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If this is your first visit, welcome to my blog of memories and observations. If you wish to be notified of new posts, enter an e-mail address above, and click on "Submit." As we move through a sixth year of this venture, I thank all who have made regular visits, as well as fellow bloggers who have found Stomp Off worth linking to. Doing this sort of thing is time-consuming, but I try to post fresh material at least once a week—let me know what you think. There is a Commentary option at the end of each post and a Guest Book can be reached by scrolling down and clicking on the quill image. I welcome your observations, reaction and/or suggestions in either spot—or both. As for blog content, the most current posts are on the home page, starting at the top. Earlier items are listed by month, year and title in the archive index. To zero in on a particular key word or subject, use the search option that is located directly beneath the blog's masthead. Most images can be enlarged with a mouse click, and there are links to some of my favorite blogs, etc. Since visitors have come from 150 countries, a translator with numerous languages is located below. You can at any time revert to English with a click at the top left of this page:

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10/28/10

The Death of Bessie Smith


Early recounting of jazz history is a weave of truth and conjectures. The music's pioneer chroniclers were unquestionably dedicated to the subject, but they often skipped the tedious task of conducting research, and simply perpetuated whatever sounded interesting to them. One reason for their cavalier approach may well have been the abundance of first-hand accounts available to them. Short of sitting down with Buddy Bolden, there were few stones that couldn't be upturned. Also, bear in mind that one couldn't stick a recording machine into one's pocket, and few writers had mastered shorthand (I only met one, Whitney Balliett). All this to point out that the field was fertile ground for myths.

Forty years ago, when I began work on my Bessie Smith biography, I was determined to bust as many of these myths as I could. Bessie was no singing wallflower or paragon of virtue, but neither was she scandalous by the day's show business standards. Hedonism went with the territory, and she led an active and sometimes outrageous life at home as well as on the road. If Bessie's off-stage adventures seemed a tad wilder than most, it was perhaps because her commanding presence demanded attention and few things she did escaped notice. Still, some writers used their Imagination and came up with such fantasies as her being kidnapped and dumped at Ma Rainey's feet, kicking and screaming her way out of a potato sack, or volunteering as a maid for her bed-ridden record producer, Frank Walker, or forced by Depression economy to take a job as a speakeasy hostess and selling chewing gum and candy in theater aisles. None of this was true, but it made good copy—never mind that even light research would have turned up better stories of exploits that actually did take place. 

One Bessie Smith myth was bigger than all the others combined: the story of how she bled to death, the victim of a Southern hospital's racist policy. Initial press reports did not hint of any such occurrence, but there were street whispers, and when they reached John Hammond's ears, he saw in  them an opportune irony that could both serve his leftist agenda and sell records. That the tale was riddled with holes did not seem to deter anyone from perpetuating it, not even John, who regarded himself as a member of the press. Had he simply picked up the phone and made a call or two, he could have written a piece that set the record straight, but he chose instead to give the rumor legitimacy in a piece written for the November 1937 issue of Down Beat.

This is when the myth grew legs that would keep it going for three decades, inspire a young Edward Albee to base upon it a one act play, The Death of Bessie Smith, and make Bessie almost as known for the alleged way in which she died as she was for her remarkable artistry.

Richard Morgan and Bessie pose in front of her old Packard in 1937
While John Hammond and others ignored the aforementioned holes in this story, some were justifiably skeptical. They included folklorist John Lomax, who in 1941 wrote a letter of inquiry to Walter Chandler, the Mayor of Memphis. In his response, the mayor correctly pointed out that the accident had not occurred in his city, as alleged by Hammond, but added that the country "is infested by Negro communists who seek to poison their own people against their best friends." If Lomax harbored further doubts about the story's veracity, he does not seem to have done anything about it. However, in 1957, Down Beat's George Hoefer, a jazz journalist of unusual integrity, made an attempt to get at the truth, but his findings were largely ignored—the myth refused to die, even after evidence to the contrary was published.

When I informed John Hammond that Bessie was, in fact, never refused admittance to a white hospital, and played for him the account attached to this post, he appeared to be embarrassed and did not give me an argument. I was therefore surprised to find in his 1977 autobiography, John Hammond on Record, a contrived story of how he was told "a long and convincing story" by "a man who was in a position to know the truth." He added that "there were two other people there nodding agreement as he told it to me." Why had John not told me this when he knew that I was researching Bessie's death? Because, he explained in his book, the man asked not to be quoted.  Yes, pigs do fly.


Flo Kennedy, the late attorney, was a good friend of mine, but she stopped speaking to me after the publication of Bessie. A couple of years later, she broke her silence and explained: "I know you wrote the truth about Bessie's death, but you should have left it alone."

Dr. Hugh Smith in the 1960s

It was George Hoefer's 1957 article that sent me on the trail of Dr. Hugh Smith. I knew only that he had been an intern at the Campbell Clinic in Memphis at the time of Bessie's accident and that he had in some way attended to her.  "I don't know how far back your personnel records go," I said when I called the clinic in 1971, "but I am trying to locate Dr. Hugh Smith, who was an intern in 1937." The lady on the other end of the phone asked me if I wished to be connected to Dr. Smith. He was still there and had long been the head of the clinic. Sometimes, one call can make a very big difference. Dr. Smith told me that he was tired of reading all these stories about how Bessie bled to death, so he would not give me an interview. However, he recommended that I read the liner notes on Columbia's latest reissue, because that was as close as he had seen anyone get to the facts. When I told him that I wrote the notes, he said that he would be happy to answer my questions and suggested that I mail them to him. He would send me a tape with the answers.







Here is that recording, made public for the first time. If you have read my book, you will notice that this was a valuable source. I hope you listen to the entire tape, including the surprise ending. I won't say any more about that, but your comments are welcomed.





Click on image to enlarge
Bessie's casket leaves the church in Philadelphia for a slow tour through her neighborhood, stopping
briefly at the Standard Theater before heading for Mount Lawn Cemetery in nearby Sharon Hill.



10/23/10

Ruby: Sobering experience in New Orleans


When I began posting excerpts from my 1971 interviews with Ruby Walker, Bessie's niece by marriage, I warned that some of them would contain explicit language and sensitive subject matter. This is one such segment, a somewhat graphic recollection of the kind that prompted Sony/Columbia Records to slap a "Parental Advisory" label on the box when some of these excerpts were issued on CD as part of the five volume Bessie Smith set.

Essentially, it is about the boy in the boat giving Ruby the nickname, "Hi-top." It wasn't banned in Boston, but I suspect that it might not sit too well with elected officials in Kansas, if you get my drift.

As usual, I welcome your comments, favorable or not.

10/20/10

Jimmy Heath All-Stars - 1972


I am still trying to figure out why my Jazz Set video clips have been posting out of sync via YouTube, so I processed this one via DivShare, which I have been using for audio.  It appears to be in sync, although I have to work on eliminating the stretch. Please post a comment to let me know what you think and whether or not I need to return to the drawing board. 

As I lamented in a previous post, I did not have the foresight to have copies of these shows made for myself, so I haphazardly recorded some them off the air on my Sony U-matic machine. Unfortunately, I taped this episode using a timer that turned out to be a late starter, so it kicked in at the tail end of Jimmy Heath's first solo. Sorry about that, but who knew that we would eventually be able to share this stuff with the world, right from our own home? The good news is that the selections that followed, as well as the brief interview, were preserved intact.

Here, with a clipped opening, are the first two selections. The personnel comprises Jimmy Heath, tenor sax, Curtis Fuller, trombone, Kenny Barron, piano, Herbie Lewis, bass, Jimmy's brother, Albert "Tootie" Heath, drums, and his son, Mtume, on congas.


10/13/10

Rashied Ali Quartet - Closing number - 1972

Rashied Ali
Carlos Ward
Dave Burrell


Norris Sirone Jones

Here is the final selection by The Rashied Ali Quartet, taken from an appearance on my weekly 1972 TV show, The Jazz Set. I am trying out various methods of converting and transferring these shows for the blog,but I'm afraid they either come out sans audio or with an annoying delayed video. As soon as I figure it out, I will re-post all this material in sync. Until then, you can always close your eyes and listen. 

Next week I will start posting clips from another Jazz Set show. This one featuring the Jimmy Heath Sextet, with Curtis Fuller, Kenny Barron, Herbie Lewis, Tootie Heath, and Ntume. I will solve the sync problem first.

Stay tuned.




10/12/10

Rashied Ali Quartet - Interview and "Ballade" - 1972


Here's another selection from the Rashied Ali Quartet show on Jazz Set. This one starts off with a brief interview in which I ask Rashied to talk about Coltrane. Then they play Ali's composition, Ballade, featuring Carlos Ward and Sirone Jones.

There is one more selection from this show still to come. I realize that they have been out of sync, so I am working on that, but it's time consuming, so please bear with me. In the meantime, just close your eyes and listen.


Rashied Ali Quartet - 1972



In 1972, I hosted and co-produced a weekly half-hour television show called The Jazz Set. It started as a local production of New Jersey Public Television, but was soon picked up by PBS and aired over close to 300 stations, coast to coast. It is difficult for me to believe that these shows are almost forty years old, especially when I think about what the music sounded like and how people dressed that many years earlier, when I was one. Apropos looks, you will understand why I cringe at the sight of myself with long hair, smoking cigarettes as if my life depended on it. Well, I came to my senses a couple of years later and realized that my longevity did, in fact, depend on not smoking, so I quit.
I interview Rashied in the next post from this show.
Rashied Ali

Unfortunately, I did not have the foresight to have copies of these shows made for myself, and I understand that the station wiped most of them to reuse the tapes. I did record a few off the air on my Sony U-matic machine, but this precedes cable, so the quality is rabbit ears poor. Still, there is something there worth taking in—if you don’t mind the saturation. The show featuring the Bill Evans trio somehow made it onto a Japanese LaserDisc and from there to YouTube, and parts of the Mingus show were used in the documentary, Triumph of the Underdog—they included the interview (I did a brief one on every show) but only used a part of one number. That documentary was produced (in the financial sense) and published by my late friend, Karl Emil Knudsen, but the guy who physically produced it ripped him off. The Jazz Set tapes used in that documentary came from original tapes, 13 of which are reportedly housed at the Library of Congress.  I wish I could get copies for myself. 

Carlos Ward
The set was built to look like a club, complete with bar, bartender, and a vintage jukebox that we filled with great stuff—it was probably the hippest box in New Jersey. Each week, we invited people to become “patrons,” but there were a couple of occasions when we had to scrounge around and recruit some of the station’s office staff. To some people, this all looked so real that we received letters and cards from around the country asked for the club’s address—viewers who were planning a visit to New York wanted to come to the club. After all, it featured some of the best players in any land!
Dave Burrell

Sirone and Carlos
I should mention Peter Anderson, whose concept the series was. He was co-producer, director, and a great guy to work with—he even got the sound right. Laura Nyro once told me that she did not like to do television, because the technical focus always favored the visual and thus musical performers were often seen but barely heard. Peter made sure that The Jazz Set had the priorities right. He treated each show like a recording session—guest artists were asked to run through a number, listen to a test audio recording, and approve of the balance. I’m afraid that my airchecks don’t reflect that approach, but the original tapes did.

Here is the opening selection from a show where the week’s guest was drummer Rashied Ali, whom we lost so unexpectedly last year. He was a sweet person, fine drummer, and close associate of John Coltrane, who had many nice things to say about him. This Ali quartet comprised pianist/composer Dave Burrell, bassist Norris “Sirone” Jones, and, on alto and flute, Panamanian-born Carlos Ward. I couldn’t think of the title of this number, but it is a Coltrane compositionI will soon be posting other selections from this show, as well as the interview segment.


The regular YouTube link may not work (my fault), but this one ought to get you there: link to the video.


10/5/10

Ruby Testifies: Backstage lesbianism


Here are more stories of life on the road with Bessie Smith, told by her niece and confidante, Ruby Walker in her inimitable way. This one starts with an episode in New York City, and moves on to an event that took place during a Southern tour. Ruby mentions Lilllian Simpson, her schoolmate whom she persuaded Bessie to hire, and speaks of lesbian activities, which were almost de rigueur and remarkably tolerated in touring companies. 

10/4/10

Karl Emil Knudsen: Part II (conclusion)


This continues an earlier post. If you wish to read that first, here is a link to Part I

I don't know if anyone made any money on it, but I also don't think that was ever the Storyville Club's raison d'etre. I do know that it was a success with the public. You may recall from part I of this reminiscence that my co-worker at Dona, Eyvind Lindboe (aka Fesser) suggested that I paint a sign to go above the door at the Hambrosgade facility that now housed the club every Saturday night. I worked hard to come up with an impressive sign and it did, indeed impress Karl Emil so much that I never again had to pay the admission fee. Did that make me feel like an insider? You bet it did, especially when Karl also asked me if I could make the walls less dreary. At that point, he could have asked me to mop the floors and I would have jumped at the opportunity. As it was, I wasted no time getting started on the murals. I decided to paint them on large sheets of paper that could be put up like wallpaper, and, of course, make the motif New Orleans, the city we all loved and knew only from photographs. That was not a problem for me, although I'm sure it would have raised concern among people with first-hand knowledge of the city. In retrospect, it also contained elements that today would be deemed politically incorrect  and upsetting to some people. You see, in my naïvité, I created a stereotypical view of black people in a romanticized setting that had little to do with the New Orleans I would visit seven years later. Perhaps it is a good thing that there don't exist any photos of my work. I think some people would have taken offense at the occasional "black fruit hanging from the poplar tree," as Billie used to sing. Morbid scenarios aside, the murals livened up the look of the place—I used every color I could dip my brush into and everybody seemed to like the result. That included Karl, who was already busy getting Storyville Records off the ground.

In March of 1953, the Storyville Club was still going strong and I was ready to take a further step onto the jazz scene. Working at Fona, a chain of music stores, I was able to purchase a tape recorder at a discount and with a time payment plan. Magnetic recorders were new in Denmark but when I saw that B&O had a wire recorder on the market, I immediately lusted for one and, shortly thereafter, when they introduced their first reel-to-reel tape machine, I was able to make the switch. When I think back—as is my wont—I have to marvel at this early machine's quality, the B&O engineers weren't fooling around. Of course it was mono and, of course, it weighed a ton, but the sound was amazing. Still looking back, I have to wonder how even extreme shyness did not prevent me from doing some rather bold things, such as write a letter to Humphrey Lyttleton, stating that I was coming to London and wished to record his band and an interview for a program on the Danish Radio. I had no connection with DR (Danmarks Radio), nor, in fact, money that could take me to London. I did, however, have determination and a burning need to be accepted in the inner circle of Copenhagen's foot-stomping jazz scene. So, I naïvely wrote the letter. To my surprise, I received a response from Humph's manager, Lyn Dutton, within a week. I touched on this in an earlier post (Melly, Mick...London 1953), but here is the actual letter: 


It had never occurred to me that unions might stand in the way, but, as I interpreted his letter, Mr. Dutton was leaving the door ajar. That naked woman I mentioned in the previous part of this recollection was about to learn how to weave. After a month of scrimping to save up my Kroner, I still needed to dip into my slowly growing collection of records. I now had an electric phonograph, so not all my labels were worn down to the shellac—I took a bunch of them to Concerno (I think that was the name), a place that specialized in used jazz records. Then, on March 12, I boarded a third class car on the London boat train with a round-trip ticket and just enough money to get by—or so I thought. 

It's New Year's Eve, 1953 and I am dancing with Rita. This is the
only photo of my B&O tape recorder that I have.
Before I left, I ran up my employee account at Fona by purchasing a B&O ribbon microphone and a stand. You can imagine how much I now had to carry, the recorder weighed about 65 pounds and the stand was nearly that. They gave me a hard time in customs at Harwich,never before having seen a tape recorder and not quite knowing what it was; it didn't help—or perhaps it did—that this was where customs inspectors were trained and carefully monitored by their superiors. Well, I made it past that hurdle and to Mr. Kerpner's Guest House in Earl's Court— £2 a week, with breakfast.

I phoned Lyn Dutton, who suggested that I join him and Humph for lunch at 100 Oxford Street on the following day. It was here that the band played at night. I don't have to tell you that I was a nervous wreck, but I made it through lunch and was delighted when Humph suggested that we do the interview that afternoon and that I also record the band, informing any inquiring minds that it was for my own enjoyment.

That afternoon, I came back and managed to engage two flights of steep stairs with my heavy load. Then Humph and I sat down and I conducted my first interview, ever. I think it was also my worst ever, and that is really saying something. The tape is probably somewhere in the recesses of my catch-all closet, and it should stay there. Here, recalled verbatim, is a sample of the embarrassing exchange:

Humph: "I don't believe Bechet ever heard the sides we recorded with him.
"Don't you?"
"No, he didn't even ask for a playback in the studio."
"Didn't he?"
I have for several decades kept a discography-style list of my recorded sessions. Here are the two
        pages documenting the 1953 Humphrey Lyttleton session. Click on image to enlarge.

I think you get the picture. Things went better that evening and I still marvel at the job B&O's engineers did on their first tape recorder, It was mono, of course, but the sound was remarkably good and I was very fortunate to have placed the single microphone so that the balance was almost perfect—only Johnny Parker's piano was slightly lacking in presence. The band was in good form and when clarinetist Archie Sempel joined in and challenged Wally Fawkes on "Farewell Blues", the place erupted. Humph also played on a couple of numbers by Neva Raphaello and pianist Mike McKenzie's trio (see tape information pictured above). Those tapes are also mislaid, but very likely in my apartment. If I ever get another functioning reel-to-reel player (I'm working on it), you will hear some of these recordings, which I have never made public. Well, that isn't entirely true, because my little lie about coming to London to record material for a Danish radio show became a truth when a call to the jazz department resulted in a program featuring my London tapes. It was my very first radio experience, so the letter to Humph actually started two career paths that now have led to me doing this blog. One never knows, do one?

I was leaving to return to Denmark the following morning, so Humph suggested that I leave my tape recorder in the cloakroom at Mack's overnight and pick it up on my way to Liverpool Street Station. Great idea, but not one without consequences.

When I came to pick up the recorder, I was asked for my cloak room check, but none had been issued me, so they called in one of those uniformed retirees that always seem to work at these places. He looked at the machine and decided that it was probably expensive, whatever it was. I explained what it was and why I had left it in the cloakroom, but the old man wasn't really buying my story. I told him that I could describe in detail what we would see when the cover was removed, but he held his ground. Then a young waitress popped up and solved the problem. She had been there the night before, as a guest, and she had seen me with Mr. Lyttleton and that machine. The old man was convinced by her testimony, so I had my machine back, but valuable time had been lost, so I arrived at Liverpool Street Station just as my train was pulling out!

Liverpool Street Station
I checked my recorder, stand and bag at the station, this time making sure that I had a receipt, and went to the Cook travel bureau to have my ticket changed for the next train. Here's where the consequences of Humph's suggestion began to manifest themselves—it was the winter season and so the next boat train was three days hence. Furthermore, while I could still go third class on the trains at either end, only first class passage was available on the ship. By the time I had paid for my upgrade, I was down to my last shilling. That naked lady needed to take out the old spinning wheel and get busy, so I spent half of my money on a tube ticket to Charing Cross Road and the other half on a cup of tea at Rex's restaurant, a Greek musicians' hangout which I knew Chris Barber frequented. My idea was to borrow some money from Chris, knowing that Karl was bringing him and the Ken Colyer band to Copenhagen the following month.

I nursed my tea at the restaurant for two hours and the Greek waiters didn't seem to mind. There was an old wind-up gramophone on a table in the corner and a small pile of jazz records, in case anyone felt like feeding it. They also had a storage room where musicians parked their instruments, sort of like Jim and Andy's in New York, but without the booze. Chris finally arrived, along with the entire band. This had actually been his group, but Ken Colyer, a merchant seaman, had recently returned from New Orleans, where he was jailed for abandoning ship and overstaying his welcome in the U.S. This made him an overnight hero in the eyes of British jazz fans and placed him way ahead of other European trad musicians. New Orleans? Jail? How perfect was that in the eyes of jazz romantics? The Barber band became Ken's and on this day they were off to a pub called The Fishmonger's Arms, where they would hold their third rehearsal in an upstairs room. Would I like to come along?, Chris asked. What a silly question!

Chris gladly lent me five pounds (good money in those days) and generously offered me shelter at his house while waiting for the next boat train. I won't go into it now, but my trip back to Copenhagen was, indeed, a "trip"—in a more current sense. I will save it for another time, so let me fast-forward to my  triumphantly return to Copenhagen with two reels of Lyttleton tapes.

I don't recall the exact circumstances, things happened so fast and everything was done in such an informal manner, but—perhaps somewhat inspired by my surprising success in London and the fact that my tapes and I were going to be featured on a radio show—the Storyville Club people decided to put me in charge. Karl was becoming too busy with his record label and they needed someone at the helm. Me? I couldn't believe it then, and I still can't, but there I was, deeper into the inner circle than I had imagined possible. My extreme shyness was also becoming less so, but if I was aggressive, it was in a quiet way. In April, the Colyer band arrived and Karl asked me to record it for his new label. I was the only one in our group who owned a tape recorder, so it wasn't for any other reason that I he asked, but it helped to validate my purchase of such an expensive machine, at least in my mother's eyes. Imagine how many shirts and pairs of socks that money could have bought, she once said. Besides, my interest in jazz was but a passing fancy—why not let it pass in a more practical way. A it turned out, my mother's view changed as she developed a fondness for the likes of Errol Garner, Nellie Lutcher, and Louis Armstrong.

Someone, I think it was Karl, had come up with a brilliant idea for promoting the visit by Ken Colyer's Jazz Men: stage a "riverboat shuffle." They rented one of the ferries that sailed between Copenhagen and the Swedish port of Landskrona, a rather large multiple-deck boat that easily accommodated the Colyer band on one deck and two Danish groups elsewhere. Even on a chilly April night, dancing on the deck had its charm, and a further lure was the fact that sailing into a foreign port rendered liquor and tobacco tax free. Ticket sales were as brisk as the Spring air and I don't know why "riverboat shuffles" did not become regular events. It wasn't a paddle boat on the Mississippi, except in our minds, and, sure enough, the press loved the idea and hopped aboard with their cameras and note pads.

Extracts from the press clipping.
I had called in sick, so you can imagine how I felt the next morning when I came to work and spotted on by boss' drawing board a newspaper opened to the above photos. Mr. Bang was a nice guy, however, so I got off with just the embarrassment.

I included the Colyer band's "Tiger Rag" in the first part of this recollection. A recording that I made almost accidentally, it  was a prelude—as it were—to a more purposeful session planned for April 19. In the meantime, however, Karl and I spent the next day, a Sunday afternoon, with Chris Barber, Monty Sunshine and Lonnie Donegan at the home of clarinetist Henrik Johansen. His father was I had recorded that almost accidentally, but a more formal trio session took place the following day, at he home of Henrik Johansen. His father manufactured toilets and other bathroom fixtures, so there was in the house a rather large bathroom with desirable acoustics. That's where my tape recorder captured this rendition of St. Phillips Street Breakdown as played by clarinetist Monty Sunshine with Donegan on banjo and Chris Barber on bass. Of course it is very much in the George Lewis vein, but I think they did a good job. What do you think?


The following Sunday, we went to Gentofte, a Copenhagen suburb where Karl had done some scouting to find a large room that might give us a San Jacinto Hall-like sound. Bill Russell's recordings of Bunk, One-eyed Louis Nelson, et al had that hollow acoustic and, well, European trad musicians were emulating every clinker made by their aged idols, so why not also try to capture what had become known as the American Music (in in the label name) sound? The ballroom of the Gentofte Hotel was perfect, so Colyer's Jazz Men mounted the bandstand and I placed my microphone on the dance floor, about 30 feet away.

As I listen to these recordings now, almost sixty years later, I have to agree with The Gramophone's reviewer, Oliver King (a made-up name, if ever there was one), who in the January 1956 issue gave not a single star to an EP containing some of these recordings. He explained why:

"Again I have refused to award stars for these performances, as they are so badly recorded as to sound woolly and almost pre-electric. If I Ever Cease is a little better in this respect, but although some fine jazz undoubtedly went into the recording microphone, precious little idea of it comes Out; the band might be playing in a room draped with felt two blocks away..."

Having myself spent about three decades writing monthly record reviews, I have to admit that I have been equally harsh in my views. Mr. OK (if you know his identity, please tell me) had a good point, but he didn't know that the "bad" sound was deliberate—he should have been able to figure that out, however. Here is a sample of that "almost pre-electric" sound:


The Colyer recordings were issued in 78 rpm format on the British Tempo label, as well as on Storyville—later, of course, the found their way to vinyl and are currently available on a CD issued in England by Lake Records. "I never received a thank you or a penny," Ken said a few years later, "I hear that Knudsen is now a rich man. Bad cess to all parasites." Well, I don't think Karl made much money from these tapes, and I have never complained over the fact that I, too, never received any payment. Karl did become rather well off, but that was because he was a good businessman, loved the business he chose to enter, and worked tirelessly.


In March of 1954, I left it all behind and sailed for Iceland, the country of my birth. More eager than ever to return to the land of jazz, where I had spent close to three wartime years never hearing a note of it. Having dual citizenship, I discovered that I could apply for an immigration visa on either the Danish or the Icelandic quote, and my chances were better if I opted for the latter.


I sold my beloved B&O machine to finance my move and boarded the steamer Dronning Alexandrine to head for a very uncertain but enticing future in the Promised Land. As we all know, jazz continued to thrive in Denmark, the Montmartre became a world-class venue for jazz, Karl expanded his business and took it far beyond traditional jazz, although that remained his favorite, and such icons of the music as Stuff Smith, Dexter Gordon, Thad Jones and Ben Webster were among the many Americans who took up residence in Denmark. Had that happened before I left, I might have stayed.

Karl sometimes parked at my apartment while in New York, and it was always a pleasure to have him around, although he was constantly on the phone, talking to widows, sons and daughters of jazz musicians, making deals. He entered the film business as well, issuing some wonderful jazz videos, and he became a book publisher. It was all a labor of love, even when it brought him money, which it often did not do.

The last time I saw Karl was when he stayed with me in September of 2001 and we watched together in utter disbelief as the World Trade Center drama unfolded. The following day, we walked over to Broadway to have lunch with Maxine Gordon and that's when the impact of the attack really hit us. The actual attack was horrible beyond description, but it looked like something we were used to seeing as staged for a blockbuster movie. The immediate after effect hit harder, emotionally. You could see it in the faces of New Yorkers as they tried to go about their business—eyes met and an eerie recognition came over faces of passing strangers. For someone who was used to New York, a city where one might never really get to know one's next-door neighbor, this sudden, unrehearsed kinship became particularly surrealistic. And then the pictures appeared everywhere, snapshots and posters of missing loved ones, taped and pinned to bus stops and lamp posts by people who desperately sought any news. Karl and I had planned to attend a jazz collectors' meeting in New Jersey on the following day, but I was in no mood, so I bowed out. I told Karl that roads were blocked and the meeting had probably been called off, but he was determined to go, so he did, and found the meeting, although it too showed the effects of September 11. I spent the morning of the 12th visiting a sick friend at Columbia Presbyterian and I shall never forget the sight of literally hundreds of photographs with names and phone numbers that framed the hospital entrance. It was an extraordinary time, a moment when the melting pot that is New York finally seemed to have come together. How sad that it didn't last and sadder still that it ended up polarizing us as never before.

Two Septembers later, Karl Emil Knudsen passed away at age 74. Gone, but far from forgotten by his many friends, some of whom meet regularly as the KEK Society, to honor his memory. They even have a dedicated web site. I recommend that you pay it a visit, some of the text is in Danish, some in English, but you don't have to read any of it to see how much our friend, KEK, is missed.

The post WWII revival jazz scene that brought Karl and me together  some sixty years ago is long gone, so are many of our mutual friends, but the work that Karl so exhaustively pursued will forever bring the music he loved to new ears. Storyville Records now belongs to an international music company and the number of releases has dwindled considerably, but the record business itself is fast becoming a memory. If you have ever dealt directly with Storyville Records, you probable came into contact with Mona Granager—she was Karl's right hand for more years than she might admit to, and she continues, along with another long-time Storyville asset, Anders Stefansen, to issue CDs that Karl would have been proud of.

There is so much more to tell about Karl and jazz in Denmark, but it will have to wait. You have probably surmised that I can go on and on and on, and that I often do just that. Hope it's okay.

Karl on his last visit, September 11, 2001. It is as
if he is looking at the text above and wondering
what all the fuss is about.