Sex and the Jazz Musician: The Brutal Truth!
If there wasn't a pianist there at the time, Don would play piano for the set, and took care of business. Don had absolute perfect pitch, and we tested the shit out of him on it. It would get to the point that I would drop my forearm on the keys with fingers pressing them, and Don with no hesitation would start naming the keys depressedfrom left to right or right to left or from inside out or outside in, Yep! And play? The cat was flawlessalways in the pocketalways locked with the bassalways listening to and playing for whomever was blowing at that momentand always picking up on what you were saying on your axe at that moment in timeand giving you a little nudge to make what you said more valid. Oh yeah!
There's great picture on AAJ of George Stearns, Charles Lloyd, Charlie Shoemake, Howard Rumsey and Don Joham In front of The Birdland of the coast, the Lighthouse Café, Hermosa Beach, California, Easter week, 1957, when Charlie gave up a shot at a baseball major league contract to come west to play bebop. He was playing only piano back in the dayCharles Lloyd (if memory serves) came out to L. A. to attend USC dental school. L.A. wasn't at a loss for any great drummers back in the day, there were many, and I played and jammed with most of them. But there was only one Don Joham.
The last time I saw Don was 2002 or 2003. He came driving up to my music store in Costa Mesa, California, in a 1920s Model A or T Ford with a rumble seat. He was nattily dressed, a 1940s-style hat, a necktie sport jacket, pens and pencils in his left pocketa smile on his facesame cat only a little more worn. He used to talk very soft and low and close up so that no-one else was the recipient of what he had to say to you. He looked in to my eyes and said "Mort, we were there weren't weman, we paved the way." Ah, Don, we all loved you so. Don Joham 1934-2004.
An afterthought; in the 1980s, aside from running a business, I was heavily into the martial arts and ocean-racing sailboats. Jeanne and I belonged to several yacht clubs, and one, where we had our boat Different Drummer moored, was the Capistrano Bay Yacht club in Dana Point, California. All of this during my 40-year break. OK, I lied a little; I played for about six months sometime in 1985-86. I initiated a series of concerts called Jazz at the Yacht Club and brought in many great and talented people to perform and me. Names like Jeff Hamilton, Monty Budwig, Charlie and Sandi Shoemake, Stephanie Haynes, Ruth Price, Senator Eugene Wright, drummer Jimmie Smith and others. Where I'm going with this is, the night that I played with Monty, Charlie and Jeff, after about two tunes in, I decided to burn one, so I call the tune "Speak Low" and count it off at a way up-tempo, with them doing an eight-bar intro as in 1 21234 Bammmmm!and I almost fell off of the stand, because what I heard was Don Joham behind me. Yea, Jeff!
Drums, drummers, people whom do, and people that talk about it and those that teach it. Really, about jazz, what can anyone teach? Enter Freddie Gruber, drum guru extraordinaire Notice, I didn't say drummer extraordinaire, that wouldn't have pertained to Freddie. I first met Freddie sometime in the late '50s or early '60swhatever. He was running the after hours sessions at a place in east L.A. called The Diggers. When I say after hours, I mean from 2am, after all the bars closed, to whenever. When I say running the sessions, that means that he would organize the sets, as in who's to play with whom; the rhythm section; a good blend of hornsall dependent on who was there at the time. Yes, there was a pecking order. I almost wrote the words "of sorts": forget it! There was a pecking order! If some cat walked in that was known and took care of biz, someone would be asked, in some cases told, to leave the stand, so that the heavy cat could blow. Oh yeah. One could kinda gauge one's self, as to where they were in the jazz scheme of things in town, by how many times that they were asked to vacate the stand; what a schoolnone of this everyone's a winner shit!