When someone asked Duke Ellington what he thought of the avant garde, he replied: "For the avant garde, I have Paul Gonsalves."
Always looking for clues to the what's REALLY up in jazz,.I struck gold when I read this.I even wrote to DOWNBEAT pressing my case that Paul be elected to their Hall of Fame.They said no, but printed my letter,.which "fixed" the letter they printed that I wrote when I was 16 in 1986 claiming that Maynard Ferguson's NON high note playing was the greatest of them all.In search of moving further and further away from my heroes,.(I really agree with Matthew Shipp on how twisted we are in Jazz with our worship jones),.I'm gonna reveal full disclosure on my true favorite musician,..PAUL.(and keep on gravitating towards my own SUN.)When your coming up,.one way to go against the grain is to really get into the music of somebody on a different instrument,.although I never thought about it like that then.
I do believe I am the number 2 greatest living fan of Paul on Earth,..trumped only by a doctor in England who created a Paul Gonsalves website.(I'm NOT making a Paul myspace page,.that's a little kooky.)My man in England sent me cd-r copies of every record Paul did outside of Ellington,.and were talking almost TWENTY.I've paid people to transcribe solos of his,.not to learn or memorize,.but to put on my wall as ART.I've gone to record auctions and thrown down BIDS to get original copies of his 3 records on Impulse,.and also had a a guest DJ set on WBGO once to do a seminar on just why Paul is so BAD,.getting them to add more Paul to their play lists.(I did this on WKCR once to getting a phone call from a listener who said,.."Thanks man,.I never knew".) My relationship with WBGO went SOUTH when DJ and drummer Kenny Washington made me a deal:"If you write a letter to the program director telling him why BGO is WHACK,.then I'll play the Paul Gonsalves solos with Dizzy's big band,.(which I looked for for years).I wrote the letter,.pissing them off,.but was able to record those Paul/Dizzy tracks off the radio on to cassette.To top it all off,.I was even getting tight with MICHAEL JAMES,..Duke's nephew,.when we met at Tower Records.I made a copy of every record Paul ever did and called up Mike so I could give them to him,.and we planned a listening party,.where we would invite Tenor players,.(We were both friends with Harold Ashby),.when suddenly Mike passed on...(right around the time My friend HILTON RUIZ was murdered in New Orleans,.post Katrina,.really fucking me up.)
So what is it bout' Paul?,.(called "Mex",.in the band with Duke,.even though he was Portugeese.).((I'll never forget this argument I had with a great jazz singer named Eugene,when I living in the Jersey city YMCA,and he saw my poster of Paul on the wall,.about whether Paul was black)).Well,..for me,.Paul has always been the road map through Jazz so I never got stuck like those Lincoln center Ghouls.I CAME UP in swing by spending several years in a band with SIR HILDRED HUMPHRIES,.as my first real musical relationship,.and based on that,.I could have turned into one of those "revivalist" guys,.trying to play swing era music my whole life even though I WASN'T ALIVE THEN.Hildred always said that he thought Coltrane "was the greatest of us",.putting both of them in the same house,.and with a green light like that,.I didn't run from what I always heard from Paul Gonsalves,..FREEDOM.
In DUKE's band....His MAIN soloist....playing ideas that defy straight time and harmony,.REALLY well.Paul Gonsalves created a completely original sound language,.and then spoke it right at the heart of Duke Ellington's sound world for YEARS.Yes,.he dropped Ben Webster on Duke to get the job,.but he quickly moved on.Don't forget that before Duke,.Paul was BASIE's main tenor man for 4 years,.and spent a year with DIZ,..with TRANE on ALTO.According to Michael James,.Paul said he took Trane aside when they where with Dizzy and said,.."Man,..Tenor is your path,.go with the Tenor"..Paul was also playing SHEETS OF SOUND then,.before Trane,.with Trane right there.Paul would also play the first true extended solo in jazz history,.the famous NEWPORT concert,.where he almost caused a RIOT,.and RE-IGNITED Duke's career.Then there's the fact that HILDRED was with BASIE for a few years,(Basie got him a gold plated tenor to get him to stay on the road).All this stuff is coming together.Oh yeah,..that record I have with ARCHIE SHEPP SITTING IN WITH DUKE.(Cat Anderson's response on trumpet is beyond.catagory.)
IT'S A PUBLIC DEBATE AT JALC IN THE EARLY 90'S.
***WYNTON MARSALIS VS JAMES LINCOLN COLLIER.***
The source of the debate,..Collier's book on Duke has challenged Wynton's views,.and they have decided to settle up in a PUBLIC DEBATE.I'm in the Front row sitting with Stanley Crouch and Albert Murray,.(this is a true story).I'm an unknown trumpet player living in the Jersey city YMCA,.so broke I'm eating at homeless shelters and shit.I'm not there to join in on this public BASHING of Collier,.(man,.the WHOLE house was against him),.I'm there to DEFEND PAUL,.because in his book,.Collier dismissed him.During the public exchanges during the debate,.I kept raising my hand but being denied a chance to speak,.and I was getting tight.Albert Murray stopped the whole thing,.and told the moderator,."let this young man speak!,."
So I challenged Collier on dismissing Paul,.and he responded,.."I'm sorry,.but he's just not as creative as a COLEMAN HAWKINS or PRES..."WHAT?",..Wynton stepped in and said that Collier couldn't hear what Paul was doing and stressed that that was an opinion.I blanked out after that.(Did they carry me from the room?)..The last thing I remember was Jimmy Knepper schooling the whole room on something.I guess if you roll with MINGUS like that,.people need to stop and listen..
But that was then..
I kept listening to Paul,..(whom David Murray cites as a key influence as well).Anybody reading and wants to go deeper,.track down any version of Ellington playing a tune called UP JUMP..."And now,..ladies and gentleman,.Paul Gonsalves practices Tenor saxophonic calisthenics in UP JUMP."..What follow's is a blazing fast,.totally augmented vehicle for Paul to basically play as fast and hard as he possibly can the entire piece,.ending in a solo cadenza,.where his DNA is laid bare before the whole world.Imagine,.as a musician,.playing in front of thousands of people,.standing down front of Duke Ellington's band,.and it's all bout' you.Not just you,.but your ultimate music,.your supreme chops,..SOLO.YOU GOT THIS.Duke was Paul's biggest fan then and even did an entire record to feature him,.which never happened to any other Ellingtonian.Duke also revealed his DARK side,.and why the DEVIL card in the tarot lines up with his birthday,.(along with the LOVERS),.by having Paul play UP JUMP when he was BOMBED..telling the audience afterwords with some delight,."Paul Gonsalves!,..Drunk again!."
For many writers and musicians,.it was Paul's ability to get high,..(he was charter member of a group inside the band called the "Air Force"),.that they think of and remember.I choose to take the Gary Giddins perspective in his great book on BIRD,..that Paul's life and music are a TRIUMPH over the ADVERSITY of Drugs,booze,.and in Paul's case,..even ACID..(Which according to Jaee Logan,.is what took Giuseppe out)
Any other folks out there want to go deeper still,.check out Paul's Riverside album,."Getting Together"..a NO Duke vibe..Let's see,..Well get Jimmy Cobb and Wynton Kelly from MILES,.and Nat Adderley and Sam Jones from CANNONBALL,.and then feature PAUL.(12/20/1960,.my fathers birthday)This is the only record I ever got SIGNED,.(by Jimmy and Nat),.and with good reason:It proves my case that Paul is one of the Tenor Masters.I'm not going to go all tech like Steve Coleman did with Bird,.I just need to Hear what went down,.not so much as see it.
IN closing,.my sermon ends today with a recollection of my prized possession.A video tape of Duke giving a lecture at the University of Wisconsin,.about a year before both he and Paul would leave this world,.within days of each other.After about 45 minutes of Duke speaking and answering questions,.he seems slightly surprised that Paul has joined him on stage."Ladies and Gentleman,..this is Paul Gonsalves"..Paul seems to be in another world,and waves off the microphone,.as they agree to play the ballad feature,.Happy Reunion"..
What follows is what many people playing free today are searching for:Those moments when the music comes together in a way that transcends the structure or the key,.and the music and we become ourselves.You need to play with a musical family to get there.No different than Paul's solo on "Praise God and dance",.from Duke's Live Second Sacred Concert,.which I believe proves that the avant garde and swing schools are really the same thing,.and that Jazz might be the biggest dysfunctional family of all time.
One day we'll get that Happy. Reunion.
Originally published at Brilliant Corners, a Boston Jazz Blog, Tuesday, February 2, 2010
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