Thursday, August 20, 2009

No Rockin' In My Youth

When I was in college in Chicago I used to hang out at a local pizza joint with a dozen other guys. We'd fall in about seven in the evening and drink Pepsi or coffee, maybe go over to the old pool hall above the bowling alley that looked a lot like the place where Fast Eddie got his clock cleaned by Minnesota Fats. We played nothing but straight pool. No eight- or nine-ball ever.

Occasionally we'd pick up a couple of bucks for a delivery. One night a buddy got even more from a lonely housewife who provided more than the usual tip. Mostly it was just hanging out. Come midnight or two in the morning and we'd go home.

There was a juke box and it had the current rock stuff--that was the year the Beatles came to the US. We didn't like rock, but the teen aged girls did, so we'd play the box sometime. Mostly we were into jazz. The son-in-law of the owner was chief pizza flipper for most nights, and he had a collection of more than 3000 jazz LPs. He knew them all.

Once or twice a year on a weekend night, we'd get the urge to catch some live sounds and that meant a trip to the South Side where there were a couple of jazz clubs. It wasn't the safest venue for a bunch of white boys even in those days, but we tried to be polite and not get our butts kicked. 47th and Drexel Boulevard was a tough neighborhood.

One trip was to catch a guy named Roland Kirk. He was black, of course, and blind. His gimmick was that he played three saxophones; the usual tenor or alto and two weird ones called a manzello and a stritch. He played three at one time. Not sequentially, but all at once. And, he made music that was heavily influenced by Charlie Parker and John Coltrane.

He played other instruments as well. He usually had a flute stuffed in the bell of his tenor as he played. He also did a remarkable number on a "nose flute"--which I'm assuming was an even more personal instrument than a saxophone mouthpiece.

Kirk was always full of surprises but his music was real and not gimmicky. Best part of our night was that we also got to see his drummer in those days, a guy named Elvin Jones. Jones was the busiest man on a drum kit that I've ever seen. He seemed to be working on a different tune, but underlying all of his activities, he was still in charge of the beat and laying it down within his patterns.

Elvin Jones split from Kirk a bit later, and as he got older he got a bit more mellow. Still a great one though.

Night in Tunisia is still one of my favorites. Enjoy.

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