JFK & Rhymes Records
During the fall John Toland's 1300-plus page Hitler came out in paperback. i had been curious about him in junior hi skool and had read a few books about the rise and fall. i became immersed in Toland's incredibly detailed and pieced together account of `der Führer' and his life. At the end of the previous summer i had read Witness to History by Charles Bohlen (ambassador to Russia among other things) that i borrowed from Peter. Along with Toland's book, i also studied Mein Kampf and dabbled in The Communist Manifesto and Red Star Over China.
My grandfather was ordained as a Congregationalist minister from Union Seminary and had been a missionary in China from 1916 into the 1940s. Along with her two older brothers, Mah'mon had grown up in China and i'd always had a sort of personal -- albeit very remote -- identification with the western experience of that far away land and people. With these books, i discovered a new-found interest in what cood be termed "dry historical biography".
Then on November seventh Peter lent me A Thousand Days, John F. Kennedy In The White House by Arthur Schlesinger Jr. This began a very long exploration into aspects of post-WWII American history i had never looked at before. i knew JFK had been quite popular and that my Dad had thought a lot of him (they were two years apart in age). i was sick at home on 11/22/63 and only bebember seeing Dad walking up the stairs to the landing from where i was in bed and saying "Hi Dad". His response was a simply "President Kennedy's been shot" before turning without looking at me and walking into their bedroom.
By the time i finished A Thousand Days i found myself crying deeply about tragedy being the difference between what is and what might have been. i was struck by the fact that he'd been preparing for a meeting with DeGaulle in February 1964 by learning French to better meet and honor the French Prez on his own terms! -- just what sort of person was this who had succeeded in getting into the Oval Office? i got completely wrapped up in reading everything i cood find about him. By Christmas i had begun getting into the different assassination books and was appalled at the mass of inconsistencies regarding what was supposed to have happened on November 22nd, 1963.
The following February with the help of friend Nina Vansuch, i succeeded in landing a job at Rhymes Records, a co-op store i'd been trying to get hired at for the past six months. Nina worked there and we had gotten to know each other since she loved jazz singers and knew a LOT about the genre. She was the person who had been ordering the jazz section's contents and she taught me a great deal about the biz and the music.
i started out making $125.00/week which was more than i needed to live on so most of it got funneled directly back into the till for records with the additional benefit that i was able to buy them at cost. i had gotten into Bill Evans heavily the previous fall as well as listening to the quintessential Bud Powell Blue Note recordings, and began to greatly expand my knowledge of their work along with that of Art Tatum, Duke, John Coltrane, Willie "The Lion" Smith, Monk, Fats Waller, Billie Holiday, George Shearing, Miles, Art Blakey, and Bobbie Timmons.
Two albums of Bill Evans in particular, the Spring Leaves and Village Vanguard "two-fer" reissues on Milestone with bassist Scott LaFaro, made a new and deeper sort of impression that, up to that time, had not yet been experienced inside. i found the more and more and more i listened to the eight sides of these four records, the more and more i heard and discovered. What astonishingly compelling conversations these two beings engaged in with each other! There was such depth of expression going on which was apprehended within to a degree not previously known. Increasing awareness of and delight with perception of the multiple levels of communication being articulated was very similar to the experience in Bill Cadbury's film class of finding that the more one attended to what was transpiring, the more there was to see, hear, understand, grasp, and be illuminated by.
As mentioned previously i had read about a lot of different people in Music Is My Mistress and one who sounded very intriguing was Mary Lou Williams. There were two albums of hers (ordered by Nina) already in the store (Zoning, 1974, and Live at the Cookery, 1975) when i got there and i took both of them home to check out what she sounded like. As has been the case with practically all the jazz albums i've ever bought, they didn't strike me very deep during the first listen. But pretty soon i began to hear what she was actually playing and began to look for her other records.
At that time, as i was able to find and become familiar with a reasonable cross-section of her recordings -- including The Asch Recordings 1944-1947, Zodiac Suite, 1945, The First Lady of Piano, 1955, Black Christ of the Andes, 1964, From The Heart, 1971, Mary Lou's Mass, 1975 and Free Spirits, 1975 -- i came to feel her really hot albums were all made from 1971 on when she was already 60 years of age. It was not that her earlier albums weren't boss -- they just didn't have as much of the complete breadth and scope of those she recorded in the seventies.
i soon was accepted as the hard-core jazz expert of the store only because no one else was into it at all. Pretty soon i was given free reign to order (every week we sent in an order to all the companies) whatever i thought was good to have in our jazz section. i went thru the Schwann catalog and had a field day ordering titles. In many cases i did not know what the given artist sounded like myself, but i knew the names from books like Duke's autobio, and the conversations i'd been having with Kim and Nina and others who knew the score.
It was like Christmas day every time i went thru the record orders to put the albums into the bins: when i came to one i had specifically ordered i found myself putting many of these into my own pile and then immediately marking it's catalog number on our sold-that-day list since i had just "bought it" and now we needed to reorder another. i was a kid in a musical candy store and i LOVED it!
By the fall i had done my homework and there were a lot of people patronizing us who were absolute jazz addicts. i was told more than once by different people that they were coming to feel that Rhymes was offering the best collection of jazz between NYC and Boston. This of course pleased me no end (inadvertently i discovered in the fall that jazz sales in the store had increased by 300% over what they had been before i'd arrived).
i found it to be true that stuff that grew on me more and more -- particularly Mary Lou Williams -- was invariably captivating to others. There were about 7 of us who worked there and at any time at least two wood be present for sales duty. While working, we wood take turns putting on whatever records we wanted to play. On weekend days or whenever there was a larger crowd present and it was my turn to play something, whenever i'd throw Mary Lou Williams or Bill Evans onto the turntable, someone wood invariably come up and want to know who it was. i'd take them over and sing the praises of the person and their music and many wood be interested enuff to take home one of the more highly-recommended-by-me albums. Quite often, they'd be back later for "more fuel."
i was convinced by these encounters that people who have their ears opened at all wood totally dig much of the music i had come to know and love for the first time at that point if only they cood ever hear and be exposed to it! Alack, alas, the commercial slop that passes for music has an increasingly tight stranglehold on the airwaves. Despite this, i don't believe it to be the case that people "don't like jazz." Only that they never get to hear it to any degree to awaken their own aural doors of perception.
Throughout the winter and spring i was getting a fair amount of work done on the piano. i had transcribed an entire song by Mary Lou Williams called "Rosa Mae" and tried to learn how to play it. But there were some very quick runs of notes scattered thruout and i never really got these sections down. i also wrote out and learned the first five verses of "Blues For Nica" by Kenny Drew, and wrote out and slowly began to learn the entire version of a fast-paced number by Horace Silver entitled "Opus de Funk", as well as picking out the first half of his tune, "Ecaroh". i had been learning Prelude No. 5 in D major from The Well Tempered Clavier, and began to work on its accompanying fugue.
Along with the piano and Rhymes, i continued to read a great deal about the assassinations. Even though JFK had been murdered 14 years before, i had never processed until that time what he had been doing while he was in the White House. He became a very potent hero figure, and i wood go in and out of phases thinking about what the world wood be like if he had not been killed. This went on pretty much for almost 2 years. i had purchased and read my first heavy-duty book to come out on the Robert Kennedy Assassination by William Turner and John Christian, as well by Arthur Schlesinger's new book Robert Kennedy and His Times, which was completely absorbing. If RFK had lived i thought he wood have been an even greater president than his brother.
Although i did not apprehend it very consciously at that time, i was vaguely aware of there being a very big parallel between `if only JFK had lived the world wood be so much better today,' and `if only my parents had never had to dissolve their marriage.' i was experiencing a different form of the awesome power psychological projection exerted which i had previously engaged in for years with members of the feminine gender.