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9/28/10

Lunch with John Hammond


For at least two years, John Hammond and I saw each other on a daily basis, but only once was our conversation recorded—this is it. I had recently started work on my biography of Bessie Smith and John was one of the many people I interviewed. If our exchange seems to lack the kind of depth one might expect, it is because John and I had so many conversations about Bessie that I pretty much had it covered. 

John and Aretha Franklin at Columbia's 30th Street studio, 1960.
 (Columbia publicity photo)
So, while you probably will not learn much from this taped lunch conversation, it will at least give you an idea of what John sounded like when not standing on a stage or at a lectern. If you have read my previous posts on John Hammond, you might have the impression that we did not get long, but we actually did. Yes, there were some nasty bumps along the way, but neither of us carrie a grudge for long. John was prone to exaggerate his own accomplishments, which he certainly did not need to do, and sometimes his need to live up to an embellished image got in the way of his consideration for others. Somehow, annoying as that could be, one tended to shrug one's shoulders and fluff it off as John being John. We all knew that he had, indeed, played a major role in shaping jazz history, and that earned him a large measure of respect that made the negative aspects of his personality more tolerable.

The tape was made in November, 1970, in a midtown Manhattan luncheonette. There is background noise and there are a few times when the cassette machine cuts out or slows down for a few seconds, but these are fleeing glitches that did not seem to warrant a fix.

2 comments:

  1. Thanks for this FRESH perspective on John Hammond. It allows a STUDENT of History a more balanced view of the man and his knowledge. Much that has been written about him has been one sided given the relationship and knowledge of the individual writer. I feel you have done Mr. Hammond a great service in revealing many layers of a man who had a lifelong passion & interest in the Music community.

    When History is presented with a clearer reflection of the truth it allows its students the ability to keep from putting their foot in their mouth.

    Thanks Chris.

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  2. Thanks for the recent excellent string of posts. Some of the characters (I'm thinking mainly of Hammond) are familiar from their own and others writings, but here I feel that I know his character, flawed as it may have been, just a little better. It's a dimension not often conveyed in print, and I thank you.

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