Ralph Gleason discusses jazz, jazz artists, and jazz festivals ; part 1
BROADCAST: Jul. 31, 1971 | DURATION: 00:43:00
Studs interviews jazz and pop critic, and founding editor of "Rolling Stone" magazine, Ralph Gleason while in Berkeley, California (3 parts). Topics include the history of jazz, blues, and jazz culture, and how race played in the development and distribution of the music. Songs include Louis Armstrong's "(I'll Be Glad When You're Dead) You Rascal You."
Tap within the transcript to jump to that part of the audio.
Ralph Gleason The degree of far-outness of Duke Ellington in Chappaqua, New York in 1932, '33 and '34, I mean, it was incredible, it was nothing like it. I found--well, what happened actually was that I got the measles. And if you remember back in those days before antibiotics and other things, what happened to you when they got the measles was they stuck you in a room without any light. And if I didn't have any light I couldn't read, and it was only--well, it was a certain limit on the other occupations in which you could while away the time in a room when you couldn't read at the age of 15 or so. And so I started staying up all night long listening to the radio. And all of a sudden I stumbled on these wild, exotic, strange sounds in the nights by a bunch of people I never heard of. I didn't know who Duke Ellington was, didn't mean a thing to me. I thought he was a, you know, a Duke from the island of Ellington or something.
Studs Terkel This is when, roughly about?
Ralph Gleason Oh, this is 1933, '34, right in there, and I spent--it was quite a, it was a little over a week, was close to 10 days, and I was up every night listening to the radio finding these broadcasts from Chicago and Kansas City and Buffalo and New York. And, oh I don't even know, places all down along the Eastern Seaboard, ballrooms and things. And I heard Duke and Louis Armstrong and Earl Hines, and you know, I went back to school and I found I am a freak. I mean, everybody else knows John Philip Sousa and "The Stars and Stripes Forever", and you know, whatever the hell a pop song was at the moment, I don't even remember what it was because at that point we didn't have radio broadcasting records all day long like you have today, the only record program was on WNEW and it was Martin Block, you know.
Ralph Gleason "Make Believe Ballroom", yeah, you know, we turned the "Make Believe Ballroom" on twice a day and we'd broadcast into the auditorium at the high school at, from 12 to 1. We broadcast the, whatever they were playing on WNEW so all the guys could learn to dance with all the--
Studs Terkel "Life Is Just a Bowl of Cherries", something
Ralph Gleason Oh, things like that, sure. And I heard all these weird exotic sounds in the middle of the night, you know, and I was the only one in the school that ever heard him, nobody knew what I was talking about, and it freaked me out of my mind. And you couldn't--you see, talking about it now to people today it's impossible to explain to them a simple fact of life which, of course, inevitably stems from the racist set-up of the society which is that in 1933 and 1934 it was simply impossible to buy a record by a Black artist in Westchester County that I know of. Even later, in order to buy one, you would have to go to White Plains, which was the county seat where there was a record store.
Studs Terkel At the time they were called race records, the [Vocalion?]
Ralph Gleason Well, yeah. They--solid, but even the ones that came out on Brunswick or came out on Columbia and Earl Hines for instance, "Cavernism" came out on the Columbia blue label at that point. Even those records were not available in that territory. You would have to go down to New York City to buy them or order them from the catalog and
Studs Terkel Were there--in this town you lived in, did you know were there Black people
Ralph Gleason Three.
Studs Terkel So you didn't know any then, kids your age, say.
Ralph Gleason No, no, I knew two.
Ralph Gleason The degree of far-outness of Duke Ellington in Chappaqua, New York in 1932, '33 and '34, I mean, it was incredible, it was nothing like it. I found--well, what happened actually was that I got the measles. And if you remember back in those days before antibiotics and other things, what happened to you when they got the measles was they stuck you in a room without any light. And if I didn't have any light I couldn't read, and it was only--well, it was a certain limit on the other occupations in which you could while away the time in a room when you couldn't read at the age of 15 or so. And so I started staying up all night long listening to the radio. And all of a sudden I stumbled on these wild, exotic, strange sounds in the nights by a bunch of people I never heard of. I didn't know who Duke Ellington was, didn't mean a thing to me. I thought he was a, you know, a Duke from the island of Ellington or something. This is when, roughly about? Oh, this is 1933, '34, right in there, and I spent--it was quite a, it was a little over a week, was close to 10 days, and I was up every night listening to the radio finding these broadcasts from Chicago and Kansas City and Buffalo and New York. And, oh I don't even know, places all down along the Eastern Seaboard, ballrooms and things. And I heard Duke and Louis Armstrong and Earl Hines, and you know, I went back to school and I found I am a freak. I mean, everybody else knows John Philip Sousa and "The Stars and Stripes Forever", and you know, whatever the hell a pop song was at the moment, I don't even remember what it was because at that point we didn't have radio broadcasting records all day long like you have today, the only record program was on WNEW and it was Martin Block, you know. "Make Believe "Make Believe Ballroom", yeah, you know, we turned the "Make Believe Ballroom" on twice a day and we'd broadcast into the auditorium at the high school at, from 12 to 1. We broadcast the, whatever they were playing on WNEW so all the guys could learn to dance with all the-- "Life Is Just a Bowl of Cherries", something Oh, things like that, sure. And I heard all these weird exotic sounds in the middle of the night, you know, and I was the only one in the school that ever heard him, nobody knew what I was talking about, and it freaked me out of my mind. And you couldn't--you see, talking about it now to people today it's impossible to explain to them a simple fact of life which, of course, inevitably stems from the racist set-up of the society which is that in 1933 and 1934 it was simply impossible to buy a record by a Black artist in Westchester County that I know of. Even later, in order to buy one, you would have to go to White Plains, which was the county seat where there was a record store. At the time they were called race records, the [Vocalion?] Well, yeah. They--solid, but even the ones that came out on Brunswick or came out on Columbia and Earl Hines for instance, "Cavernism" came out on the Columbia blue label at that point. Even those records were not available in that territory. You would have to go down to New York City to buy them or order them from the catalog and get Were there--in this town you lived in, did you know were there Black people there? Three. So you didn't know any then, kids your age, say. No, no, I knew two. Music I
Studs Terkel You were hooked on this now, this music.
Ralph Gleason Well, I always figured I was Black Irish.
Ralph Gleason Was part me, yeah.
Studs Terkel 'Cause there is, you know, you mentioned Earl Hines. Perhaps we should hear Earl Hines. You know, again, you as much as anyone in the country has been making it clear for so many years our own artists, artists in the true sense, our indigenous artists, the jazzmen you know, none of them ever won a Pulitzer or a Guggenheim.
Ralph Gleason No, well, as Jon Hendricks said, the American's true opera house is at Regal Theater in Chicago and the Howard in Washington, D.C. and the Apollo in New York, and they're not the San Francisco Opera House and they're not Carnegie Hall and all those places, but you see at that point all that happened was that these bands were filling in that late night 15 minute slots or half-hour slots on the networks. You'd get them on mutual ABC, Red Network, Blue Network. That was before ABC, come to think of it. And you would also get crap. I mean you'd get Art Castles and these "Castles in the Air" from the Trianon Ballroom and you'd get Bert Block, who is now an agent, and you'd get Johnny, you know, like Johnny Noble and these, whatever that band was, and there were, you know at one point we used in the '50s we, I wrote a column in the "Chronicle", we made a game out of playing a game called "Old Bad Bands." I mean, who can you line up, you know. Sammy Kaye, Herbie Kay. You know, and Lenny Herman, the biggest little band in show business and all that stuff, you go crazy with those things. Some of those bands were so--I mean, it was like a purification of Lawrence Welk, a distillation of white Anglo-Saxon Protestant Puritanistic dance music that, whatever it did, for God's sakes don't let it swing. Now, in the middle of all that junk that was coming at you at, you know, 11, 12, one o'clock in the morning, bang! You'd catch Duke Ellington wailing, you know, and with all those mysterious sounds of the thing that didn't sound like anything else you'd ever heard and still don't sound like anything else, you know, and you'd hear Earl Hines kind of cutting through that thing featuring the piano at a time when you know, you might hear during the day on WNEW or WABC or WJEZ the stations in New York City you might hear during the day somebody having a piano recital in the studio, you know, some corny mother who you couldn't possibly listen to, you know. And then at night you'd hear Earl Hines just singing through that with the piano.
Studs Terkel As you're talking, Ralph, we can make this past and present and free, we can jump ages, I'm thinking about mentioning the church, you know, the changes have occurred there, too, among young priests and young nuns, many of them ex, here too, obviously you're, I know that you're an observer of this particular phenomenon, too, you
Ralph Gleason Yeah, well, you know the--who was it in O'Casey's play, said the priests were the ruin of Ireland? Well, the priests never really got control of this country to ruin it, but wherever they had a good hand in it, they did their best, and the only thing that's happening now is that the church is demonstrating its ageless ability to co-opt and to cooperate with changing trends. Because if there is any organization in the history of Western civilization that has shown that "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em," it's the Catholic Church. I mean, they're gonna, you know, they're already sponsoring hip priests and hip nuns and I won't be surprised if we get some ecclesiastical defender of women's lib at any moment, you know, much less some other thing. But I want to go back to one thing that was kicked off by that Earl Hines record. The--I took the train into Columbia, near down the Harlem division and got off on 125th Street, at the station at 125th, and I walked over to Columbia every morning. There's a detective story by Chestia Hymes, who is an absolutely great writer who, with the central action in the book takes place in that railroad station, and I stumbled across this two or three years ago and it just laid me right out, because it's perfect. He's got the smell of that station. I hung out in that station for hours waiting for those trains, you know, going home at night. And he really, it was just too much. But anyway, if you walk from that railroad station over to Columbia, what happened was you walked past the Apollo Theater. I had never heard of the Apollo Theater. I did not know that there was an Apollo Theater, but I walked past there one day, and here is a 10-foot size, you know, double lifetime size portrait in brilliant Technicolor out in front of it of Cab Calloway. My God. You mean these people not only do you, do they play on the radio at night but they actually exist and come somewhere where you can go see them?
Studs Terkel You know, Ralph, for those who may not know, listeners and most do know, the nature of Apollo Theater in New York, the Regal Theater in Chicago, the Howard Theatre in Washington, these are the Black theaters where the film was almost a stage wait for the live performance.
Ralph Gleason Well, some of those films were out of sight. I mean, until you've seen Herb Jeffries as a cowboy, man, I mean you haven't seen a movie! That's where that, you know, that's the expression of groovy which originally came from "groovy as a 10-cent movie," I mean that's what it applied to. The idea of going to one of those places, you know, as I said, I didn't even know they existed. And then I discovered that on my way home if I had a couple of hours to kill, I could duck in and catch those bands at the Apollo. And you see, you sit on the balcony of the Apollo and looked down at Earl Hines on that stage with that band and he had on his right hand on the fourth finger of his right hand a ring. And when he would play those trills, the right hand, which were designed, and the treble way up on the top of the keyboard, which a designer cut through the sound of the band, you know, cut through the section of the brass and the saxophones, he'd stick his hand out there and just wail on those trills, and the spotlight would come down on that ring. And that, the whole stage would be dark and all you'd see was Hine's hand and the top of the piano keyboard and that ring just glistening. It was insane. You know, blew me right out of my mind, I mean you talk about mind-blowing experiences.
Studs Terkel You remember that ring of Earl Hines, you associate it with the music and the event, and I suppose of course the audiences, here you were a white kid, young white college student, and the audiences of course in these theaters were quite special, weren't they? Their reaction to--
Ralph Gleason Yeah, they were Black.
Studs Terkel No, I meant also the audience in responding to the performers on the stage.
Ralph Gleason Well, you see that's--
Studs Terkel Since they were participants too, almost in a sense,
Ralph Gleason They were always participants, and the difference between seeing any one of those people and right up to now, as a matter of fact, the difference between seeing B.B. King today in front of a wide audience at Fillmore West, you're seeing B.B. King in a showcase in Oakland in front of a Black audience, you're seeing two different shows, because the white audiences have never responded as directly to the performances on stage as the Black audiences have. I mean, it was a dialogue between the performer and the audience at all times. I mean, Earl would say something or do something and somebody would yell, and it wasn't a question of being heckled. It was a question of participation.
Studs Terkel Call and response, in a way.
Ralph Gleason Oh, solid, sure. And you know, it was, and as a matter of fact when you talk to people like B.B. who made that transition from playing to, on the Black underground on what Lou Rawls called "the chitlin circuit," you know, playing in those joints before all-Black audiences for years and then switching to something full of white hippies, they do something and there is no response, and a gap is then left, you know, they don't really--it takes a little while to adjust to that and realize that it's a different kind of an audience that they are appealing to. This is breaking down somewhat to the degree that every once in a while some kid will say something back to the performers, but generally it's a different thing.
Studs Terkel I'm going to ask you later on, perhaps, well, any time you want to, about the nature of what's happened today with white hippie audiences and some of the events you've covered, we can come to that, particularly the rock festival, particularly one that you wrote about, now that will come--
Ralph Gleason See, the thing with music, music was a very special thing, and it still is a very special thing, but it was a special thing to fewer people, I think, at that point in time. The Black population in New York City had a much closer affiliation with music, music was much more a part of their lives, than it was part of the lives of the white population. And even when I went to Columbia as I said, discovering the Apollo Theater and that such things did in fact exist as live performances by Earl Hines and Duke Ellington and Jimmy Lunsford, when I got to Columbia I was still an alien, I was still lost, and I met a cat who was waiting on tables in a dining hall, and he had a box of records, and I thought, you know I didn't even have a photograph. I mean, at that point getting a phonograph in and of itself was something very special because you had to pay proportionately a lot of money for a good one. And this guy had a phonograph up in his room and a box of records and he turned me on to all kinds of things he took me on a Fletcher Henderson and other Duke Ellington had all kinds of Duke Ellington records and Jimmy Lunsford records and we started them in 1934, and '35 and '36 not only going to the Apollo Theater, but going down to 52nd Street and seeing bands down there and running all over New York City.
Studs Terkel Was there something you observed as a young student at this time too, you said how difficult it was in the town you came from to buy records, even the big labels--
Ralph Gleason Impossible--
Studs Terkel The
Ralph Gleason You couldn't buy anything.
Studs Terkel Now, the artists themselves, the Black artists did not at the time, now "radio ballroom," you know, radio work was now beginning, but for the white artists work in hotels was beginning with only white artists. The Black guy then could only play at the Apollo or the Howard
Ralph Gleason They played those ballrooms, but actually some of those bands like Ellington and Hines would play some ballrooms in the Middle West, and even out here on the coast at that point ballrooms, when Benny Goodman made his first tour to the West coast and discovered, to his amazement, that something different went on in the West Coast than went on when he was playing in Chicago at that point, which was explainable by the time lapse in the broadcast, he got out here and he found this audience all standing in front of the bandstand screaming and yelling for Bunny Berrigan to play and all that, well at that point he would play places like Mike Fagan's ballroom in Oakland or Sweets Ballroom in Oakland or the what do you call it in Los Angeles, play the original Palladium in Los Angeles. Those ballrooms many times would have a segregated night for the Black population and bands that would come through like Duke Ellington or Jimmy Lunsford would play on a Monday night or a Tuesday night or a Thursday night or sometimes a Sunday night in those ballrooms, and those were Black dances, and I--New York was relatively cool at the end of, and then in the middle '40s when I first came to the West Coast in the sense that café society had pioneered mixed audiences downtown and there was no unavailability to a white fan of that music of live performances of [unintelligible]. You could go to any place you wanted to, and it really astonished me when I arrived on the West Coast to discover that it took a press pass and a lot of hassle to get into a Lionel Hampton dance at the Oakland Auditorium because it was supposedly for a Black audience only. You know, I said, "What?" You know, my innocence is ludicrous in retrospect--
Studs Terkel This is now the middle '30s,
Ralph Gleason No, this is the end, this is middle '40s. It's ludicrous now to think about it, but it was really very true, and I didn't know these things went on. We hadn't seen that where I was, and in New York, when I started going downtown to those places, I didn't even know, I didn't know what discrimination was, I didn't know what it meant and anything about it. By the happy cooperation of the school system, I had no knowledge whatsoever of Black people in the United States, and since it was all mainly eliminated from the history books and what little they told you about it didn't really illuminate the situation at all. I realized there'd been a Civil War vaguely, and that--
Studs Terkel So it was through then jazz and I suppose your main book, your Bible in the sense was jazz for a while. The book of revelation to you was jazz.
Ralph Gleason Of course. Which is, see, if you got ser--I mean, I still think this is true. If you got seriously interested in it at any point no matter what brought you into it, whether you were brought into it by Benny Goodman, hearing him play "Stomping at the Savoy" from some late night broadcast, if you got interested in it from Count Basie, if you got interested in it in the later years with Dave Brubeck and Gerry Mulligan, no matter where you started, inevitably you were brought face-to-face with the fact that jazz is the creation of Black musicians, Black artists, that it's an expression of Black people, and that all the originators in the history of jazz, the people who have contributed the ideas that have altered the shape and the course of that music have inevitably been Black people.
Studs Terkel Even thinking the King of Swing at that time, the late '30s, say Benny Goodman who was the first to integrate his band with Teddy Wilson and Lionel Hampton, the fact is his arranger was Fletcher Henderson, a Black man, and little did the audience know this.
Ralph Gleason And Edgar Sampson and the other guys and that "Stomping at the Savoy", where that came from and where those other songs came from. See, the thing is not to rank Benny. I mean, nobody has played the clarinet better than Benny Goodman. Black or white. But yet Benny did not bring into that thing any new concept in music, any new style. I mean, his band was really an adaptation of the Fletcher Henderson band, just as Tommy Dorsey--and now I just did this recently, I went back and played Tommy Dorsey records from the swing era, from the mid and end '30s, and it's incredible how much those bands took directly from Black performers. I mean, the trumpet players in the Tommy Dorsey Band all sound like the, you know, imitation of Louis Armstrong.
Studs Terkel I'm thinking of "Stomping at the Savoy" might be a case in point, was it not, as an example of what you're talking about. Would it?
Ralph Gleason Well, there's just so many cases that it almost defeats you numerically. For instance, Glenn Miller "In the Mood". Joe Garland wrote it. Tenor saxophone player in the Chick Webb band. Tommy Dorsey's great hit, "Marie", Dorsey himself tells how he played a theater in Pittsburgh or Philadelphia and a Black band from Washington, D.C. was on the show and they did that arrangement of "Marie", and Dorsey bought it from him for seven of Dorsey's arrangements and took it into his band and that made Dorsey a commercial success. I mean, they did exactly the same thing. This goes on over and over and over.
Studs Terkel Even a more corny band like Clyde McCoy, "Sugar Blues".
Studs Terkel Again, that's a perfect example of "Sugar Blues" borrowed from a Black musician.
Ralph Gleason Sure, sure. You see, the whole history of popular music in this country from Al Jolson and Sophie Tucker right on through to, you know, well, maybe even to this very moment, has been a sequence of people, white people trying to sound Black. I mean, what Sophie Tucker and Al Jolson were trying to do was to sound Black.
Studs Terkel You know, it's so funny, you're thinking about in [unintelligible]. The young British singer, we come to Black influence in British singers, Tom Jones. Close your eyes, think a young Black kid who sings, imitating a Black kid.
Ralph Gleason Well, sure. As Godfrey Cambridge said, "Some of those British groups sound more colored than I do." You know, the thing with Tom Jones--there's a promoter in Los Angeles named Hal Zeiger who is a very astute showman and judge of public taste, he's had a lot of different shows. He took Lou Rawls on his first tours of this country, big concert tour, he took Ray Charles on his first big concert tour, and Zeiger points out that American general public wants to have its sex, its sex images be white, so it can take Tom Jones, who is an absolute, you know, vocal blackface in Julius Lester's phrase, a reproduction of Negro, of Black sounds and rhythms and phrasings and styles and everything, and they can hold still for him, whereas they would never have held still for Otis Redding and they don't still hold still for James Brown, and it is also just simply true that in a society as huge as this with all the ways of making money and living and all the room to do all these things that it is perfectly possible for people to grow into maturity and old age and die without ever being aware of the fact that there is such a thing as a Black culture. They don't encounter it. It does not encroach upon their surroundings in any way that they are aware of.
Studs Terkel I suppose the very rock culture which you are so much part and observer and one of the earliest of the pioneers in writing about it, that is so Black, and yet we have the white musicians who receive incredible sums of course, you know, but they're Black.
Ralph Gleason Well, I think it--see, a slightly different thing has come into that, which I'd like to go into in a minute, Studs, there is absolutely no question of the fact that huge reputations have been built by white rock and roll players whose main drive has been precisely the drive of those trumpet players who drove themselves into alcoholism and narcotics addiction by trying to be Louis Armstrong or later trying to be Dizzy Gillespie or Miles Davis. These kids have made an amazing drive towards trying to play like, sing like, and improvise like Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson and Elmore James and B.B. King and Albert King and all the rest of the great Negro rhythm and blues, urban blues performers of the last 20 years, but also into that thing for the very first time has come something which is truly original. I mean, you can make a case for the Beatles in their early years being influenced by Black musicians and trying to sound like Black musicians. But the Beatles, when beginning with "Rubber Soul" and going on from that do not sound like anybody else. They don't sound Black. The Jefferson Airplane does not sound Black. Many of those groups have done--whereas the Rolling Stones many times do. The Rolling Stones are flat-out imitations of Black blues, but a lot of the young white musicians, both the British ones and the American ones, have evolved a style and a kind of music which is, I think really original, and I'd see it myself as one of the first truly original contributions to music made in the United States of America by white people.
Studs Terkel So what's happening now? Using "Rolling Stone", let's say, the magazine of which you're a part, as the chronicler of this new event, a new sort of culture has come into being in which both cultures have fused and something new has evolved.
Ralph Gleason Well, I think that's happening in and all around the country in all kinds of different ways. I mean, a perfect example of it, you know, is in any of the colleges today you find more knowledge of Black music, more knowledge of the personalities and the styles of it, than you found in the white colleges I'm saying, than you've found in, say, a Black college 15 years ago. Because this is all being, this is all being thrust upon them now by phonograph records made available to them on radio and occasionally, though rarely, on television. You know, if you think back to the time when you and I grew up as teenagers, I don't know what it was like in Chicago, Studs, but I know that when I was at school at Columbia in New York City from 1934 to 1938, you could not hear on the radio any Black records. You did not hear those things on the radio.
Studs Terkel In Chicago, this is, what you say is true. Every now and then at a station that was oriented toward a new kind of Black audience, those who came after World War
Ralph Gleason I was going to say, but it was after World War II that there were Black
Studs Terkel But even then, there were still, or just before that, known as race records, among the labels: "Okeh", "Vocalion", "Bluebird", and the very title, the very name, race records, that in a sense I suppose were the progenitors, were they not, of rhythm and blues, weren't they?
Ralph Gleason Well, they were blues records, and you see, I think that's--some sociologist, Charles Keil, has done a story, a study on "Urban Blues", which is an excellent book. I think there's going to be a further thing examined about that sometime in the future, which is a change in the structure and the change in the component parts of the blues itself, because it is absolutely true that if you play Muddy Waters and if you play B.B. King and if you play Otis Redding, they do not sound musically like Bessie Smith or like Louis Armstrong blues of the '30s. There's a different quality and a different kind of thing that's involved in that which I have no answers for this. I suspect that this is involved to a considerable degree with the basic drive of the Black people of the country at this point as opposed to the basic drive of the Black people in the country in the '30s, and the basic drive in the '20s and the '30s was to by emulation achieve part of the good things that could be seen in the white society., where--and to move away from the blackness of Black. And whereas now--
Studs Terkel Even that's something that Fats Waller wrote that Louis sings, "Black and blue, I'm white inside." That very lyric itself, is quite revealing.
Ralph Gleason Or the one that Carmen McRae did later on, which I think Ethel Waters did, "Georgia Rose", you know. But now the whole stance is, the whole cultural stance is towards Black pride and even before Black pride and "Black is beautiful" were articulated by any of these cultural heroes or the theoreticians of the movement, it was implicit in the music. I mean, I think that Muddy Waters after he, you know, ceased to be McKinley Morganfield and came on out as Muddy Waters and got to Chicago and established himself as a blues stylist with a direct relationship to an audience that he saw in front of him in that club night after night. I think that whether or not he ever spoke in the rhetoric of that, that the basic stance of that music was a Black pride stance--
Studs Terkel I suppose also technology played a role here, too. Now came the electrified instruments, too, in contrast to the acoustic instruments backing the others, too.
Ralph Gleason Well, yeah, except that we had amplified instruments. I mean, Charlie Christian played an amplified guitar in the Benny Goodman band, but the thing that differentiated that guitar from what you see now on stage with Buddy Guy or B.B. King was the use of the electronics. The original thing that they did was merely enhance the sound that already existed, and what they do now is they transform the sound and make a sound through electronics, and it has become, really, an entirely new instrument, and this is one of the things that has helped change the character of that music, because we look at a guitar--I mean, for instance, all--I didn't go to the Newport Jazz Festival, I've never been to the Newport Jazz Festival, but a number of my friends were there this year and they universally report the reaction of the jazz critics of my generation to the electric instruments as being horror, outrage and insecurity of one kind or another. And you see, they look at that thing and they think it's a guitar, and a guitar equals Charlie Christian or it Carl Kress or it equals Django Reinhardt. Well, it's not a guitar. It's another instrument altogether, you know, and these guys are playing a different thing with it, and of course it's a threat, as is all youth a threat at all times to all age, you know, because it's new. Youth will, youth cannot be denied. And there is no going back. We are not going to go back to the music of the '20s no matter how many friends of Dixieland music and New Orleans music establish clubs in all the small towns across the country, which are kind of musical white citizens' councils, and nothing is going to bring that
Studs Terkel You call them musical white citizens' councils?
Ralph Gleason Sure. Because what they're interested in is Dixieland music as defined by Chicago Dixieland players and safe New Orleans old men, who are not going to give them any rumbles, and they can't you know, to them for God's sake Dizzy Gillespie is an enemy.
Studs Terkel Also I suppose the fact you spoke of Black pride, a new kind of development here as well as technology and the city itself. Charlie Keil's book called "Urban Blues". I suppose the movement predominantly to some extent rural blues of the past, pre-World War II [unintelligible] to the city.
Ralph Gleason Studs, look at it. It's kind of difficult to wander around the plantations and the fields of the South carrying a Rickenback [sic] electric guitar and an amplifier and the electrical equipment or a generator to plug it into, you know. I mean, you can't do that. So if you're going to be in that sort of a rural circumstance, it's much easier to carry around a guitar which can provide you with harmonies for a voice and it is to carry around a piano.
Studs Terkel It was also a movement to the cities--the tensions, the tensions the high rise set up all, also adding this note, this tenor to
Ralph Gleason The volume, too. I mean, we're living in a culture of volume, you know, from your airports to the freeways to everything else.
Studs Terkel And yet everything you're saying, coming back to Ralph Gleason, I'm his guest here in Berkeley, California, in the studios of KPFA, and someone I wanted to hear talk for a long time and [sent?]. As Ralph is talking, he's telling us more than a story of jazz and popular music and rock music, it's in a sense a story of our country, involving race of course, and involving the young and the old. You still believe in a continuity. This is one of the questions comes up, that it didn't begin by itself. That's always an aspect--
Ralph Gleason Studs, there's a very successful rock and roll concert show that's been playing all around the country now and it's called a rock n roll revival, and it features rock and roll stars in the early '50s. There's a group out of New York City called Sha Na Na, which is a group of young kids out of college whose entire repertoire is rock and roll hits from the early '50s. They are the anti-McLuhanists perfect, you see, because they prove that there is a history, and if there is a history there must be a continuity. They've proven the existence of linear development. Now, you could not have had Sha Na Na unless you had had these other things from the '50s, and it's Sha Na Na's success is based upon the assumption that you know that these things existed. Now, a curious thing happens in that my son, for instance, who did not hear those things in the '50s because he was not born yet when some of them were popular, nevertheless has learned about them from Sha Na Na as going back to them. You know, I mean, he's rediscovered Chuck Berry. This is all mixed up, too, with the difference between the way in which music was made of, popular music was made available to you in this country and the way in which popular music was made available to the citizens of the United Kingdom. For instance, it was not until the late '60s that the population of San Francisco, California at large had the opportunity to hear Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, or Muddy Waters. Now, these people I think probably technically had played in the area sometime in the early '50s, but they had played in Black clubs where white people rarely went and where their presence was advertised only in the Black press or on the Black radio stations. Now, this means that the young people in the area encountered this music out of the historical sequence that it should have been in. See, they made a jump back in time to pick up on that. This is wrapped up with the fact that they could still hear those sounds on the radio all during their formative years because, beginning with the '50s in the absence of drama and the rest of it from radio with the beginning of television, the availability of cheap radios and all that thing made radio the dissemination medium for all of music, and radio, which is full of prejudices, however there is no prejudice in the sound, and if they made money out of it they would broadcast it, so you had gospel music and soul music and jazz and the standard Patti Page pops and blues and rhythm and blues all available on the air to you in any major metropolitan area in the country, so that a band like Creedence Clearwater, for instance, could and was influenced when they were 12, 13 and 14 years old by Howlin' Wolf, who they never had a chance to see. I mean, for instance John Fogarty, living in wherever it was, El Cerrito or Oakland or Berkeley, wherever he lived at that point, did not have a chance to see Howlin' Wolf, because Howlin' Wolf did not appear on the stage of the theaters in this area that had stage shows at that time, and if he appeared here at all, he appeared in some club deep in the Oakland ghetto, where you couldn't get at him if you were white and came from the other part of the area, but the music was available on radio. Now when those people came back after the beginning of the whole psychedelic hippie rock and roll revolution that started here in 1965, when they came back and played the Fillmore--
Studs Terkel By here you mean the San
Ralph Gleason Right. By the way, my theory is that it all starts first here.
Studs Terkel San
Ralph Gleason San Francisco, Oakland. I happen to work this out yet, I have--I asked someone some time ago to work out a theory of the dialogue between San Francisco and Berkeley in terms of which one had the picket point of the movement at a given time going--
Studs Terkel As you're saying this, I'm thinking, talking to Ralph Gleason, I'm just thinking, have we been going about 45, 50 minutes? Because this is going to be in several parts, you know, and obviously for the next program, this will be in order of three or four programs we'll be doing with Ralph Gleason, the story of American music, what it amounts to really, indigenous music, probably for the next session your theory about the West Coast, San Francisco, this particular enclave, Oakland, Berkeley, as the beginning of the new kind of music. Ralph, we have to go back and forth with Ralph for the past 30 years, his marvelous beautiful writings about artists like Billie Holiday and why he and I feel a certain way about her. Certain artists, probably country blues, but certainly about the festivals. This is of course in the news these days, Chicago the other day had a bust-up of a rock festival, and you covered the tragic affair at Altamont. Contrasting that to Woodstock, the very nature of things. Perhaps we could say it's about 50 minutes or so? Do we know? Let's go another five minutes on this, your thoughts, maybe--not summarizing, but your thoughts from starting way back when you were this kid in that town in New York and hearing "Black and Tan Fantasy" and seeing Earl Hines' ring at the Apollo Theater flashing, the changes that you've seen for good and bad.
Ralph Gleason Well, one of the changes is the fact that there is some body of opinion in the country now that recognizes that Duke Ellington is a major American composer, not just a jazz piano player and the guy that led the band at the Cotton Club for a floor show. I mean, we're still fighting that thing, you know, because Americans basically, and by Americans I mean the people in the United States of America, basically are insecure and they feel that they don't have a culture. They feel that they must institute imitations of European culture in order to validate their own claims to culture and the indigenous culture in this country has been the culture of the Indians and the culture of the forcibly imported Black people who have developed a real individual and unique thing, but to accept that as culture has been to imply a denial of the validity of the superstructure of the society's right to be where it is, you see, and so you get the foundations giving money to the opera houses and all the rich people contributing their bread to the symphony, and I got nothing against the opera houses and the symphonies, except by and large they're boring, but you don't get them supporting Duke Ellington or Earl Hines or Miles Davis or Dizzy Gillespie or Muddy Waters or--
Studs Terkel Our memorial to Big Bill Broonzy.
Ralph Gleason Yes, exactly, see. And as, I mean, we've got a very interesting--speaking of Big Bill, a very interesting thing we had at Berkeley Folk Festival here a couple of years, we have it every year, and at one of these things, one of a great musicologist, a man that I admire was talking about how, that it should be noted that Berkeley was so, the university was so favorable to folk music that during the '30s they had Carl Sandburg, you know, well, they didn't have Big Bill, you know, and they didn't have Leadbelly and they weren't about to have Howlin' Wolf. And you know, when you tell people that somebody like Big Bill ended up--was it the University of Iowa?
Ralph Gleason As a janitor at the University of Iowa, or that Jimmy Yancey, for that matter--
Studs Terkel Groundskeeper.
Ralph Gleason Pianist, was groundskeeper for the White
Ralph Gleason Sure. They look at you, particularly the young people today who have a tendency to believe that because they do not possess a discernible prejudice that the prejudice therefore does not exist.
Studs Terkel This probably is a good point in which to end this session with a piece of music of your choice, too, this very point. The young are much more perceptive than they were than their parents were. At the same time, this continuity gap that someone like you helps fill, that there was a guy like Big Bill who worked as a janitor, even though he was invited as a guest by the president of the university on Friday nights at Iowa City, that there was a pianist--
Ralph Gleason Really and truly?
Studs Terkel Oh, sure. Isn't that beautiful? He was the guest of honor, the janitor was the guest of honor, the president of the University of Iowa.
Ralph Gleason Well, as a matter of fact that showed you where it was really at. I doubt that he ever invited the president over, a guest of honor at his place.
Studs Terkel I don't think that Charles Comiskey Jr. ever invited Jimmy Yancey, groundskeeper for the White Sox ballpark to his house, though, you see, so it was going--but what's, what reflectively as we're talking now just this is very, all we're doing is reflecting, freely associating, Ralph Gleason and I primarily Ralph, a hunk of music comes to your mind, about you and your--
Ralph Gleason I think that if I remember once, Warren was setting up there before, we had a Louis Armstrong record of "I'll Be Glad When You're Dead, You Rascal You", which I'm very fond of, because to begin with, Louis used to sing this on the radio programs with a line that "I'll be standing on the corner high when they bring your body by," and it could be the whole song could be used as a metaphor for the revolt of disenfranchised peoples in this society.
Studs Terkel As you're saying this, there's also, I suppose you have to talk about Louis' artistry of that time, the fact that he was an inventor, the way he sang and the way he played, too.
Ralph Gleason You see, when we talk about, when I talk about people making a contribution, I mean, my God, when Louis Armstrong played the trumpet and that was put on record and those records were sent out all over the world, people stopped playing the trumpet the way they used to play it, and began to play the trumpet the way he played it, as well as emulated the sound of his voice, the style of his clothes, the length of the tabs on his collars, and anything else that he did, I mean, they wanted to be Louis Armstrong. Well, that earlier generation of white musicians couldn't be Black any more than the guys in Ten Years After and Alvin Lee can be Black today. You can't do it. I mean, you can only be who you are. And it drove many, many good musicians into nervous breakdowns and suicide, alcoholism and narcotics addiction trying to be somebody else, because the better they got at it, the more they were someone other than themselves.
Studs Terkel That's a marvelous theme I think to open our second session. You've got to be who you are, and perhaps Billie is a marvelous person, artist to open that second segment, but to close this one, you pointed out Louis' song is a metaphor, perhaps again "I'll Be Glad When You're Dead, You Rascal You".
Ralph Gleason Right.
Studs Terkel Ralph Gleason, this is part one. [content removed, see catalog record] Before we fade out, 'cause this is very informal conversation we're having, and it's a San Francisco-type conversation Ralph Gleason, end of Part One, but something you wanted to say about the solo of Louis
Ralph Gleason Yeah. That solo is a long extended solo. I don't remember exactly how long it goes, but it's an almost perfect work of art. He improvises right out of his head standing there in this, you know, with the trumpet in front of the microphone, and it has shape, it has shape like a beautiful piece of architecture, there's shape like a novel, shape like a poem. And it goes some place, and it means something. Now, we don't--many times today we don't improvise the same way in music that Louis improvised then, because his musical language and his musical concept were based on a European system of music, which is not in favor at the moment, but that does not detract from the beauty of what he did. I mean, more than it would from the beauty of Da Vinci or Gauguin merely because you paint in another way is another concept today. It's just magnificent
Studs Terkel That's one of the best descriptions of the nature of jazz, the very fact you're describing right now, the man is creating as he's performing, and make creation performance at the same time, the nature of improvisation.
Studs Terkel Part One, Ralph J. Gleason.
Ralph Gleason The record, that record by Louis I think was made about the time of his return from his first European tour. He played at the Palladium in London. The brass section of the London Philharmonic gave him a special trumpet. He was featured in London in the papers and his personal appearance was like visiting royalty. He came back to this country and he went to New Orleans, and he broadcast over a radio station in New Orleans and it was the first broadcast he's done over, he had done of a radio station in New Orleans, and the white announcer refused to interview--refused to introduce him.
Studs Terkel This was as late as--
Ralph Gleason Mid '30s. He said, "I can't introduce that nigger." And didn't. And, you know, if you read Louis, Louis about Louis in "Ebony", you know, you find out that even in the '40s and the '50s, people that he appeared with, like he said in an interview and in his own autobiography in "Ebony", that he had never been in Bing Crosby's house and didn't know where Bing Crosby lived.
Studs Terkel You know, it's fascinating as you're saying this, Ralph, the image of Louis Armstrong today as the happy-go-lucky almost Tom-like figure, and yet buried deep, deep, deep, you find this bitterness was there, you see. That there's the front that often we see this, too, in someone who seems to be the Tom figure who is far from it underneath.