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Night Lights Classic Jazz

1962: Cool In Crisis

A saxophone giant returned to the scene and a swing-era icon toured the Soviet Union. Bossa nova was on the rise, and so was the avant-garde.

Both MONEY JUNGLE and his collaboration with John Coltrane showed Duke Ellington more than keeping pace with his younger colleagues in the service of taut, modernistic jazz.

1962, the year in jazz: DownBeat Magazine ran a two-part series called “Racial Prejudice in Jazz,” featuring a pointed and candid roundtable discussion among jazz critics Ira Gitler and Nat Hentoff, musicians Max Roach and Abbey Lincoln, and others. Roach’s album We Insist! Freedom Now Suite was banned in South Africa, to which Roach responded

“It’s good to hear I’m not accepted by the South African government. That’s the best news I’ve had all week.”

Benny Goodman toured the Soviet Union; in Santa Monica, California, the Aragon Ballroom, a big-band-era landmark, closed. New York City’s Lincoln Center formed a committee to begin the presentation of jazz. Saxophonist Sonny Rollins emerged from a two-year sabbatical to once again record and perform, while John Coltrane and Eric Dolphy defended themselves in the pages of DownBeat against a critic who had called them “anti-jazz.” Bossa-nova broke big in the jazz world, while the avant-garde continued to simmer, and the first stirrings of jazz education kept finding their evolutionary way. In the world outside of jazz, the Cold War reached its most dangerous point yet with the October Cuban missile crisis, and the American civil-rights movement scored a victory with James Meredith’s enrollment at the University of Mississippi, while John Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth.

Swing-Era Icons: Tricks Old And New

Duke Ellington undertook two collaborative projects in 1962 with younger, adventurous musicians—-Max Roach and bassist Charles Mingus for the trio album Money Jungle, and saxophonist John Coltrane for the album Duke Ellington And John Coltrane. Both LPs showed Ellington more than keeping pace with his younger colleagues in the service of taut, modernistic jazz, though the Money Jungle session became legendary for its tensions, with Ellington having to talk Mingus into finishing it after the bassist stormed out at one point. Several years later he offered a more lyrical remembrance from the recording date, saying that for one of his compositions he had told Mingus and Roach,

Now we are in the center of a jungle, and for two hundred miles in any direction, no man has ever been. And right in the center of this jungle, in the deep moss, there’s a tiny little flower growing, the most fragile thing that’s ever grown. It’s God-made and it’s untouched and this is going to be ‘The Little African Flower.’

“Every Gig With Benny Is Like Playing In Russia”

One of the most-talked about events in the jazz world in 1962 was Benny Goodman’s U.S State Department-sponsored tour of the Soviet Union. The tour, one of the most significant jazz forays behind the Iron Curtain, provoked some controversy among jazz musicians for the choice of Goodman, who was viewed by many as a less-than-modern representation of the American jazz scene. Goodman commissioned charts from many young talented arrangers such as Oliver Nelson, Tadd Dameron, and Gary McFarland, but almost immediately reverted to older arrangements. He assembled an orchestra of top-notch artists who ultimately found themselves demoralized by the less-than-opulent conditions of touring in the Soviet Union and the leader’s penchant for playing it safe musically, not to mention his generally-unfriendly demeanor. Asked what it was like playing with Goodman in Russia, Zoot Sims quipped, “Every gig with Benny is like playing in Russia.” The band eventually recorded a double-LP set of music that included one of the most modernistic charts that they actually did perform, Tadd Dameron’s “Swift As The Wind”:

Jazz At The White House, Jazz At Rehab

Another international twist came to jazz in 1962 through the rise of the bossa-nova sound, propelled by the commercial success of saxophonist Stan Getz and guitarist Charlie Byrd’s Jazz Samba collaboration. The term was Portugese for “new trend”; the music was a hybrid of Brazilian samba and jazz, with sensually ethereal rhythms and melodies, suggestive of sadness, romance, and a perpetual summertime. DownBeat ran a number of stories on the genre, including a “Bossa Nova Bandwagon” roundup in its record-review section and a lengthy “Real History of Bossa-Nova” article, while a full-page ad from Riverside Records asked “Who Is The Boss of the Bossa-Nova” and suggested its own label member, Charlie Byrd, as the answer.

1962 also saw the first performance of a jazz group at the White House, with the Paul Winter Sextet playing for First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy and assorted dignitaries, and the first LP ever recorded by a group of jazz musicians residing in a drug-rehabilitation center. Some of the album, titled Sounds Of Synanon, can be heard on the Night Lights show Resolution: Jazz From Rehab.

Departures And Arrivals

The year marked the untimely passing of several talented jazz musicians only in their 30s, including pianist/vibraphonist Eddie Costa, bassist Doug Watkins, and saxophonist Leo Parker, as well as the emergence of two young vocalists who received glowing write-ups in DownBeat: Jeanne Lee and Sheila Jordan. Reviewing a New York City performance of Jordan’s, Don Heckman called it “the best jazz singing since the last days of Billie Holiday, citing her “remarkable ability to change the texture of her sound at will to suit the lyrics… she can move from a kittenlike playfulness to a driving, belting, tigerish growl.” Lee was profiled along with her musical partner, pianist Ran Blake; the two of them had met as students at Bard College and had won one of the notoriously tough amateur night contests at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. Writing in DownBeat Bill Coss said,

Lee sings from what seems an original Billie Holiday influence, through a series of flexible changes of sound and phrasing, to follow the piano, sometimes suggesting to it… Blake’s approach encompasses, depending usually on the content, contemporary jazz, contemporary classical music, and Pentecostal music.

Lee had recently been employed as a social worker, while Blake was still holding down a hotel night clerk job; in 1962 they made their debut on RCA with The Newest Sound Around:

Saxophone Titans Retreat And Return, And A Tale Of Two Pianists

We’ll turn now to two saxophone giants of the time–one, Sonny Rollins, returning to the jazz scene after a two-year sabbatical, the other, Ornette Coleman, now spurning the studios and staging his own concert at New York City’s Town Hall. Rollins had spent the previous two years studying and practicing by himself atop the Williamsburg Bridge in New York City. “I wasn’t capable of withstanding the distractions,” he told DownBeat in 1962, explaining his time away from the jazz scene. “I know that some people will be disappointed that I haven’t come back with a brand new thing, but I did come back with a brand new thing—-me.” We’ll hear the title track from his aptly-named return album, The Bridge, as well as a live performance from Coleman, who was himself now laying low after a two-year-long barrage of recording and performance activity that had made him a lightning rod for both advocates and detractors of his free-jazz music. A rather humorous incident involving Coleman was reported in DownBeat around this time—-he was booked to play in Cincinnati, and posters were put up around the city announcing a “free-jazz concert,” which caused a number of people to show up expecting unpaid admission to the event. We’ll hear music from one of the very few chronicled Coleman performances in the early 1960s, a concert he staged himself at New York City’s Town Hall:

Bassist Charles Mingus also performed at Town Hall in late 1962. What was supposed to be a combination recording date and concert became a chaotic, stop-and-start affair after Mingus began the evening by denouncing the format and telling those in attendance that they should ask for their money back.

This 1962 edition of Night Lights closes with music from two very different but very significant pianists–one of whom, Oscar Peterson, was already a jazz giant by this time, the other, Cecil Taylor, championed by some critics, winning a “New Star” award in DownBeat, but working as a dishwasher during part of the year–necessary, he said, for staying true to his artistic vision. That vision flowered by the end of the year into a more radical conception that abandoned the barline, and we’ll hear a document of Taylor’s trio with avant-garde compatriots saxophonist Jimmy Lyons and drummer Sunny Murray performing in Copenhagen. First, this take on an Ellington standard from Peterson, whose album Night Train scored big commercially, and who was featured in DownBeat for his contributions to a jazz-education class–an approach that some were already touting in 1962 as an important part of the music’s future:

More Of 1962 On Night Lights

More Of “The Year In Jazz” On Night Lights

A 1962 Timeline

January: British spy Kim Philby defects to the Soviet Union. Jackie Robinson becomes the first African-American to be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. U.S. Navy Seals unit created. Pope John XXIII excommunicates Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

February: John Glenn becomes the first American to orbit the earth. U.S. President John Kennedy bans all trade with Cuba except for food and drugs.

March: Basketball star Wilt Chamberlain scores 100 points in an NBA game. The first Kmart opens in Garden City, Michigan. France and Algerian nationalist rebels agree to a cease-fire after nearly eight years of war.

April: West Side Story wins ten Academy Awards, including best picture and best director; Audrey Hepburn wins best actress for her portrayal of Holly Golightly in Breakfast At Tiffany’s. Walter Cronkite takes over as the host of CBS’ evening news program.

May: The West Side Story soundtrack hits #1 on the Billboard album charts and stays there for 54 weeks. Theodore H. White wins the Pulitzer Prize for The Making Of The President 1960.

June: Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann is executed in Israel. The U.S. Supreme Court rules that prayer in public schools is unconstitutional. Students For A Democratic Society (SDS) holds its first national convention and issues “The Port Huron Statement.” The character of Spider-Man makes his first appearance in the comic book Amazing Fantasy #15. Three prisoners escape from Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary, situated on an island more than a mile off the coast of San Francisco; to this day their fate remains unknown.

July: Andy Warhol’s “Campbell’s Soup Cans” exhibited at his first solo show as an artist, at the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles. Algeria gains independence from France. Jackie Robinson becomes the first African-American to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. The first transatlantic TV transmission occurs via the newly-launched Telstar satellite. The Rolling Stones perform for the first time at the Marquee Club in London. The first Walmart opens in Rogers, Arkansas.

August: Actress Marilyn Monroe dies at the age of 36. Jamaica gains independence from Great Britain. Anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela arrested in South Africa. The Beach Boys release “Surfin’ Safari.” Ringo Starr replaces Pete Best in the Beatles. Folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary score their first hit with “If I Had A Hammer.”

September: The Beatles record their first single, “Love Me Do,” for EMI. Riots erupt at the University of Mississippi as James Meredith attempts to enroll; 500 U.S. Marshals and various military personnel are deployed by the Kennedy administration to protect him.

Rachel Carson’s landmark environmental book Silent Spring is published. Earth’s population passes the three billion mark. The cartoon sitcom “The Jetsons” debuts on ABC, becoming the network’s first in-color program. Bob Dylan plays Carnegie Hall.

October: U.S. surveillance reveals presence of Soviet missiles in Cuba, sparking the two-week-long Cuban Missile Crisis and bringing the two Cold War superpowers to the brink of nuclear confrontation.

James Meredith becomes the first black student to enroll at the University of Mississippi. Pope John Paul II convenes Vatican II. “Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf” opens on Broadway. Barbara Streisand signs her first recording contract, with Columbia Records. Johnny Carson makes his debut as the new host of NBC’s “The Tonight Show” (hear him being introduced by Groucho Marx):

November: Edward Kennedy elected to the U.S. Senate in Massachusetts, filling the seat his brother John had vacated upon winning the presidency two years earlier. Former vice-president Richard Nixon loses California gubernatorial race and declares to reporters, “You won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore.”

December: David Lean’s film Lawrence Of Arabia premieres. The Osmond Brothers make their debut on Andy Williams’ TV variety show. The movie adaptation of Harper Lee’s novel To Kill A Mockingbird is released.

Information derived in part from Timelines Of History and On This Day.

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