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A Great Day in Harlem: The Spirit Lives - 50 Years On

By Published: May 30, 2013
Hank Jones
One wonders if there wasn't perhaps an element of mutual suspicion between the die-hards of the old school and the adherents to the newer styles of jazz, but Hank Jones soon quashes this theory: "There's a bond, a sort of invisible bond between all musicians who play jazz. There is always that bond, it holds them together."

Nat Hentoff concurs: "Ellington once told me when I was in my early twenties: 'Forget those categories—modern, cutting edge, it's all music and you take each individual as they come. Music is either good or bad.' I think most of the players that day and I hope since, have a feeling that it's, what I call, the family of jazz.

"I interviewed Lester Young at his home in Queens, and as we were going out, saying goodbye—here's Lester Young, Pres, the hippest of all the people—and Lester Young said to me: 'By the way, do you like Dixieland?' and I said: 'Sure, when it's good.' And he said: 'Me too.'"

Bill Crump
One musician in the picture is something of a mystery man—Bill Crump. He is standing behind, and perfectly framed by, Coleman Hawkins and Stuff Smith. Says Hank Jones
Hank Jones
Hank Jones
1918 - 2010
piano
: "I didn't know him, but if he was in the picture he must have been a player of some sort, but I never saw him afterwards." Marian McPartland says: "Bill Crump? I forget what instrument he played. I don't remember what he looked like." Eddie Locke: "Wasn't he a saxophonist?" Nat Hentoff: " Now you've got me wondering. I am just guessing now, but I bet he was an FBI agent, because these people are dangerous if they are all for free expression. If you ever find out, let me know."

Tongue in cheek, and with not a little mischief, Hentoff's comment harks back to the Edgar Hoover period when paranoia reigned and the FBI kept files on numerous jazz people suspected of harbouring communist sympathies, including Louis Armstrong and Hentoff himself.

Bill Crump was in fact registered in New York's Local 802 as a reed and flautist, but is not known to have ever recorded. Little information exists on him and not even the date of his death is clear. However, there is a certain symmetry about his inclusion in that picture, as in a way he is a reminder of all the journeymen jazz musicians who toil to make a living at the music they love. They are all part of the family.

52nd Street by William Gottlieb
The issue of Esquire in which Art Kane's photograph first appeared was titled "The Golden Age of Jazz." Hank Jones in 2009 is a sprightly, eloquent, ninety-year old who released a new CD in the middle of 2008. He recalls the New York of half a century ago: "People like Lester Young
Lester Young
Lester Young
1909 - 1959
saxophone
and Coleman Hawkins
Coleman Hawkins
Coleman Hawkins
1904 - 1969
sax, tenor
, they were all working at 52nd Street at one time or another. At any given time you could see Coleman Hawkins or Lester Young, or (trombonist) Bill Harris, (drummer) Buddy Rich
Buddy Rich
Buddy Rich
1917 - 1987
drums
all those guys, and I was working there with a small group at the Three Deuces. 52nd Street wasn't called Swing Street for nothing—there were clubs on both side of the street for a block. It was really some scene."

Marian McPartland also recalls the exciting musical panorama at that time: "I used to go down to the Vanguard to hear Bill Evans all the time; that was what I did in my spare time. We could go almost every night because we finished at three o'clock and he didn't finish until four, so we could go down there and catch the last set."

In terms of musical diversity it was indeed a golden era of jazz music—but just how easy it was or wasn't for the musicians to make a decent living is another thing altogether. Nat Hentoff says that there wasn't much of a safety net for jazz musicians: "It was never easy being a jazz musician economically. I think there were times when even Duke was hard up for money. He used to tell me: 'I have these expensive gentlemen to go on the road with me.' Jazz musicians don't have pension plans, they don't have medical plans—and even if you're a sideman doing reasonably well, how well is that?"

There is a certain amount of bitterness in Eddie Locke's voice when he looks back. "Man, a lot of those jazz guys got nothin.' It's always been the same. If you weren't a soloist in a band you didn't get no recognition."

Michael Lipskin sympathises with Locke's opinion: "I can understand that. Even though he was playing with Coleman Hawkins and Roy Eldridge they too were not economically appreciated—they didn't make much money at all.

"The last time I saw Coleman Hawkins was in the Thelonious Monk band, and he was a very unhappy old man who didn't look well and who was just drinking straight whiskey. I thought this was a terrible situation. There were times when I had to bring Willie ('The Lion' Smith) food; he would be too proud to ask. But that's really what was going on.


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