Friday, February 18, 2005

For the Latest in Be-Bop

Here is another in the series of photos that my friend in Chicago, Francine, sent me a while back.

Even those with the most rudimentary familiarity with the stream of American vernacular music will recognize the woman on the left signing autographs as Sarah Vaughan. And the man immediately to her right as Charlie Parker. The photo was taken by Francine's huband at the time. The location of Klayman's Music Shop was Chicago; was, because a swivet of googling reveals---no hits---that it has long since gone the way of the economic wrecking ball, descended into the mists of time, fallen though the cracks of history. Or all three. Whichever.

I didn't ask Francine the date, but I'm guessing it was taken in the Winter of 1949 while Parker and Vaughan were touring as part of package produced by jazz critic Leonard Feather. If I'm not mistaken, he can be seen immediately over Vaughan's left shoulder. Which brings to mind one of the reasons I'm so fond of this photo . . .its depth of focus. Perhaps not so apparent in this internet scan, but there are several intriguing "decisive moment"-type captures in the picture. For example, Vaughan attempting to smoke a cigarette and autograph a 78 rpm record . . .at the same time. If I had to lay odds, it would be that that old hunk of shellac still exists and is displayed on some proud ebay bidder's wall . . .somewhere.

And how about those two fans, on either side of the snap brim hat on the right, both trying to angle their way into the photo being taken. The cool cat with the cigar chomped in his mouth is just too much. There's also that twenty-years-out-of-date microphone on the counter in front of Bird. What's that doing there? Bird, too, is signing autographs. Wonder how many of the dozens of 78's he also signed that day are still in existence.? A lot, I would guess. Unlike today's car hops and dress extras of the future like Mariah, Jennifer and Christina, jazz greats like Parker and Vaughan really held onto their fan base.

Another reason I love this photo so much is because of the way it captures two jazz immortals in a seemingly mundane moment, yet doing something that relates to their hagiographic status, i.e. communing with their adoring public. It is significant that Vaughan is smoking a cigarette. I was in her presence off-stage several times and never saw her without a butt twixt her fingers.

The photo also reveals Vaughan and Parker looking surprisingly real, as opposed to romanticized. I can still recall my sense of amazement, a number of years ago, when my friend (producer, writer, producer) Nat Shapiro---who knew Parker well---told me who the latter's favorite writer was. None other than British satirical writer Kingsley Amis. Who knew that the great genius Bird deigned to read books? Nat did, and he remembered.

Oh, and one other detail. The clock in the background reveals that the action is taking place at 5:06. Assuming (let's hope) that it's 5:06 in the late afternoon, and not the morning, there'll be just time enough for another 24 minutes of autographs, then back to the Trenier Hotel to change, freshen up and/or whatever, and hit the ground running at 8:00 pm that night for another round of Stars of Modern Jazz.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Did all the musicians stay at the Trenier Hotel?