Homage To Jerry Newman

Homage To Jerry Newman

BRIEFLY: Around 1940 a white Columbia student named Jerry Newman started lugging his acetate disc recording machine to black-owned Jazz clubs in Harlem. He recorded at Minton’s Playhouse on 118th St. and Clark Monroe’s Uptown House on 134th St, the incubators of the new music. These recordings, issued as unauthorized records, have been variously issued over the years, although never with the artists’ or their estate’s permission or participation. What I have of them are mostly from a series of LPs on the Xanadu and Onyx labels, produced by Don Schlitten.I don’t think the Newman recordings have ever been officially re-searched and re-issued, almost certainly because of all the legal issues it would throw up.  

     These recordings are the earliest example of an audience recording of a live Jazz performance, made for the purpose of documenting the loose spontaneity of Jazz in performance, often after hours, with an unpredictable cast of greats, soon-to-be greats, never-to-be-greats, and unknowns. The musicians would sometimes listen to the records between sets, and I believe Newman made dubs for them upon request. Many of them, including young Thelonious Monk, had probably never heard a recording of themselves before.

     The recordings capture Monk, Kenny Clarke, Charlie Christian, Don Byas, Dizzy Gillespie and others forging a new language. Less than a year later, the so-called “Recording Ban” would go into effect, obscuring two crucial years of Bebop’s development.  

     The recording Newman made of Charlie Christian sitting in with Monk and Kenny Clarke at Minton’s, playing Eddie Durham’s Topsy, is one of the greatest and I think most influential recordings in the history of Jazz. But there are numerous performances on these recordings that are among my most treasured listening experiences. Helen Humes singing Stardust with Monk and Don Byas, for instance.

     In 1951 Newman issued some of the Christian/Gillespie/Monk material, without  the musicians’ consent or participation, on his newly founded label Esoteric. A few years later he recorded and released the first LP devoted to the music of Stefan Wolpe (favorite composer of John Schott), with Al Cohn playing tenor in Wolpe’s Quartet, and which also feature what I believe are the earliest recordings of the supernatural pianist David Tudor.

More about Jerry Newman here.

     The following are my (unedited!) notes to myself while listening to all of the Newman recordings in my collection. I don’t have all of his published recordings, but I do have a lot. I wanted to try and get a sense of the collection as a whole. I also wanted to think about the 23-24 year-old pianist Thelonious Monk.

     Some of these are simple reminders to myself to come back to a particular track – “jaw-dropping Monk!”. Other sides get ruminated on a bit; often digressively. I don’t exactly know why anyone would find these notes useful, necessarily, but perhaps people will seek some of these listening experiences out if they don’t know them, and those who do will have their memories stimulated by these thoughts. I hope to return to these recordings and these notes one of these days, and when I do I’ll put an update notice at the head.  

c. 1940, a session/party at Jerry Newman’s parent’s house, recorded by Newman.
Hot Lips Page, Herbie Fields, Donald Lambert, unknown.
I Got Rhythm
I’m In The Mood For Love

     Kids, don’t do drugs.
     Donald Lambert is swinging so hard on this track. So funky, doing this particular two handed choppy thing that I think I associate with Horace Silver. I listen to Herbie Fields and think “yeah, that guy’s really good, more than a little mannered, but kinda interesting”; then Lips come in and I feel “Oh yeah, sorry Herbie, nevermind”. And you can hear it in Lambert too – Herbie gets out of the way, and Lips is really listening to Lamb, clearing space for him, and they’re playing collectively, spontaneously.
     But then, I can’t dismiss Fields. There’s something appealing about him. He’s a little eccentric. Sometimes he plays with great articulation.
Tea For Two
       Again, Lips and Lamb are soooo deeeeep. Lamb takes a blistering stride solo.


April 30, New York; Minton’s Playhouse
Hot Lips Page, Joe Guy, Benny Harris, Herbie Fields, Thelonious Monk, Nick
Fenton, Kenny Clarke
Sweet Lorraine 8:25
     In these Jerry Newman recordings I believe we have some of the longest recorded Jazz solos up to this time. More jaw-dropping Monk!
My Melancholy Baby 7:09

May 4? New York; Minton’s Playhouse
Hot Lips Page; Joe Guy; Tiny Grimes; unknown piano, bass, drums.
I’ve Found A New Baby 3:23

Hot Lips Page; Joe Guy; Ebenezer Paul; unknown tenor, trumpet, piano, drums.
One For Teddy 9:37

Hot Lips Page; unknown tenor, piano, bass, drums.
Konk 8:49

Hot Lips Page; Joe Guy; Rudy Williams; unknown tenor, piano, bass, drums.
Old Yazoo 5:57

May 4 New York; Minton’s Playhouse
Hot Lips Page; Joe Guy (vocal); Thelonious Monk; Nick Fenton; Kenny
Clarke; on Sweet Georgia Brown add Kermit Scott; Sammy Davis.

Nice Work If You Can Get It 3:59
     Listening to this, it’s easy to see how Monk impressed the young Bud Powell. Monk is extremely fleet of finger, in a song with a great deal of changes, and his feel for the groove is sparkling. He cast phrases that switching effortlessly between eighth notes, triplets, and sixteenth notes. He copes with the extra two bars of the C section with great assurance and élan. He is rhythmically surprising at – almost every turn. He is always deep in the pocket.
     Monk’s playing alongside the vocal (not under the vocal), is marvelous, playing a very decorated version of the melody in heterophony with the voice.
Sweet Georgia Brown 5:22
     Monk out?; Ray Durant piano? Two phenomenal choruses from Monk to begin,
with deeply-in-sync Kenny Clarke. Very interesting, the things Clarke is
doing here.

May 8 New York; Minton’s Playhouse
Joe Guy; Hot Lips Page; Kermit Scott; Don Byas; Charlie Christian;
Thelonious Monk; Nick Fenton; Kenny Clarke
Up On Teddy’s Hill (Honeysuckle Rose?) 6:11
Rhythm-a-ning (Meet Dr. Christian, Up On Teddy’s Hill) 3:08
     Tape running too fast? It almost doesn’t seem credible, Christian playing this fast and cleanly. There’s a bridge here – the second one? – that I feel I’ve heard him play before, on a different recording. Although it could just be I’m remembering this one.

Circa May, New York; Monroe’s Uptown House (Jerry Newman)
Dizzy Gillespie and trio.
Stardust I
     Diz can sound awfully clumpy and banal in the phraseology sometimes. I don’t know, maybe he was high in a not helpful way. Also his intonation seems a little rough here and there.
Kerouac I
     I suppose this is Exactly Like You? What a jammer Dizzy was. He’s got all this stuff he’s been working on, stuff he’s trying out. He’s painting outside the lines. I feel like I can hear him thinking, partly because he has a tendency to trip himself up, to fluff a note, or end up on the “wrong” one, although of course that’s deliberate as often as not. But I feel like I can hear him hear this when this happens, a infinitesimal
Kerouac II
     Ok, that’s more like it.
Stardust II
     With Don Byas, who plays a typically superlative solo, beautiful rhetorical flourishes of  chord alterations and chromatic interweavings.

May 12, New York; Minton’s Playhouse
Joe Guy; Charlie Christian; Thelonious Monk; Nick Fenton; Kenny Clarke.
Topsy (Swing To Bop) (Charlie’s Choice) 8:58
     I first heard this solo when I was about 17, and it blew my mind then, and it blows my mind now. It is one of the greatest solos of all time, one of the greatest guitar recordings of all time, one of the greatest anything of anything of all time. Listening to it now, I notice Kenny Clarke more, how his audacity in 1941 was comparable to Tony Williams in 1964. Shocking almost, but backed up by such meticulousness, such orgasm-inducing approaches to big downbeats, and such a nice feel. Very
different to my ear, from early Roach or Blakey. Less hectic and explosive, more funky and warm.
     Christian’s rhythm playing behind Joe Guy is predictable superlative, despite (because of?) being barely audible. He gets more insistent towards the end of Monk’s solo.
     Christian plays the Topsy riff before setting off on another solo, this time with a distinct coda feeling.
Stomping At The Savoy 8:16
     In 1941, Charlie Christian was capable on any given night of being the most exciting soloist in Jazz, as well as the most modern. That moment when Joe Guy plays that anxious high note, then the same thing an octave lower, and the crowd cracks up – thirty years I’ve been listening to that moment, picturing it in my mind.
     This recording is really just as jaw-dropping as Swing To Bop.
     Love how the trumpet player – perhaps not Guy?- gets with Christian’s bluesy bends at the end of the track.
Joe Guy; Thelonious Monk; Nick Fenton (no drums)
I Got Rhythm 9:14
     We fade in on the last four bars of the second A section of Monk’s solo. At two beats before the last two bars of the bridge, Monk starts an eighth note line that the flows to through beat two of the last measure, answered by a jab in the left hand, on the five. As the line progresses, the swing of it seems to discover itself in real time, getting more insistent, the last three eighth notes (“and 2 and”) widening a bit as they climb to an empty beat three, what I call a “loud rest”, followed by that emphatic, off-beat V in the left hand.
     This bass clef funkiness asserted, Monk throws it back to the right hand with a couple of amen octaves that give way to more eighth notes, finishing out this first chorus  with a prominent flat fifth, exposed in the third to last measure and then resolved, in a sort of preposterous, squirrely way, in the ensuing two.
     At the top of the second chorus Monk plays a four-bar fanfare in octaves that I swear I’ve heard him play elsewhere. Maybe the Blue Note Thelonious? This figure is at once starling and oddly conventional, rather like a bit of newspaper pasted onto a painting’s surface. It somewhat arrests the solo’s momentum, starting from and returning to the isolated tonic note Bb.
     The second A section digs into the blues shout chorus piano, delivering,
finally, on the promise of that left hand jab at the end of the first bridge. The striding left hand off beats get bigger, by which I mean louder and more accented. But after just four bars this “dirty” piano playing dissolves into more silvery eighth notes.
      Which brings him to the bridge. In what in retrospect will be revealed to be a masterstroke, he drops the striding left hand, plays just a bare bones, Basie-style punctuation. A bare run of triplets, descending through the sixth bar of the bridge, ends in total silence for the seventh bar and the downbeat of the eighth. The bridge has grown emptier and emptier, in two measure increments, to a total standstill at its end. But then the bluesy, shout-chorus riff tears into this silence, almost as if it had
continued to play, unheard, from the previous A section on. This time he rides that steer for nearly the whole A section, relaxing just a bit in the final two bars to transition to a bass feature chorus.
     But even in this ostensible feature for Nick Fenton, Monk can’t turn off the charisma. Listen to the thick dissonant chords he plays in the bridge of Joe Guy’s first chorus. Backing a Joe Guy or a Nick Fenton on these recordings, Monk riffs, fills, talks back, all but steals any scene he’s in. This gets toned down when he encounters Charlie Christian or Don Byas – no one steals a scene from them! – or accompanying the luscious Helen Humes on Stardust, where he’s all about her and the song.
     Monk’s playing on this track, if he had never recorded anything else, dayenu!, would earn him a place in the Jazz pantheon. His groove is so infectious, striding in the left hand while playing funky riffs in the right, punctuated with eight note, triplet, and even sixteenth note fills. There’s a good deal of Basie shout-chorus, here, down to the sparse high register responses Basie would play to the riffs in the horns (such as the two measure piano response to three repetitions of a two bar riff).
     Yet however much one is tempted to find Art Tatum, Teddy Wilson, Earl
Hines, Fats Waller or Count Basie in this twenty-four old, no one had ever played piano like this before.

     Monk, on these recordings, has already amalgamated and synthesized the piano tradition, although this “tradition” was little more than a generation old at the time of these recordings. His playing is fresh, sparklingly clear, and deeply swinging, often reaching into a bluesy gospel kind of riffing. Even when comping for a soloist, his playing struts on the boards, demands attention. Around 6:10 Monk takes
another chorus. The first four bars are loopy, audacious, wide-eyed. But then Guy interjects “well all— right then!” Under this Thelonious reigns himself in a bit, plays a more conventional four bar phrase. At the second A section Monk begins a descending sequence of chord substitutions, much as he was to do in Humph five years later. There is something a little awkward in its execution here; later Monk would have a basically routine way of doing this.
     The bridge of this chorus is thrilling, startlingly modern in its rhythmic displacement, wide intervals, loose melodic sequence, and its tantalizing
progression from quarter notes to eighth notes to triplets to sixteenth notes, creating exuberant momentum through one long phrase.
     It is disconcerting to contemplate that this is Monk before decades of drug abuse, incarceration in jails and mental hospitals, shock treatment, etc., etc., as chronicled in Kelly’s magisterial biography, which I had so pined for during the many years it was in progress, and which ultimately left me so saddened by the mountains of trouble that accumulated for Monk and his family.
     Incidentally, in this first installment of Monk’s thirty recording years, we hear, in the second bridge of Monk’s initial solo, the unmistakable sound of Monk’s voice, not, as is also audible in the solo, singing along with his playing, but responding to his playing, commenting on it, as it were, during the silences, drawing attention to these silences by, paradoxically, filling them. One would be perfectly right to object to this preceding statement. Am I not aesthetisizing, fetishizing, and of course, objectifying, Monk’s physicality as expressed in this two second drawl?

May 20 or 21 New York; Minton’s Playhouse
Don Byas; Helen Humes; Joe Guy; Thelonious Monk; unknown tenor, bass, drums
Stardust 9:04
Exactly Like You 9:03
I Can’t Give You Anything But Love 4:07
Indiana 6:28

Don Byas; Joe Guy; unknown trumpet, piano, bass, drums.
Uptown 2:45
Body and Soul 7:29

Hot Lips Page; Thelonious Monk; Kenny Clarke; unknown tenor, bass.
Baby Lips 6:32

Roy Eldridge; Joe Guy; unknown tenor, bass, drums
Honeysuckle Rose 7:55

Omit Joe Guy
Baby Jazz 8:44

June/July 1941 New York; Minton’s Playhouse
Roy Eldridge; Joe Guy; poss. Herbie Fields; Thelonious Monk; Kenny Clarke;
unknown bass

Body and Soul 8:42
     Roy Eldridge absolutely incredible. Such invention, confidence, clarity,
agility. He’s a powerhouse, not necessarily by force, but by the intense
discipline he exercises over the fire.
     Monk, curiously, seems to be channeling Freddy Green, chording like the
celebrated rhythm guitarist. (Maybe that’s reminiscent of Fats Waller?)

Indiana 4:59

Roy Eldridge; Joe Guy; unknown tenor, bass, drums
Honeysuckle Rose 7:55

Hot Lips Page; Joe Guy; Herbie Fields; unknown trumpet bass drums
Sweet Georgia Brown 6:03
     I wonder if this is the same unknown trumpet player that is on My
Melancholy Baby, Rhythm-a-ning
, and One for Teddy.

Hot Lips Page; Joe Guy; Thelonious Monk; unknown trumpet, tenor, bass, drums.
Sweet Georgia Brown 5:22
Topsy 7:01
Hot Lips Page; Herbie Fields; Clyde Hart; unknown
Forty-One 4:58

June/July New York; Minton’s Playhouse
Joe Guy; Thelonious Monk; Nick Fenton; Kenny Clarke; Al Sears, tenor.
Down, Down, Down 3:36
     A very hip head, even a Monkish head. Guy muted, which definitely helps. Is that really Al Sears? In any case, that’s a great tenor solo!
I Found A Million Dollar Baby 2:42
     Lots of antic, yet elegant and perfectly executed, 16th note fills from Monk during Guy’s lovely, understated melody chorus. Is there something of a put-on being played by Monk here? And what’s that chord on beat one of the melody’s measure eight?
I Got Rhythm (Rhythm Riff) 9:18

Spring/Summer New York; Minton’s Playhouse
Joe Guy; Thelonious Monk; tenor; clarinet; Nick Fenton; unknown drums
You’re a Lucky Guy 7:47
     More thrilling piano playing.