Wednesday, July 09, 2008

JAZZ is the opportunity it gives a musician to be himself

The interim report filed by the investigator from the coroner's bureau listed him as a black male, 5ft 7in tall, weighing 135lb. His birth date, 3 March 1929, made him 64 years old. He had died at 1.30am on 5 June 1993 at the Marina Convalescent Hospital, 3201 Fernside Boulevard, Alameda, California. The death certificate, filed at the county records office in Oakland, 25 miles away, specified cardiac arrest and a history of generalised arteriosclerosis and diabetes. He had a social security number: 448-18-5547. Place of birth: unknown. Parents' names: unknown. Marital status: unknown. Education: unknown. Occupation: unknown. His only possession was a 19in colour television set. There was no mention of a trumpet.

The TV had gone with him to the hospital from the nursing home in which he had lived for the preceding six months. The owner of the home, when she was contacted by the coroner's bureau investigator, said that the dead man had left no cash, stocks, trusts or other material effects. The body had been taken to a mortuary. There was no one to pay for a funeral, so on 1 July a cremation took place at the state's expense and the ashes were placed in a community crypt. His full name was Dupree Ira Lewis Bolton, although his surname was misspelt "Bolten" on all the official records relating to his death. He was also known, according to police records in two states, as Lewis Bolton, Lewis Dupree, Louis Dupree Balton, Walter Williams Jr, and Walter Jamil Glasby. There were scars on his back, his left arm, his abdomen and his left leg.

his sound was strong and brilliant, his attack swift and bright. The notes swarmed out of his horn, impatient to be heard, slanting back and forth across the chords and vaulting the bar lines. He tended to come out of the gate already moving through the music at full speed, as if he thought there was no time to waste, but he knew the value of a moment's unexpected silence, and he could stroke a ballad with an old-fashioned elegance while probing beneath its surface. Even under the fiercest pressure, weaving through complex chord sequences at the highest tempo, his phrases were unfolded with a confidence that seems strangely chilling now. He died with nothing, with no family or friends on hand to mourn him, without even an authentic identity. Yet to listen to his music today is to hear the sound of exhilaration, of transcendence, of beauty imagined into life.

The kind of jazz he played was called bebop, a music of blinding speed, jolting abruptness and oblique angles. The inventors of bebop - Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk - gloried in their rejection of the normal rules of entertainment. The complexity of the music was intended to be a trap for the unready. Dupree Bolton mastered its codes, but he brought to it an unusual directness and an emotional heat that you couldn't miss.

I was 16, and starting to learn about jazz, when I first heard of him. Listening to this sort of music wasn't a popular hobby for a schoolboy in England at the beginning of the 1960s. A dozen of us had formed a school jazz society, grudgingly permitted to convene at lunchtime once a week in a room in an annexe to the main school building. This seemed particularly appropriate. Jazz was not part of the curriculum of the life that had been planned for us. It wouldn't help us become lawyers or accountants or scientists. It was outcast music. And we liked to think of ourselves as outcasts, too, in a mild sort of way, bound together by our enthusiasm, forced to wear our school blazers and house ties but speaking to each other in our own codes.

We brought in our new records, and sometimes gave solemn little lectures. Using the school record-player, a primitive device encased in a big brown mahogany box to make it look like a piece of respectable furniture, we pieced together the mosaic that jazz, in its first half-century, had already become. We bought the Melody Maker and Disc, which carried news and reviews each week, and eventually I found the only newsagent in my Midlands city that sold Down Beat, the fortnightly American magazine, which was almost like getting the news first-hand. At home I listened on the family's valve radio to Europe 1's Aimez-vous le jazz?, and to the Voice of America's Jazz Hour, with Willis Conover, who announced the records slowly enough for his millions of listeners behind the Iron Curtain to understand. So the music had a sense of discovery, of an introduction to emotional areas that were not a part of the English culture in which I grew up. Modern jazz re-created for us the lure of the exotic and the forbidden that had attracted the first generation of European jazz fans to Louis Armstrong and Jelly Roll Morton. If you enjoyed this, you were already different. But with modern jazz, you really did have to enjoy it. People who were just pretending to like it soon gave up. It was too much trouble, too demanding, too astringent and awkward. That, I suppose, made those who stuck with it feel even better.

I know when it was that I first read about Dupree Bolton because I still have the copy of Down Beat, dated 14 March 1963, containing the first published mention of his name. Bolton was singled out for special praise in a review of a group led by a saxophone player, Curtis Amy, which had appeared in Los Angeles at a place called the It Club. "Thanks mainly to little-known trumpeter Bolton," the piece began, "Amy's current group is about the wildest thing in jazz on the West Coast today." And the first hint of mystery appeared in the next sentence: "Bolton, whose personal troubles kept him from the Los Angeles scene more than two years, returned home last fall. Since joining Amy, he's been turning heads around all over town. His sound is big and honest and sometimes so raw it all but rips a listener's head off."

Half a dozen issues later, he was mentioned again. This time the writer, John Tynan, tried to discover something more about the trumpeter's background. But all Bolton would say was that he had run away from home when he was 14. His reluctance was ascribed to a biography that included "gaols and things". Bolton had needed to "clean up" his personal affairs, but was now ready "to take care of his business, which is partly the business of becoming recognised as one of the most important trumpeters in jazz."

That summer, I bought the only record released by the group, in which Curtis Amy and Dupree Bolton shared the front line. It was called Katanga!, and when I took it home and played it I realised that Tynan hadn't exaggerated. Bolton had written the title track, which opened the album, and he took the first solo, leaping out of the tense, jabbing, up-tempo theme with enormous impact, building his short solo with firm declamatory flourishes and a perfect sense of dramatic contrast.

The very best thing about jazz, really, is the opportunity it gives a musician to be himself, to be an individual. Because improvisation is at its heart, the musician is handed a responsibility which can properly be discharged only by calling on his own resources, his own store of emotional experience. As a result, jazz contains a remarkable number of players who can genuinely claim originality, and the briefest exposure to Katanga! was enough to establish that Dupree Bolton deserved a place among them. This was the sort of performance that defined the arrival of a new star, and the next steps in his career seemed obvious. He would appear with bigger names, he would form his own band, he would get a recording contract of his own. But John Tynan's words in Down Beat had warned that Bolton's career path might not be so straightforward. And for some jazz fans, including me, that only heightened his appeal.

This is a complicated matter that has something to do with the nature of jazz itself. A music based on improvising in public must necessarily have a constant and probably disturbing awareness of its own evanescence. How much great jazz, played in nightclubs, perhaps in front of unsympathetic audiences and without recording equipment, has simply escaped into the ether? That sense of impermanence seemed to influence the lives of its performers, and was exaggerated by the heroin epidemic among young jazz musicians. Many of them were imitating their idols, some of whom, like Charlie Parker, tried to discourage such a destructive homage, although it was hard to persuade young men that Parker's genius had not been fuelled by the drug, or that shooting up was not integral to becoming a fully fledged bebopper. As a result, many of the most gifted musicians of Parker's generation conveyed the impression that, one way or another, they wouldn't necessarily have long in which to say their piece.

Dupree Bolton was definitely in that category, too, and it gave his work a special value, a kind of dark glamour which was only deepened when it became obvious that he would not be following the path to stardom. Katanga! turned out not to be the prologue to a glittering career. Not at all. And his failure to realise that extraordinary promise simply provoked an even greater interest in the few traces left by his passage through life.

What little I knew, from various jazz historians, books and magazines, was this. He had been born in Oklahoma City in 1929, and when he left home it was to join the band of the pianist Jay McShann, who had also provided Charlie Parker with an apprenticeship. McShann was based in Kansas City, which made it likely that Bolton had jumped on ....


- Of the five musicians on the session, three were - confirmed junkies. Elmo Hope, a brilliant pianist and - composer, had sent the manuscripts of the scores to - Land from a California prison, where he was completing - a sentence for possession. But it was Frank Butler, the - most gifted drummer on the West Coast, whom Land - remembered as being close to Dupree Bolton. They were - "on the same page in regard to their extra-curricular - activity." - Axelrod approached him. "I said, 'Are you Dupree - Bolton?' He said yes, and I told him who I was. He - grabbed me and hugged me, which was a surprise. His - attitude was very different. He was very friendly, and in - the days when I knew him before he had not been the - friendliest of people. That was his character. I always - thought that even if he hadn't been a junkie, he'd have - been just the same. But he must have changed. The - belligerence had gone. We talked about The Fox. What - else did we have to talk about? We talked about Harold - and Frank and Elmo. And then we said goodbye. He gave - me another hug." <snipped-

- Perhaps, as Amy suggested, he knew his own worth as a - musician. He cannot possibly have imagined how great the - reach of his music would turn out to be. Listening once - again to the few minutes that he left behind almost 40 years - ago makes me think that, for all the sadness and confusion - and waste in this story, for all the disappearances and - disappointments, for all the holes he made in his own life and - those of the people who knew him, the fact that Dupree - Bolton found his self-expression in the language of jazz turned - out, in the end, to be not just my good luck but his, too

full story published in No 69 spring 2000 and

In the same GRANTA Issue there is a even better piece of writing..

The assassin: a story of race and rage in the land of Apartheid
by Henk van Woerden (6 December 1947 . 16 November 2005), a Dutch painter and writer with close ties to South Africa.

It is a biography of Dimitri Tsafendas who assassinated South African president Dr Hendrik Verwoerd, in the House of Assembly in 1966, was declared insane, and held in prison until he died in 1999

A Mouthful of Glass by Henk van Woerden (ISBN 1-86207-442-9)

Michaelis was confronted by a dilemma, the child was his first born son, but marriage with Amelia was out of the question.

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posted by u2r2h at Wednesday, July 09, 2008


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