends and the seasoned jazz fans knew the real Bud, who was warm, witty, and one of the most intelligent persons I ever knew.” (Down Beat, September 1966)
. According to Peter Pullman, the new music began taking shape some years earlier, at Uptown House, and at other smaller, informal venues which allowed for greater experimentation. (Pullman, pp. 18-21, 23-26)
. See Pullman, p. 52.
. See Pullman, pp. 106-7.
. KJAZ, one of the last commercial jazz stations in the United States, went out of business in 1996.
. See Pullman, pp. 363-4.
. This note appears at the end of Mugnerot’s film, Bud Powell: l’exil interieur (Internal Exile) (1999) and was purportedly found by Paudras. In an email to the author, Peter Pullman wrote that “Francis [Paudras] was entirely unreliable as a chronicler.” Pullman’s skepticism extends to what Paudras claims transpired on Powell’s opening night at Birdland upon his return to New York City, as well as to what Powell said to the French doctor (see below).
. The recreation of the Birdland date of March 13, 1950 is mainly based on Pullman’s interview with Sy Johnson on August 18, 1998. See Wail: The Life of Bud Powell (2012), pp. 138-9. In addition, I spoke with Mr. Johnson about that evening twice, once on December 5, 1913 and again in early February 2014. The first chapter of Bill Crow’s memoir, From Birdland to Broadway: Scenes from a Jazz Life (1992), was also consulted.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Don Plansky has participated in many OLLI at SF State writer workshops. In a former incarnation, he worked as a freelance journalist, contributing more than 200 articles to The Jewish Bulletin of Northern California, as well as book reviews for The Pacific World: Journal of the Institute of Buddhist Studies. Don has been a member of the Vistas & Byways Editorial Board since 2015.