Thursday, February 10, 2005

Research at (relative) Warp Speed

Not long ago, a friend in Chicago (someone I met a few years ago. . .via the internet) began sending me a series of rather remarkable jazz photos, including some extremely rare pics of the likes of Eric Dolphy, John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Sarah Vaughan and the one you see here of singer Danny Knight.

If you're not familiar with Knight, I wasn't either until I began digging into this latest batch of photos. As is my wont, I began googlin' away, but just about the only significant info I could find, at first, were references to Knight possibly being a singer on a section of the legendary Charlie Parker tapes recorded by Bird meta fan, Dean Benedetti. Possibly, because there are two schools of thought; some think it's Knight, others feel it could be Earl ("Dark Shadows") Coleman.

Thanks to further powers of the internet, allowing me to get in touch with some who knew and worked with Knight---as opposed the old labor intensive ways of a bygone research era---I have been able to rather quickly unearth a bit of information about this most recherche of jazz vocalists. I was even able to order a rare Knight 45 single on the net.

Knight, it seems, just might be the pluperfect example of a singer who was supposed to "happen" but didn't. Apparently another Chicago singer, Johnny Hartman, got there first with the "goods", for as one friend of Knight's emailed me: "Insiders held little respect for Hartman who blatantly stole from Danny." Harsh words to say the least, and one that I'm not going to let get in the way of my all-abiding love of the great Hartman, whose voice belatedly became familiar to a wider listening audience when Clint Eastwood used various tracks of his singing voice wall-to-wall throughout the film Bridges of Madison County.

In addition, singer Earl Coleman was quoted, by the same e-mailer, as one time saying to Hartman's face, "What are you gonna steal from me today M-F?" Making it all beginning to sound like a bop version of All About Eve.)

So here you had Hartman, according to record, walking around bitter and disillusioned because he felt as if he hadn't "made it," and Knight and Coleman envious of Hartman because they felt that the latter HAD. All relative, I suppose. Hartman had to go fairly far afield to places like Japan for work, but at least he was employed; Knight could hardly even get arrested in his hometown of Norfolk, Virginia.

A friend of Knight's, jazz writer Johnny Gilbert, sent me a funeral notice:

"Aug. 25, 2000 Funeral services For vocalist Danny Knight Today. New York Funeral services for jazz vocalist Danny Knight will be held today at the Marion Daniels Funeral Home, 164 W. 136th. St. at 10 am with a viewing at 11am. A popular figure on the Harlem music scene, Knight was a roomate of John Coltrane's and introduced Coltrane to Charlie Parker. Knight, born Jan.17th, 1927, died on Aug. 17th. at age 73."

I hope to post a few of those other above-noted jazz photos herein from time to time.

Here's a bit of what Knight sounds like (link removed) on an atypical, highly commercial, decidedly non-jazz (and extremely scratchy) MGM single, the theme song, "Ride Away," from John Ford's The Searchers. It's difficult to find any others recordings by him, though a few jazzier ones are known to exist.

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Anonymous said...

My name is John Gilbert and I am (was)(still am) the anonymous person quoted in the Danny Knight piece. I want to thank Bill Reed (Dr, Chilledair) for bringing Danny back to the forefront as he so rihly deserves. Reed is a relentless researcher and a journalist of impeccable credentials
Bill Reed, I salute you and thank you on behalf of all of us who worked with and admired Danny Knight.
John Gilbert (johnnyjazz)

Jon Raney said...

I was very good friends many years ago with Danny and just thought about him. He taught me a great deal about accompaniment = mostly how hard it was! Great vocalist and human being.


Jon Raney

Anonymous said...

@ Jon, Strange we never met..Are you in NY or Norfolk?

Bill Reed said...

New York for a number of years and now L.A. I learned of Danny Knight through my friend, singer Frances Griffin. I hope he had peaceful final days. Little Jimmy Scott implied to Frances that they were not, but I am not exactly sure he was correct. I am a Japanese jazz reissue producer. In all likelihood, Jimmy Raney can be heard on one or more of "my" recording. Let me think. . ...