Monday, October 3, 2016

Doctor Jazz

“Hello Central, give me Doctor Jazz. He’s got just what I need, I’ll say he has.
When the world goes wrong, I got the blues.
He’s the man who make me get out both my dancin’ shoes.

The more I get, the more I want, it seems.
I page old Doctor Jazz in all my dreams.
When I’m trouble-bound and mixed, he’s the guy that gets me fixed.
So hello Central, get me Doctor Jazz.”

Serendipity—“the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way”— is my way of life. Only I don’t believe it comes from random chance. There’s a quality of alertness, an ongoing search for something that you need, a puzzle piece that you’re feeling around for, antenna up to receive a signal, sniffing around to catch the scent. The moment you find it appears to be chance and is indeed out of your willful, conscious hands and mind, but it only appears because you’ve done the necessary preparation.

And so I’m always searching for the next pieces of music to do with my kids and stumbled into this great song about the healing powers of jazz. It was in a book gifted to me by Ben Lubitz, the Holocaust survivor piano player at the Jewish Home for the Aged where I play. When it became too difficult for him to play anymore, he bequeathed his books to me just before he passed away at 100 years old. This was in a book called The Definitive Dixieland Collection and I noticed it while looking for some Jelly Roll Morton tunes. Walter Melrose wrote the words and King Oliver the tune and since I have never done a King Oliver tune with my 8th graders, but he figures into the developing story of jazz, it felt like a perfect choice.

Especially the words. Just went to see Chick Corea, Eddie Gomez and Brian Blade last night as SF JAZZ Center and though I was feeling great when the concert started, I felt yet greater when it ended. Yep, Doctor Jazz has had just what I need for decades and though sometimes I need a second opinion from Doctors Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Debussy or the Samba Doctors or Gamelan Healers, Dr. Jazz is my ticket to health. 

As for the Jazz History thread, I mentioned yesterday that King Oliver moved from New Orleans to Chicago in 1918. I thought it was following the various black folks attracted by work opportunities in the munitions factories of World War I, but it turns out that it was because city officials in New Orleans closed down Storyville and the various saloons and bordellos and he, like many musicians, was out of work.

And then I found out something else surprising. After a couple of years in Chicago, he took his Creole Jazz Band to California and performed in San Francisco and Oakland!!! In 1921!! I need to do more research about how he was received. I’m certain none of the folks here had ever heard music like that! (The photo above is from that trip. I don’t recognize the wall, though!) When he returned to Chicago, they were the house band in Lincoln Gardens and when he sent for young Louis Armstrong to join him, things really began to heat up.

Years later, his story turns tragic. Louis went off to New York and became the world’s most influential jazz musician bar none (or at least up until Charlie Parker), while King Oliver battled with gum disease, went downhill touring with second-rate bands and ended the last ten years of his life as a broken-down janitor in Savannah, Georgia. Doctor Jazz alone wasn’t enough to heal him.

That’s today’s jazz history lesson. Shall we continue?

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