Tuesday, July 30, 2013


Roy Brown: the greatest jump musician?

In a previous post dedicated to exemplary American musicians, I shied away from determinations of greatness, and opted, instead, to establish importance. It felt sturdier to crown Louis Armstrong as the most important American musician than to propose a greatest American musician, who, in all likelihood, would be John Coltrane. I need not recite the many arguments in favor of Armstrong’s enduring influence on trumpet, cornet, dixieland, swing, gravel-sweet singing, scatting, composition, ensemble playing, band-leading, ambassadorship, typewriting of letters, collaborative recordings, in-public performance, and most substantially, the virtuosity of the soloist. The essence of Armstrong spreads out amongst many players of many instruments. Armstrong informs one generation, and that generation informs a subsequent generation, adding elements of Armstrong, either tacitly or in plain view. “Really?” you say. Even Cypress Hill’s joke about “[hitting] dat bong” the way that “Louis Armstrong played the trumpet” in their 1993 pop hit “Insane in the Brain” demonstrates that the man’s legend appeared generations later, in hip hop and rap. (Louis, too, happened to be fond of weed.) One would have to present a mountainous argument—over many months of intense negotiations—to chip away at one corner of one brick in the Great Wall of this proclamation. Satchmo’s greatness is considerable, too, but he’s probably not the greatest American musician.

As America’s popular music for many decades, jazz underwent numerous transitions. In one change, the central instrumentation in many recordings switched from brass to reed, from trumpet (and perhaps clarinet) to saxophone. Coleman Hawkins, by no means the first jazz saxophone player, nevertheless has been credited as the first jazzman to endow the instrument with significance. Numerous followers—Lester Young, Charlie Parker, and John Coltrane, to name three—would build their own idioms upon this foundation. Coltrane, in particular, can batter a listener to rubble, if we can define “batter” as (Coltrane’s) relentless invention across many forms of voice, and if we can define “rubble” as the shocking moments of (the listener’s) emotional realizations. At the beginning of Coltrane’s career, before he appeared as a sideman on several monumental Miles Davis records—including the Workin’, Steamin’, Cookin’, Relaxin’ series, as well as Milestones and Kind of Blue—he played with rhythm and blues groups in Philadelphia and elsewhere. Lewis Porter’s masterful biography, John Coltrane: His Life and Music, describes R&B gigs in the early to mid-50s with bandleaders such as Johnny Hodges. According to Porter’s book, the Hodges band toured with several rhythm and blues stars, including Billy Eckstine, Ruth Brown, and the Clovers. Benny Golson, a sax player also retained by Hodges, “marveled at the things [he] heard [Coltrane] play” on the tour. Trane famously entertained a number of influences throughout his career but where did this R&B sound originate?

Illinois Jacquet's solo on "Flying Home" inspired other horn players.

At the very least, jump blues began with a variety of groups active in the 1930s, including orchestras led by Jimmie Lunceford, Cab Calloway, and Lucky Millinder. These early songs featured hopping rhythm, rambunctious horns, and increasingly mischievous lyrics. Just as jazz began to adopt the saxophone as its central instrument—to deliver the fleet or searching or muscular work of the soloist—so did jump blues offer rowdy saxophone solos, “jumps” if you will, in the midst of a tune, and oftentimes, woven throughout a piece. Arguably, the most famous early jump saxophone solo belonged to Illinois Jacquet, a sideman at the time with the Lionel Hampton Orchestra. His workout on “Flying Home” in 1942 inspired saxophone players to emulate his honking sound. Indeed, many horn players would dwell in the upper or lower registers of their horns, effecting the kind of chaotic riotousness that drove audiences to crash around and scream. Audience members couldn’t seem to believe what they were hearing; it nourished a need of theirs that they may not have been able to articulate, in advance. I wonder if the musicians ever expressed similar feelings. Jump blues burned brightest from the late 1940s through the mid 1950s. The music would eventually be covered, gentrified, and absorbed by other genres long before Miles Davis affixed the flickering embers of jazz to wailing electric guitar lines in A Tribute to Jack Johnson, and the album’s outtakes, among other jazz-rock material. Still, jump music added shape to rock, R&B, and avant garde saxophone from its wealth of rowdy excess.

White audiences hadn't heard anyone like Big Jay McNeely.

The heroes of jump have nicknames like Tiny, Big Jay, Big Mama, Sugarboy, Mr. Five by Five, Big Joe, Fats, and Bull Moose. They are criminally under-celebrated. Here are, in chronological order by date of recording, 35 greatest hits—25 prime jumps followed by five early numbers and five magnificent novelties:

Eddie Lockjaw Davis: “Ravin’ at the Haven” (1947)
Roy Brown: “Boogie at Midnight” (1949)
Ruth Brown: “Hello Little Boy” (1949)
Freddie Mitchell: “Pony Express” (1949)
Johnny Otis: “Good Ole Blues” (1949)
Wynonie Harris: “Bloodshot Eyes” (1950)
Tiny Bradshaw: “I’m Going to Have Myself a Ball” (1950)
Joe Liggins: “Going Back to New Orleans” (1950)
Roy Milton: “Oh Babe” (1950)
Big Jay McNeely: “Insect Ball” (1951)
Jackie Brenston: “Real Gone Rocket” (1951)
Big Mama Thornton: “Hound Dog” (1952)
James Sugarboy Crawford: “Overboard” (1953)
Jimmy Rushing: “Mr. Five by Five” (1953)
Big Joe Houston: “All Night Long” (1954)
Big Joe Turner: “Shake, Rattle and Roll” (1954)
Bill Haley: “Farewell So Long Goodbye” (1954)
Ray Charles: “I’ve Got a Woman” (1954)
Johnny Sparrow: “Sparrow’s Nest” (1955)
Dave Bartholomew: “Shrimp and Gumbo” (1955)
Amos Milburn: “Chicken Shack Boogie” (1956)
Louis Prima: “Oh Marie” (1956)
Fats Domino: “I’m Walkin’” (1957)
Memphis Slim: “Steppin’ Out” (1959)
Long John Hunter: “Grandma” (1961)

(+5 Early Jumps)
Jimmie Lunceford: “Rhythm Is Our Business” (1934)
Stuff Smith: “Old Joe’s Hittin’ the Jug” (1936)
Cab Calloway: “Do You Want to Jump, Children?” (1938)
Sammy Price: “Monkey Swing” (1939)
Lionel Hampton: “Flying Home” (1942)

(+5 Novelty Tunes)
Louis Jordan: “Caldonia” (1945)
Bull Moose Jackson: “Shorty’s Got to Go” (1945)
Paula Watson: “Hidin’ in the Sticks” (1948)
Lucky Millinder: “Who Said Shorty Wasn’t Coming Back?” (1950)
Big Bob Kornegay: “Bullfrog Hop” (1953-1958?)

The great Louis Jordan.

Some may quibble with my placement of Louis Jordan amongst the novelties, but I am as partial to these songs (and Jordan) as to the prime jumps. Jordan, an alto sax player and bandleader, recorded a number of great songs—including “Choo Choo Ch’Boogie”, “Beans and Cornbread”, and “Knock Me a Kiss”—but “Caldonia” is a special song. Other jump songs recorded by other artists refer to the character, Caldonia, who, despite her awkward appearance, inspires the singer, Jordan. He tells the listener that he’s “crazy ‘bout that woman ‘cause Caldonia is her name.” Indeed.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013


No more peninsula and panhandle but the grip and the barrel.

The editorial board at Blood And Gutstein hereby acknowledges that the “Stand Your Ground Law” provides a far too narrow zone of safety for neighborhood watch captains patrolling the mean streets of gated communities in Florida. We therefore lobby the state to adopt a greatly broadening Stand Your Element Law, which would enable these same captains to shoot unarmed teenagers in tunnels, when aloft, or amidst conflagrations. This protection would extend to fiery religious ceremonies.

More people are digging in the soil these days, leading to scenarios in which neighborhood watch captains might have to patrol deep, deep in the Earth, and if these community watchdogs encountered teenagers wearing suspicious tunneling garments, they should feel empowered to “Stand [Your] Underground.” Of course, if anyone encountered a figure underground, wearing a hood-up, it could always turn out to be the Grim Reaper. The law, however, should still empower a neighborhood watch captain to discharge his weapon into Death.

Similarly, more and more people are bungee jumping and skydiving and engaging in rhythmic trampoline encounters, necessitating armed neighborhood watch volunteers to patrol the Wind. These same watch captains must patrol, by necessity, the increasing number of recreational blazes, including jamboree Fire, hootenanny Fire, and hee haw Fire, not to mention the ritual biblical sacrifice of he-bullocks, she-nannygoats, and gender-neutral muttons. If troubled in these Elements by the presence of an unarmed teenager wearing a hairshirt, the community watchdog member should feel licensed to “Stand [Your] Airspace” or “Stand [Your] Smoke”—because where there’s Smoke, there should be (gun)Fire.

In all seriousness, the editorial board recalls the gist of a passage from Monster: The Autobiography of an L.A. Gang Member, in which the “Monster”, aka Cody Scott, narrates some of his time in prison. Many “gunslingers” had been incarcerated with him, yet these inmates, who had depended upon firearms for their street toughness, did not fare so well behind bars, where fistfights were more the norm. We have to wonder just what one community watch volunteer was even doing with a firearm (especially in the placid confines of a gated community) and whether this volunteer would have disembarked his automobile in the first place if his only option (in a confrontation) was a fistfight.

We are remiss, of course, in not including Water among these Elements. A Floridian community watch volunteer (think Everglades) might encounter a unarmed teenager dressed as a crocodile, an alligator, a manatee, a feral hog, or a python—you know, clad in that kind of hoodie. In which case, Blood And Gutstein fully supports the “Stand Your Swamp” defense. Oh yeah.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013


1: Stomach Procedure
My gastro doctor gave me a general so he could scope my upper guts, et cetera. As things got blurry, the nurse told me I looked like Jerry Seinfeld. (Months earlier, a pimp made the same observation as I jogged past him and his creamy Mercedes at night outside The Ascot Lounge, where three women, decked out in shiny gold dresses, sang, “Seinfeld! Seinfeld!”) The medical team had installed some kind of device in my mouth that would accept the scope and when they introduced the scope to my throat, I responded with a long helpless burp, a free-jazz burp that sufficiently impressed the doctor, who scrutinized me. “AAAGGGHHH!” he screamed, nearly dropping the puppeteer controls of the scope. My eyes were wide open. “He’s not asleep!” I couldn’t speak, on account of the machinery jammed down my esophagus. I thought ‘Ha! Now you can’t talk about me!’ The nurse said, “Ha! Now we can’t talk about him!” Later, in the recovery room, the nurse added, “Seinfeld would’ve gone to sleep.” I asked the doctor what were the weirdest things he ever saw in someone’s stomach. He spit out his tic tac as the question must’ve caught him off guard. “A full size tooth brush,” he reasoned. “Also an undigested snake head.” I called him Dr. Gold— when his name was Dr. Wein—. He told me, in return, that I probably had a terrible condition. I’d have to take medication the rest of my life and we would have to schedule an appointment to discuss biopsy results. In the end, I didn’t have any condition at all, and on the appointed date of the dire appointment, the doctor sat beside me in a crisp white jacket. He didn’t really remember me (he had a busy practice) but he patted me on the back with the negative biopsy findings and rattled a few tic tacs in his hand, as if they were festive peanuts.

2: Wisdom Teeth
My oral surgeon gave me a general so he could saw into my upper jaw and lower jaw, to remove four impacted wisdom choppers. He and the nurse pumped me full of old school sleeping gas. Long past the junction when the oral surgery manual would’ve read, ‘Hey, enough of the gas already!’ he was pumping me full of sleeping gas. Did he say “Count to one hundred?” Did he say “Recite the alphabet backwards, starting at Z?” I have no idea because my eyes were blinkered. It was as black as death only it was black so it wasn’t death. (It was not unlike ‘the black lights of unconsciousness’ that boxers detail—boxers, that is, who’ve been knocked out—except there were no lights whatsoever, just the faintest rhythm of respiration.) I could tell time in there—I could tell time whatever I wanted—so I gave time a good piece of my mind—“Hurry the F--- up!” I said. (To time.) The doctor’s name was Bird or Turd. He and the nurse were crouched over me as I ‘came to’ but they were looking into my mouth with worried brows. Had I swallowed something during the surgery that they should discuss with me? Had they sawed into the proper part of my jaw? Was this some kind of elaborate Intervention concerning my oral hygiene habits? Before he discharged me, Dr. Turd told me to take as many painkillers as I wanted, so I did. I took so many painkillers that I woke up one night unable to move, with a sensation of falling into the earth. I didn’t die. But death seemed near.

3: Hand Surgery
I had done something valorous but part of me, in the process, passed through a window, leading to lots of blood, and I severed the nerve fiber in my thumb, so my hand doctor gave me a general before she attempted to reconnect the tissue. A curtain had been established between my elbow and the careful motions of the surgical instruments. I lay there, on the operating slab, considering the ceiling, the overhead lights, the ductwork, the electrical apparatus, and the ventilation, when a moon-like face, with overgrown eyebrows and nasal hairs, appeared above me. He hovered there, looking deeply into my eyes, a man wrinkled by his difficult experiences. “How’s it going?” he said, at last. “Okay,” I replied. “You’re supposed to be under,” he observed. “Yeah,” I said. “But you’re not,” he added. “I am not,” I agreed. “Unless I’m dreaming.” The face shook. “You’re not dreaming,” said the lips. “If you say so,” I sighed. “Are you in pain?” he said. I thought about this. “I feel some pressure,” I explained. “Do you want me to give you something?” He patted his pocket. “You mean you’ve got something in your coat?” I said. “Oh yeah,” he said. “I’m in charge around here.” He spread out his arms to indicate the entirety of the operating theatre. “Really?” I said. “Believe it,” he said. My surgeon then materialized beside The Moon-like Doctor. “He’s supposed to be under,” she stated. “Yes,” went The Moon-like Doctor, “he and I were just speaking about that.” She flabbergasted her hands this way and the other way before returning to the other side of the curtain, even though I think the surgery was over, by that point. “Well, so long,” said The Moon-like Doctor. “Wait a second,” I called. “Do you have many conversations like this, with patients who are supposed to be under?” He laughed but didn’t answer. The hand doctor casted my thumb. I was 19 years old. I would be less opposable than before but given the surgical intervention more opposable than if I’d opted, simply, to cleanse the original wound of its glass. In short, I could still resist.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013


Red and Andy.

Whereas The Fugitive depicts a Windy City, Big City on-the-lam thrill-ride and The Shawshank Redemption narrates a tale of Big HHHHHHouse stoicism (in which the wind plays a limited role) these two films nevertheless share a number of conventions, including through-actions populated by convenient arrivals. Both main characters have been wrongly convicted of murdering their wives. The viewer, from the outset, would hardly doubt the innocence of Dr. Richard Kimble (played by Harrison Ford) as well as the innocence of Andy Dufresne (played by Tim Robbins) and therefore the essential tensions of the films concern the attempts of both characters to nullify their convictions—given the obstinate machinery of a blinded legal system gone amuck.

Both characters escape. Kimble, in The Fugitive, frees himself in the film’s early going, after a speeding freight train, fortunately, strikes a prison bus which has been crippled, at night, after the bus comes to rest upon train tracks, following a prisoner uprising. It takes Dufresne the bulk of The Shawshank Redemption to escape from his cell, but he does, after the camera reveals the tunnel he has been digging with a small rock hammer, over a couple decades, through walls that obligingly crumble. At the end of his travails, Kimble is once again under arrest, but the audience understands that he will soon be freed, and Dufresne, though a fugitive, himself, at the end of his story, has nevertheless achieved incontrovertible freedom by crossing into Mexico.

Though Dr. Kimble operates mostly as an outcast and must dodge the attempts of a zealous but curious U.S. Marshal Samuel Gerard (played by Tommy Lee Jones) he nevertheless does not seem to display any character flaws, is perfectly likable, and in a way that exemplifies Hollywood Morality, carries the water (figuratively speaking) for anyone who has suffered the cruel weights of the system upon his or her shoulders. The Fugitive seems to take place over a few months whereas The Shawshank Redemption, in fits and starts, settles in for twenty years. Dufresne, in that span, oscillates between brash, optimistic, maudlin, and withdrawn, and suffers real consequences—beatings, isolations, exposure to unsavory populations—when he acts out against authority. His life before prison, though dealt with in brief, suggests imperfections—his wife, after all, had been cheating at the time of her murder, and he, apparently, drank to excess. Nevertheless, as a prisoner, Dufresne always seems to triumph over his surroundings, gaining privileges for himself and his friends, including one friend in particular, Red (played by Morgan Freeman), who also serves as the film’s voice-over narrator. (Dufresne’s chief tormentor in the population, a rapist who leads a gang, “The Sisters”, is clubbed into submission—and paralysis—by the guards.)

Both films offer compelling oppositional dynamics among different groups. In The Fugitive, the Chicago Police Department are villainous in their zeal to capture and punish Kimble, while at the same time, many former colleagues aid the doctor, and the film’s second protagonist, Marshal Gerard, who, at first aims to “get his man”, comes to his rescue, instead, by the time Kimble finally solves the mystery of his wife’s murder. Dufresne, at first an outsider, must weather the assaults by The Sisters, before he can win himself a crowd of friends, led by Red, and before he can win the Chief Guard’s attention in a risky gambit. The guards bend back and forth between tolerating Dufresne and acting brutally towards him, as does the Warden, who cuts a devoutly corruptive figure by laundering money with Dufresne’s financial expertise. Both films, similarly, contain conspiracies. A major pharmaceutical company seems to murder many people, including Kimble’s wife, among other felonious acts, in a muddy plot to establish a new drug. In The Shawshank Redemption, the warden and his guards conspire to murder a new inmate, one who conveniently validates Dufresne’s claims of innocence. 

Gerard and Kimble.

Both films are long; they both contain amusing moments where probability is stretched too thin. For example, Kimble memorably does a “Peter Pan” off the top of a huge dam, a jump that would kill anybody else. Dufresne’s escape is especially difficult to believe—not that a man couldn’t escape from prison, rather, the night he must go, there just happens to be a loud, lengthy thunderstorm, one that allows him to rupture a thick, impenetrable pipe, loudly, with an ordinary rock. Scant hours later, Dufresne exposes the warden, tidily mailing evidence of his malfeasance to a newspaper reporter while clad in a flawless suit. Owing, perhaps, to implausible moments in the scripts, neither leading man seems to do his best acting. (I always liked Harrison Ford in Blade Runner and Witness, and as for Robbins, his acting in Mystic River was strong, not to mention his part in The Player.) No, it’s the supporting characters who deliver the better performances, in part because their scripted roles twist through humanistic changes which the viewer can identify. The Marshall switches from a pursuer to a sympathizer in The Fugitive, and in The Shawshank Redemption, Red finally exhibits remorse over the murder he had committed as a young man.

The Fugitive appeared a year earlier (1993) than The Shawshank Redemption (1994), and earned staggering box office revenue of $368.9 million, whereas the latter film barely exceeded its budget, grossing but $28.3 million. Both were nominated for seven Academy Awards, with Tommy Lee Jones winning for Best Supporting Actor, the only win among the fourteen opportunities. The Fugitive is a thriller; The Shawshank Redemption is a drama—perhaps allowing for the box office differences. Kimble is cleaner than Dufresne; he does not go to prison, he does not get sodomized, he physically saves a law enforcement officer (Marshal Gerard) in the penultimate scene of the movie, whereas Dufresne implicates the entire staff at Shawshank. Even though the storylines contain the deaths of the wives, still, both films are about birth, as both main characters—ruggedly—attain their freedom. Viewers never doubt this, however, nor do they doubt that the two couples, Kimble and Gerard and Dufresne and Red, will be united in friendship, as well. Both heroes are innocent, after all, so how could they fail in friendship?

The problem isn’t that Hollywood created two films that don’t really challenge the ever-simplifying moviegoer’s sense of entitlement to triumph, but that cable TV is forever airing these two movies. I’d like to see two new movies, instead. The first one, starring Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones, would be called The Punitive, and would dramatize the travails of a wrongly accused doctor who would be suing, like, everybody: the police, the marshals, the hospital, the drug company. (“I thought we were friends!” Tommy Lee Jones would holler, as he is served a subpoena.) The second film, starring Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman, would be dubbed The Middle Aged Man, the Old Man, and the Sea, and would depict two ex-convicts sailing around in Mexican fishing waters, perhaps landing a large albacore. Better yet, how about a flick that brought together all four chaps—and some women, too, for gosh sakes—in a film entitled Four Actors in Search of a Movie.