Friday, August 22, 2008

Still excited about our most recent discoveries from the E.F. Joseph photo collection ...

Remembering what a huge crush I (and every other young female jazz fan in the Bay Area) had on Jimmy Lyons of Monterey Jazz Festival fame. He hosted the late night (all night?) radio jazz show from San Francisco, and set the bar for all the disc jockey's who followed. It was therefore no surprise to find him photographed as Sgt. Jimmy Lyons, producer of "Jubilee" for US Armed Forces Radio during WWII.

Jimmy died more years ago than I can recall, and his passing was mourned across the music world. Remembering him brings back to consciousness all the others who reigned supreme during those years; San Francisco bassist Vernon Alley, tenor saxman Jerome Richardson, Nat and Duke and Hamp and Ella and Sarah and Dinah and Carmen and Shirley Horn and the singer who inspired them all, Billie Holiday. All of those now existing only in memory are given a tiny spark of life again as I view their images here. But they've left a huge legacy in recordings and film for us to enjoy and to learn from.

Those were the days when black artists set the pace and created the sounds that defined jazz. It's hard these days to hear white voices defining our music while our kids -- almost totally bereft of music programs in inner-city schools have had the tools of their culture eliminated from curricula -- leaving them with little more than their mouths and a beat. With that they've continued to create the world phenomenon of Rap and an exciting Hip Hop culture.

I've become quite expert at being able to discern whether an artist is black or white by their sound. It's a game I play while driving ... and I'm rarely wrong. It's also true that black voices are now few and far between. We've all but disappeared into obscurity -- one of the unanticipated outcomes of integration. The transitioning stage was obvious during recent years when we became the back-up singers for white performers -- then slowly -- we began to disappear. Think Paul Simon, Sting, Eric Clapton, etc., the trend moved slowly, but in the end jazz disappeared into "the American Musical Melting Pot," and the best of truly innovative black jazz artists returned to the choir loft with a few exceptional young black players archived into the conservatories. Our best music has since remained there in the black church with few exceptions. Think Take Six, Kirk Franklin, the late great Thomas Whitfield, one of the greatest gospel/jazz pianists and composers of them all.

I shed tears of real grief recently while viewing the prize-winning film, Faubourg Tremé; watching a young black trombonist turned drug addict arrested for parading on the streets of New Orleans without a permit! This, in the place where jazz was born a couple of centuries ago -- created by young self-taught musicians parading on those same streets in my father's and his father's times in the Tremé. When jazz no longer comes up from the streets and alleys; from late night rent parties and wakes for the dearly departed; from the back rooms of saloons; when there are no longer any raw edges to explore and survive -- that's when we will hear only white musicians still playing the Charlie Parker/Count Basie/Duke Ellington charts of the Forties and Fifties. It is then that Jazz -- the most dynamic form of American music will have passed into oblivion.

But what is there left of the Jimmy Lyons legend? I don't recall that he was a musician yet his life was devoted entirely to being the translator, the agent, the recorder, the historian, and the producer of those jazz greats whom we remember best. It was Jimmy Lyons and his Monterey Jazz Festival that catapulted jazz to unanticipated heights -- out of the clubs and onto the world stage. Montreaux and Newport and all the others followed, but Monterey was the first and the greatest festival of them all. And Monterey was the brainchild of Jimmy Lyons.

These still photos from Jubilee are so wonderful to see after all the years ... I'd almost forgotten ... .

And bless the late and most prolific Emmanuel Joseph for capturing our times in this precious collection of his life's work - and bless Careth Bomar Reid for rescuing this priceless legacy of the images that chronicle our lives and times so vividly.

It might easily have all passed unnoticed ... .

Photo: at the group's far right an unidentified performer, Eddie "Rochester" Anderson, heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis, Jimmy Lyons, Nat "King" Cole.
Second photo; a very young Lena Horne, Jimmy Lyons, singer Thelma Carpenter, and Frank Sinatra.

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