Mingus Meets Roland Kirk

Knatz.com / Personal / Stories / Themes / Music & Art /

I’d told the following story more than once, but not online. I just reminded bk of the basics via email, and select from that message to establish a draft of it here:

Do you easily recall my Rhasaan Roland Kirk story? just pre-army? 1961 or ’62. Living with Alice on 4th crossing 10th, taking her to the Five Sport, Mingus the show, Percy Heath (MJQ, the Vanguard must have closed early that night) the only customer, either at the bar or the tables, Alice and I walk in, take the bar: three at the bar, none at tables. One bartender, no other employees in sight: and Mingus et alia on the stand.
Know it so far?


Charles Mingus

A train-load full of guys come in the front door, carrying instrument cases. somebody holds the door, somebody else leads in a blind guy. One guy approaches Mingus, whispers. The word Chicago reached me. Mingus looks around, sees me, sees Alice, doesn’t have to scout Percy: knows he’s there: his peer. Mingus shrugs, and the guys start unloading sax after sax after horn, hanging them all from the blind guy’s neck. Mingus and band look very skeptical, Danny Richmond’s face was always comical (Danny on drums).

Five Spot

The Five Spot
on Bowery, near St. Marks Place

Mingus kicks off a basic vanilla blues and the blind guy instantly launches into one of the most totally amazing, cooking, solos I’ve ever heard. Mingus flips out, starts plucking the bass like crazy, double time, quadruple time, and the blind guy doesn’t stop, solo after solo after solo, playing one horn, two, three …

Roland Kirk

But 64 bars hadn’t passed before Mingus stopped playing, started again, stopped again … Said, “Play with me, man, we make a million dollars, two, three days!”

All the many Kirk recordings I’ve heard since then, never has any part of the energy of that one hour in the Five Spot been relived.

At the time I’d thought, Mingus has never heard of this guy! but I think I have!

At Columbia Frank Lunzer played drums, talked a lot of jazz, told a lot of stories, the most amazing bullshitter I’ve ever known. Some of it could have been true. Talked a lot of dope, sold, used, a lot of dope.

Paul, if hashish was addictive, would I smoke it every day?
Frank Lunzer

Told me my first string of windup doll jokes: Miles: you wind him up and he turns his back on you.

Claimed to read a book a day. Smart as a whip, or gave a good imitation. Frank pretended to know EVERYTHING and I never once caught him in a flaw, not one lapse.
Or perhaps one: change the subject on him and he didn’t miss a beat: except the one time I mentioned Ravi Shankar, c. 1957 or 1958.
Nah, says Frank, there’s this YOUNG Indian guy you should be listening to: probably meant Shankar, didn’t realize that was who I’d said, maybe thought I’d said Kahn: so HE’d mean Shankar. Always one up: or think he was one up even if he was one down.

Played gin with him once. I won the first hand, he won the next twelve, promised me I’d never win another.

But my favorite memories of Lunzer are of him playing the piano afternoons at Barnard. Showing off for the fems? I never saw him with a female, never saw him come directly on to one. But he did love to show off, never stopped.
Drums? Dave Levy said He sounded like Art Blakey with two broken arms. I loved Blakey, Levy didn’t. Over four years I don’t think I once saw him play drums. Though at Fire Island he had sticks and a practice pad.

Maybe Levy hated him because Levy was a glib one-upper: and I bet he never once didn’t wind up a point or two down with Lunzer.

Anyhow, I’m walking around Barnard, hear jazz piano, find Frank. The girls all seem to be ignoring him, a fixture I’m only just happening on. So Lunzer will show off for me. He plays a history-of-jazz sequence: New Orleans, rag time, stride piano … This is Jelly Roll, this is PP Johnson … He named and imitated more pianists than I’d ever heard of: and damn if each style wasn’t distinct! I didn’t know half of them, all sounded flawless whether I was ignorant or knowledgeable.

Anyhow, one day I run into Frank on Bdwy. I’m praising this guy, that guy. At a time when cutting guys, insulting everybody was fashionable.
Frank says, There’s a guy in Chicago, totally unknown, blind guy … I hear he might just be able to cut anybody.

I suspect that Lunzer was a pathological liar: about how big a junkie he was when he was eleven, about how huge his hashish territory was, about showing guns to gangs in Harlem … and maybe about reading a book a day, but he sure did know a lot about music, and he certainly knew his jazz.

Maybe I should have said at the start that the context for the story’s inclusion in my email to bk was my report that in several days of listening to Storyville, shoutcast.com, I’d heard several Roland Kirk recordings come up, and didn’t like a one of them: in fact I thought each-and-every one was bad.

What a loss: he sure was phenomenal introducing himself in New York that night at the Five Spot. (And I adore some of his quintessential funk compositions in the Real Book.P

After the session, Mingus made sure he had his name, then made sure that Percy Heath, Alice, and I had heard it. Mingus said nothing about “Rhasan.” He skipped it, or it came later. I don’t know what the title means, I’m not sure I want to know, I can (we can) guess.

Associate memories: Soon after, Trane was at the Village Gate. I took Alice. We got a table practically in the band’s lap. I sat Alice directly in front of Elvin Jones’s drums, told her to pay attention.

That old devil moon danced in Alice’s beautiful eyes as she devoured him. After the set, Elvin came rushing up, not to us, just to Alice, certainty of a blow job in his eyes. She acknowledged him as I steered her past him: certain she was with me, not transferring to him. Speaking of one-upsmanship, that wasn’t my thing; and even were it, I never would have dreamed I would one-up Elvin Jones!

Based on behavior Alice would soon begin displaying though I shouldn’t have been so sure. I bet she found an opportunity to go back to him and let him try again. She would up living with Ornette Coleman, for quite a while I hear. I wonder if she still had money then: Ornette sure was typically broke. When I met her Alice had a millionaire ex-husband and a millionaire father.

After a solid month, 24/7, of Alice I learned that she liked to display tonight’s boyfriend right in this morning-and-last-night’s boyfriend’s face.

The friends who told me that she was housing Ornette were astonished when they heard me refer to Alice as beautiful. They assured me that those days she was decidedly ugly, looked like a witch. I believe it. Alice, age twenty-one or -two, did look like a witch: a very sexy witch. (My friends knew about this because my friend’s wife had lived, a long time, with Alice’s first husband (not the millionaire husband).

2012 09 17 I see another memory this could spin tangent to: I’d have put this up a decade or so ago, it’s about Mingus, it’s about Kirk, but of course it’s also pk experiencing Mingus, etc. and then about pk’s girls, and how pk’s girls love pk, gawk after pk, embarrass other guys to the glory of pk …

I tell how Alice zeroed in on Elvin Jones, then stepped on him. She was using him to flatter me. On another occasion it could have gone the opposite: Alice could use me to flatter Elvin, use Elvin to make me want to murder her …
She knew I am sure that it would occur to me to murder her long before it would occur to me to murder Elvin. …

Back in the 1950s. Naomi wouldn’t leave me alone. I’ll call her my girl friend for convenience, not because it was true. She made herself my sex toy, made me her sex toy, for years: and I’d never so much as asked her for a date! never invited her for a cup of coffee! She’d show up, knock on my door, get into my bed: and wouldn’t leave! I’d finally throw her out, she’s leave for a couple of days, show up holding a rose.

But anyway, I’ll call her my girl friend. Everyone thought she was my girl friend, an illusion I don’t doubt she intended. Anyway, I certainly was used to her: and did have some good times with her: and she did have a perfectly fabulous rear end: and having long blond hair down to the middle of that rear end didn’t hurt: female accouterments.

Well, I may not have been nuts about Naomi, but I certainly was nuts about Horace Silver: and Naomi knew it. Horace was playing at a club on one of the side streets around the Five Sport: East 9th, 10th … We went, repeatedly. Then one night, her hand in its usual place on my apparatus, she tells me, “I had an erotic dream about Horace Silver.”

Suddenly she had my interest, I looked at her sharply: god, the beginnings of a person!

OK, I remember Naomi with fondness these days. She married a rabbi, from New Jersey. I hope she did well: and was right for him.

PS the Horace that goes around in my head these fifty years later is Song for My Father. I have the chart for it in the Real Book. F-7, man. Syncopated semi-linked triplet eighth notes, playing off the 2nd: G. Check it out. Oh, that second, oh those lowered sixths. And the rhythm so Latin.

MusicArtLit “Stories”

About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
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