JAM, XI: Hampton Hawes on "Crazeology"

Every weekday this month I'll be posting new content in observance of Jazz Appreciation Month (J.A.M.), so-designated by the Smithsonian National Museum of American History beginning in 2001. International Jazz Day, so-designated by UNESCO in partnership with the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, is on the last day of April, the 30th; it was first celebrated in 2012. Debating the relative merits of designating specific days or months for celebrating heritages, traditions, and the like aside, Jazz Appreciation Month is at the very least an excuse to dig into some material that I've been interested in for a while on the blog. 

Yesterday's installment featured Harold Land's solo on this tune immediately preceding. Tomorrow's will offer a preview of a talk on solos by Clifford Brown, Trane, and Joe Henderson that I'll be giving at the New England Conservatory of Music next Friday, April 24, 2015.

†If you enjoy the content on this blog, please consider supporting my band's homegrown effort to get our record through the final stages of mastering and production. It's all recorded—you can listen to it now!—but we just need a bit more help to get to the finish line. We appreciate it. </self-promotion over>

* * * * *

H.H., contemplating (via hamptonhawes.jazzgiants.net)
As far as jazz autobiographies go, Hampton Hawes's Raise Up Off Me is among the best I've read. Hawes, who lived a life in many ways stranger than fiction, has many stories to tell, and he doesn't seem to hold back: talking about heroin addiction, his famous pardon from JFK, his time in Japan while serving in the army—it's all here. Insider knowledge, as a chapter begins:
One of the great tracks in jazz is Charlie Parker's "Parker's Mood." It begins with a three-note figure contained in a G minor triad—in this sequence: Bb-G-D—and whenever you heard someone whistling those notes in L.A., you knew you were in the presence of a friend. It signified you were using but cool, and when you went to buy dope late at night (which was the usual time to cop) if the bell wasn't working or if you didn't want to jar the Man out of a sound sleep or there might be someone uncool on the premises, you went Bb-G-D in that fast, secret way and the cat would pop his head out the window.
Whether or not historically verifiable, the literary quality of the prose is undeniable, a case where lived experience, often acquired at a painful price, makes the translation from memory onto the page (Don Asher helped Hawes write the text, although having not read any of Asher's other writing, I can't speak to what extent he may have influenced the prose style). 

Speaking on cutting contests after first arriving in New York:
It's too bad it had to be that way, cutting friends up to make them feel inferior so they could get better. That isn't what music is about. You play for love and for people to enjoy. It's okay to show a few feathers, you got to have pride in yourself, but you shouldn't have to wear boxing gloves and spurs; this ain't no cockfight or main bout at Madison Square Garden. We're all brothers, aren't we?—we came up the same way, earned our diplomas listening, picking up, hanging out, nervous, some of us getting busted? Yet when I think back, the system did a purpose. Blacks in those days had to bear down hard to handle the shadow that was always haunting them, and the constant challenge was the pressure cooker in which you earned recognition and respect. In the process the music grew leaner, tightened up; the ones who didn't have it, who couldn't tribute, fell away. If you don't have credentials, stay off of Fifth Avenue.
A different time, although institutionalized racism ("the shadow that was always haunting them") hasn't changed a bit, just wearing a different cloak. The view of cutting contests and the competitive spirit as a means of weeding out the weak and ensuring a certain integrity and a standard of excellence I've heard echoed elsewhere by older musicians (e.g., Nick Payton).

There's a lot in here: Hamp fondly remembering Billie Holiday, how she'd act motherly toward him, the guilt he had falling into heroin addiction after seeing how she'd tried to keep him out of trouble; first-hand advice from Bird on playing tempos, the value of jazz polls:
I had learned from Bird how to stay loose and relaxed on up tempos, and found out that at very slow tempos the beat has to swell: It's like taking a mouthful of good wine, swishing it around, savoring it before you let it go down; the swallow is that beat finally dropping. 
By 1950 I was recording and beginning to appear in the jazz polls, but I haven't had much faith in polls since Jimmy Garrison told me how he had been stopped for speeding on the New York State Thruway. His wife got indignant and said to the cop, "You can't give him a ticket, he's the fifth best bass player in the United States." And the cop answered, "Lady, the only difference from now on is he's going to be the fifth best bass player in the United States with a moving violation." 
It's a matter of authorial authority: any second-rate writer might make up something about the beats of slow tempos being like a sip of good wine going down, but you'd only believe it if it came from, say, Hampton Hawes.

His entire sojourn in the army is a whirlwind. Too much to include here, but I was pleased to see this mention about his first encounter with a young Toshiko Akiyoshi:
At first I thought she was only hanging out with me to talk about Bud, to be close to the source. I had recorded, was getting known in the States, and if I wasn't Bud Powell I was maybe two or three grooves removed from him which was the closest she was going to get. What she probably didn't realize was how good she played, so she didn't really need me in that respect. Later on she made it on her own in the States.
And occasionally there's some rare jazz criticism from a practicing artist, always worth checking out. It's also gratifying to hear these thoughts expressed in the vernacular, rather than the pseudo-literary style of many critics of the era:
A sucker hits an F chord, it's an F chord. I'll grant you, some suckers hit it cooler than others, but it really ain't no secret. Lots of blacks play blues 'cause they don't know nothin' else. Cat oughta get good experiencing that shit for two hundred years. Just play it, but you've got to love to play, and mean it. Be rich and soulful, brothers. Some people go to school to become doctors and engineers, some make it and some don't. If I tried to play a polka gig those cats would say, Man, you're the squarest, the jivest player in the world. It's a matter of wanting to do it. What difference does it make where you go to learn? Toshiko, 8,000 miles from the source, burned the keyboard like Bud Powell (Bud may have used chopsticks once or twice in his life, but I know his eyes didn't slant) and André Watts, black as his namesake, plays Mozart like he's tuned into the grave.
Hawes doesn't make any mention of For Real!, although he does talk about the All Night Session recording and a few other major dates. He wrote this a few years before the end of his life, but expected to go on for much longer, so it's not a comprehensive biography so much as the thoughts and highlighted memories of the great artist. Check it out.


*It strikes me, after a short Twitter back-and-forth yesterday with Mark Stryker (Josh Redman and Aaron Parks guesting), that both Harold Land and Hampton Hawes were cats who made the transition from bop to so-called "post-bop" approaches to playing. Later Hawes, like on A Little Copenhagen Night Music, is pretty unbelievable at first listen if all you've heard is '50s West Coast bop Hawes; same with Land—the later stuff, from Bobby Hutcherson on in the late '60s, is the sound of a player willingly submitting to self-transformation in the face of the changing tides.


  1. What program do you use to write out your transcriptions? Thanks


Post a Comment