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12/5/09

Goin' to Chicago (1961)

As I sat down to make pixels out of my Chicago: Living Legends recollections, I'm afraid got a bit carried away in my introduction. This will therefore serve as just that, a lead in. I will post the rest by Monday, December 7.













































My grandparents were married in Rome on March 15, 1901. Sixty years later, courtesy of a generous family friend, they returned to Rome to privately celebrate their anniversary. The big celebration took place in June of 1961 when all their five children and one grandchild gathered in Copenhagen. You guessed it, I was the grandchild. We had all made the trip from abroad: my Uncle Torben and Aunt Armanda flew in from Santo Domingo, Uncle Christian and Aunt Flavie came over from England, my mother, Yvonne came down from Iceland, and I hopped a PanAm flight from New York.











I had only been with Riverside for eight months, but Bill Grauer gave me the time off. As usual, Orrin was not too pleased, although I think he might secretly have been glad to get rid of me for ten days. I would not have been able to make the trip were it not for our audio engineer, Ray Fowler, who offered to lend me the fare. The day before I left New York, Cannonball Adderley asked me if I would pick up some German lenses and other camera accessories for him in Denmark. Japanese cameras were still no match for the German ones, and that sort of thing was much cheaper in Europe. I told Cannon that I’d be glad to do that, thereby, as it turned out, cutting short my stay at Riverside Records.

Celebrating my grandparents' 60th anniversary in Copenhagen. On the left: My uncles Christian and George, Grandmother, Uncle Torben and Aunt Flavie. On the right: Aunt Armanda, Grandfather, my mother and her fourth husband, Styrmir.

When one of the lenses Cannon wanted me to buy had to be ordered from Germany and could not be delivered before my return flight, I wired him and asked him to tell Bill that I would be a couple of days late. That, apparently, was not a problem—after all, Cannon was the label’s most important artist at the time. Still, Orrin eventually used it as an excuse to fire me, but he waited until I had completed the post-production work on the New Orleans series. Cannon took the blame and tried to save my job, but I told him that it was really not a good idea for me to stay. Bill seemed uncomfortable with the situation and suggested that I might do sessions as an outside producer. He could have put his foot down, but Riverside was beginning to have financial problems and I think he had his hands full trying to keep it afloat. It was always Bill who, with help from Herman Gimbel, somehow managed to keep it all going.

I quickly managed to interest Bob Weinstock in letting me do some sessions. He offered me a staff position at Prestige, ostensibly as a producer, but—on paper, at least—as a juggler of hats. Somewhere in those piles of miscellany that sum up my life I have a small collection of Prestige business cards with three or four different job titles. It was not unusual for me to find amid my morning mail a memo from Bob informing me that I no longer was the head of Artist Development, but had, overnight, become Director of Publicity. I don’t recall all the titles, but I barely held any long enough to use more than four or five pertinent business cards, and it was all pro forma. My only real function was a&r and all that such work entails. I only produced a handful of albums during my short tenure at Prestige, and all but one was my own concept. The exception was a flamenco session Bob asked me to do on a few hours notice—to this day, it is my only non-jazz/blues effort. It featured a Spanish Flamenco group, Los Morenos, that seemed to have come out of nowhere on a two-way ticket. I don’t know how good or authentic this group was, but its five members arrived at Rudy Van Gelder’s studio on time, complete with a roll-out dance floor and a routine as tight as any I had seen. They whipped out their castanets, stomped and attitudinized with an impressive flair for the dramatic while I practiced a lesson taken from Orrin’s a&r manual: worked the stopwatch. Unless it was a glaring goof, how would I know when to call for another take? Sound of Flamenco, should you ever come across it, is a self-produced affair.

I liked working for Bob Weinstock, because he had a sense of humor and no oversized ego to get in the way, loved the music and felt secure enough to delegate authority. He pretty much stayed in his office where he played the stock market on the phone and did verbal imitations of Miles Davis. I recall only vaguely what my office looked like at Prestige, it wasn’t even an office, just a desk in a designated corner. I have a more ingrained image of Bob’s father, Pop Weinstock, bent over a rather large floor-mounted electric drill, boring a second hole through the labels of albums that were to be dumped to bargain sales outlets.

Producers like Ozzie Cadena and Ken Goldstein were in and out of the place, but I developed a more lasting rapport with Esmond Edwards. He was New Yorker of Jamaican ancestry whose initial job at Prestige had been as a photographer and driver. The latter function was eventually phased out of his bio, but—the studio being located across the river and most New York-based musicians not owning a car—it was necessary for Bob to furnish transportation back and forth. As a photographer—a damn good one—Esmond witnessed many extraordinary sessions produced by Bob and others, but just as I later played Bob’s musical chairs game, he owed a major career change to Mr. Weinstock’s whim. As Esmond related it to me, one day Bob surprised everyone by walking out in the middle of a session. “You’ve seen enough of these, you know what to do,” he said to Esmond. “Finish this one.” Then he left the studio, never to return. Esmond did very well, eventually holding important a&r positions with a number of major labels. We lost him in 2007, but his legacy of music and images is a rich one.
At my cluttered Riverside desk, 1961.

In August of 1961, I decided to do something about an idea that had been on my mind since returning from the January New Orleans trip. The hackneyed, overly simplified story of jazz moving up the river to Chicago not being a total myth, and remembering Bill’s suggestion that I might do freelance producing for Riverside, I proposed to him a follow-up series: Chicago: The Living Legends. Before I could get into details, Bill’s face lit up and I knew that I had hit his G spot (G, as in Gennett). His romantic obsession with scratchy old 78s and the legends who rested in their grooves now aroused the very passion that had led to the founding of a moldy fig jazz collectors magazine, The Record Changer, and Riverside Records. I confess that I was playing a little calculating game when I mentioned that Bob Weinstock would probably be interested in such a project, hastening to add that I felt it belonged on Riverside. Bill, having lost touch with the reality of looming bankruptcy, was quick to react. “Of course it belongs here,” he blurted out. “Who’s still around?” A couple of venerated names from the past was all it took—Bill was so excited that he reversed the roles and became the persuader.


3 comments:

  1. Chris - lovely pen-pictures of the Prestige people. Thanks - I'm at heart a Prestige man. Always thought it was BW's best move to get Esmond producing. Great to know how it came about.

    MG

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