Fulbright riffs, 1991 — day 14, Wednesday, June 12

At breakfast, Rowland mentions that he’s planning a long road-trip around the Mid-West, heading towards the Rockies, and asks if I want to join him. The picture he paints of a vast, upward sloping plain culminating in the soaring, snow-capped heights sounds fantastic and irresistible, but I tell him I can’t spare that amount of time and would not be less than happy sleeping in the back of the station wagon he’s about to acquire. Even so, I would like to try and join him for part of the trip.

Today’s Village Voice carries a feature on trombonist and band-leader Rod Levitt, a favourite of my long-time friend Nic Garnett. It’s probably the first article about Levitt to appear in ages. I follow this up at IJS and listen to a selection found in their collection: Mr Barrelhouse from the LP compilation, The Arrangers, is especially fine.

The Arrangers, BMG 6471–2

Forty-Second Street I like less and the gold-diggers song “We’re in the money” is rather ironic in the light of Levitt’s later career writing music for commercials.

Forty-Second Street LP cover (Victor LPM 3372)

[There were, I believe, no CD re-releases of Rod Levitt in 1991, but all are now available through the normal channels and some, e.g. Dynamic Sound Patterns, are on Spotify].

Lunch with Dan, Ed and Paul Machlin, during which they endeavoured to find out more about the British Library and its National Sound Archive (NSA). I offer to do a slide presentation about the NSA, its work and collections. The conversation switches to copyright, which for historic recordings remains in perpetuity in the US. This may be a determining factor in their lack of urgency to tackle audio conservation. [That, and the lack of funds in those early days of digitisation, when such measures were expensive as well as immature. I was therefore gladdened to learn that in 2006 the IJS got a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to digitise the original analogue tapes from the Oral History Project and that they are in the process of making the audio available on the Rutgers University website].

Then we talk comparatively about individual jazz performers in the USA and Britain: “Yes, but who ARE they?” asks Dan pointedly when I claim that there are many excellent jazz musicians in Britain at the moment. [Some of my citations did tweak Dan’s insatiable curiosity: later in my stay he would bound into my office enthusiastically waving a Tony Coe LP]. My lunch companions have a general downer on Betty Carter (who has been very popular in London of late), are positive about Wynton Marsalis and Cecil Taylor, but are unhappy about the World Saxophone Quartet’s “assault” on Ellington.

In the afternoon I watch a video recording of an interview with arranger and saxophonist Eddie Barefield. The content is excellent and is technically accomplished as a recording.

Eddie Barefield with Shorty Jackson (brooklynvisualheritage.org)

After work I head back into Manhattan to meet Rowland to see the British spoof world music band, 3 Mustaphas 3 at SOB’s (this was Rowland’s idea). The gig is postponed for 90 minutes because of a private party. We have an enjoyable, inexpensive meal in a Japanese restaurant. On the way back to SOB’s we are accosted outside a music shop, which is closed, by a man who says he is Moses Earth from the Sun Ra Arkestra . (That’s what I heard and wrote but he could have been Marshall Allen, or anyone) He gives us a hard luck line about his saxophone having been stolen and needing a reed for his shawm. No musician that I’ve ever known comes on that insistently to strangers and I refuse to give him the $15 he asks for.

Feeling guilty about this, we head for an ice-cream parlor for dessert, then finally to SOB’s.

Here we have to sit through another ninety minutes of an awful Cuban band (somebody’s Orquesta Sensacional), plus a disco, which was fun to watch. 3 Mustaphas 3 come on stage, minus one member, who has had to remain in Chicago with suspected appendicitis. Their set is a lot of fun, with Kim Burton (who recently played and recorded with Julian Argüelles) on keyboards, accordion and other instruments — talk about versatile! The crowd like them a lot.

We get home well after midnight, fatigue beginning to set in. On the walk home from the station we encounter thousands of Fireflies (known here as Lightning Bugs) which are at their most plentiful right now in mating season. Their tiny lights are magical in the humid night air.

Lightning bugs (source Pinterest)