Horns of Sorrow

Ahamefule J. Oluo's Brief but Sad History of Jazz Trumpeters


Such a great article. Holy cow!
I agree - this is an excellent article! It's too bad that the tragedies of these trendsetting jazz icons have gone generally overlooked by us mainstream-non-jazz-enthusiasts, especially since these stories lend an historical depth to the music. Thank you for enlightening us!
What about Woody Shaw? Was going blind for three years, fell down subway steps, hit by a train, lost an arm, died of kidney failure.
@3 Yeah. Woody Shaw is another tragic case. When I spoke to Charles I talked about Woody as well but I think it was left out for the sake of space. The 3 trumpet players featured in the article are my 3 personal favorite trumpet players, that may be why I put an emphasis on them. Woody Shaw was no less brilliant and no less heartbreaking.
Getz was a great player, really did all of what could be expected of a Lester Young/West Coast guy - he wasn't phoning it in the way some white players could (because they were white and had access to audiences black players didn't). Personal idol of mine, and I emulated him as much as I could in my playing.

Then I found out, apparently, he was a real son of a bitch. Just a plain old asshole - would tear into people on stage, hijack shows, skip town with all the money... I was kind of crestfallen about it actually, but still love the beauty of his music.

I love the way jazz history colors your perceptions, your listening, even your own message. Great article, thanks!
Clifford Brown is still missed, greatly.
@5. I'm a big Getz fan too, but I guess it doesn't bother me that he's an asshole. Lots of my art heroes are unbelievable assholes. I could never be friends with Miles Davis or Picasso or John Lennon or Jackson Pollock. But fortunately, the art and the artist are completely separate things.
I think it's also work mentioning Eric Dolphy's "Live at the Five Spot" which also has Booker Little on the gig. Great record.

Regarding Stan Getz, I always find his stuff kind of polite...and boring.
Yeah, great article.
Spot on. I agree. But, it is indeed difficult to do depending on the artist.

BTW all. I highly recommend an unsung and yes, fallen trumpeter named Dupree Bolton. His album along with Curtis Amy on sax, "Katanga" is a masterpiece from 1963.
Fuck this "sad" bullshit. None of these three horn players ever felt sorry for themselves, nor did they ever hope that their legacies would be stamped by romanticized themes of "tragedy."

Revel in their music and stop sensationalizing tragedy as if it doesn't happen everyday to people of all walks of life. A little more creativity and original thought, and it's obvious there is a whole lot more to be joyous about than weary.

Do these musicians a favor, and lift the veil of sorrow to reveal the shining light of their brilliance.
Fuck this "sad" bullshit. None of these three horn players ever felt sorry for themselves, nor did they ever hope that their legacies would be stamped by romanticized themes of "tragedy."

Revel in their music and stop sensationalizing tragedy as if it doesn't happen everyday to people of all walks of life. A little more creativity and original thought, and it's obvious there is a whole lot more to be joyous about than weary.

Do these musicians a favor, and lift the veil of sorrow to reveal the shining light of their brilliance. You definitely aren't doing them a service but wallowing in the misery of their demise. That is a tired son, dragged out but by poor jazz and biased scholarship and by Elizabethan literary cliche-ism.

Say something original about what they achieved, how they inspired, and what they left behind.
This is a great piece, but it's just the tip of the iceberg as far as trumpet players go. The trumpet is "my" instrument, too, in that I love it to pieces while the saxophone mostly leaves me cold. My current guy is Dizzy Reece; he's got a weird tone, kind of soft and flabby, like he's barely getting a sound, but it gives it a bluesy edge, like the notes sort of trail in and trail off. It's hard bop, heading in the direction of soul jazz but not quite there yet, though I haven't heard it all.

One thing, though, about "West Coast" vs. "East Coast" -- it doesn't exist, really. Getz, for instance, was from Philadelphia, and played a lot in New York with solidly "East Coast" guys like Horace Silver -- and his big break, and most durable work by far, is the bossa nova stuff, which both is and isn't even in the US. Bossa Nova was rooted in a Brazilian attempt to merge the samba beat with the impossibly cool stylings of Gerry Mulligan, Chet Baker, Stan Kenton and even Frank Sinatra, and then came back to the US and informed a generation of jazzers, mostly "west" but even hard-core East Coasters like Gene Ammons recorded Bossa Nova records -- his is outstanding).

West Coast jazz also included a ton of boppers and hard players, mostly sax, like Dexter Gordon, Wardell Gray, and so on, as well as the white guys down at the Lighthouse. The biggest figure in LA jazz at one point was...Charlie Parker, no one's idea of a "cool" player.

The most exciting thing about trying to sort out styles and genres is seeing how they fizz out at the edges and sometimes right into the heart of things. My heart lies with both the Blue Note/Prestige hard boppers and with the Bossa Nova stylists, and when they pollute each other it's even better.

I'm expecting to see at least ten more installments of this article, Mr. Oluo. Get busy! Let's see Fats Navarro next, and Diz, and Kenny Dorham, and the uncategorizable weirdo Clark Terry, and the tonal arrangement monster Thad Jones...and don't be afraid, you can do Conte Candoli too.

And after you finish with the trumpeters, start on the damn organists.
@12. thanks for the blind contrarianism, that's what was missing in this conversation.

@13. This article is definitely abridged and oversimplified. History has exaggerated the east coast - west coast divide but that doesn't mean it wasn't real (the Pacific Jazz catalog vs. the Blue Note catalog of the early 50's is a good example of the coastal divide). There are a lot of generalizations here because the reality is that most people who will read this have no knowledge of these players or their historical context. Hopefully, by spinning an entertaining yarn based on fact, people will take more interest in these masters and maybe even listen to their music.
@15, well, unabridge it! I could read about this stuff all day long. I DEMAND more jazz talk on The Stranger, dag nab it. C'mon, do it for me: 40,000 more words on Lee Morgan. I want to know the exact moment that hard bop turned into soul jazz (it could be in the first minute of "Sidewinder", but it's gotta be earlier).

Re: Pacific Jazz vs. Blue Note, that's true -- but while those are big name labels, they're far from the only story going on. Mingus, who was as hard as they come, was West Coast; Miles, who invented "cool", was East.

That's how I prefer to see it, hard vs. cool. Mrs. Fnarf and I have been having this argument for years now. It's hard for her, because I like to take both sides of every argument, and I don't shut up very much, but it's fun. She's also a proponent of the "sad case" approach to musical history, though she's more likely to be talking about folk rockers (who have just as checkered a history; check out Jackson C. Frank, burned by an exploding furnace, mental illness, thyroid disease, shot in the eye while sitting on a park bench in Queens).

One thing that's weird is how people think of LA as sunshine and sand and soft sounds, and NYC as the gritty, crumbling drug den, but it's the stupid West Coast white guys, imitating their drug-addicted black heroes, who really went down that road, sometimes even deliberately getting addicted to heroin to be "cooler" -- Mulligan, Baker, frigging Art Pepper. Chet Baker lost even his teeth to it (kicked in, probably by a dealer). Speaking of trumpet players.

As for the "entertaining yarn" part, you've got that down, and that's why I demand more. It's really exciting to see this enthusiasm of mine show up here, so thank you. I'm off to find me some Booker Little, for sure. But keep talking. Charles, you hear me? Talk to this man some more, and write it down.
Fnarf @13,
I sort of disagree with you about Getz's bossa nova stuff being his "most durable work by far." Obviously this was his most commercially successful album(s), but I think most Getz fans would agree that he played in many other styles as successfully. To me, he always sounded sublime, from his many 50s "cool jazz" recordings to Focus in '61 (which is perhaps the greatest third stream album) to Captain Marvel in '72 (a very good fusion album). I'd also especially recommend three albums he recorded in the years before his death in '91: Serenity, Anniversary, and People Time. He was sober for the first time and the emotional intensity of his playing (with Kenny Barron on piano) is unreal.

I also don't totally agree with you about West Coast vs. East Coast not existing. I agree that it doesn't really break down geographically, but there was clearly two schools of be-bop jazz at the time that did compete to some degree. Of course there was a lot of cross pollination. Stan Getz could play in any style, and Sonny Rollins played recorded with West Coast guys as did many others.
Also, thank you for this article. I don't mind the personality or sensationalistic stuff, because at least to me it's interesting. Of course not at interesting as the music itself, but it's not like I'd expect The Stranger to publish a technical article about Blue Trane or The Sidewinder. Hopefully, an article like this would compel people to check out these amazing albums. I know the first disc I play when I get home will be Out Front, which I haven't listened to in too long.
* Blue Train (not Blue Trane)
@17, ah, well, you see, I don't like fusion or (much) third stream. Personal preference, no slight intended. And, according to me, Bossa Nova is the best of all things, so it's only natural that if a fellow named Getz for instance made a Bossa Nova record or five, they'd be the records of his I like best. If that makes me narrow-minded that's cool. My own jazz preferences are Bossa Nova, hard bop trumpeters, soul jazz organists, cool jazz, and Latin jazz, perhaps not quite in that order. And anything with vocals, of course.

The only real problem I have with so-called "West Coast" jazz, whether it's played by people from or on the West Coast (which it just as often is not) is when it slides into Dixielandish or Swing-eraish retroism. Only Louis Armstrong can get away with that (Louis can and does get away with anything he damn well wants to). The hard boppers don't do that. Even one of my heroes, West Coast (Bay Area) vibist Cal Tjader, absolutely excels in his Latin-jazz mode (with Mongo Santamaria and Willie Bobo both), and his cool-jazz mode, and even his easy-listening mode, but when he starts to swing that melodeee it turns really sour.

The prototypical West Coast group, the Lighthouse All Stars (Shorty Rogers, Shelly Manne, Jimmy Giuffre, etc.) played cool West Coast jazz but also plenty of other styles, including hard bop as hard as anything out of New York. Note that Max Roach, as "East Coast" a bopper as you could possibly imagine, was in the All Stars, the ultimate "West Coast" band, for a while. Clifford Brown led an LA band for a while too. There are loads more examples.

In short, yes, there is a "West Coast" sound, but it was played as much by East Coast musicians as not, and there is an "East Coast" sound, but it likewise was just as much a product of the West Coast. "West Coast" is today used almost pejoratively, to stand for "white, button-down, collegiate, soft, boring, inauthentic, gutless, deracinated, pablum, retrograde" as opposed to the down-home, funky, real, hep black dudes playing hard. The musicians themselves never saw it that way. LA jazz was always just as hard (and just as black) as NYC jazz. In fact, a lot of New York jazzers had to go to LA to get work, because a drug conviction meant you lost your cabaret card and were no longer allowed to play clubs in NY.
Fuck these spammers.

I picked up a Booker Little CD yesterday, and it's very nice. It's a bit screwy, an old (1989) reissue called "Lookin' Ahead", which contains the album "Fantastic Frank Strozier", with Little on trumpet, and also Little's last album "Booker Little and Friend", aka "Victory and Sorrow". Appreciate the tip! I couldn't find any Dupree Bolton, and I forgot to look for Woody Shaw.
This is the most short-sighted feature on jazz trumpet players that I have ever read.