Into the jazz heartland

By William Claxton. Excerpt from the book 'William Claxton. Jazzlife'

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So when Joe met the very congenial and gregarious vibraphonist Terry Gibbs, he got the idea of asking Terry to throw an afternoon jazz party for us at his house in North Hollywood, an area of the San Fernando Valley. It would be an amusing way to meet, interview and photograph the terrific jazz musicians in the Los Angeles area. Terry agreed and did indeed host a party at his house one Sunday afternoon.

Great jazz folk showed up. Most of them said that they had never been near a swimming pool in the bright sunlight at such an early hour (it was 2 PM) in their entire lives. The guests included Horace Silver, Wynton Kelly, Sonny Stitt, Med Flory, Herb Ellis, and about fifteen other jazz musicins. When they weren't taking a dip in the pool, they were in Terry's living room jamming while still in their wet swimsuits. It turned into a wonderful and unique party.

Everyone falls in love with San Francisco while driving into the city. The Golden Gate Bridge, the Oakland Bay Bridge, the beautiful peninsula with the city skyline gleaming through the fog ... It's a cosmopolitan city, an area of many intellectuals, and home to the most traditional of jazz music. This was 1960, and many of the pioneers were alive and working in the area. We came across Kid Ory, Earl Hines, Muggsy Spanier, Joe Sullivan and Darnell Howard. One could listen to the revival of New Orleans jazz, Chicago-style jazz and ragtime as well as modern jazz, all set against an 1840s Gold Rush backdrop. The Montgomery Brothers (Buddy, Monk and Wes) had left their hometown of Indianapolis and settled in the Bay area. You could easily hear the Dave Brubeck Quartet with Paul Desmond, the Cal Tjader group, and the visiting Thelonious Monk at the Black Hawk club in the span of a week. Musicians loved to come to San Francisco. Jazz and poetry had not died there as it had in most other cities of America. We listened to alto sax man Pony Poindexter and some of the leftover '50s Beats reciting their poetry. We visited Cal Tjader, and he played "congas" on coffee cans aboard his boat docked in San Francisco Bay.

We moved on to Las Vegas, which struck Joe as the "emerald city" in the middle of the dry, sandy desert. Many musicians lived there at that time because of the great stage shows that the big gambling casinos and hotels would produce to attract patrons. On our first night we enjoyed the Marlene Dietrich show at the Sands Hotel. Louis Armstrong opened her act, and his show was almost as long and as grandly produced as Ms. Dietrich's.
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Cootie Williams, Central Ballroom, Harlem.
(c) William Claxton