Sunday, December 13, 2009

On 52nd Street, Part I

In September 1943 Dizzy Gillespie left Earl Hines. Oscar Pettiford, who had been with Charlie Barnet from January, left that band in May. Gillespie played with Coleman Hawkins; and, for three weeks in October, with Duke Ellington at the Capitol theater on Broadway. Pettiford worked with Thelonious Monk at Minton's for four months before moving down to 52nd street's Onyx Club with Roy Eldridge. Then Gillespie and Pettiford got together as co-leaders of what is generally acknowledged to be the first group to formally present bebop to the general public. Shortly after the debut of the Gillespie-Pettiford unit, a recording was put together on February 16, 1944, that was the first formal statement of the new music on record. The leader and featured soloist of the date was Coleman Hawkins. Budd Johnson and Clyde Hart co-authored "Bu-Dee-Daht," the piece that later made Daniel Bloom rave to us in front of Columbia Grammar School, and "Disorder at the Border"; and Dizzy contributed a milestone with his composition "Woody'n You" (hee named it for Woody Herman because Herman had liked and encouraged his writing. Herman never recorded it. ) That was the begging of a new era.


"To hear the guys on the Street was another thing, and when I finally arrived on the Street, I guess it was the last few years. It was the few years before that that I didn't know too much about. When I got there, that's when Dizzy had the band with Oscar Pettiford, Don Byas. And then Budd Johnson was on there for a while. Then there was a band with Don and Coleman Hawkins, Benny Harris and Monk. As a matter of fact I played in the only square club on the Street for a while which was called the 51 Club. It was opposite from the Three Deuces— the same side of the street as the Onyx Club. And they just had a little trio. Bob Baron was the leader, and piano players, there was revolving piano players in and out, and tenor. We played for a couple of singers. I don't know what that club was doing there. But it was straight . . . just a corny club. I played there a few months. And one of the piano players was Al Haig. Before he got to play with Dizzy and Bird. He was still in the Coast Guard, I believe. Apple cheeks. Clean-cut young fellow. I guess he sounded like Teddy Wilson. We didn't get a chance to play a lot down there. We just played the shows, 'cause they had dancing. But it was great 'cause I was right on the scene there, and between sets I could go to hear all these guys. I got to hang out on the Street a little more after that. Got to know some of the guys. I was young enough to be flexible. It wasn't the thing that it hit me over the head because it was something new. It was something new but it wasn't a dramatic thing like it was for older guys that couldn't bend with it." -- AL COHN


"When I did come to New York to settle down in 1942, I joined Diz, Oscar Pettiford, Max Roach, and all those men at the Onyx Club. We really started to get into it, getting down arrangements, head arrangements, and recordings and all of that. So that's what I did. That's when it started. The Street made everybody aware of this new music. Dizzy was the theoretician to this music to my way of thinking and my knowledge, and he was really. It was lots and lots of fun. But some guys it didn't really influence too much—a lot of guys like Don Byas and Lucky Thompson and all of 'em. They stayed more in the Hawk thing, but they got the swiftness and the changes but they didn't necessarily sound in the exact style.
Dizzy tried to hum everything; he had to hum everything to everybody to get them to see what he was still talkin' about. It would be hard to explain it. It could be notated, but it was very hard to read, because cats weren't used to reading and actually, that's how I think it got its name, bebop. Because he would be humming this music, and he'd say, "Ooop bop ta oop a la doo bop doo ba." So people said, "Play some more of that bebop" because he would be saying, "Bebop." And the cats would say, "Sing some more of that bebop," and actually, I think that's how it got its name, because that's the way he would have to sing it to make you get the feeling that he wanted you to play with. I put down a lot of things for Oscar Pettiford. Actually, what they call "One Bass Hit" that was Oscar's tune. He called it "For Bass Faces Only." It's absolutely his tune, and he was the first one to play it. Oscar Pettiford contributed much to this music. Most all of those tunes that we played on sand Street when I worked with Diz, damned near half of them were Oscar's tunes. He was writing tunes every day. "Hey, Budd. Put this down. Put this down. Put this down." 'Cause he couldn't notate it on paper, so a lot of that happened that way. A lot of that happened with Monk. I used to put down things for Monk. That was back in the 52nd Street days. In fact, me and Monk used to hang out. We'd get a bottle of wine. I'd go over to his mother's house where he was livin' over on the West Side. I would put down things for him. Sometime he would come to my house. I was livin' on 152nd Street then. Oh, he was beautiful. He was a little bitter, because everybody was sorta getting credit, and actually I really heard Monk doin' this stuff before anybody. I don't think anybody else had the tunes. I really would put Monk before Diz from my knowledge. Of course, I wasn't in New York."--BUDD JOHNSON


"When I came out of the Army, I was very hurt because Charlie Parker had become famous, Dizzy had become famous, Max had become famous, and I said to myself, "What happened to Monk?" because we were playing a lot of Monk's tunes. We used to go to an after-hours place; this was an apartment. After Monroe's would close down we would all go to this guy's apartment called Mat Maddox. This would be about nine or ten in the morning. And we'd be there until twelve or one in the afternoon playing in a little room that had a piano in it, and there was Monk, myself, and—who else now—well, Victor Coulson and George Treadwell were always there. It has been said that Monk wrote "Round Midnight" about 1939. And a lot of the tunes that he recorded much later were written in the early '40s, but nobody heard them on record." -- ALLEN TINNEY


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