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Interviews

Bob Perkins: The Art of Listening

By Published: November 25, 2009


Philly Jazz in Its Heyday

BP: You know, here in Philadelphia, we had a commercial jazz station with Sid Mark and Joel Dorn and those guys. Their programs featured all jazz. Then in the 1960s, WDAS set up an FM station—in fact you could hear them building the FM facility when you listened to the AM station! They had guys like Ed Bradley—not the CBS Ed Bradley, another guy—and Dale Shields working there. And you had the clubs—the Riverside, the Blue Note, et cetera. So you had a triumvirate—the radio stations, the clubs, and the record labels supporting the musicians, sending them out to be interviewed, and they were playin' at Pep's, the Showboat and so on. So it was an unbroken thing then for quite some time.



Now, one of the things that broke the chain, so to speak, was that the people who were supporting the music grew up and got married, and got two cars and a house. Things changed, and they no longer supported the music as much. I remember when Pep's had a Saturday jazz matinee, and people went there like they now go to a Phillies game. And the clubs would keep a group for two weeks if they drew a crowd—that's almost unheard-of now.

Groups are lucky now if they get a weekend gig. So those were the halcyon days of jazz, and I don't care what music you bring in after that, free jazz or whatever, it will never match those terrific times when you had so-called straight-ahead jazz. And for some reason, the clubs, the radio, and the record labels all worked in tandem for a while. Then we all grew up, married, and we had different interests and would no longer spend money to go to the clubs. So jazz faltered. And we also made the mistake of not telling our children and getting them interested in what we'd seen and heard. We didn't tell them how great jazz is or take them to a jazz show. And then the new pop music came in with the kids from the U.K. and so on. Jazz got lost in the shuffle somewhat.

AAJ: It sounds like such a creative and exciting time in Philly, for example, and everywhere, like Detroit, New York and L.A. At that time, Miles Davis and all the guys from New York would come down and play at the Blue Note and the other clubs on a regular basis.

BP: And it troubles me that we don't have much documentation of that time period. We need a mini Ken Burns to do a documentary or something like that—get all the information together and do something like that.

AAJ: That's something the new Philadelphia Jazz Heritage Project at the University of the Arts is shooting for.

BP: I'm glad. Right now, there's no book, no video, no film about Philly jazz that tells the story.

AAJ: Don Glanden

Don Glanden
Don Glanden
b.1951
piano
recently put together a marvelous video documentary about Clifford Brown
Clifford Brown
Clifford Brown
1930 - 1956
trumpet
and his coming up in Wilmington and Philadelphia which could serve as a model for what you're talking about. That led to a conference on Clifford Brown and to his induction into the Walk of Fame. At the conference, Lewis Porter gave a fascinating lecture on Clifford's recordings of "Cherokee." But everyone says how difficult it is to get accurate information and documentation on the clubs and all those events that took place.

Charlie Parker From left: Tommy Potter, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and John Coltrane

BP: A year ago, I did a short documentary on Bird (Charlie Parker), and found out about the apartment he lived in at Broad and Stiles near Girard Avenue. And he also lived in Newtown for a while. I talked to several people, including his daughter, Kim, and his son, Baird, and also an individual who actually went to Bird's apartment and looked through his recordings and found that, in addition to Stravinsky and Ravel, he had records of violinist Yehudi Menuhin. And he collected all the "bird" groups—the Crows, the Sparrows, and so on!

Bird was very eclectic in his musical tastes. Curiously, I lived in the same building 30 years later. Bird was there in 1952 to 1953. I lived there in 1980, between marriages. And, believe it or not, Dave Brubeck

Dave Brubeck
Dave Brubeck
1920 - 2012
piano
also lived there! He told me that, personally. It was called the Flamingo apartments—a hot place to live at the time. Arthur Prysock lived there. So I researched all this and did a half hour documentary on Bird's Philadelphia connections, and it was very revealing to talk to Bird's drummer here at the Blue Note, and all these other guys.

And the first club to cater to the modern jazz music was the old Downbeat at 11th and Ludlow, where Red Garland

Red Garland
Red Garland
1923 - 1984
piano
played. They did a piece on him in the Icon magazine. Trane lived at 33rd and Oxford, and Garland lived at 17th and Oxford, and Trane would often walk almost a mile to Red's house, where they would trade ideas and rehearse.

AAJ: These stories are very touching. It's truly amazing how many of these legendary jazz cats have done time in this city.

BP: Garland lived near the great Shirley Scott

Shirley Scott
Shirley Scott
1934 - 2002
organ, Hammond B3
. Shirley told me he used to come over and mentor her. We really need to establish a gold standard, such as the recent Billie Holiday Tribute concert at St. Luke's Church, for getting the message out about jazz, especially in Philadelphia. And we should do more of that—combining talks with live performances, not too costly so folks can afford it, and at a place where people can really pay attention and not make a lot of noise and conversation like at a club. That's the way to do jazz—put it in an environment that's conducive to people listening and learning. Entertain and enlighten people at the same time, and everyone goes home feeling great, as they did at the Billie Holiday Tribute. You can sometimes add an educational component. You need a situation where people are going to let go of their daily preoccupations and the noise in the room, and really listen.

AAJ: True enough. Yet, paradoxically jazz really developed and thrived in the context of those small, noisy nightclubs.

BP: But jazz is really spiritual music and you need to really listen to it. What could be more expressive than a man or woman pouring out his or her heart in a jazz interpretation? The word "concert" itself means people playing together, in synch. To think of a group of cats playing in synch with no notes in front of them, that's amazing! Each one is telling his own story, but they're in unison.



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