Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Robin D.G. Kelley Talks With Justin Desmangles About THELONIOUS MONK: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF AN AMERICAN ORIGINAL


90.3 FM, KDVS in Davis. The name of the program—New Day jazz. As many regular listeners to this program know we have a very special guest joining us this afternoon. Author, scholar, and most recently, one of the foremost contributors to the historical biography of Jazz, Robin D.G. Kelly, recently the author of Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original. Robin, are you there?



Yes, I’m here. Thank you so much for having me.



Thank you so much for being generous with your time and taking the time to join us on KDVS this afternoon. This is the second time we’ve had you over the last year.



Yeah, it’s been my pleasure, really!



And the first time the new book was almost in print -- it just came out at the beginning of this month, near or on Thelonious Monk’s birthday, is that right?



Yes it did. I guess the official publication date was October 6th, 4 days before Monk’s birthday.



Now this has generated a lot of excitement, not just in the jazz world but the world of arts and letters throughout our culture and in the review from the 16th of this month in the New York times, one of the phrases the critic used in praising your book was that this was a “myth buster”, and indeed it is. It is a tour de force of scholarship and I’d like to begin to talk about some of those myths which were busted because I think it will help us talk in a more concrete way about some of the meanings you’ve been able to bring out of not just the music but of the man, and the natural poetry and beauty of Monk’s contributions. What purpose had it served previous to this book and it’s publication to keep Monk kind of shrouded in this idea, which had been stabilized for so long, until you came along, of being this naïve, primitive sort of intuitive being, and not really knowing what he was doing and kind of grabbing things out of the air. An unsophisticated person and so on and so forth . . . we’ve seen this attached to other black intellectuals and artists, but with Monk, what purpose did that serve?



That’s a very good question and I can think of multiple purposes and each purpose has to do with time and place--so when these myths about Monk being a mysterious, taciturn figure, who is basically untrained and disconnected with the world, that myth was intended to sell records--That in some way, in the early age of bebop when Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie were getting a lot of attention, Monk was presented as the originator of the music. As Bill Gottlieb, the photographer who wrote about him in ’47, said he’s the George Washington of bebop, almost like the hidden figure who’s very mysteriousness itself is the selling point. Interesting that you were playing “Misterioso”, with Sonny Rollins and Monk. Over time I think that that myth became a kind of reality about Monk. Stories about his unreliability, on a gig, his failure to show up, his dancing around, which was something that for him was almost sacred.



Yes...



But, his dancing around became again a selling point, selling his eccentricity, and in the process what was so interesting and fascinating and brilliant about his music got lost in the shuffle. I think over time, even after he passed away there was this attempt to restore Monk to legitimacy, playing down those myths but even to this day after the book is out, every time I come across anyone the first thing they tell me is "I know the real Thelonious Monk" and "Actually this is what he used to do" or "This is what I hear" or "I hear he's a really mean guy." All these different stories still circulate and I think that you raise a larger point and that is: How do these stories connect to him as a black composer?



Precisely.



And here we get to another problem and that is the larger myth about jazz itself that experimental improvisational music requires no thought, it's either in the blood in the bones or it's in the mistakes that people make, or the lack of training...



And all this, right...



...Exactly, and one of the things with Monk, including people in jazz like Oscar Peterson that would say things like "Well, you know, Thelonious had a lot interesting ideas but he couldn't play piano," and it's precisely his inability or his lack of facility which led him down a particular path and produced this kind of experimental sound. On the other hand, you have people say, Well, Monk was crazy, he suffered from various forms of mental illness, with his schizophrenia or manic depression, in that this is the explanation for his sound--that somehow he heard it because he heard voices. I mean, I’ve heard everything, that somehow he heard this music because he had Tourette's syndrome. All kinds of myths out there, but never do you hear someone say Well you know what, he worked at this particular composition, he studied music, he understood the power of whole tone harmony or those kinds of intervals that created the dissonance that tricks the ear--that he understood the mechanics and dynamics of the piano as an instrument, or the orchestral approach to writing and playing. And that gets lost in the shuffle for an explanation which gets away from intellect and more towards almost like a compensation of a problem that he has.



And this pattern, this larger pattern of taking, in this case Monk--but this has happened again and again before where a great black artist or a great black intellect, there is an attempt to sequester them, and confine them to the narrows of being a product.



Absolutely.



Something that can be marketed, something that can be sold, no matter what the real facts are, no matter what the real story is. There is an interesting piece that comes up in the narrative of your book where Monk is taken to Bellevue, and you describe a number of other artists who had been there, who had been given the same diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenic. We see this happening around Bud Powell or Charlie Parker. But the point that I'm getting to here is we have a culture making its way to a greater definition of what it means to be a human being, having come out of centuries, very recently, come out of centuries of slavery, in which we were sold and marketed as products. And no matter how human, no matter how dynamic, no matter how intelligent or spiritual, there seems to be a backlash against this. To try to make us into products again, and that seems to surround Monk time and time and time again!



Oh absolutely. I think that you're right on the money on this. And when you say not that long ago, Monk's grandfather was a slave, you know?



Right.



And he has memories passed down to him of what it meant to be a commodity, to be bought and sold. And what's interesting is that, you know, I had a debate with someone the other night. I had a reading and they kept making comparisons between I think it was Haydn and Monk. No no, it wasn't Haydn it was Handel. The idea was that Handel, his Messiah, when he was suffering from what appeared to be bipolar disorder. And so therefore we could explain Monk. This is the argument this guy was making, to explain Monk in the same terms. That his bipolar disorder is part of the reason why he was able to hear the music he heard. But I was trying to make the point that Handel had certain benefits that Monk did not have. When Monk acted out, he couldn't lock himself in a room and write, he was incarcerated!



That's right



Even though generation after generation after slavery, there's a way that Thelonious operating in the 40s and 50s just like Sonny Rollins, just like Gene Ammons, just like Bud Powell. What do they all have in common? They were incarcerated, you know?



Right, right.



They have all this in common



That's right.



And they also played in a context where you are to perform for the crowd four or five sets a night and sometimes hour long sets. Sometimes working till 4 in the morning, with no dressing room when you step outside the door, sweaty in the cold, to smoke a cigarette or do whatever and to be paid so little.



So little...



And to not really have the luxury to sit back and write what you want, but to play something that may be set to your aesthetic interest, but also fulfill the demands of the audience, and so part of what we're still dealing with is that they're at the whims and caprices of a structure that can only make them characters in order to sell drinks, in order to get people into the club, in order to make them a saleable commodity in the end. Its only after the fact, sometimes after they're dead, that we can act as a nation and say he was a great artist.



And to be sure, to underline the point again, this book more than any other, really goes the distance as far as really bringing us into the light about who this man and the natural poetry of his life and what he shares with us is really about. And perhaps more than anyone else, this turning the artist into a caricature, this effected Monk in his generation probably more than any other of his peer group. Would you agree with that?



Yeah, I would agree with that. And Monk was very much of that. I can write a whole book about the cartoon...the cartoon created in Monk's image. I could write a whole book about the various journalists, not just in the United States but all over the globe, who you know saw Monk as a fascinating figure, larger than life-- at the same time, childlike and certain attitudes that get used over and over again. I could even write a book about the audience members who would go to..whether it was a concert hall or Amsterdam or town hall in New York or a club in Baltimore, and walk away disappointed because he did not dance, he did not wear a funny hat, he did not do these things that were being sold. Now Monk himself almost had no choice but kind of got caught up in that because he recognized that he had to be a certain kind of showman. He knew that people came to see him do something and sometimes he delivered, but over time, and this is one of the tragic parts of the book, he tired of it, you know? It became a "damned if you do, damned if you don't." Critics would criticize him for doing things that were "eccentric," and there were other critics who were disappointed because he didn't do those things. And it became, or got to the point that he would do what it took to keep a gig if he knew he had to feed his family, take care of his two kids and his wife. At the same time part of the reason that I think he ended up leaving the music scene in 1976, a good 6 years before he passed away, was because he was tired of doing that, tired of being a caricature. He really wanted to be respected as an artist.



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If you just tuned in, we're speaking with author and scholar Robin D. G. Kelly, his most recent book Thelonious Monk: The life and Times of an American Original. and I should mention again that Mr. Kelly is making two appearances in the Bay area this week. The first appearance is in east bay in Oakland in the East Side Cultural Center. The East Side Cultural Center is at 2277 International Blvd. in Oakland. That's Wednesday, October 28th at 7pm. There's a very modest, small donation requested at the door. The next night, Thursday, October 29th, Mr. Kelly will be appearing at City Lights books of course located in San Francisco's North Beach at 261 Columbus Ave. right there at the corner of Columbus and Jack Kerouac Alley.

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Robin, you know one of the things that again and again goes missing in the scholarship surrounding African American culture in general, but jazz in particular, as George Lewis has said the most closely policed music in the history of the world, is the fact that music and the oral tradition in African American culture have always been all but one. And as a people who emerged from centuries where our literacy, and those who taught us literacy were punished by death, a great deal of, in fact to a certain point, almost all of our cultural memory, and where we come from, what we've been, who we've been to whom and where we're going has been in the message of the music and it seems to me that more-so than almost anyone of his generation that Thelonoius Monk was exemplary of these elements retained in the message of the music. Of course we can hear that on a superficial level of that immediate aesthetic impact which is so different, so sometimes abstract to some people. But part of this seems to me to be the reason he was caricatured, to avoid a confrontation with that, with those facts. Whereas your book seems to touch on that again and again, you mentioned earlier about the sacredness of the dance. Now what may have seemed to the casual observer to be eccentric behavior, you discovered that this actually had deep roots in the culture of the Carolina's and also in the church music that he was raised around, and at one point he was traveling with the Church. Could you talk about that, about the dance?



Sure, I'll go back even further. One thing I try to do in the book is really trace his roots as far back as possible. I figure out who his people were in North Carolina.



Right



What there cultural and religious roots are and they came out of slavery and developed their own theology, their own understanding of the Christian tradition, and out of that comes, what Sterling Stuckey brilliantly identifies as the Ring Shout. In the Ring Shout, a counter clockwise dance, group dance, that comes from West Africa--and without going into a lot of details about that, the main thing is that Monk not only grew up in a Baptist tradition, his mother who was very very deeply spiritual, his mother who taught him hymns on the piano, taught him "Blessed Assurance" and "We'll Understand it Better By and By" and other songs such as those. And when he was a teenager he left New York City and traveled with the Pentecostal preacher, a black woman who was a healer, went on the road for two years and participated in these tent shows or tent revival meetings and in churches all over the Mid-West, parts of the south and parts of the west and he saw things, he saw miracles, he saw healing take place as far as he's concerned. He saw people move and he saw the electricity transferred from this female Evangelist to the congregation. And in those settings dance was essential. In the Pentecostal tradition, you're not supposed to dance. You can move your body but you can't cross your legs and certain kinds of rules and regulations. The Pentecostal church frowned on Jazz and yet had the music that was the most syncopated, the most jazz like, the most blues like and the movements themselves, even if you don't cross your legs are very much like Monk's bodily movements, not always on the beat, sometimes they fall in between the beat, sometimes they're involuntary, you know, there is a kind of shifting from side to side, back and forth, and Monk knew that he had to play the music to make them move. He had to provide that for the rhythmic, that chord, the basic musical foundation for that Evangelist to sing her word, to sing the word of God. So imagine, it's one thing to go into church a couple of times, it's another thing to go doing this for two years. So he saw that in a sacred sense. He also saw it in a circular sense because he was slightly older than some of the better known Bebop musicians with whom he's associated and because of that his other group of artists, friends, compatriots, teachers, were the old style Harlem stride pianists, you know?



Oh, yeah!



I mean he was at James p. Johnson's house when the pianist Billy Taylor met him for the first time and they were having cutting sessions. Willie "The Lion" Smith respected him. Teddy Wilson, who was slightly younger, respected Monk. Monk came out of that. And see those guys, they knew the sacred and the secular, the knew the blues and Christian music and they had a way of bringing together that deep tradition. And I love what you said about story telling.



That's right...



Because one of the things that sort of, I wouldn't say shocked me, but when I go back and re-read this book, because in some ways you know Monk helped me write this book



That's right! Dig it.



Because he's writing parts of it, and I'm reading it and I say wow! You know? And one of the things he keeps telling me, he always uses that term "To tell your story"

Like "I'm telling my story" or "I don't like Rock and Roll because it doesn't tell a story", "I like this because it tells a story". It's a constant theme, you know, throughout the text.

And so when you talked about how important it is in this tradition for the memory to be carried in the music, even if that music has no lyrics, there is a way this cultural memory continues to exist and sometimes that cultural memory comes out in a quote here from an old song in the way that say Thelonious Monk and Clark Terry in their recording of a song called "One foot in the gutter" where they take Charles Tindley's Gospel Hymn "We'll Understand it Better By and By", put a new melody over it, forces us to remember Charles Tindley, forces us to remember the gospel hymns and sacred tradition all in the context of another record in Riverside. Monk makes sure that you understand where he comes from and the path that he traveled and his ancestors traveled and the path that his mother traveled.



That's right.



And he puts it into music for you to listen to.



And as pressing as his vison was, and indeed it continues to provide extraordinarily fertile ground for artists of all kinds to explore, as you're pointing out to us now, he had deep, very firm roots in the tradition, and you are speaking about the stride pianists with whom he associated. And there's a wonderful passage early in the book about the sessions where the gathering of these men to tell their stories and share their innovations with each other and could you talk a little bit more about that? Could you describe that as a salon? Or how would you describe that ritual that took place amongst these men?



A salon is actually a good way to think about it, because the reason why I like that term is because there's more than music going on, you know? At the same time, and I thank Billy Taylor for this, he tells a story and this is something he's been trying to get us to understand for a long time, but I don't think people really heard it well, and that is that there were all these places in Harlem, people's houses mainly, where great pianists would hang out and have these cutting sessions. And you might have, like James P. Johnson's house for example was one, and you may have like a dozen pianists there all playing for each other. No one's paying to get in, there's no audience, there's no one in the room but piano players and for the sheer pleasure of just showing each other what they can do and sharing ideas, they may take one song like "Tea for Two" and sit down and play a chorus or two, and right after that someone would jump on the piano and then play another chorus or two, maybe in a different key, and over time they would take the same song, same chord changes, and tell a different story, they had their own story to tell, and out-do each other. It's very African in many ways.



Indeed.



Imagine the Griots, telling tales, because part of being a griot isn't just collecting information, it’s about how you tell your tale. It's about how you tell your tale, because you're a poet.



That's right.



It's not as if it is a competition to destroy someone but rather it is trying to raise the bandstand, raise the room, raise the carpet under the piano, you know, bring something higher than someone did before to being everybody up. And so those sessions, I would love to be able to get something like that on film because,Willie the Lion Smith in his memoir, writes, speaks beautifully about what those times meant and how the younger pianists who passed away didn't have that strong left hand, didn't have the ability to make a whole orchestra out of the piano. And he kind of lamented that. Still, what he was talking about was a comradery, and the fellowship that was produced in that space. And one other thing I should mention, one of the most important institutional manifestations of that space was the Clef Club. The Clef Club was established by James Reese Europe, one of the great great band leaders and composers in the Tenderloin district of New York, I think it was 53rd Street. And in the Clef Club was sort of the beginnings of Black musicians union, but it was also a space for musicians to come over and play for each other and be part of a community. And a lot of the great pianists that were there, it just so happens that one of Monk's teachers, a black woman named Alberta Simmons who lived in the neighborhood, and Monk would go over to her house...She was very tight with Eubie Blake and James P. Johnson and Willie " The Lion" Smith and she too would hang out, sort of a member of the Clef Club. And so imagine you have this other generation, she was born the same year that Monk's mother was born. She lived two blocks away from Monk would go over and hang out at her house and play on her piano and she'd teach him things and so the Clef Club in this tradition was passed on to Thelonious, directly. I mean not indirectly, very directly, through women like Alberta Simmons. And if I learned anything in writing this book, there are thousands of Alberta Simmons. All over the country, who made this music happen and without them we wouldn't have this music.



If you just tuned in we're speaking with Robin D. G. Kelly. Robin D. G. Kelly's most recent book, Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original, in Thinking about the tradition and thinking about the generation that Monk emerged in, the generation that included people like Bud Powell, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Elmo Hope, and some others who are less known to us but no less important, there was an enormous extra-musical impact, if you will, that came from this group of innovators in particular. Be-bop and the impulses that created it, not only had impact on the direction of modern music, it had extraordinary influence on the way that people spoke, dressed, the attitudes with which they would approach the world throughout the 50s into the 60s and 70s and I think in many ways contributed to the social and cultural revolutions of the 1960s and 70s. Yet these initial breakthroughs, with Monk say, have become somewhat obscured as they've made their way in the general consciousness their point of origin has become increasingly obscure and yet Monk was one of the leaders in this respect too. Could you talk a little bit about the impact that Monk had on artists outside of music? Because I know a lot of this starts to come together around his tenure at the five spot but his impact on other forms of art, poetry in particular, is quite extraordinary. Could you talk a little about this Robin?



Sure, sure. Those early Blue note recordings he made between 1947 and '51, but especially '47 and '48, a lot of artists and poets who went on to do really important work in the 1950s, cite those recordings. Romare Bearden for example, Norman Lewis, the painter, both based in Harlem. Certainly Amiri Baraka, he said "Monk is my man." He was a kid, a young teenager, in Newark listening to those blue note recordings. And part of the attraction was one it was so different than what was being played at the time. Monk wasn't interested in taking old songs and putting a more complex head or melody line on it and then speeding it up. He was interested in creating a whole new architecture for the music. New chord progressions, new ways of thinking about the music and he was old fashioned in the sense that he wanted people to hear the melody, and make the melody very sensuous, but the melodies were very very intricate and very different. You'd have to sort of throw yourself back into 1948 and listen and compare it to everything else and you'd be like "Oh my god, this is like outer space music." So that's important and all these artists cite him, so, you're right, the Five Spot is the space when in 1957 Monk starts playing there and a lot of the abstract expressionists, painters, poets, are showing up. But they didn't discover Monk then. A lot of them discovered Monk in the 40s. Those Blue Note recordings didn't sell well at all. The people who were willing to buy them, exchange them, share with friends, are the people that are actually seeking out something different, something unique. It wasn't for the mass general public and I think that made a huge difference. Monk's whole physical approach to the piano, the way he slowed down the tempo so he could think through what he wanted to play and he would hunch over the piano in this kind of physical posture where you didn't really know what he was going to do next. He didn't know what he was going to do next! There was this coherence to everything he did.



[Laughs] Yes...



He sometimes would think about, "Well where do I want to go next?" Just his physical presence which was different and beautiful, I think attracted people. There's a wonderful story in the book where Ted Joans, the great poet, and our mutual friend, he's in the Five Spot in 1958. This is when Johnny Griffin was in the band. And Ted was so fascinated with Monk, how he looked, he has tempura paint, he's painting Monk's portrait and working through, trying to figure him out, with the beard and with the hat, with the deep set eyes and all this other stuff. Johnny Griffin sees the picture and says to Monk "Oh, that's hip, is that Monk? Let me show it to him." So he shows it to Thelonious, Thelonious comes over and he says "Is that me?" and he says "Yeah that's you" and he says "Oh, thank you very much" and he starts to walk away with it. And Ted's like "No no, it's not for you, it's a picture of you, it's not meant to be for you." And then Thelonious, in fact incredulous, is looking at the picture, is looking at Ted, and he says "Okay, you painted this picture right? Is that a picture of me?" "Why yes it is." "Well if I'm in the picture, if it's a picture of me, then isn't it my picture?" And he's insisting on taking the picture and they go back and forth and back and forth and to me, it's a great story, and of course Monk eventually...he doesn't get the picture but the owner is at Five Spot, Joe and Iggy Termini gets the picture. But the most important thing in that story is that Monk was fascinating. Such a fascinating person to watch, to look at, to listen to, to talk to. Even some of his lines like when he says "It's always night or we wouldn't have light." The light is the only thing that makes the difference between night and day. But it's always night. Or the little things that he would say and do made him so off the beaten path, I'm not sure if I mentioned this in the book but he was the first person I ever came across who used to wear a collard green in his lapel. I mean talk about roots. At my own wedding I had a little collard green in my lapel, the second person.



In speaking about the engagement at the Five Spot, of course we must bring John Coltrane into this. Now, a great deal has been made, and rightly so, about the influence of Miles Davis on John Coltrane. But, for one who listens closely to Coltrane's trajectory, in the arc and panorama of his music, which is so vast and so powerful we know there's still must more study to be done, but I want to point something out here because I think it's very important, and it’s especially relevant to this engagement at the Five Spot, which was the influence of Monk on Coltrane’s music. And one who listens to Coltrane will find that after his tenure with Monk, there is an articulation on the horn that wasn't there before. There is an acueity, a clarity, a sharpness, a precision, on Coltrane's horn that he didn't have previously with Miles. Now he rejoined Miles again and was fired and rehired again by Miles Davis, but this is where some of that articulation comes from. The sort of thing that we hear later on. Giant Steps, that really began with what he learned from Monk as well, who also, as it's pointed out in your book, would from time to time leave the stage and allow Trane to explore for 10, 15, 20 minutes at a time, similar to Miles. Could you speak to us a little bit about that impact he had on Coltrane and others, because unlike say an Art Blakey or Charles Mingus or Miles Davis, a Monk isn't always as well known as a band leader or cultivator of talent but his impact on Trane was immense. Could you talk about that?



Excellent point. And one of the points I try to make in the book, unbeknownst to most of us, Monk was if anything a teacher in the list of musicians that came through his house to get lessons if you will, long and distinguished includes folks we never heard of and lots of folks we think very highly of. Monk's relation with Coltrane goes back pretty far. By 1956 they developed a friendship and when Monk was playing in Philadelphia briefly, he hung out with Coltrane for a little bit when Coltrane was working out his own issues. When, and even before Monk hired Trane for the Five Spot gig, when Monk didn't have a cabaret card, Coltrane used to come to Monk's house like almost every day, at least during the weekdays, and he'd arrive at 8 or 9 o clock in the morning and he'd wait quietly--Nellie would let him in--he'd wait quietly until Monk woke up and they'd sit there and they'd work. Monk would give him a tune to play. Coltrane would practice it for a while, and then they'd come together and work it out. So by the time Monk actually gets to the Five Spot, sure he'd be troubling with some songs, but some things he'd have a certain type of mastery over because he'd be working with Monk for so long. And Monk was very good about teaching. It is true that sometimes he didn't tell his sidemen what to do, but in the case of Monk, Coltrane said “Look, he taught me how to false finger. He talked about my articulation.” He made suggestions about… even accents, where you put your accents. And one of the great treasure groves that had not been released but, Pannonica de Koenigswarter who was relatively wealthy patron of jazz. People know her as Nica.



One of the great mystery women of jazz really



Exactly, exactly. Monk knew Pannonica for her. She kept a reel to reel tape going in her house about 1958 until about 1970 or so -- actually before, in 1956, not '58 -- she has tapes of Monk and Coltrane working together. She has a tape of Coltrane learning Monk's moves at her house.



Oh!



She has a tape of Coltrane playing "Ruby My Dear." I mean these are home made reel to reel tapes that have not really been released and I think that when they are they will be just mind blowing. And they had such a great rapport and yet, just like you say, Monk's influence on Coltrane was tremendous but that influence wasn't to get him to play like Monk but to get Coltrane to play like Coltrane. He's so different from other saxophonists with whom Monk played and he always had his own voice, but Monk was able to get him to understand how to make better solos. How to create some kind of economy, some kind of articulation. And I think his influence was much greater than Miles' in my own opinion.



I think so too actually. Yeah, I would agree. In fact, Robin if you want to hold the line what I would like to do right now is play a recording of John Coltrane with Thelonious Monk in the Quartet led by Monk. This is the great Wilbur Ware out of Chicago on bass and Shadow Wilson at the drums with "Trinkle Tinkle." Okay, if you tuned in a little late we're speaking with Robin D.G. Kelly. Mr. Kelly's most recent book is Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original. We're going to be back with Mr. Kelly but first let's check out this group we've been talking about. This is Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane, "Trinkle Tinkle."



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New Day Jazz, KDVS in Davis, we're Back with Robin D. G. Kelly. As I mentioned, Mr. Kelly's most recent book--extraordinary--Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original. If you just tuned in or you missed any of this afternoons program you can always visit us on the internet at KDVS.org and click on New Day Jazz. You can download the program and listen or re-listen or begin all over again. Robin, are you still there?



I'm still very much here.



Okay, beautiful. I should mention again Robin Kelly is going to be in a couple places this week in the San Francisco Bay Area. First in Oakland, Robin will be reading from his book at the east side cultural center is at 2277 International Blvd. in Oakland. And I want to thank Greg Morazumi for bringing that together. Also, the very next day at City Lights Books right there it the heart of San Francisco's North Beach at 261 Columbus Ave. right there at the corner of Columbus and Jack Kerouac Alley at City Lights Books at 7pm, the very next day, Thursday October 29th, Mr. Kelly will be at City Lights Books and I want to thank Peter Maravellis for helping to organize that. We just heard a recording of "Trinkle Tinkle" again from the fabled Five Spot quartet, John Coltrane featured on tenor saxophone, Wilbur Ware again out of Chicago on the bass and Shadow Wilson on drums and this quartet was short lived but very influential but the date at the Five Spot lasted six months...



Yes, about six months all together. It ended in December. They started right around July, around the 4th of July.



And moving forward into the story, we're coming up on the top of the hour, just like last time there's so much more to say. I guess that's part of the magic of going and reading and getting the book yourself, which again I want to underline the fact that this book, since it's publication, has generated and extraordinary amount of excitement, not just in the jazz world but throughout the world of arts and letters. In fact, on my way into the studio I ran into the great poet and author Clarence Major who was just ecstatic to see this in print. Also Matthew Shipp, who was waiting on the book and ran out and bought it himself...Do you have a date with Shipp coming up, or how does that work?



Yeah, we're going to be doing NPR On Point, Tuesday morning I guess on the West Coast it's 8 o clock in the morning but on the east coast 11 o clock. So we're going to call Matthew at one point and have a conversation with him.



Beautiful, that's fantastic.



I love his music, an incredible piano player and composer,



And truly one of those who is in the tradition, in the tradition not only of jazz but, as Ted Joans would say "Damn sure tell them like it is".



(Robin laughs)



And in the dedications you mentioned Ted Joans among a group of those who have gone onto the ancestors who have helped significantly in the research and in bringing this book into publication. You also mentioned Steve Lacy whom we listened to earlier in the program. Now Lacy not only played with Monk but played with Roswell, Dennis Charles, and Henry Grimes, in the first to form a group dedicated exclusively to the compositions of Thelonious Monk.



Absolutely, absolutely. In fact, even before they formed that group, Steve Lacy made an all Monk LP, I think it was the first American jazz artist to do that. With Wynton Kelly, I think, on piano. Steve Lacy was in fact the very first person I interviewed for this project. 1995 in Paris. It was a great send-off.



Now I realize that you're on tour with this book for quite a while into the future. In your forthcoming series of projects, do I understand correctly that you're going to be leaving our shores for Europe soon. Can you talk to us a little about that?



Yes, I'm actually leaving for Oxford University a week from today. It's all coming up too quickly. But I'll be at Oxford until July as what is called the Homsworth Professor of American History. Big long title. And so I'll be there working on another book which is tentatively titled Speaking in Tongues: Jazz in Modern Africa. It's another project in the future so I'm looking at people like Randy Weston and Ahmed Abdul Malik whose the bass player who ends up replacing Wilbur Ware (in the Monk Quartet) and Guy Warren.



The great composer of Ghana.



Yes. A number of people on the African continent and in the United States who are developing conversation in the age decolonization about this music.



Well Robin we're right at the top of the hour so I'm going to go ahead and wrap this up. Again, I want to extend my heart felt thanks for being so generous with your time this afternoon and being so thoughtful in your answers. It's just been wonderful for having you on the program. Thank you once again.



Always my pleasure. Always, anytime.



Well we're looking forward to seeing you in the Bay Area next week. Again, I want to mention that Mr. Kelly will be at the East Side Cultural Center on Wednesday in Oakland 2277 International Blvd. and City Lights Books Thursday October 29th. Okay, Thanks Robin!



Thanks a lot Justin.



We'll talk to you again soon!

1 comment:

Matthew "Masa" said...

Poignant and beautiful.