Sunday, March 24, 2013

All the Young Persian Cannibals [A Memoir]

The readers of this blog have probably noticed that lately I've been focusing on jazz in Hollywood films. There is no particular reason for this interest, except re-watching some of the films I had seen light years away and becoming slightly nostalgic about some of them, especially the one I'm going to mention today.

In the late 1990s, me and my two sisters, all of us in our teens, became fascinated by a film called Young Wolves about the life of a good-looking trumpet player and a troubled girl in the Deep South. However, later we discovered that the original name, just altered to Young Wolves in Persian-dubbed version, was All the Fine Young Cannibals. Again, after some years I heard some rumor that the film was loosely based on the life of Chet Baker, which considering the casting of Robert Wagner, one can argue that MGM producers wanted the young Chet and his rebellious life as the role model for the film's protagonist.

Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood

All the Fine Young Cannibals (1960) was directed by Englishman Michael Anderson who probably knew nothing about jazz (his earlier and more interesting films are grim-looking "kitchen sink" melodramas, including The Waterfront with Richard Burton that I did like most), but it had a fine cast, and I am even tempted to call it an influence on The Splendor on the Grass which was made a year after. Both films follow the lives of the rebellious youth within the context of race, class and power in the South and also they try to provide some psychological explanation for the troubles of their heroes.

above: a publicity picture from the film, resembling Chet's relationship with his Pakistani girlfriend (below)

This film also had a significant role in my acquaintance with jazz, as it introduced me to Pearl Bailey of whom I had never heard at the time. Bailey never became as influential as Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, or even Blossom Dearie and Anita O'Day for me, but still she, who took one of my favorite drummers in jazz, Louie Bellson, as her fifth husband, thanks to a funny anecdote about her appearance in Tehran's Roudaki Hall of Tehran found a specific place in my world.

Whatever I said was rather a long introduction to a friend's very personal reminiscences of how desperately he wanted to catch Pearl Bailey's gig in Tehran. This friend, to whom I refer as Dr. Arp, will also give you some taste of how it felt to live in Iran and love Harry "Sweets" Edison. Not much has changed in Iran ever since, except for worse. [opinions expressed in the memoir below are those of its author's, Dr. Arp]

As I have reported earlier, I was still a young cannibal myself and wasting my time in that rotten Empire of Iran in the late sixties of the past century. I, and not only I, had a very limited access to the sources of Jazz. I knew of course everyone in the world without having heard a note from them or having the opportunity to follow their routine as far as the music was concerned. Yeah! I knew who Monk was and what he had done to change the world of composition! I had a hunch that he was the most important songwriter of them all! It was enough to listen sporadically to a piece like Ruby My Dear or his other fine works to get a notion why he was being neglected by the bloody establishment.

Just by luck I had, like everybody else in the world, a shortwave receiver, which would get the waves sent by VOA and good old Willis Conover. Through his program 'Music USA', that was transmitted every night, except Sunday, I came to know cats like George Russell, John Handy, Roger Kellaway and people like them. I myself had small collection of jazz LPs and cassettes supplied by some friends. I knew drummers like Max and Klook and Big Sid. It was still a long way to be able to dig a cat like Osie Johnson or Mickey Roker. I was hooked, back in those days, by the different sounds a cat by the name of Bley, the man not his wife, used to perform at the keyboard. Oscar was my man of course. I dug Base. Oh boy! I was having so much fun and joy by listening to Herman's band and his cats of later years. I was all alone in my attempts to understand the only art form stemming from the coloured American artists that had been subject to so much barbarity and abuse by the white fellows. A revolutionary fellow by the name of Charles Parker was my idol. I could dig everything Stockley Carmichael or Malcolm X were preaching against the rednecks and warmongers and criminals like Johnson and Nixon and Hoover and that sort of animals who only represented the governing forms of white ideology and justified its rule by killing, bloodshed and destruction.

So this was the atmosphere I was living in back in Iran of those days. Horrified by the rule of terror worldwide and by the ruthless regime of imperialist lackey's of the sort of Shah and his gang of criminals, the music of black Americans was the only safe haven for my poor soul. Yet it was still a long way to dig the importance of people as big as Satchmo or Billie and their likes. The world of Jazz had many many of them. Mr. Mumbles and Messrs Farmer, Pettiford, Mingus were among my immediate choices. I was writing about them for Iranian ignorants in some of the periodicals and magazines of those days and earning my bread; very meager sort of bread indeed.

Donate's, run by Carey Leverette and Iranian folks [source:]
I had a friend whose sister used to run a Jazz Club in Los Angeles; a very famous club in the West Coast it was. Lots of my beloved people had performed there or still used to have gigs in the club. Louie Bellson was one of them and of course Shelly was also among the music makers who used to play there. This friend of mine informed me that some time, I guess it was 1970 or maybe 1971, Louie was going to have a gig in Tehran. You Just imagine Louie was coming to Tehran! I could not believe my eyes. What the hell a cat like Bellson is going to do in a culturally back-warded city like Tehran.

Karlheinz Stockhausen in Iran
Yeah! There were some people who were close to the court and had some kind of western education, mostly relatives of the Queen who were also running the cultural wheels of the machine. They were dreaming of establishing a sort of circus amongst whose entertainers you could meet gigantic figures like Karlheinz Stockhausen, John Cage, Mercer Cunningham, Peter Brook or people of that sort. They would earn a lot of bread by appearing there and then. I guess, as far as Louie and his program was concerned, it had nothing to do with that circus. It was, if I am not wrong, partly due to the position of his lady singer, Pearl Bailey, as a some kind representative of  the US government by the UN, that the Queen and her associates at the court invited Louie and his wife Pearl to have a concert in Tehran.

Pearl and Louie
I do not know when the concert took place. Was it 1970? Or was It 1971? I simply cannot remember the date. I  only know that it was late autumn and I had not enough dough to buy me a ticket for the fucking concert. I was desperate. Nobody would lend me that much money. I would not ask my rich friends. I had so many of them. I could never stretch my hand. Not even for Louie or Pearl. But Sweets Edison was gonna appear with them at the concert. That made the whole damned thing different. I went to the chief editor of the magazine for which I used to write as a freelance writer and offered him an article, yet to be written, about the late Don Ellis and his masterpiece Indian Lady and, I still remember very well, his earlier work, the album "New Ideas" with Byard and Al Francis. He looked at me the way an editor does to a needy writer and said: "why the hell do you think I'll lend so much money to a motherfucker like you? I still haven't forgot the trouble I had publishing your bloody essay on Gustav Mahler's petite bourgeois background that caused an outrage by Queen herself and amongst her friends who adore the Austrian..."  So that was that.

I went to my grandmother. God bless her soul where ever it might be now. She is dead and gone. She had no idea who Pearl Bailey was or what Louie Bellson had done with Duke or what a cat like Harry Edison meant to Basie. I did not elaborate the point. I asked her if she could lend me the dough I needed. She shook her head knowingly and said: "I always knew that you're a bit deranged, mentally, otherwise you wouldn't let your hair grow like a girl. You Know very well what a limited amount of money I have at my disposal. I have only so and so much and I have to pay for my rent and so and so...But since you are a nice boy and you have been always nice to me and have also hated my husband, your grandpa, just let me see what I can do; give me some time till the day after tomorrow; maybe I can gather the money by asking your uncle! by the way why don't you ask him yourself?" I told her that would be the last thing in the world. Ask an uncle who hated Jazz and loved Fausto Pappeti and strings! No way granny. I'd rather drink muddy water! She did ask for money indeed and I got it. I paid her back after publishing an article in a magazine about the then unknown British band Jethro Tull and an special feature about the grandmaster Ian Anderson as a songwriter, singer and instrumentalist. God bless them all!

Roudaki Hall, Tehran
Now, as a young cannibal I used to wear my raggedy blue jeans and a military anorak and pair of sneakers all the time. I didn't have no suits. Neither black nor dark blue or anything of the formal dressing that was necessary for attending the concert. The fucking Queen and all the celebrities of the court would not tolerate that sort of  shit! Tuxedo or black suite and tie around your neck, or you would not get into the hall. All around were nasty looking secret service agents and bodyguards watching hawkishly all around the premises of the concert hall. Oh Lordy Lord! Where am I suppose to get a tuxedo? Or a dark suit at least? All for the sake of Sweets!

I knocked on the doors of a wealthy friend of mine who was a sort of a big shot in a certain ministry and had to have those kind of rags whenever he had to attend the Big Chief at the court or a royal celebration of the same sort. He was and still is a big fellow! At least two or three sizes bigger than I am. Tall as a pine tree and lanky as a walking stick. Big feet! Size of 9 and a half at least! And I had and still have shoes of the size of eight at most. But I had no other choice. All my friends were poor beggars of poets and painters or at most needy writers like I myself. Although some of them came from well-to-do social classes they still followed the fashion of the day and cannibalistic style of the intellectuals and the like.

So I had no other choice other than to borrow the rags of my dear friend. I went to him. I did put the breeches on and a white shirt and the jacket and a dark red tie around my neck! black socks and a pair of shoes stuffed with cotton and what not! I looked in the mirror and all I could see was a Jimmy Woode in Oscar Pettiford's rags attending the first concert with Ellington band! Oh boy! Oh boy! I certainly looked like small boat sailing with the big sails of Her Majesty's battleship. What a night! This nice fellow took me with his big white Mercedes limousine, with wine-red seats, to the session.

From Pearl's concert I have no vivid memory anymore. I can't even remember the other members of the rhythm section. Pearl came and sang and danced a bit and in one of the numbers as she was roaming around the stage she went to a fellow sitting at the first row, very close to the stage, and forced him to get up and walk a few steps with her and as everybody could see the poor bastard was very much embarrassed and certainly abashed because everyone could see that he was security service man and could not walk freely around our Pearl. Somebody, perhaps Louie himself, gave Pearlie the eye, and she let him go. Though a bit disappointed she was.

The only other thing that I can remember is the fact that I sneaked in the break to the so-called backstage and tried to exchange a few words with the musicians in order to get the idea where the band was staying in town or could I arrange a sort of interview with Louie and Sweets the next morning. Somebody told me that they would be leaving town for a short visit to Isfahan and Shiraz next afternoon and if I wished to see miss Bailey and the crew it would be most deplorable for the band to call at their rooming in hotel so and so next morning since they had an audience with Her Royal Majesty in her private palace out of town and they would be back to their hotel certainly very late in the wee hours of the morning. I only shook hands with Sweets and asked him if he needed some sticks which he rejected with a smile and told me he has been kindly supplied by the good offices of an unknown official with the best available black shit with the marks of Royal Afghani Embassy in Tehran. I wished Them a super flight to Isfahan and back and my best regards to the old man William Basie. God Bless all of them!


No comments:

Post a Comment