Listening to the Masters

Book Notes

Volume CV, No. 10October, 2005

Bill Crow

“Fifties Jazz Talk, an Oral Retrospective”
by Gordon Jack (Scarecrow Press, 2004).

A new addition to Scarecrow’s “Studies in Jazz” series, this book contains transcribed interviews with thirty jazz musicians, survivors of the 1950s jazz scene, who were selected by Mr. Jack to record their personal accounts and memories. Most of this material originally appeared in the magazine Jazz Journal International.

The list of interviewees provides an interesting slice of journeymen workers in the jazz world: Gene Allen, Mose Allison, Dave Bailey, Chuck Berghofer, Eddie Bert, Bob Brookmeyer, Pete Christlieb, myself, Joe Dodge, Bob Enevoldsen, Don Ferrara, Herb Geller, Corky Hale, Peter Ind, Frank Isola, Lee Konitz, Stan Levey, Jack Montrose, Gerry Mulligan, four musicians who played with Mulligan’s early pianoless quartet (Larry Bunker, Chico Hamilton, Carson Smith and Bob Whitlock), Lennie Niehaus, Jack Nimitz, Hod O’Brien, Bill Perkins, Bud Shank, Phil Urso and Phil Woods.

Mr. Jack has gotten each of these musicians to talk about their own musical milieu, providing historical material as well as the details that give one the feel and smell and color of the times.

The interviews with Frank Isola and Joe Dodge, done in 1992, had been written up as magazine articles, and are reprinted here in their original form.

The rest, recorded between 1994 and 2001, are presented in the words of the musicians, much in the style of Ira Gitler’s classic “Swing to Bop.”

When a personal interview wasn’t possible because of the physical distance between interviewer and his subject, Mr. Jack sent written questions and received replies via cassette tape.

Whether written or in person, those questions elicited excellent recollections.

The questions weren’t included in the book, a wise decision that gives the narratives a better flow and leaves one with the feeling that the musicians are talking more to the reader than to the interviewer.

Most of Mr. Jack’s comments are reserved for notes at the end of each chapter.

There is a bibliography, a full index, and a center section containing 16 pages of photos, some taken by Mr. Jack, others from the personal collections of the musicians.