Jazz and salted caramel

If I were asked I would commend jazz to even the most illiterate. The variety sufficiently assures there is little risk of confusing Beethoven and Bach particularly if you haven’t read about jazz or much less have never heard it before. It is not however only the variety that enamours me.  I wouldn’t make a similar generalization about Rap music. As a pure vehicle for the technical examination of sound, jazz excels. Jazz can be dressed up or down.  Made to be happy or sad. Thoughtful or whimsical.

For more than two decades (Hayden “Eddie”) Higgins worked at some of Chicago’s most prestigious jazz clubs, including the Brass Rail, Preview Lounge, Blue Note, Cloister Inn and Jazz, Ltd. His longest and most memorable tenure was at the long-gone London House, where he led his jazz trio from 1957 to the late 1960s, playing opposite jazz stars of this period, including Cannonball Adderley, Bill Evans, Erroll Garner, Stan Getz, Dizzy Gillespie, Wes Montgomery, Oscar Peterson and George Shearing, among others. Later, Higgins said the opportunities to play jazz music with Coleman Hawkins and Oscar Peterson were unforgettable moments.

Higgins, as much as I love him, is the acme of “whitish” jazz, confined and refined for middle-class America. But this doesn’t mean that on a testy day I cannot prefer something more original and southern, evoking to jazz the critical and nascent influences of slavery and African music.

Jazz is like a coming of age.  Everyone I know over 35 years of age has begun to submerge or has already submerged themselves in the vat of musical therapy that is called jazz. It changes even the recalcitrant country music fan into a drunken jazz romanticist. For those of us of the bipolar nature I can attest as well that the rhythm is unsurpassable, perfectly balanced.

Of course everyone has heard of Louis Armstrong.  But you may be surprised to unveil your own unwitting greater familiarity with the female side of the equation.

Female jazz performers and composers have contributed to jazz throughout its history. Although Betty Carter, Ella Fitzgerald, Adelaide Hall, Billie Holiday, Peggy Lee, Abbey Lincoln, Anita O’Day, Dinah Washington, and Ethel Waters were recognized for their vocal talent, less familiar were bandleaders, composers, and instrumentalists such as pianist Lil Hardin Armstrong, trumpeter Valaida Snow, and songwriters Irene Higginbotham and Dorothy Fields. Women began playing instruments in jazz in the early 1920s, drawing particular recognition on piano.

I cannot bypass the piano without mentioning in particular Beegie Adair.

Bobbe GorinBeegieAdair (née Long, December 11, 1937 – January 23, 2022) was an American jazz pianist and bandleader, whose career spanned more than 60 years.

Adair appeared on more than 100 recordings throughout her 60-year career. Of these, 35 were recorded by her eponymous trio which included Adair, bassist Roger Spencer and percussionist Chris Brown. Among Adair’s influences were George Shearing, Bill Evans, Oscar Peterson, and Erroll Garner. In 2002, Adair released a six-CD centennial collection, The Great American Songbook Collection, with tunes by American composers such as Richard Rodgers, George Gershwin, Jerome Kern, Duke Ellington, Hoagy Carmichael and Irving Berlin.

But women and “whitish” people were not the only contributors to the jazz collection. Contributing as well were notable Jewish Americans.

Jewish Americans were able to thrive in Jazz because of the probationary whiteness that they were allotted at the time. George Bornstein wrote that African Americans were sympathetic to the plight of the Jewish American and vice versa. As disenfranchised minorities themselves, Jewish composers of popular music saw themselves as natural allies with African Americans.

The Jazz Singer with Al Jolson is one example of how Jewish Americans were able to bring jazz, music that African Americans developed, into popular culture. Benny Goodman was a vital Jewish American to the progression of Jazz. Goodman was the leader of a racially integrated band named King of Swing. His jazz concert in the Carnegie Hall in 1938 was the first ever to be played there. The concert was described by Bruce Eder as “the single most important jazz or popular music concert in history”.

As for the salted caramel, that’s for dessert!