LLOYD, SISTER, HIGHWAY 61, HANDS

Rumor has it that Zoot Sims, when asked about Stan Getz, replied that he thought of him as “a nice bunch of guys”. Much the same thing could probably be said about Charles Lloyd. In CHARLES LLOYD: A WILD, BLATANT TRUTH by Josef Woodard (Silman-James Press, 2015) he is revealed to be someone who works, even thinks, in strange, unconventional ways.

Born in Memphis in 1938, he was one of the last of his generation to get a jazz vibe from the Bluff City. Among his contemporaries were Harold Mabern, Frank Strozier and Booker Little. By the mid-50s, those worthies had departed Memphis as rockabilly and soul music engulfed the city. Lloyd went to the University of Southern California and quickly immersed himself in the musical scene in Los Angeles.
His descriptions of that scene are a bit discursive and difficult to evaluate due to the compression of facts but Lloyd did hook up with Chico Hamilton and made some memorable music on albums such as Passin’ Through (Impulse) and Man From Two Worlds (Impulse) and A Different Journey (Reprise) from 1962 and ‘63. After a spell with Cannonball Adderley, he was signed to Atlantic, by George Avakian, (not mentioned in the book). He formed a quartet with Keith Jarrett, Cecil McBee and Jack DeJohnette that found great success. His live album Forest Flower was a tremendous hit.

But soon thereafter he was involved with LSD and playing with rock bands. There were long periods of inactivity but his early ‘80s quartet that featured pianist Michel Petrucciani was a reminder that he was still on the planet. He began a lengthy association with ECM records in 1989 and while he continues to make music, how much of it would be of interest to IAJRC members is open to question. The book is not quite a puff job but clearly Woodard is a fan and is quite deferential to his subject. Still, as an attempt to understand, the enigma that is Charles Lloyd, this is not a bad place to start. There are photos but no index or discography.

While researching a talk on Sister Rosetta Tharpe, I found SHOUT, SISTER, SHOUT by Gayle Wald on Amazon. This biography was published in 2006 by Beacon Press and is probably out of print. I learned much about the black church and the “gospel highway” but there is too little specificity here for a solid recommendation as a biography. Sister Tharpe was one of the great guitarists of the era and the records she made with Sam Price for Decca are outstanding examples of how Saturday night and Sunday morning can come together with splendid results. It is not much of a stretch to go from there to Chuck Berry and Johnnie Johnson a decade later. Research on black gospel performers has lagged well behind work on jazz and blues and while SHOUT, SISTER, SHOUT is a beginning, let us hope for a better, more comprehensive biography to come. There are photos and an index but, alas, no discography.

Dennis McNally’s ON HIGHWAY 61 (Counterpoint, 2014) is a selective history of American attitudes and music that has little to do with its title. We begin with a discussion of H.D. Thoreau, Mark Twain and the evolution of cultural freedom and finish with a more than hundred-page discussion on Bob Dylan. The theory is that the Mississippi River is a common link to the best of American music: jazz, blues, and folk.
While there is certainly something to that thesis, McNally parcels out his discussion in a somewhat random fashion. Louis Armstrong gets twelve pages, Robert Johnson gets eleven and bebop ten. There are minor bobbles here and there when recounting details but, generally, McNally’s narrative flows smoothly and is highly readable. Some of his conclusions are tendentious and it sometimes feels as though he is attempting to put a square peg into a round hole. In retrospect, I’m not certain that the task McNally has undertaken can be adequately completed in 430 pages. Photos and an index.

BLUES HANDS (Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 2015) is a truly unique book of photographs by Joseph A. Rosen. In addition to the 88-or more-hands photographed here there are brief comments on the how and where of the actual photos and sometimes personal observations by the author. While the preponderance of subjects are blues players, there is a special photo of the hand of Eubie Blake, in his late 90s, that is my favorite.
Rosen was a protégé of the late Herman Leonard and you can expect that kind of quality here whether the photos are color (most of them) or black and white. I had the honor of writing the introduction to this and could not be more pleased with the outcome. Recommended.