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Another moment of Humph at 100 Oxford St.

Here is another selection from March 16, 1953, the night I brought my tape recorder to 100 Oxford Street. As usual, Mack's Restaurant had put its tables aside, morphed into The Lyttelton Club, and opened its doors to an enthusiastic crowd of young people who moved not so rhythmically to the music. Farewell Blues, the evening's last performance, became a little jam session when Archie Sempel—from Freddy Randall's band—mounted the bandstand, clarinet in hand. Unfortunately, I was late starting the tape and it ran out before the number was brought to an end, but it's a wonder that any part of this tape is playable almost 60 years later. The balance is not good—Johnny Parker's piano is distant and Bruce Turner is obviously standing closest to my single, stationary microphone.

The tape does capture the atmosphere of this popular club at a time when trad was all the rage in some of Europe's capitals. There is more tape from Lyttelton's hiding in my closet, possibly on unmarked reels. I have Neva Raphaello singing—though not so well—with Mike McKenzie's trio and Humph sitting in, but there should be more with the band and I will share anything when and if I find it. In the meantime, you can ease into Farewell Blues


Here are links to other recordings from that evening: Shake It and Break It, Chicago Buzz.


Lil Armstrong 1968

I previously posted  two parts of an interview I did with Lil Armstrong when she visited New York with Franz Jackson's Chicagoans in December of 1968. They played at the Village Gate and were on a tour that had taken them to the Caribbean, including Guantanamo Bay. The interview was done in my apartment, in the very room from which I am making this entry, and I knew there had to be a third reel lying around, somewhere in my tape closet. 

Click on image to enlarge it.
I was right, so here is the third and last part of this interview. I have not done anything to clean it up (i.e. remove rough spots), because I think it is what it is, and there is a better feel to it this way. I did, however add a piece of music at the end, Clip Joint, because Lil mentions it as being among her favorite recent recordings. It stems from one of the February 1961 Chicago sessions that I produced for the Riverside "Living Legends" project. As I have mentioned in an earlier post, that recording trip was an many ways a disaster, because my recording engineers were more familiar with capturing auto races, dripping faucets, and Shakespearian drama. They did, in fact, not care mush for traditional jazz. You will notice that the balance leaves much to be desired, although this was one of their better efforts.

To be fair, I had scheduled Lil to record with two different groups, but technical problems and inexperience delayed the first session to a point where I had to combine the two. Thus, this is a bigger band than we were expecting to record, so that may account for some of the imbalance. Hearing Lil's effervescent voice on these tapes reminds me of how much I miss her—she was one of the warmest and most wonderful people I had the good fortune to meet and become friends with as I moved about on the music scene.

A caveat: There is a book titled "Just For a Thrill" that purports to be a biography of Lil, but it is not worth the paper it is printed on. The author, James Dickerson, did an appalling job of research—shallow and rife with misinformation that is compounded by his peripheral knowledge of jazz and its history. To make up for that lack, he included pages of filler material about gangsters and other unrelated subjects. When he approached me in his search for material, I quickly concluded that his prime objective was not to document Lil, but to throw together yet another book. Assembly line authors have always bothered me, so I decided not to become his accomplice. The late Leslie Gourse ran a book factory, and I bet you can name a few more. This sort of exploitation puts a dent in jazz literature and invariably does more had than good. from never really works. 

This photo was taken by Steve Shapiro during the session:

The circle of horns (l to r): Franz Jackson, Al Wynn, Leroi Nabors, Bill Martin, Preston Jackson, Eddie Smith, and Darnell Howard. Pops Foster is on bass and Booker Washington on drums. That's me seated to the left of the drums. The date was September 7, 1961 and the place was a popular Chicago jazz club, The Birdhouse.

If you wish to hear parts 1 and 2 of this interview, here are the links: Part One, Part Two.


Humph @ Oxford St.: Shake It and Break It

Following an interview with Lyttelton (my first and possibly worst), I took his suggestion and dropped my equipment off at Mack's Restaurant, spent the rest of the day checking out record stores, including the big HMV on Oxford Street. I returned to the club at seven o’clock, an hour before the band was to start, and did a quick, ad-lib setup. Placing my microphone on its stand in front of the raised platform, I found a spot for my tape recorder behind George Hopkinson's drums, and winged it. The tapes are unbalanced and a bit on the crude side, but they could have come out far worse considering that this was my first attempt at recording live music, that I was unable to make a balance test, and that my vu meter was just a so-called "magic eye" (you have to be up in age to remember those things; they were commonly used as tuning indicators on radios) .

This was my first time seeing the Lyttelton Club in action, I had only been there once, earlier in the day when it was Mack's Restaurant and I had lunch with Humph and his manager, Lyn Dutton. I guess I was expecting something akin to the Storyville Club, my new Danish hangout, so I was surprised when the doors opened and an odd assortment of people began to fill the large room. Young men wearing derbys and tight pin-striped suits with vests, young cigar-smoking girls with hair down to their waists, wearing one-piece black corduroy outfits. George Melly would conduct two of them in a bizarre dance a couple of days later, as I describe here. This crowd was very different from the one I knew in Copenhagen. pale, sickly looking people with enormous noses, sweaters that reached down to their knees and naked, dirty feet. This is not how I am remembering it sixty years later, it's how I wrote it down some sixty years ago.

The "Magic Eye"
I surprised me to see that no alcoholic beverages were served, not even near beer—this would be unthinkable in Denmark. There was a counter at each end of the room was one could purchase a rather brutal cup of English coffee, soft drinks, and hideous little, overly sweet cup cakes in various pastel colors.

I struck up a chat with Molly, who worked the counter nearest the entrance. She wasted no time telling me that she was in her eighties, which I found to be curiously refreshing, considering the environment. Molly knew the name of every musician who wandered in, which instrument he played and whose style he assimilated. She was equally well versed when it came to the British royal family and pointed with great pride to an ugly little greenish lump of pastry that, she said, with obvious pride, had recently been dubbed the “Elizabeth” cake. I had to tell her all about myself and how I had come from Denmark to record the Lyttelton band. I finally managed to get away, and as I was about to disappear into the crowd, Molly shouted, “You can be proud of your Queen Wilhelmina”. 
Before I knew it, Lyttelton stomped off, the band began to play, that little green eye winked at me, and the odd people began moving to the music, a weird, detached sort of dance in which partners never touched each other and people remained in their place, as if treading water. I remember that evening and, indeed, the days that followed, more clearly than I do this time last year. I have described elsewhere much of what took place during the next few days, when I missed my boat train at Liverpool Street Station, so here's a link to that.

And here is another number from that evening, "Shake It and Break It"


A Prez-idential panel in Harlem

The National Jazz Museum's Afternoon of a Basie-ite panel poses at the museum's visitors center, October 22, 2011. L to R: Lewis
Porter, Ethan Iverson, Ira Gitler, Loren Schoenberg, Chris Albertson, Dan Morgenstern.

It was an enjoyable Saturday afternoon devoted to Lester Young, with first-hand recollections, general discussion, and some amazing film footage and recordings. Museum Director Loren Schoenberg knows how to get it together. I recommend a visit to the museum, which is housed at 104 East 126th St. until work is done on the ultimate location, across the street from the Apollo Theater. The phone number is 212-348-8300 and this link will take you to their web site. 


Lionel and Gladys Hampton celebrated their 17th wedding anniversary in Copenhagen on the night of November 11th, 1953. They were in Denmark on a concert tour with a star-studded Hampton band that included Clifford Brown, Gigi Gryce, Art Farmer, Quincy Jones, and  a singer named Annie Ross. The Hamptons and band were staying at the Richmond, which was not the classiest hotel in town, but a decent place that suited Gladys' budget—she was her husband's business manager and—as any sideman would tell you—quite frugal.

Gladys' penny pinching had the band traveling on a bus where others flew, but it did not prevent her from throwing an anniversary party at the hotel. Not an elaborate affair, just the band, tour crew, an ice sculpture and two local guests: Timme Rosenkrantz and yours truly. Timme, who had known Hamp for many years, kindly took me in tow, giving me my first rubbing shoulders experience with jazz greats. I was at that time involved in the running of the Storyville Club, so it occurred to me that some off the musicians might be persuaded to cap the night there. Well, not exactly there, but in a larger place that we could rent. Timme thought that was a splendid idea, so, when the party began to ebb, he helped me herd some of these star players into taxis. Hamp himself decided to make a brief appearance and when I mentioned that I had my tape recorder there, he said it was okay to record the "cats," but he wouldn't be performing.

Once there, surrounded by a youthful, enthusiastic crowd of Danes, he changed his mind and seated himself at the keyboard, next to pianist Jørgen Bengtson. Spotting my recorder on a table next to the piano, he told me to keep "that thing" off while he played. As I confessed to Hamp twenty years later, I did hit the record button, but I kept the lid on. In retrospect, Hamp was delighted to hear that I had ignored his request, and he asked for a copy of the tape. It was eventually destroyed by a fire in his apartment.

You can read more about the morning of November 12, 1953 and hear a couple of numbers from the jam session that took place if you go here. But first, you might want to listen to Hamp and the two-fingered mallet-styled piano performance that kicked off the night session. The other fingers belong to Jørgen Bengtson, who moved to Norway, where he lives in retirement. The sound quality leaves much to be desired, the opening bars are missing, and there is a short skip, but Anniversary Boogie—as I dubbed this piece for obvious reasons—is an engaging rapid-fire blues.


Echoes of Humph at Mack's, 1953

In March of 1953, I was an apprentice artist in the art department of Fona Radio, Denmark's largest chain of music stores. Fresh out of art school, this was my first job and I loved it, although my salary was insanely low. The art department created window displays for the company's shops, of which about five were in Copenhagen and the rest all over Denmark. As an apprentice, I was not yet entrusted with creative work, but even handling menial chores, such as painting backgrounds and fills, was better than working behind a counter or desk. Given my personal interests, there was much to be said for working in an art environment for a music-related company, and an added attraction was the employee discount that enabled me to purchase a recording machine on time payment.

We owe the principle of magnetic recording to a Dane, Valdemar Poulsen, who demonstrated it in 1898, but it had to wait a couple of decades before electronic amplification made it useful. During WWII, the Nazis began broadcasting magnetically reproduced propaganda—it sounded a lot clearer than phonograph recordings, and it offered enough playing time to capture an entire Hitler or Goebbels rant, but it obviously did not work as these guys wanted it to. Commercial use was another matter—imagine JATP, Coltrane or Cecil Taylor restricted to three minutes.

Humph at 100 Oxford Street, with slightly different personnel.
In 1953, magnetic recordings had just been introduced to Danish consumers via  Bang & Olufsen's first wire recorder. I had to have it, and working at Fona made that possible, but before I could do anything useful with this wire contraption, B&O launched its first tape recorder. That was it for me, and it didn't matter that it cost a year's salary, so I was soon dragging a sixty-pound black box up three flights of stairs to the back house apartment where I lived with my mother and her third husband. I had become quite good at smuggling in the occasional new jazz record that should have been a new pair of socks, or a shirt, but the wire recorder and subsequent upgrade posed a real challenge. I would not have gotten away with it if my mother was not also what we have since come to know as a "gadget freak." Of course, I lowered the price considerably when she asked about it, but I was a seasoned fibber when it came to such things.

Let me pause here to apologize for the redundant nature of this entry—some of it has appeared here in another connection, but my approach to this blog is not linear, so it was inevitable that I would occasionally cross my own, previously recollected paths. This one can be found in my earlier reminiscences about Karl Knudsen and the Storyville Club.

As I may have mentioned, I was shy to a fault in my younger days, but that—and matching naïveté—may well have been what drove me to do some rather bold things, such as contact trumpeter Humphrey Lyttelton. His Parlophone recordings were among my most prized possessions and, not having the foggiest knowledge of contractual obligations and union restrictions, I dashed of a letter to Humph. In it, I informed him that I would be coming to London for the purpose of gathering material for a jazz program to be aired by Radio Denmark. In that connection, I wished to record his band and an interview. 

The truth was that I had no connection with DR (Danmarks Radio), nor, in fact, the fare that would get me to London. Driven, in part, by a strong need to be accepted into the inner circle of Copenhagen's foot-stomping jazz scene, I naïvely took pen in hand. As I recalled in an earlier entry (Melly, Mick...London 1953), the swift response from Humph's manager, Lyn Dutton, came as a surprise: 

It had never occurred to me that unions might pose a problem, but I had a feeling that Mr. Dutton was leaving the door ajar, so I began to scrape together money for a third class passage to London. On March 12, 1953, leaving behind a drastically diminished record collection, 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. What follows, mostly repeats a previous post. 

Customs inspectors gave me a hard time in Harwich, having never before seen a tape recorder and not quite knowing what it was, but I got the nod and made it to London and 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 record the band that evening, telling anyone who might ask that it was strictly for my own enjoyment.

I have for several decades kept a discography-style list of my recorded sessions. Here are the two
        pages documenting the 1953 Humphrey Lyttelton session. Click on image to enlarge.

Nobody asked and I filled two reels of tape that night. It was monaural, of course, but pure luck had me place my single B&O ribbon microphone advantageously, except for Johnny Parker's piano, which was too far away. I can at last fulfill my promise to post actual recordings if and when I unearthed them and acquired a working reel to reel tape deck. Last week, I found the former in a closet and the latter on e-bay, so here is the first of the Lyttelton recordings, Chicago Buzz. Humph also plays clarinet on this one, as does Bruce Turner, and drummer George Hopkins turns to the washboard. I will include a detailed description of the Lyttleton Club (i.e. Mack's Restaurant) when I post more sounds from this evening.


Osman Tyner 1932 - 1993

Born in Philadelphia to Roosevelt and Estella Tyner on December 5, 1932, Osman Tyner was a self-taught artist of impressive talent. His aunts recall that he began drawing as soon as he could handle crayons and pencils, and that he showed remarkable imagination at a very early age, so it was no surprise that he chose to major in commercial art when he entered high school at South Philadelphia's Edward Bok Technical School.

In 1951, Osman decided to leave Philadelphia and try his luck in New York City. He had yet to decide on a definite career path, but meeting Alvin Ailey in 1951 turned him towards dance. Ailey, who had yet to form his celebrated dance company, taught Osman the rudiments of modern dance for the following year and encouraged him to stay with it, but Osman was more critical of himself. Having danced "awkwardly" in an Ailey revue at the Waldorf Astoria, he concluded that his true calling was in the field of visual arts and design.

One of Osman's cover illustrations (1966)
Between 1953 and 1955, Osman had an opportunity to hone his drawing skills while serving as a Corporal in the 45th Armored Medical Battalion and at Fort Knox. His assignments were somewhat pedestrian, he recalled, laughing at the fact that his Army career culminated with his being promoted to "head of the sign painting department."  In the Sixties, when our paths first crossed, Osman had done some wonderful work for rights and review, the magazine published by C.O.R.E. (the Congress of Racial Equality). 
Looking back on a long life, such as I have had, I can recall a staggering number of people with whom I shared memorable moments. Some came to my memory to stay, others were just passing through, but that does not mean that they were entirely forgotten. It's funny how we can develop a strong association with someone, share a good slice of life with them and suddenly realized that we both have moved on to another chapter in our lives—what we though was permanent really wasn't. That is an experience I have had many times, but even people who dropped out of my life often left something behind, something that forever says "I was here." I say all this because Osman Tyner did not stay long in my sphere, but neither did he become another blurry figure. He had an exhuberant personality and whenever he came to see me, he was a burst of joy. I recall a time when I was applying finish to my living room floor and not at all prepared for a visit. I think I muttered a curse when the doorbell rang, but my annoyance evaporated when Osman burst into the room. He saw what I was doing and immediately insisted on helping with that chore. 

I don't recall how or where we met, but it somehow never mattered. Osman had a presence that made such things seem trivial. He liked jazz and he knew how deeply immersed in it I was, but I think we had known each other for several months before I found out that his uncle was McCoy Tyner. Most people would have made that fact known shortly after the first handshake, but not Osman—he admired his uncle, but he was self-reliant.

There came a time when Osman's calls and visits tapered off and the hand painted Christmas cards he used to send stopped coming. I did not know it then, but he had become a victim of the AIDS epidemic—it was a time when so many of us lost friends to this terrible disease, a timer when the medical world had not caught up with it. When it finally took him away, May 28, 1993, I had neither seen nor heard from him in ten years, and I can't recall how I learned the bad news.

Two of Osman's wonderful Christmas cards were never put away by me. For years, they flanked an old marble clock in my living room and had so much become a part of the decor that I would only have noticed if they disappeared. I want to share them with you, along with a third card that Osman called "Lady in Green." Please click on the images to enlarge them. I hope you  like them as much as I do.

Osman's work occasionally makes it to exhibits and auctions. I find the one below to be particularly striking—it was among his last and I  am indebted to Archibald Arts for giving me permission to display it here.

"Audience" — Osman Tyner 1993 (Courtesy of Archibald Arts, New York, N.Y.)


Visit to a Buffet Flat

Buffet Flats, sometimes called Goodtime Flats, were small, privately owned unlicensed clubs where customers could engage in such mundane illegal pastimes as drinking and gambling—for starters. These fun flats also offered erotic shows that featured sex acts of every conceivable kind and were only too happy to accommodate customer participation—for a fee, of course.

Usually owned by women, these establishments were run with admirable efficiency, catering to the occasional thrill-seeker as well as to regular clients whose personal preferences they knew in detail. Often the hostess also served as a bank, a trusted person into whose hands a customer could safely entrust valuables and sizable amounts of cash. Withdrawals could be made at any time in the course of the evening or morning. This probably ties in to the fact that buffet flats were originally set up to cater to Pullman porters, men whose extensive travels, contacts with the white upper class, gentlemanly manners, and good income earned them considerable respect in black communities. Porters had layovers, and what better place to let it all hang out than a neighborhood buffet flat. These establishments had existed for years, but Prohibition gave loose living a boost and made the flats even more popular. In 1970, when I was doing research for my Bessie Smith biography, I learned that the Pullman Porters Club in St. Louis—a staid gathering place for retired elderly men with many stories to tell—once was a buffet flat.

One might describe the flats as earthlier versions of outwardly legitimate “high-class” night clubs, the kind that have tuxedoed maitre’ds discreetly set up sexual liaisons for “important” patrons.

Buffet flats were as much a part of black urban night life of the 1920s as chop suey joints continued to be around the clock into the Fifties, and they were almost as safe. With the right authorities on their payroll, the better flats could pretty much guarantee that any law enforcement men coming through the front door would be doing so as patrons. Police raids were uncommon, as were incidences of violence or theft.

Whenever Bessie Smith appeared at the Koppin Theater In Detroit, she paid a visit to a buffet flat owned by a friend of hers. This lady even sent one or two limousines to the stage door to pick up Bessie and her entourage of chorines, “girls who knew how to keep their mouths shut”.

From various descriptions I received when preparing my book, I pieced together a composite picture of what a typical buffet flat might have been like:

"Drinks in hand, an eclectic crowd of pleasure-seekers packed the house. While some leisurely ascended and descended the linoleum-covered steps, others lined the staircases that connected the three floors. The air was thick with smoke, giggles, and clashing perfumes; two pianists, on separate floors, pounded the ivory competitively, and oooh’s and ahh’s emanated from activity rooms on each floor. Puffed up by their furs, Bessie and her young ladies negotiate their way down one of the corridors, to a room reserved for coats. It was not a cloakroom in the ordinary sense, but rather a bedroom with fur and wool piled high. 'There were so many fur coats that it looked like a zoo,' recalled Ruby.

"As usual, Bessie more or less restricted her participation to voyeurism. She could ill afford to actively exhibit her prurient interest publicly lest word of it got back to Jack. It was bad enough that she was drinking and patronizing a buffet flat, neither of which activity would have come as a complete surprise to her husband. 'Jack knew she wasn’t being no angel,' observed Ruby, 'but Bessie was kinda careful—well, let’s say she would only go so far when strangers were around—but not always. Bessie was well known in that place'.

“Bessie took her favorite girls and, of course, me. We was all dressed up, she had five fur coats. Each one of us would wear one of the coats. It made us feel like we were very important and loaded. I would always wear the mink. The coat was so big on me, I could wrap it around me three times. I didn't care, I just liked to wear the mink. Bessie would have me carry the bad liquor and anything else we wanted to sneak around with, under the mink. By being so big, no one noticed. As usual, when we went into a joint with Bessie it would start jumping; she was like a magnet, she attracted everyone. She wore a white ermine coat and looked like a million bucks. One girl wore Bessie’s chinchilla coat, one had on her black seal. Her nephew’s wife had on her sable. Even the horse had a monkey on her back, what I mean by horse, was a girl named Eva, who reminded you of a horse when she danced—so we nicknamed her "horse". We looked very nice.”

Here is—preceded by another of her accounts—is Ruby's colorful recollection of one such visit to the Detroit flat:


Hendrix/Shepp: The night a decade bit the dust

It was December 31, 1969 and I turned down a couple of New Year's Eve parties to take on an assignment for Dan Morgenstern, then Editor of Down Beat. He wanted me to spend the evening covering a concert at the Fillmore East, which was not how I ideally wanted to usher in a new decade, but I accepted the assignment, knowing full well that a 10:30 show would not leave time to get to a party by midnight. I also had something else to do for Dan that day, a late afternoon interview with Archie Shepp, who lived around the corner from the Fillmore.

A page ripped out of my desk calendar.

The Sixties was an eventful decade and even if you were't around to experience it, you surely are, in some way, bouncing in its wake. It is hard to believe that some of the "suits" who today slip out of Wall Street boardrooms and into waiting limos were once insurrectionary hippies or beaded flower children. Well, that's what they were called, the truth is that some of them would strangle you with their flower necklace for a hit of the "good stuff." Although I traveled in an world of indulgence, I never took to using drugs, because I liked to be in control of myself, but I was curious about one thing: a good joint's alleged ability to enhance the sound of jazz. 

One day, the late trumpeter, Charlie McGhee, whom I had apprised of my curiosity, discreetly left a couple of joints on my coffee table. I eyed them for a week or so before making my experiment, which had me place a very familiar Bird disc on my turntable, lean back on my sofa, and light a joint. My intention was to play the recording as soon as I felt some kind of buzz, but when that came, I found myself transfixed, unable to move across the room. I eventually fell asleep without having activated the turntable and it was early morning before I came to, awakened by the sound of milk bottles. Not a sound as I had known it, not that quick clink of the milkman stepping off the elevator, placing a bottle at my door and picking up the empty one. On  this morning, what I heard sounded like a dozen bottles in slow motion. Amazing, I thought, these guys weren't kidding. That ended my curiosity and Charlie Parker went back on the shelf.

Getting back to the Sixties, for young people it was a mad scramble to get as far away from the previous decade as possible. The prom queen of the Fifties baked apple pies and found the hills alive with The Sound of Music, the bra-less flower chick of the Sixties munched on watercress and took it all off in Hair. Jazz was still thriving in smoke-filled clubs, but it, too, was on the move, trying to shake the stigma of association with dives and sex. They said that jazz had been a synonym for lewd intimate behavior, so it became a dirty word to some musicians—hence my opening question to Archie Shepp, who represented the new breed of jazz musicians, artists who sought acceptance as musicians rather than entertainers. Earlier in 1969, Woodstock had stirred the pot and given rock music a legitimacy it had not previously enjoyed. Performers and audiences at Woodstock shocked the music industry by throwing off the shackles of propriety and doing their thing, but that shock turned to awe when the money started rolling in. The recording industry—once run by people who knew and loved the music—was in the hands of lawyers and CPAs who increasingly moved it away from the music and and into the realm of product. They wasted no time signing up pop artists with figures and benefits that jazz artists had never seen or known to be possible. More money was spent on press parties than on must jazz sessions, and Miles Davis became the opening act for Blood, Sweat & Tears. It was an insult that NARAS, the Grammy people, carry on to this day, an insult that some of the rock performers became aware of, but did little to correct. Many jazz performers felt cheated and rightly so, and some began to see their rock counterparts as the enemy. You will hear some of that in the hour-long Archie Shepp interview. Mr. Shepp is still very much with us and it would be interesting to hear if the intervening four decades have changed his mind about some of the rock stars he mentions. I suspect so, but that does not justify an industry's dismissal of a musical genre to which it owes its survival. For decades, jazz recordings have served as what the industry calls good "catalog items." That is to say that they have a long shelf life and while they may not initially sell in chart-busting amounts, the accumulated sales figures put many pop records to shame. For example, because it was released under different titles and catalog numbers, an album like Stan Getz's Long Island Sound was never awarded gold status, but it accumulated the required figures a very long time ago.

Getting back on track, this is not so much an interview as it is Archie Shepp talking, with occasional prompts from me. I was preparing to write an article, not produce a radio program, so I approached the task accordingly. I should mention that there were others present in Mr, Shepp's apartment that day, a musician friend of his who I wish had been closer to the microphone, and a Down Beat secretary who I wish had been in another room. If you detect any cuts, rest assured that I did not remove any of Archie Shepp's words, just some of the young lady's intrusive and uninformed questions and giggles. 


In 1963, Archie Shepp posed for photographer Ole Brask in the window of a rooming house on New
York's West 82nd Street. It had been my residence until I moved to my present apartment. Ole took
it over.

Here, then, is what I experienced for the rest of the day. This is my Down Beat review as it was published in the March 5, 1970 issue. I have to tell you that reading my old words is enough of a cringe, but actually typing them in and not being able to to make changes is a nightmare.


Jimi Hendrix—The Voices of East Harlem
Fillmore East, New York City

It was in many ways a special evening. A new year was about to be rung in, a chaotic decade was coming to an end, and one of the star exponents of the music that so colored that decade was changing direction.

Spending New Year's Eve at the Fillmore is not exactly my idea of a fun way to ring out the old, but I must say the management had done its best to lend a holiday touch to the proceedings—from donning its ushers in greeting-inscribed sweatshirts to placing a small metal tambourine at each seat and projecting, on the large movie screen behind the stage, a caricature of Guy Lombardo, baton in hand.

The press release stressed the group's freedom to drift independently.
The late concert was scheduled to begin at 10:30 p.m., but the doors did not open until 11, and another 20 minutes passed before the houselights dimmed, Lombardo faded away, and the screen showed a film of various black youngsters leaving their respective Harlem homes, gathering by a subway entrance, riding the train, emerging in Greenwich Village, running down Second Ave. and through the doors of the Fillmore East. A quick fade-out and the same youngsters, 20 of them, came running down the aisles of the theater (this time "live") and onto the stage. A cute and effective wy to introduce the Voices of East Harlem and begin the evening's program.

The Voices were formed about a year and a half ago, with the help of urban development programs and an energetic, strong-voice adult Gospel singer named Bernice Cole. Under the guidance of Miss Cole, the group has developed into a spirited choir that can swing, as it certainly did on this occasion, through a repertoire of Gospel and Pop with infectious Vivacity.

It was getting close to midnight when Miss Cole appeared and added her powerful voice to a few Gospel numbers, which had the capacity audience smacking its toy tambourines. The Fillmore East became, for a moment, a gigantic store-front church and 20 youngsters from the streets of Harlem had shared a part of their heritage with 2,639 appreciative downtown hippies and gloriously demonstrated where it all came from.

At three minutes before midnight, a large clock was projected on the screen. The youngsters had danced off stage amid deafening sounds of approval, and the sound of the tambourines grew increasingly louder as the big second hand brought us closer to the new year.

I braced myself as large figures appeared superimposed on the clock for the countdown of the last 10 seconds—10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1. It was 1970 and the new decade was roared in by the playing of the awesome opening of Richard Strauss' Also Sprach Zarathustra, popularized by its use in the movie 2001. With its playing, the screen was lifted, revealing the inner workings of the Joshua Light Show, which now projected its multicolored images on the cheering crowd.

After a few thousand "Happy New Years," the screen slipped back into place, Joshua and his gang cast their imagination on it, and the star of the show, Jimi Hendrix, intoned a most unusual rendition of Auld Lang Syne, turning it into a blusey thing of strange beauty.

Hendrix was changing directions—a new group and a new repertoire. It is no longer the Jimi Hendrix Experience but rather Jimi Hendrix: A Band of Gypsys, with Buddy Miles (formerly of the Electric Flag and the Buddy Miles Express), drums, and Billy Cox (an Army buddy of Hendrix's), electric bass. As for the repertoire, the emphasis is decidedly on the blues. The result is promising.

I say promising because Hendrix had not yet had time to fall into his new groove. He is still over-amplified through his three-unit system, and he still resorts to such crowd-pleasing tricks as playing his guitar with his teeth. There was less of this gimmickry than usual, however, and I suspect that he will eventually give it up.
Hendrix and his Band of Gypsys

That ability of his to utilize fully the technical possibilities of his instrument, combined with his fertile musical imagination, makes him an outstanding performer. His feeling for the blues is strong, and his application of electronic sound effects to the most traditional aspects of that music so charged the emotions of the Fillmore audience that nary a tambourine stirred.

Hendrix never really has considered himself much of a singer, and he is right. Perhaps that is why he let his guitar drown out his voice each time he sang while he did not allow it to interfere with Miles' vocals. Miles is a good blues singer, and I think Hendrix would be wise to let him handle that department. His work on the drums is not bad, but it cannot stand comparison with numerous jazz drummers.

It appears that Hendrix is finding where he should be at, and he might well emerge as the greatest of the new blues guitarists. I only hope that he learns that it is not necessary to amplify to or past the point of distortion. Lesser talents might need that: he doesn't.

I did not cherish the idea of spending my New Year's Eve at the Fillmore, but as it turned out, it was a rewarding experience.  —Chris Albertson

I don't recall whether Dan Morgenstern edited it out or if I omitted mention of the gallon jugs of wine and very loose joints that passed from mouth to mouth throughout the theater, silencing some tambourines, turning others into a nightmarish metallic clatter. I think I detected cannabis clouds above, but I can't be sure, because an exhaled mist of highs made the visibility low. Miss Cole and her little angels left the theater none too soon.



Talking at the Cookery: Part II

At this point, Barney Josephson joined Alberta in the booth. She had become very fond of Barney, but her admiration would diminish somewhat when she learned that he had stood in the way of her getting some lucrative outside jobs. If you listened to the first audio clip, you probably gathered that Alberta was not very fond of the IRS. She had worked more than a lifetime, made very good money, and paid a lot of taxes—more than enough. The time had come, she believed, where she had paid in full, so it angered her that the IRS now was pursuing her for more. That's why she instituted a new policy: cash only. She was charging and receiving $10,000 for each performance outside of The Cookery, and it was not because she needed the money—for more years than many of us experience on this earth, Alberta had been making money and spending it prudently. My first inkling of her being well above the poverty line came when she called to say that she would be a half hour late for a Library of Congress interview I was conducting. "You know those ten thousand dollar bonds that are supposed to be so terrific?," she asked me. I had to confess that those bargains had somehow escaped me. "Well, they're really supposed to be very good, so I'm going to stop at the bank a pick up a couple."

Having lived through the Great Depression and seen people lose their money as banks closed, she wasn't taking any chances. She kept money in at least four different banks, and had enough tucked under her mattress to keep the Weather Girls eating for a few years. I became aware of her lay-away plan one day when she insisted that I take a cab home from her Roosevelt Island apartment, because I didn't have my usual ride—Alberta was frugal, not cheap. As was her habit, she had laden me down with groceries. Like I said, Alberta could not resist a supermarket bargain, whether she needed the food, or not, and the latter was usually the case, because she ate like a sparrow. Consequently, her three apartments were as well stocked as some neighborhood bodegas. "Let me give you some money for the cab," she said as she walked over to her bed and lifted the mattress.

At least once a month, the mailman brought me an 
envelope stuffed with dog food coupons for my 
dobermans, Mingus and Bessie. 

I am not exaggerating when I say that I had never before—or since, for that matter—seen so much cash in real life. Remember the H.C. Andersen tale of the princess who spent a sleepless night because a pea was placed under her mattress? Well, this reminded me of that and I don't know how Alberta ever got a good night's rest. Recently, when I learned that my friend, Jean Claude Baker, had also seen Alberta's mattress bank, I asked him how much he thought she had under there—I had estimated 60 or 70 thousand dollars, he put it at twice that amount.

On the tape that accompanies this post, you will hear Barney say that Alberta "asked me to look after her affairs," but that was actually not so. The idea of becoming her manager was his, borne out of greed, one might say. She once told me how wonderful Barney was not to charge her for his managerial services, but there was method to his madness. As her extraordinary comeback received more publicity, the demand grew for her to perform at private and company functions. Each time she appeared somewhere else, Barney faced a near-empty room, and lost money, but, as her manager, he would have some control over that. Remember, Alberta was earning much more on these side bookings than she could make at Barney's place, so she wasn't going to turn them down—at least not the lucrative ones. That, however, is exactly what Barney began to do, and Alberta knew nothing of it until I told her.

When the Carters asked Alberta to sing at the White
House, Barney passed the request along, but Alberta
turned the President down. Why? I asked her. "They
wanted me on my day off," she replied. The White
House adjusted to Alberta's schedule.
I discovered Barney's little secret when I received calls from people who had attempted to book Alberta, but either did not have their calls returned or were told that she was already "fully booked." That didn't make sense, so I looked into it and concluded that he was deliberately keeping Alberta to himself. At first, she didn't want to believe it, but then she heard it directly from a wealthy admirer who had wanted her to sing at his daughter's wedding and was willing to pay her price. Of course, Alberta did not need the money, to her, it was a matter of principle; she was most bothered by the fact that Barney, whom she trusted, had been looking out for his own interest at her expense. She was still speaking lovingly of their friendship when this tape was made, but the rapport between them cooled off after she learned of his "betrayal," as she called it. She knew that he needed her more than she needed him, but he had opened the door for her comeback and that counted for much, so she stayed on at the place that had come to mean so much to her.

Barney liked to inflate his own role in the comeback of Alberta Hunter. The truth is that Charlie Bourgeois, the Newport Jazz Festival's PR man and George Wein's trusty right hand, crossed paths with Alberta at one of Bobby Short's parties and was taken by her youthful demeanor. It was her first social outing in many years and she looked radiant as she, Bricktop and Mabel Mercer shared precious recollections of a distant past. "You know something, honey," said Bricktop, "you should go back on the road!"  That was Charlie Bourgeois' cue. "You ought to give Barney Josephson a call," he suggested, "I bet he would love to book you."Bricktop and Mercer agreed.

"If that's so," Alberta replied, "let him call me."

Ram Ramirez, Jimmy Rowles and Claude Hopkins were contenders.
Barney called and decided to give her "a try." Shortly after that, Alberta told me that she had decided to "go back to singing."  "Are you up to it?", I asked. "I never felt better," she said with characteristic conviction. Then she asked me to recommend an accompanist.

You will hear Barney's version of how Gerald Cook came into the picture, but that is pure fabrication. It was Harry Watkins who brought him in—ironically, as you will see.

I had an old upright at that time, so I suggested that she audition pianists at my apartment. Ram Ramirez (co-writer of Lover Man with Jimmy Davis) was the first contender, but he was having some trouble getting with her repertoire and that did not bode well, thought Alberta. Then I suggested former band leader Claude Hopkins, who had been around longer and had proven quite adaptable when I had him play for Lonnie Johnson on a Prestige session. Alberta liked his work, but with some reservation. She also feared that his name might be too well known and thus could overshadow hers. Someone, I think it may have been Charlie Bourgeoise, recommended Jimmy Rowles and Alberta immediately liked the fact that he had accompanied Billie Holiday, so—when their personalities clicked—she gave her approval and that's who she made her Cookery debut with on October 10, 1977. A bunch of us were there and Alberta's performance—musical and otherwise—belied the many years that had passed since she retired from show business.   
Celebrating Alberta's 83rd birthday at The Cookery. L to r: Eubie Blake, bassist Al Hall, Alberta, Bobby Short, 
Jimmy Daniels, Chris Albertson (yours truly), and an unidentified gentleman.

Alberta eventually concluded that Jimmy Rowles was "too modern," so her old friend, Harry Watkins, came up with Gerald Cook. He had never heard of Alberta and didn't seem to eager until he found out that she was a lady with a long and very impressive career behind her. Then he took the job and, sad to say, his playing was just what she wanted. What made it unfortunate is that Gerald Cook turned out to be a crook. We din't find that out until Alberta died.

Harry Watkins called and asked me if I had heard of Alberta's death. I hadn't, and he had just learned of of through a friend who happened upon a notice in the papers. It turned out that Gerald Cook, who had a key to Alberta's Roosevelt Island apartment, found her dead, seated in her favorite easy chair—he had gone over there at the urging of Harry, who felt that there was something wrong when Alberta didn't answer her phone. That made Harry wonder all the more why Gerald had not called him back with the news, knowing full well how close they had been since the Dreamland days. Several days later, Gerald finally gave Harry a call with the sad news. That same day, he called me and asked if I would speak at a memorial service to be held at Pastor Gensel's St. Peter's Church. At first, I declined, but changed my mind after some thought, telling him to schedule me as the last speaker. I wanted to base my words, to some extent, on the BS that would inevitably precede them.

I was not really surprised to hear of Alberta's death. She had been feeble for awhile—her memory was no longer as sharp as it had been, she repeated herself and sometimes seemed to drift off. The very quick-minded, never-felt-better Alberta I had known for over twenty years was gone. She would return to something resembling her old self, but only briefly and sporadically, and with increasing infrequency. I first sensed that change on a visit to her apartment, about a year before she started to fade. This lady, who adamantly refused to acknowledge the possibility of her death, asked me to sit down with her at her living room table to discuss "something very important." It turned out to be her will. "I don't need to know about your will," I told her, feeling rather uncomfortable. "Yes you do," she said, placing the papers in front of me.

Alberta had her own radio show
in the late 1930s.
She told me that she had accounts in four different banks and that she had four people in her will, each of whom would inherit the content of one bank. Her four heirs were Harry Watkins, Sam Sharpe, Jr.—her only known relative, who lived in Denver—her old friend, singer Jimmy Daniels, and I. Now I was really embarrassed, but appreciative and surprised. Alberta went on to say that her music copyrights would also go to me, because only I knew how to handle renewals. Then she showed me the will and asked me to take a good look at it, which I did. I was still stunned by the mere fact that she had brought up the subject of death.

A few months later, in June of 1984, Alberta was deeply affected by the death of Jimmy Daniels, especially since an earlier and minor falling out was left unresolved. It had been a year of old friends slipping away, including Mabel Mercer and Bricktop. Alberta felt that she would probably be "the next to go," and the rewritten scenario clearly angered her—she became cranky and annoyed with Barney and Gerald Cook, refusing to speak to either of them. Harry and I were somehow spared, probably because neither of us were involved in her working life. I know it's pure conjecture on my part, but I think she was upset because she finally saw the end of the tunnel. It had been such a great and rewarding life—how dare God stop the show! God? Alberta always said that she wasn't religious and she did not attend church, but she wasn't fooling anyone—the faith was there, but sans hypocrisy.

Alberta and friends at Bricktop's popular gathering place in Paris.
Just as I had predicted, the memorial service was a study in hypocrisy. Jon Hendricks spoke warmly and sincerely, admitting that he was more an admirer than a friend, Rosetta Le Noir laid it on a bit thick, stretching a fairly casual association into a lifelong friendship, John Hammond was characteristically deceptive as he gave the impression of having known Alberta for many years, and Barney? Well, good old Barney was a chip off the old Hammond block. He wanted to be remembered for having brought Alberta back.

When my turn finally came, I set the record straight. Addressing John Hammond, I reminded him of the fact that, "It was not so long ago that I introduced you to Alberta—you didn't seem too interested, but look what happened." The attendees sent a ripple of titter down the aisles as I turned my attention to Barney. "Alberta," I said "turned The Cookery into a shrine for herself and a gold mine for you." More titter, less subtle.  I ended my little speech by pointing upwards. "I have a strong feeling that Alberta has been taking all this in from up there, and that she has separated the wheat from the tare."

When I walked away from the microphone, Pastor Gensel approached me. "Wonderful, Chris," he said, placing his arm on my shoulder, "it needed to be said."

Neither John nor Barney spoke to me again.

Performing at The Cookery.
A few days after the memorial service, I received a call from Harry Watkins. He was shaken and almost in tears. He had just received a call from Gerald Cook asking if Alberta had left her iconic gold earrings in the Riverside Drive apartment they had shared. When Harry told him that the earrings were, indeed, there, Gerald raised his voice and said that they had better be there when he arrives to pick them up. "I don't know if Gerald has been drinking," said Harry, but I am scared. I told him to lock the door and be ready to call the police if Gerald showed up. Then I started putting together the pieces of what was becoming a puzzle. Why had Gerald waited several days before informing us of Alberta's death? Had he helped himself to the greenery under her mattress? What became of the will? I called Harry back and he was still upset, but Gerald had not shown up. Had Alberta told him of her will? No, but she had mentioned that he would not have to worry about losing the apartment.

Harry Watkins and Alberta at her Roosevelt Island
apartment. Two months later, she was gone.
I decided to track down Alberta's will and I finally received a copy from the court. This was not the will she had shown me. This one left everything to Gerald Cook! Well, except the jewelry—which in itself amounted to a small fortune—that was all bequeathed to Gerald's sister in Chicago, someone Alberta barely knew! It would not have taken Sherlock Holmes to detect that something didn't add up. The changes were initialed by Alberta—or were they? The fact is that she had been so weak and feeble-minded towards the end that she probably did not know what she was doing. Had she even read the changes? Writing me out of the will would not have been particularly odd, but Harry? Her nephew Samuel? Even if Alberta's relationship with Gerald had not deteriorated, this would not have made any sense. And why did the attorney—a man who specialized in copyrights and had been recommended to Alberta by John Hammond—not find this change to be beyond credulity? He knew that Alberta was no longer of sound mind, but he went along with this.

I shared my discovery only with a couple of friends, including Gary King, who was with me when Alberta showed me her will. It is only because I was in the original will that I did not make an issue of this—people would think that I was looking out for my own interests. Now, decades later, I am not so sure that I should not have spoken up for Harry and, in a sense, for Alberta. Gerald Cook moved to Europe where, I am told, he drank himself to death.

Here, Barney Josephson embroiders the story of his association with Alberta, and she—being a thorough PR pro—goes right along with it. That's showbiz!

I should, however, make it clear that Barney had many real accomplishments that he could be proud of and, rather than list them here, let me give you a link to Wikipedia's entry for the Café Society clubs.

Let me also recommend "Cookin' at the Cookery." a play by Marion J. Caffey that has been seen in regional productions  throughout the U.S. in recent years. It is a very accurate depiction of Alberta's final climb to higher ground. I also recommend Frank C. Taylor's biography, "Alberta Hunter: A Celebration in Blues." Alberta met Frank when she performed in Rio and she was very fond of him. Unfortunately, she passed before the book was published, otherwise Gerald Cook would not have been able to wangle a co-author's credit (and, I presume, a cut of the royalties). He was a good pianist, but shed no tears for him.