Reflections and Reminisces on other people
Ravi Shankar (1920-2012)
This was sad news indeed , although one could expect that it was coming. During his first years coming to the US, in the early 50s, he was very accessible. We would often go to dinner with, just two or three of us. He would come to our parties and he would play for anyone. He was jovial and engaging and open to everyone. We met many times in later years but often he was surrounded by people who were his students and supporters, so it was hard to have the intimacy that we once had.
In the mid 70's he came to Seattle to perform his sitar concerto with the Seattle Symphony under Milton Katims. This was while I was teaching at the University of Washington. I was invited to a huge opening reception and I was off to the side as Ravi was surrounded by the cream of Seattle music world. What was I doing there I wondered? Ravi spotted me and I was immediately scooped up like a long lost friend! This had happened before with other Indian musicians. At any performance, they seek out someone who they believe is knowledgeable enough to serve as the "patron"of their performance. With this person as the focus they can find their bearings and even though the audience might not know the music as well as they liked, with this person to focus on that can play and give their best. It is a great responsibility. You have to listen and respond and react to everything you hear. For that one moment the performance is for you, but your lack appreciation could ruin the concert for everyone.
I had just returned from a year in Burma and we talked about that, particularly since he had once had a great time in Burma performing there. He kept me by his side during the whole of his few days stay in Seattle. We talked about other things the women in our live. He regretted that he was divorced now from Annapurna.
Actually I knew more about that sad story then he probably imagined. When Ravi and Ali Akbar Khan were both students of the great Alla Udin Khan, who was Ali Akbar's father and one of the great teachers and players of that time they became friends and often played together and recorded some beautiful duets. Many of those old recordings are on my website. Allaudin, being a strict muslim, had his eldest daughter married to a respectable muslim. She, it was often said was the most talented of the offspring of Allaudin, but the husband, being a very orthodox muslim forbade his wife to ever play music again. Allaudin was heart broken and said that he would marry his second daughter, even to a Hindu if it were a person that appreciated music. That person became Ravi, a bright young, Bengali Hindu, who had already travelled all over the world as adancer and musician in the famous dance troupe of his older brother, Uday Shankar. But then finally after twenty years that story ended sadly and they divorced.
Milton Katims held a reception at his home to introduce his supporters to Ravi in preparation for the performance of his sitar concerto. I was invited to say a few words of introduction. On the wall of his home I spotted a Chinese long necked lute, a ruan of some tpye, but made for tourist export. Katims said my daughter sent me that from Japan. I said, Oh, but it is definitely Chinese. Katims then said "but I know she sent it from Japan." Later he came back to and said that he was so certain it was Chinese but to make sure he asked Ravi, telling him again that his daughter had sent this instrument from Japan and that I was saying it was Chinese. Katims then told me that Ravi said,"Best not to argue with him. He knows everything."
There was always a mild competition and yet a deep bond between Ravi and Aki Akbar. Ali Akbar would worry and complain about people not understanding his music when faced with a new audience. I met them both in Japan in 1961 when they were invited to perform in Tokyo at a great East and West Arts Conference. the dancer, Balasaraswati had also been invited. Ali Akbar said, "Oh Bala can get up and jump around and everyone can see that, but what can I do? If they don't understand the music I am playing it will be a failure". Ali Akbar was a deep and serious musician who sought deep inside of himself to get the right mood, but it was his own familiy tradition and had been in his family for generations. Ravi on the other hand was a Hindu Brahmin who had discovered the power of the music as a young man and consciously gave up everything to delve further into it. It was as though he had found a cause and devoted his life to it. He understood the new international world he had been invited into and could play beautifully for a crowd of thousands and yet there was nothing that could match Ravi's playing for a small group of friends. Now they are both gone. For me no one today comes near to the way the two of them played, together and apart, back in the 40s. At last I have gotten digital copies of the films I made of Ali Akbar Khan back in the late 60s. I will soon put them up on my website. Time moves on, but do things really get better?
Ravi Shankar and Ala Rakha performing in Manila (1966-photo-Robrt Garfias)
Ali Akbar Khan (1922-2009) and Alla Rakha (1919-2000)
I had met Ali Akbar Khan several times. First during his first visits to the US and in 1961 when we were both attending an East West Music conference in Tokyo. He was more difficult to approach unless one had established a relationship with him, such as as one of his students. I met him a number of times in the company of the dancer, Balasaraswathi. He later in the late 1960 agreeed to allow me to film his performance.
I went to a concert of his, I think it was in Berkeley, maybe in the early 70s. He was accompanied by Alla Rakha. Alla Rakha was not only a virtuouso tabla player, and incidentally the father of Zakir Hussein, he was also a well- established film director in India. Alla Rakha was already during this period associated with and teaching at Ravi Shankar's school of music in Los Angeles, that he called Kinnara. After the concert we went to dinner somewhere, about six of us. I can't remember who else was there, but it included Alla Rakha, Ali Akbar, the tanbura player whoever it was at that time and myself.
Alla Rakha and Ali Akbar Khan certainly knew each other very well and had played together often. The one memorable conversation that remains strong in my memory is that Alla Rakha began to jovially chide Ali Akbar about naming his school in Marin County, The Ali Akbar College of Music. Alla Rakha suggested that he do as Ravi Shankar had done and give it a name associated with the concept of Indian music, like Ravi's Kinnara School in LA. Ali Akbar patiently explained why he preferred to use his own name for the school. Both men were smiling and were cordial, but they went on about this for over a half hour. Each time I thought, well that's it. The discussion is over now, but no, each one would continue to pursue his own argument. THey never lost their tempers but neither would give in, locked together like a coyote and a gila monster. Amazing tenacity managed with grace.
Igor Stravinksy (1882-1971)
I met Igor Stravinsky twice. The first was while I was a graduate student at UCLA. I think it was in the winter of 1957, my second year in grad school. Professor Shigeo Kishibe was a visiting Fulbright professor at UCLA that year. I had helped to arrange his visit since my Professor, Mantle hood was away for the year doing research in Java.
The music critic Peter Yates, the director of Concerts on the Roof and a champion of contemporary music arranged for the Kishibe's and I to visit Stravinsky at his home in Beverly Hills, certainly it was at the house on North Wetherly Drive. I remember it as up on a slope in Beverly Hills. Stravinsky and Vera were there. Stravinsky talked not so much to us but simply about what was on his mind, his recent trip to Russia, and about the bad tea he was served at the stopover in Greenland. (In those days all long flights had to make several stops for refueling.) He was neat and meticulous, carefully picking a small piece of lint from his pants. To my shock he volunteered that he hated Jazz and "Primitive" music. He said that all the Jazz musicians did was to get "hot". I was mystified because at the time the story was that Stravinsky had been heavily influenced by Jazz and African music. Later it became clear that he was probably drawing on Russian folk music in some way. Why did he write the Ebony Concerto for Woody Herman's band, especially when the band could scarcely play it? He was paid to do it. Some one got the bright idea and was able to raise the money. Stravinsky would not turn down a commission.
He did on this evening express great interest in the music of Webern and Berg. He opened a score for us, but not I cannot recall if it was Berio or Webern, but he delighted in showing us details of the music but added that if one drew back from the details, it would all appear very gray. This was at a time when Berg and Webern were still considered extremely avant guarde, not the household words that they come to represent just a few years later.
My second meeting with Stravinsky was in Japan on May 4th 1959. Stravinsky, his wife Vera and Robert Kraft came for a visit to the Imperial Palace Music Department where they gave a special performance of Gagaku for him. Either the chief court musician or the Jimucho, Head of Affiars of the Music Department, Goto san, asked to me since I was than a student there, to sit in the Emperor's box with them and explain what was being played in the concert.
Stravinsky and Kraft were both fascinated by the playing of the "choshi", an introduction to one of the dance pieces in which all the winds play in canon. In Japanese this is called "kake buki", chase playing. in which each player plays one after the other the same phrases and about one phrase apart. When there are six or more wind players on each part the overall sound is quite impressive.
Afterwards we went down to where the musicians were and looked at each of the instruments. Stravinsky was quite impressed by the hichriki, the small double reed pipe which dominates the sound of the Gagaku ensemble. Stravinsky listened to the instrument and then turned to me and said, "It's like a trumpet but it's not a trumpet!"
As they left, Stravinsky spoke to me again. Knowing that I was a doctoral student in ethnomusicology at UCLA, he knew that I would be returning to UCLA. Stravinsky asked me to please look him up upon my return to Los Angeles and to come and visit him. he wanted to talk more about Gagaku, Unfortunately, when I returned I was too swept up with the final doctoral exams, writing the dissertation, etc, and simply feeling too shy and hesitant, so that I never did call upon him. I later reflected that my foolish reserve had meant that the world lost a Stravinsky Gagaku masterpiece.
It is impressive how many Western composers, Stravinsky, Hovaness, Messaien, Boulez, have been fascinated by Gagaku but no other Japanese music.
In 1959 the Court Musicians of the Japanese Imperial Household were invited on a concert tour of the United States, arranged by Lincoln Kirstein of the New York City Ballet. A formal invitation came from Dag Hammarskjold, then Secretary General of the UN, requesting that the Court Musicians perform at the UN General Assembly. After the performance Dag Hammarskjold invited us all to a reception at the upper floor of the UN building. Many notable New Yorkers were there. Among there was an interedsting couple whose names I have forgotten. The wife was an important donor who had supported the visist of the Japanese court music to the US. Her husband was a cultured, wise and wryly wity wealthy gentleman from Mexico. We of course spoke in Spanish. As we were talking one of the younger court musicians came hurridy up to me saying that Mr. Bernstsein wanted to know about the sho, the small mouth organ used in the ensemble. I went over to the other side of the room where Bernstein was blowing on the sho, and jump,ming up and down in place saying, "Oh,I don't know anything about this!" I started to say, "well, the instrument has 17 bamboo pipes, 15 of which are fitted with a small reed,...." Then Bernstein started blowing and jumping up and down again, saying, "I don't know anything about this." I told Sono-san, the young sho player, that I didn't think Bernstein really wanted to know anyhting about the sho. I went back to the couple I had been speaking with previously and he said, "Pobre burro. Ahora se le va dar componer una nueva pieza en el estilo, Gagaku, pero ni se ha dado cuentaque ya lo habia hecho Stravinsky." And the wife said, "Oh dear! I think he broke the little man's instrument!"
May 11, 2002
In the Los Angeles Times, Book Review section of today's paper, (2002) two new books on Chet Baker were reviewed. One was a biography about him, long after I knew him and during the time that I no longer had any contact with him. The other was a mystery based loosely on the events surrounding his death in Amsterdam in 1988.
When I met him, he was in the army and was based at Fort Mason, might have been the Presidio. I am recollecting from memory and not from historical research. This must have been 1951 or 52 at the latest. He was not yet famous in any way except that in the San Francisco Jazz world, the word spread that an amazing trumpet player was in town. I was 18 or 19 at the time and he was about three years older. Jamming with Chet was a marvelous experience that I recall even now. Although he became later known for he way with expressive, slow ballads,he was then, more than anything a fast nimble player with an endless flow of ideas. He also lived the life that epitomized the spirit of doing things the way you'd like. He was hampered by his connection to the army, but did manage to get off enough to do a lot of jamming in the Bay Area. We played together a number of times during that year or so.
I remember once that Chet invited me and another musician friend of mine, up to his hotel room in San Francisco. He had a bed at the base but rented a room to get away. I had no idea if he did this often or not. It was a businessman's hotel in the Tenderloin district. My friend and I went up to his room and Chet welcomed us and introduced us to two drop dead gorgeous blondes in his room. They were not flashy but just beautiful. I found it very hard to be cool and tried not to stare nor to let my eyes roll around in my head too much. We chatted for a while and then left. For long afterwards I wondered if this was the sort of luck one had if you were lucky enough to become a great jazz musician. Years later upon reflection, I deduced that the girls must have been hookers and that Chet was not just showing off, but was allowing us to share in some way, his happiness.
The following year, Chet became well-known because of the recordings he made with the Gerry Mulligan group, very revolutionary at the time because it consisted of baritone sax, trumpet, bass and drums, and no piano. I was then 19 and had just been married a few months when the Mulligan Quartet came to town, so we went to hear them at the Blackhawk. I remember that Chet came over to talk to us and in his typical cool and cryptic way just said, "You two sure look pretty together."
In 1955 I was in grad school at UCLA There I met Vaughn (Bob) Whitlock, who had been the bassist in the Muilligan quartet and was also, like me, working at UCLA on his Ph. D. in music. Immersed in grad school now, I did little playing anymore and did not keep up with things as I had up until then. As I now recall it was Vaughn who told me that Chet had made a 45 in Germany with Catarina Valente. She was then already an international superstar and in my opinion an excellent singer, although most of what she recorded was international pop hits and of little interest to me at the time. Those two short duos, just Chet on trumpet and Catarina Valente playing guitar and singing I continue to regard as one of the most valuable moments preserved on sound recordings. Here in 1955, some years before Stan Getz and even Miles Davis and Gil Evans forays into Bossa Nova, Catarina is propelling the performance all by herself with a driving guitar backup in Bossa Nova style and singing in manner both very cool and complimenting Chet's trumpet. I have only an old reel-to-reel tape dub of the original 45 and the quality is not good. It appears now to have been re-released on a giant collection of recordings of Catarina Valente. But that costs several hundred dollars and it seems a lot to pay only to hear a better version of "I'll Remember April".
I am including my dub of the old 45 here for the pleasure of anyone who might enjoy it.
I'll Remember April
SESSION 53-MARCH 26,1956-GERMANY
Catherine Valente(voc-g)Chet Baker(tp)
'll Remember April
Everytime We Say Goodbye
Thanks to Nick Falcon who sent me a message saying that one could now
buy the Baker Valente duos at the following site.
a letter from me to the Los Angleles Times published in the LA Times Book Review in the Spring of 1999
Reading Carolyn See’s review of A.J. Albany’s Low Down left me with the uncomfortable feeling that the uniqueness and “legendary” quality of Joe Albany had been side-stepped. He was certainly no household name in that era. Most of those who knew something of the style of music being played in the late 1940s by Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker and Miles Davis, had they been asked to name the pianist who was most solidly in that same league would probably have said Bud Powell. However, to me, Joe Albany was closer to what particularly Charlie Parker and Miles were doing at the time.
He did not record much and as the biography by his daughter suggests, there were other issues interfering. During my teenage years in San Francisco among my favorite recordings were a set of about four 78 sides that Joe Albany recorded with Lester Young, Red Callender, Chico Hamilton and Irving Ashby on Aladdin Records in LA in 1946. He made other recordings and there is to my knowledge, at least one solo Joe Albany LP, but these recordings with Lester Young are memorable and I think show what it was about Albany that makes him the compliment of Bird and Miles. More than the flash and fire of Bud Powell, Albany had the kind of pigeon-toed elegance that Bird and Miles were striving for in “Buzzy”, “Donna-Lee” and “Thriving on a Riff”.
I have listened to those four Lester Young sides countless times over the years. They had already been well engraved in my consciousness when one night in the early 50s, a group of friends of mine came to my house at 3 AM – I had been fast asleep – to tell me that Joe Albany was in town, San Francisco, and wanted to “jam”. They had been talking big with Joe but when it came time to play, they were too scared to play with him and came to get me. He and I played for about two hours at Jackson’s Nook, a regular place for after hour’s jazz sessions in those days. There was no one there but about five of us. Joe and I were the only ones playing, just piano and alto sax. I don’t know what Joe thought. He didn’t say much but those two hours or so were for me among the most intellectually stimulating musical experiences of my life. He was already a legend to me and that session only enhanced it.
The Mexican Artist, Alfredo Arreguin