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Book Excerpts

Keystone Korner: Portrait of a Jazz Club

By Published: October 26, 2011
Depending on the music, the crowds could be raucous or reverent—like congregations in disparate church settings. For a gig led by pianist Tete Montoliu one can hear sporadic, gospel—like shouts of encouragement during Herbie Lewis's lengthy bass solo on "I'll Remember April," a twelve—and—a--half minute tune that concludes with "All right! All right!" and whistles and cheers. Then Tete Montoliu, relaxes the room with a rubato performance of "You've Changed." In the background, the clinking of glasses fuse with Billy Higgins
Billy Higgins
Billy Higgins
1936 - 2001
drums
' cymbals. But at a recording by Mary Lou Williams—look at Kathy's photos for a moment—she held the crowd the way she must have entranced her college students: "Thank you. Good evening, friends. I'd like to bring you up to date to demonstrate the history of jazz. Most Americans do not know that the greatest art in the world was created in America. First was the spirituals, ragtime, Kansas City swing; that was a great era of jazz, of the well—trained musicians. Out of that: Charlie Parker
Charlie Parker
Charlie Parker
1920 - 1955
sax, alto
, Dizzy Gillespie
Dizzy Gillespie
Dizzy Gillespie
1917 - 1993
trumpet
, Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk
1917 - 1982
piano
—the bop era. What we're trying to do is bring good jazz back to you—with the healing in it and the spiritual feeling—so I'd like to start out with the spirituals."

In the liner notes for Rahsaan Roland Kirk's album Bright Moments, Joel Dorn describes the Keystone atmosphere as a "hipness that permeates the room that can not be designed or wished into or added onto a club. It's either there or it isn't." Thanks to these oral histories, I feel that much closer to the hip environment—and all the more disappointed not to have experienced Keystone firsthand.

With Kathy's photographs, however, I can visualize the stage as I listen to these musicians speak and play, and I feel at least an approximation of the Keystone ambiance, which seems to have been an oasis in its time and now something nearly mythic. And I can feel the deep, heartfelt honesty in Rahsaan Roland Kirk's voice when he says: "You know it's good to be in a place that feels like you in your house, you know?" [The audience responds like gospel churchgoers: Yeah!] "Now, it's a beautiful thing—we glad you people are assembled here with us on this Saturday night." [Someone says, "All right."] You know what I mean? ["Yeah." "Yeah."] "You don't feel like Saturday night people; some Saturday night people, that's the only night they get out, and they act like it." [Laughter and clapping and some mild whoops.] "You know like, when you cage somethin' up and when it gets out they act like it. That's the way most Saturday night people act. Now, we would like to think of some very beautiful bright moments." ["Yeah."] "You know what I mean?" ["Yeah—yeah."] "Bright moments." ["Bright moments."] "Bright moments is like—" [Rahsaan chuckles] "—eatin' your last pork chop in London, England, because you ain't gonna get no mo'—" [Laughter. "Bright moments."] "—cooked from home." ["Bright moments."] "Bright moments is like bein' with your favorite love, and ya'll sharin' the same ice cream dish—" [laughter] "—and you get mad when she gets the last drop." [The crowd laughs, and Rahsaan laughs with them. "Bright moments!"] "And you have to take her in your arms and get it the other way." [Wooo!" "Bright moments."] "Bright moments." ["Bright moments."] "That's too heavy for most of ya'll because ya'll don't know about that kind of love. The love ya'll have been taught about is the love in those magazines, and I am fortunate that I didn't have to look in magazines." [Rahsaan laughs with the audience.] "Bright moments!" ["Bright moments."] "Bright moments is like seein' somethin' that you ain't never seen in your life and you don't have to see it but you know how it looks." [Applause. "Bright moments!" "Bright moments."] "Bright moments is like hearin' some music that ain't nobody else heard, and if they heard it they wouldn't even recognize that they heard it because they been hearin' it all their life but they nutted on it, so when you hear it and you start poppin' your feet and jumpin' up and down, they get mad because you enjoying yourself but those are bright moments that they can't share with you because they don't know even how to even go about listenin' to what you listenin' to, and when you try to tell 'em about it, they don't know a damn thing about what you talkin' about." [Screams, whoops, and charged applause.] "Is there any other bright moments before we proceed on?" ["Testify!"] "Testify!" ["Bright moments!" And then someone in the audience answers the calling: "Bright moments is sitting at the Keystone Korner—"] Beautiful!" ["—and listening to geniuses like Rahsaan Roland Kirk."] Beautiful. Bright moments. Bright moments. Bright moments is like havin' brothers and sisters, and sisterettes and brotherettes like ya'll here listening to us." [Wild applause.]


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