Sex and the Jazz Musician: The Brutal Truth!
The following is taken from the chronicles of a gold panel Committee of select persons from the international confines of various state institutions that hold such findings sacredthe long-term commitment of these individuals that have given rant to their multitudinous ravings on this highly personal topic.
In my course of dumpster diving for salvation, I found these discarded records from the Harding administration that are the most revealing about these ubiquitous and reoccurring problems.
And Now the Brutal Truth!
I actually don't know much about the sex life of a jazz musician even though I am one. Based on the knowledge that I have at hand, it seems to me that it would be a very short story indeed, even leaving delusions of grandeur out of it.
So, what the f**k was that all about? Well, I'll tell ya. If you've read this far, very coolyou're my kind of person and I thank you very much. Here's the main reason for this articleand it's been about a half a year since my last one. We here at All About Jazz corporate are, for the most part, housed in very comfortable surroundings and treated very well. But, as I stated, I've really not turned out much in the way of work re: articles and such for a long time, and when passing each other in the hall (that being Mr. Ricci and Mr. Kelman), I find myself avoiding eye contact with either of these gentlemen. When in close proximity of ether of the two, one feels this source of formidable power and a mindset that bespeaks of industry and exploration as in ad astrato the stars. OK, stay with me now! Here at corporate, a lot of thought is given to the read count that we writers generate on our respective works that we contribute to the site. So for those of you in Bakersfieldsince I ain't done much around here except making and throwing paper airplanes at the time clockwell that puts me into a negative position in the asking and or demanding of certain, shall we say, privileges, ya dig?
All right! Onward. I'm sure that many of you reading this, work in a multilayered corporate environment and understand the goings on of the water cooler politics and such. Is there a thing as steno pools anymore? Stenographer; hmm, must look that upmight as well look up water coolers too. In every lifetime the powers that be deem to throw one a nice big, fat, slow ball pitch right down the middle of the strike zone, and all one has to do is swing the bat for that basesloaded, peak moment, to blossom forth and travel beyond the pale.
OK. A little wordy but this isn't cheer leading 101 we're talking about, manthis is f*@#cking life! A serendipitous (for me) event has very recently occurred here at corporate, in that musicologist (in residence), Dr. Gregory Gumpharter either fell or was pushed out of the window of his corner office on the 23rd floor of the Tristano Tower building (Mr. Ricci's suite on the 28th floor encompasses the entire sq. footage of said floor, giving him a full, panoramic view of both oceans). Nownow do you see what I'm getting at? The title of an article with sex and jazz in it, I know, if people are like me, they will click on it! Yeah! Now do ya dig? Although it seems as though someone of some prominence just recently said, "Mort, most people aren't like you," hmm. Be that as it may. So now that you're hipped , let's get it on!
The miraculous return of Mort Weiss to the scene after an incredible layoff of 40 years?
"Mort Weiss' return to the jazz scene is one of the happier events in the jazz world in the 21st century," internationally acclaimed writer/jazz historian Scott Yanow said about me.
"Mort Weiss is the Rip van Winkle (times two) and the Thomas Edison of jazz," says AAJ.
And there were, and are, many other recognitions of what I had done on August 14, 2001, and how and why I did it. Let me say in all sincerity how much I appreciate that anyone noticed that I was even there. As to the question mark at the subject line of this, well, therein lays the caveat. Ya see, there was no scene that I was returning to. Yes, I hadback in the day in Los Angeles and Hollywood playedjammed, worked with many who would go on to become not only well-known musicians, but also, some legends of the genre. See my archived AAJ article Ornette and Me. Any notoriety that I might have garnered would have been my R&B and R&R Las Vegas years, when I played the tenor sax exclusively but would always be practicing and making sessions on the clarinet, whereever I was. The clarinet was, and is, the only horn that I ever really worked on, and as I've stated in my archived AAJ article, Trane Clones and the Noose of Technology, I'm not particularly thrilled that it is the axe my folks gave me to playbut at the time (1944) it was what the guitar is today, oh yeah!
For those of you who might want to know a little more about what makes Mort Weiss run, I strongly suggest that you read the profile on me, archived on AAJ, Mort to Come, by the very astute and sensitiveSammy Stein. Even though I had fed him information during the time he was putting the work together, after I read it (I didn't want to see any of it as it developed) I just sat in front of my Mac desk topoh say for about four or five minutesjust sitting there staring at the screenand reread it once more. After I was put to bed that night, I found out later that my wife Jeanne had hidden everything sharp or with a point on same, substituting crayons for pens and pencils. Everything reverted back to normal for us in about two or three days. Other than that, it wasn't that interesting to me. Hummph! Go ahead give it a shotbut adults, don't try what you read at home!
Speaking of that profile, Mort To Come, the picture that was used of me at the top of the piece was great! It extolled the virtues and the deep feeling of the very soul of the man and his gestalt of emotion and sensitivity for the entire world, and all of mankind who huddle together for reassurance on this vale of tears and laughter. Look at his eye, the laugh and tear lines of having lived a Faustian mythological life of expectation, only to be dashed against the stones of reality again and again that border the seas of torment and despair. Yet, upon further reflection, one (a woman's most likely) would see the vulnerability of a little boy asking to beaaaawwww sh@t! Dammmit! I'm freakin' looking at a picture of Peter Brötzmann. Awww, man!
On to other things.
The weekend that I worked with sax legend Teddy Edwards we walked the line. Oh, we surely did. It was sometime during 1964, Teddy and I were picketing a burlesque club in Whittier, California, a small town just east of Los Angeles still within the jurisdiction of Musicians Union Local 47. It was just the two of us and it paid eight dollars an hour, four hours each night. Yeah, the union still had power back thenpre The Beatles and the Class of '65 mentalities that were to prevail. It was cold. Yes, it can get rather cool at night in southern California. Teddy wanted a drink of Scotch but he had a stomach ulcer and was afraid to aggravate the condition with a taste. I was grooving along with a short dog of T-Bird and dropping an occasional Bennie, so I was cool. Occasionally we'd look in the window of the room and dig one of the strippers and the scab band (drums, tenor sax and piano), steadily fucking up "Harlem Nocturne," and like that. Finally, Teddy goes in and orders and gets a glass of milk with a shot of Scotch in it and sits back and digs. After all, he had become a customer. I carried both signs for the moment.
Oh, yeah. Aside from being a great musician, Teddy was as nice a cat as could bea gentleman. We knew each other from hanging at local 47 and playing at the many sessions in and around L.A. at the time. A must read: A Fireside Chat with Teddy Edwards, on AAJ.
Don Joham. Never heard of himhave you? He was just the world's greatest jazz drummer, and a nice cat. What I've just said about Don was felt among all of us cats and any one that heard him play and or played with him, be they established jazz personalities or fans that were hip to the haps in and around Hollywood and Los Angeles circa 1957-1965. When Don walked into a club that was a known session place, the fuckin,' room lit upas in "Hey, Don- - all right manhow ya doin'ya wanna play?"meaning bypassing some cats that had been waiting hours to get on the stand.
Don, always with a smile on his face would start to mingle, shaking hands and doin' the back and forth verbal dance that all us cats did, back in the daywe were a like minded group that worshiped the ground that the main cats walked on- - and we were trying very hard to learn our craft. I saw little (if any) backstabbing and/or dissing of any kind back in that day. Oh, yeah, when you were on the stand playing "Cherokee" way up and y' all were taking fours or eights and the shit was popping, one tried one's best to burn the cat's shit that came before you. Oh, yeah, that's where you learned to blow.
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!
I remember the times the great Joe Albany would fall by and end up playing by himself because nobody knew what the fuck he was doing when he was stoned out of his head. Joe Albany, almost a giant. Worth looking up. But I digress. Back to Freddie, the cat was born and raised in The Apple. Played drums, dug jazz, hung out with every one that got high, and in the '50s that represented one hell of a lot of catsgreat players and not so great. Freddie was using big time, got down to 90 lbs. and decided, to his credit, that he head for the coast. Got sidetracked in Vegas, where he got real tight with Buddy Rich and spent about two years, then on to L.A. around 1957. When I met him, Freddie maintainedand so did we all in our "own sweet way." A few years back, when Terry Gibbs and I did some small concerts together, I would be at his house he would regale me with many story's that you won't find in his book Good Vibes: A Life in Jazz (Scarecrow, 2003), a must read for anyone interested in the real thingthat being bebop! Freddie's name came up and Terry told me about helping him keep his shit together by setting him up as a drum teacher in the music store that he, Terry, owned at the time, and in general helping him in many ways to acquire some kind of lifeand ya know what? He did!
Freddie could talk and he could and did paint verbal pictures that, if taken in context with what one was seeking at the time, started to make sense, offering a solution to whatever it was that you came to Freddie about. Freddie could be charismatic and it paid offhe became drum teacher to the stars of the day, like Dave Weckl, Rush's Neil Peart, and the list goes on and on, all extolling the virtues of mind and thought sessions with Freddie. Not just a drum teacher, but also a consultant, a giver of life lessons. But there was a caveat, and that was: no-one had ever heard him play, and no-one can, or could, find a recording or a video of Freddie playing with any one or anybody!
Freddie left the building for good a few years ago. The last time I saw him was six or seven years ago at Terry Gibbs' 80th birthday party/dinner. Freddie was table-hopping as he was wont to do in all situations requiring one to interact with other people. Freddie was glib, talking nonstop, extolling the virtues of this and that and the other. Terry once told me that Freddie never went anywhere without carrying 10K in cash on his person. I'm kind of an expert on doing things my way, and if we ever meet somewhere, sometime I'll definitely say to him, "Freddie you sure as hell did it your way."
Terry's party was held at this mom and pop Italian restaurant in Sherman Oaks in the San Fernando Valley, on the north side of the Hollywood hills in California, not far from Terry's home. There were about forty people in attendance, the crème de la crème of the Hollywood studio and jazz music community, as were my wife Jeanne and myself. The room, the waiters, the food, the décor was very home-like and nice. The dress was Southern California casual, no ties and like thatin other words nothing ostentatious.
Alright, you've got the picture. Across the room was a small bandstand and on it was some farkatke electric piano made in Tibet. Along comes this fellow, oh say about somewhere in his 40s, with a bunch of fake books, gets up on the stand, sits down at the keyboard, puts up one of the fake books, turns to some page and starts playing "Some Enchanted Evening." He continues into a medley of all the songs from the show South Pacific, with a built-in drum machine, booming and banging through tiny (thank God) six-inch speakers, oomm-chucking along in the same meter, on and on and on.
Sitting at the table right below our intrepid pianist was Horace Silver and his son and friends. Are you with me on thiscan you picture all that I've described and feel the vibes (no, Terry didn't play) of this surreal Stephen King-esqe dinner, Freddie Gruber, all these studio cats, Horace Silver, the fuckin' pianist dude who couldn't have had any idea who any of these folks were, and what they were about, not that it would have made any difference to the cat. And here's the kicker: no-oneI mean no-onepaid the slightest attention to what was going on, least of all Terry. Jeanne and I looked at each other baffled and just slowly shook our heads. My friends, this was something right out of a Coen Bros. flick!
Important! Please note, I'm not a writer, I'm a storyteller about the things I did, the stuff I saw of the people that made up, at the time, the core and formation of the Mort Weiss of today, those being the foibles, the fuckups, the dreams of youth, and the stark realization of finding one's self as the star in some one-act drama of love-hate, laughter and tears. When asked to come aboard AAJ and share my experiences that were firmly anchored within the jazz community of Hollywood at the time, I made it very clear that without spell check, I still would be dumpster diving for salvation and I wouldn't want to find myself in a situation where I had to worry about sentence structure and the use of proper verbiage. I think everything's cool on that, using my read counts and the great responses that I've received from many of you out there as a guideline.
Now here's what I'm trying to say: you're getting my little scribbling intact and as it comes out of my mind, exactly how it went down at the timeonly, because the editors here at AAJ are so freakin' hip, that they know, and respect where I'm coming from and the vehicle of thought that makes the transition from me to you. So, having said that, if you, the reader, happens on a seemingly strange and not very grammatical sentence or train of thought, it's not that it got by the editor, I can very strongly assure you of that, these cats here at AAJ, John, Chris May, Michael and the rest are astute, hip, creative and talented in each of their respective disciplines of thought and actions! And people, I don't kiss ass, fuck the corner office! If you're not sure or don't quite understand what your reading in one of my articles, please get in touch with me and we'll walk through said problem together with the results being your understanding and, in all probabilities, my learning something of value! Hey, Guys. Thanks for letting me be me.
Ya know I've been told many times by many people that I had a book in me, maybe they're right, and here all this time I thought it was gas. Of course if it is, it's all interchangeable isn't it?
When I quit playingnot stopped, quit, June 1965if one was lucky when working a club, they had a sound system of sorts. This consisted of a mic, and a wire attached to a little speaker in a box placed somewhere on the stand, which squealed with ballbusting feedback if one turned up the volume past two. If you were a guitarist plugged to your own amp, and if you inadvertently touched the mic stand, god forbid that your shoes were wet. Well, we were all young and much better looking than now, and none of us had pacemakers and a defib, so a few minutes after the experience most cats were ready for the next tune. Cut to 2001, when I really got back on the horse, man, the sound systems, the monitor speakers, which I really like, hell, these days most club owners even keep their pianos kinda tuned. Fucking progress, man; of course very few cats still play the pianoforte any more. And all the wires on the floor of the stand, Geeezzzz man, I was afraid to move when I first started playing again.
Take a look at some of my live performance clips on you tube; notice how I shuffled around on the stand like a freakin zombie from the Night of the Living Dead flick. Didn't help when I had a hip replacement 2005reminds me, did ya hear about the square guy that fell down and broke his hep? OK, OK on with my thoughts such as they might be. First time I played an outta town venue, coming back to the hotel about 3pm having just had breakfast, the cat at the desk says, "Oh Mr. Weiss, they would like you to come right over for a sound check." What the fa? A sound check to me was one that didn't bounce, 'ssssup?
1965, man. The freakin Brits hit and hit hard. I remember all the younger cats going around with this phony jive ass Liverpool Trafalgar square effectuated ersatz English accent 'cause man, the chicks dug it. Oh yeah, at that moment supreme when it's payback time for all the dollars you spent on her that night that you couldn't afford and you've worked, cajoled, wined her, dined her and you're both withering in the sound and the fury of this moment divine, "Yes, yes," she's screaming, "take me Paul, I'm yours John, oh, such rapture Ringo, your gorgeous George!" Now, yes, now you make your verbal move "What ho, I say, raaather, steady on, blimey and..."haaa, haa, ha, I freakin' can't go on. I think you got the picture ha, haa. Oh man. Ha. "Lord what fools these mortals be"Puck, from Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. Ohhhh, God.
Next. Jazz free and me.
Well, if you're familiar with my feelings on the topic, then you know where I'm at. I'm not going to name any names other than one, just so you can get some sort of a timeline for what I'm about to explain. From my old chum Ornette (see the AAJ archived article Ornette & Me), who is starting to sound like Jimmy Dorsey to me now, with all of the people strutting their inharmonious stuff these days people blowing bird whistles; folks reaching over the top of the piano and arbitrarily plucking a string here and there; with the drummer hitting the cymbals with his elbows and using a marching bass drum mallet to hit the freakin' bass drum intermittently; and the bassist? On occasion pulling a freakin' string and then staring euphorically off into space with a (no doubt practiced) look, like he had just discovered the cure for herpesguaranteed to arouse the interest of any of the young ladies at the performance, who had gathered there expecting and receiving a wonderful life lesson from this group of musicians (?) that wereahh, ahh playing (?) that day. Oh, and these cats have a hit record going for them. Ahhhhh, man! I've seen this crapoops, strike that! Got a mild but stern reprimand here at corporate once for using the C word in a comment I made about a group not unlike the one that I just described.
Let me explain/make my point further, musicians, take five for a bit while I run over some basic fundamentals for some of the good folks that are reading this and who have never studied music before. Movinghey, you! Get your arse back in here; I said musicians, dude. All of European and so called Western Hemispheric music is based on 12 tones/soundsin an octave there are 8 notes/sounds, each note with a letter giving it a name, as E, B, F and so on. Music is written on five horizontal lines and four horizontal spaces. I'll use the word songs when referring to a work of music. Equally spaced vertical lines called bars segment the lines and spaces. See Wikipedia for a more enhanced and detailed description, if needed. OK. Are ya with me? Between these bar lines there are notes running linear which is usually thematic and making up the core value of the song the composer is giving you, the listener.
Also, on another set of lines and spaces there are vertical clusters of notes called chords each chord determined by its name; for example, E has a complete scale that runs through it, meaning at the given space and the time allotted to same, any note one would play in the E scale would be in harmonious sync with that chord at that moment in time. No, I'm not going to get into key signatures or meter/tempo options here. OK. Break's over, guys, c'mon back in here.
Rules; yes, they count and do not impede progress or enlightenment.
In literature such as James Joyce's Ulysses', William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury, Allan Ginsberg's Howl, Jack Kerouac's On the Road and like that, sometimes free stream was usedand to a degree, disregarding traditional punctuation and accepted classical sentence structure. But certain rules remained steadfast, such as the spelling of wordsdotting I's crossing T's, and so forth, giving the reader some kind of a road map so they would have some idea of what the fuck the writer was talking about. OK. I've given you some of the basic rules of the road re: harmonic structure. I'll take that one more step further; on the chord explanation there are things called extensions, meaning that one cannot only play the basic note therein, but extended a little further out harmonically with notes further away from the first or root note, something that was used in classical music from the 1900s on and in to jazz circa, oh, say, somewhere around 1943ish.
All right, given what I have told you, when I'm blowin some tune regardless of the tempo, I've got this foundation of recognizable structure to navigate on and using all the rules of music, some that I have just stated, for parameters and logical boundaries of thought in which to express myself and tell you my story in a musical syntax. No! Don't tell me boundaries and parameters impede extemporaneous and new dimensions of thought! That's pure and unadulterated jive! What I'm going to tell you next will be a shock to some of you young bloods out there and that is, Trane's "Giant Steps" was all within the given firm chord structure of the song as was every note of his choruses that ensued after the head. I hung with him musically up to and through A Love Supreme (Impulse!, 1965), which was cool because I was also into Jimi Hendrix up to and through Electric Ladyland (Reprise, 1968). Of course, by that time I was a little fucked-up in the head, toobut hey! What the hell, huh? Onward. Of course all that I've told you and everywhere I'm coming from is from my frame of reference and any and all belief systems that I may have acquired throughout my life, until this moment. Likewise, what and how you're receiving this is predicated on yours. Just wanted to throw that into this mix let's call it a point of referenceOK?
We humans, Homo sapiens genus Rex have to be the most paradoxical things in this universe or in any universe or in any dimension singular or multi-paralleled, from Attila the Hun, Confucius and Aristotle to Bach, Hitler, William Butler Yates, Charles Manson and Mother Teresa toI think you know where I'm going with this train of thought so let's get there. Basic Freudian, Jungian and Adlerian Psychology mostly tells us what I'm about to extrapolate from them and put into the mindset of an artist wanting to express himself to an audience of people who are mostly freakin' bored with their 9-5 and overflowing with pent-up emotions, mostly of the fear and frustrations which occur in the daily grind to pay the rent.
Knowing this consciously or intuitively the artist, let's say a so-called free saxophonist goes onstage and wearing some weird by accepted standards outfitpicture Captain Beefheart throwawaysgets to center stage band behind him all plugged in master volume switches turned to ten on a couple of Marshall stacks (yeah, I know this a jazz gigbut I've seen this shit on Youtube labeled jazz), cats out there and lets go a Janovian scream on his horn like BBBLLAGGGATOUTH SHAWGAHEYBLLAAA ABBB KLLLAAA AHHHH AHH AFFFFUUUUUCCCCCKKKKKZZZZZZ GA AH HU uh uhza phaaaa. People are goin fuckin' nutsscreaming and shouting their approval of this display of fuck your parents, fuck your job, fuck this, that and the other thingour artist is prancing about absorbing all of this adulation from his brothers and sisters In misery and misunderstanding; in fact, the cats so fuckin' moved that he starts throwing personal objects to the crowd: first, his very cool sunglasses- - then his jacket, then histhen hisvery soul.
Back in 1965, during my AFUPP in Hollywood, California, another musician and I rented a house in back of a house on Willoughby St. just off Vine St. near the Musicians Union, local #47. The other cat was a very good musician and going through the just divorced dance with all of it's confusion and heartbreak. He has gone on to become a very well known name in the industry, is now rich, happy and handsome. So he will remain anonymous. I, on the other hand, am not. We were paying $55.00 a month in rent the house had two bedrooms, two bathrooms, two kitchenslike everything was double; I told you, this was in Hollywood.
We each had things to do during the day like scoring, scrounging and looking for work though not too hard on the last one. Oh, I forgot to tell y'all what AFUPP meant. Means, All Fucked Up, Period. Another thing I did most of the day was to practice throwing darts at a dartboard we had set up about 25 feet from the throwing launch pad. It got so that, loaded or sober, I couldn't miss the bull's-eye, even if I tried. Well, word got around: Mort Weiss and Igor Stravinsky had a pad within walking distance from the union and there always was some Mexican food, Mary Jane, Tea, Pot, Marijuana, uppers and downers, juice and a bag of Fritos, plus non-stop jazz on the many LPs that were in residence at said pad. Point of information: if one was caught holding by the man, one freakin' seed, it could come down on your ass as a drug-related felony and you could find yourself doing beaucoup time in a penitentiary. I once spent three days in the "Glass House," the name given the main jail facilities in downtown Los Angeles, as I was caught holding one-and-a-half Benzedrine tablets.
Yeah, half the cats in town learned what the word paranoid meant, back in the day. OK, I used to get up at the crack of noon, have some cold pizza, potato chips and, of course, Fritos left over from the night beforeoh, and a wee dram of the hair of the dog to kinda soften the harshness of reality that usually confronts one upon awakening in the circumstances that I found myself in at the time. Cats started fallin' by as the day progressed and the sun's march to the Pacific Ocean went unimpeded. The union's business office closed at 5pm, but the rehearsal halls and rooms stayed open to ten and of course there always was shit going on in the parking lotI'm sure that it was the same way back at #802.
All right then, it's around 4pm and there's about, oh, say, four or five cats hangin' and getting mellowed out on whatever, and Igor and I were maintainingya know, just enough, but not too much, and as if by some cosmic spark of intellect, either one of us would kinda, ahh, ask the question aloud to no-one in particular, "Anyone into darts?" Oh yeah! And that was how we paid the rent, ate, drank and were merry for a while, back in the day.
Stay wid me y'all, as I'm going to take y'all back to the jazz free and me segment. Yep, gonna tie this all together, so stay tuned in.
About a year before, while I was driving a Yellow cab around Hollywood at night, I met another driver on the same shift who was an ex-soldier of fortune, as is said about the wild geese that ply the hot spots of the world selling their military skills to those to whom their (shall we say) talents seem attractive. This fellow was a combat infantryman, on the point most of the time during the Korean debacle. Having survived that, he went to Cuba and joined Fidel Castro in the jungles as he was training and amassing a viable army with which to overthrow the Batista regime and to bring some sort of, in his mind, decent government to the peoples of Cuba. We all know how that turned out.
After the coup was completed, my to-be chum went to North Africa and joined up with the French Foreign Legion, losing his American citizenship in the doing of such. During his tour of duty, the truck he was riding in hit a mine destroying the truck and killing everyone in and on it except him. He was severely hurt, with deep and penetrating injuries including the spiting open of his head. When I met him the hundreds of stitch laced scars were clearly visible on his face and neck. I used to refer to him as the Mad Legionnaire; It was shortened to Mad as we became more acquainted.
Mad was married and lived with his wife and newborn baby in the town Of Burbank, California, just over the hill from Hollywood and across from the N.B. C. studios where the Tonight Show was televised. Mad was a sculptor and mural painter of some talent, make that a lot of talent! The first time I went to his pad, he had told me that he had something that he wanted me to see. We went there one night after work about 3am and he took me into this room I'll never forget, turned on the light and there on a podium was a statue of arms from the elbows up about five times the size of real ones carved out of a huge piece of gray granite reaching up out of the ground, no mistaking that they were reaching for and towards the sky, complete with carved out finger nails with real barbed wire wrapped around the whole work digging into the granite flesh with reallooking red blood running back downward to the earth from whence it came.
Oh yeah! It seemed that Mad had a thing about hands and had numerous works smaller size all over the place also paintings of the same. Mad has become somewhat of a well-known personality in the arts so he shall remain anonymous, also. We, he and I did some serious weird shit during the time that we hung together back in the day.
Here's a little taste. The landlord of my Hollywood pad didn't live anywhere near the place. I use the term my, as Igor had moved out and gone on with his life and I resided in this double everything place alone. I had since been let go from the Yellow Cab Company (I drove for one year) and Mad and I seldom saw each other at the time. I don't remember the circumstances, but one day he was there visiting me. Yes, day, as in the sun was shining. I vaguely remember the series of events that led up to the idea, but I'm sure that we did up a few yeah, a few. Back in the day the shit was so weak that sometimes all one got for their efforts was a sore throat and an "I think I'm high" mindset. I had noticed earlier that Mad seemed to be intrigued with the wall space that I had at the ol' double everything pad and his body language was not unlike that of the Alex Guinness' character, Gulley Jimson, from the movie The Horse's Mouth.
This man was born to paint! Ol' Mad said "I have an Idea"; everything always starts that way, as in Hannibal's march over the Alps with freakin' elephants or Hillary's ascent of Mt. Everest or Joshua Slocum's first day sail. Always "I have an idea." Even though my alter ego shrunk from the question formulating in my temporal lobe I asked, "What is it?" He then proceeded to regale me with plans, verbally and with pen and paper, showing me what he had in mind which was a Michelangelo-esque Sistine Chapel type thing from the floor up the walls to the ceiling and all over the ceiling down the opposite walls and into the next room, displaying huge paintings of naked men and women (using many different colorspaint, that is) engaged in all kind of erotic sexual acts imaginable as to make Parvati envious. It took three or four days to complete, as I recall, when I voiced a little concern, ol' Mad reminded me that I had told him that the owner said that "I could paint it any color that I wished." Seemed to make sense to me at the time, so he dropped a 25grm bennie, knocked off a half pint of Kamasutra, put about 15 peyote buttons in the blender with a mix and got it on. Oh yeah!
Exit the Mad Legionnaire and enter all of the musicians, actors, painters and wannabees of the Hollywood scene at that time, as the word spread among the hip community about this house of doubles that, in a way, was a monument to the creative and sensory perceptions of a free man in an oppressed world making his statement before God and all the world to see. Don't forget, this was the '60s for $55.00 a month. Hell, I took the dartboard down and put it somewhere. Talk about some rockin' and rollin' and non-stop parties, oh man! But that was back in the day.
As I have indicated, this was doing my AFUPP, and things we're getting worse for me as my life, was on a downhill spiral on its way to greater and greater depths of despair and regret. The electricity had been turned off for lack of payment, also the gas for the same reason. No lights or hot water, although it seemed that I always came up with enough money to get fucked up on.
One night I came (almost said home) back to the pad. I don't remember what started it (in my head) or triggered it off, but there was a hammera ball-peen hammer to be exactand I took hold of it and started in systematically smashing it in to the walls. I was quiet, quite focused on what I was doing. After period of time (doing this physical and mental demolition) had passed I increased the intensity of the act, mumbling and semi-moaning with a low guttural incoherent yelling. Then the first window went with a loud crash accompanied by a quadruple forti yell of satisfaction, lacking any remorse or piety. These descriptions of the deed were in part told to me at a later date by the police and some of the poor terrified people that lived nearby.
After a bit, the intensity of what I was doing picked up and swelled to rougher more powerful swings and kicks at the dry wall that was coming down, showering everything including me with its whitish dust and debris. Yes, I could hear the sirens and distant voices some imagined some real which, as I can remember, only increased the fury and anger within and added fuel to whatever fires were burning at the time. When they cameoh hell yes, they came and there were many that didwhat they found laying in the ruble, was a spent, half conscious being that had just finished laying to rest and extinguishing the fires that had almost consumed him. I used a hammer. Some of these people today use a saxophone, voice and a microphone.
A thought: if we knew that something beautiful and wonderful would never change or go Away, would it seem as wonderful and beautiful in the moment?
A passage. God it hurts!Beauty often does.
A reflection. I've lived my life dedicated to the learning ofand the playing ofthe music, and I must tell you that the rewards did not outnumber the heartbreaks, the failures and the earning of a decent living and all that Madison Avenue tells us of the good life that lies just over the distant horizon.
An observation. Free music is here. Not here to stay, but as the last vestige to communicate something of harmonic interest to another person using the human voice and or a traditional musical instrument to convey a story of beauty, heartfelt sorrow or to give someone the wings of joy to soar over the playing field of love, hate envy and fear.
In the not too distant future, all of the aforementioned feelings won't have any place within the business or the goings on of the brave new world yet to come. If needed or desired, all the emotions of times past will be brought into play by merely the touching of a button of sorts allowing one's entry to dangerous places, experiencing all of the feelings in imagery that brought those yet to come to the brink of realization and thought of a another step upward for all of mankind.
Summation. Looking back at the beginning of this essay one notices that I started out in my usual Mort Weiss manner tossing in amusing tidbits here and thereactually some funnier 'n shit! But as I started turning back the pages of my life you can see a darkening of the realities that I spoke of, a virtual This is Your Life, Mort Weiss in reverse. A very unsettling feeling started to make its presence known, and I would find myself thinking more and more about what might have beena sad and futile exercise at best. If one senses that I've used a inordinate amount of descriptive words and innuendo, Please, just sit back and enjoy the ride; ahh, read, as we Jews of Russian and Hungarian decent are known to wallow in the dark and sad vestiges of life, but a great fuckin' sunset knocks us out too!
A chum of mine is heavily into free form sound and action (OK, music). You pretty much know by now, how and what I feel about the genre. In reality I know, and have always known about it and how to do ithow to communicate ithow to negotiate its avenues and climb its mountains and to shout of its virtues and authenticities to yell and screamto yell and scream to scream and shout to make to maketomaketomaketttoooommaaaaaakkkkkeeall, know, that I'm here, that I'm here, that I'm here and that I exist and that I have the right of existence bequeathed to me by the totality of the generally accepted paradigm of a universal conflux.
Sunday, May 21, 2013. I leave (once more) for Los Angeles to record my 11th album at the Voice of the Arts studio. This album will be a departure from this matrix to the next and beyond. The title of the work will be A Step Outside. This work will be looked upon as a musically significant historical thesis. The release will be sometime in July or August of this year, and cats like Mats Gustafsson, Phil Minton, John Russell, the Brötz and all the others will be hearing about the new fast gun in town! What I'm going to do will be another Mort Weiss first, only this time a much more significant first than the others in that no-one has ever excelled in two such remotely different styles of music. Yes, music.
No-one could and would try to do it on the clarinet and voice. And no-one 78 years old would or could do it physically and mentally, that being what I'm going to pull off. On this one you will not hear any of the usual people that I have worked and recorded with in the past. The work will consist of five or six explorations each about ten minutes in length. I've started work on the construction and modes of sound that will not only be prevalent but a dominant prevailing presence of sound and emotion that will open doors of thought and generate salient waves of emotion from within the listener's total body and soul.
Several days ago, when I started to write, this I had no idea that I would be telling you about a free jazz CD that I was going to do in the near future. If you're surprised, well, think how I felt when the idea first visited me, oh yeah! Now, let me categorically state that my decision to make this CD in no way weakens any of my shit that I have put in this or any other articles, quotes or interviews that I have had in the past; I remain steadfast and firm in all of my convictions re: the music.
Parting Shot. If you have come this far with me on this little trip of thought and story, I would hope that you have also noticed that I'm not the hardcore musical luddite, SOB American Gothic with a clarinet instead of a pitch fork, saying that nothing should be done for the first timealthough...hmm.
Be kind to one anotherwe are all so very special, and I love you, all my brothers and sisters in this, no penny opera, even if you are the dude throwing his sunglasses into the audience. With respect and best wishes, I remain Mort Weiss
An afterthought: for the last few years I have been experiencing a gradual loss of hearing in both ears and have worked around and through the situation. During the last three months it has worsened enough as to be untenable and is affecting my playing. That being the case I have called off the recording date mentioned earlier in the article for the time being, until my hearing is restored. Since all my records are self-produced, there is a money factor that dictates the doing of such things. My health insurance does not cover the purchase of good hearing aids, so the money that would have gone for the free jazz CD will have to be used for the hearing aids. Thanks to all of you for your understanding.
Page 3: Stan Levy
All Other Photos: Courtesy of Mort Weiss