By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Washington Rucker pulls into the parking lot behind Stein on Vine, a drum shop in Hollywood, and cuts his engine, pausing to contemplate a too-familiar scene: hundreds of people gathering at the United Federation of Musicians Local 47 to honor another dead jazz legend.
Today they are here for Teddy Edwards, a tenor-sax man who died April 20 of prostate cancer, at 78. But Rucker, a veteran drummer, wonders where everyone was when Edwards was alive. “Musicians will come out to honor somebody — after they’re dead,” he says.
For 60 years, Edwards traversed swing, bebop and modern jazz with stubborn originality. Yet near the end, Rucker says, Edwards played mostly in Europe, where black jazz musicians “go to die.” Before he passed away, despite his recorded legacy, Edwards had intimated to a friend, “I hear my songs on the radio all day long, but the phone never rings.”
“Teddy understood the frustrations of being a ‘jazz musician’ in L.A.; studio work was not forthcoming,” says Rucker. “But true jazz musicians don’t play the game. They play the music.”
Rucker walks across Vine Street and enters the union-hall lobby. A row of elder musicians and union honchos are seated in high-backed chairs. He pays respect to the old lions and enters the hall, which is packed with enthusiasts and bona fide musicians rotating on the bandstand and sharing memories of Edwards.
Aside from the players he recognizes from his nightclub days, Rucker is surrounded with studio musicians and hangers-on, who, he says, “know damn well this is the most live music they’re gonna see all year.”
Drummer Louis Belson fights his way through a throng of handshakers and makes his way toward Rucker. They were inducted into the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame together. “Wannabes are all over Louis,” Rucker says, as Belson approaches. “Always trying to get with the real musicians.”
Times like this, says Rucker, it’s safe for studio musicians to identify with bebop, out of respect for a dead bebop legend or a desire to mingle with real players. But the business rewards a different sort, he says.
After the black union merged with the white union, Rucker alleges, the bosses kept separate datebooks: one for versatile, usually white session players and one for hard-bopping black players. “They will only call a black cat when it’s absolutely necessary,” he insists. At this year’s Academy Awards, Rucker says he was one of two or three black musicians in an orchestra of 60.
Edwards knew this, Rucker says as he moves through the crowded hall, and like many great ones was stigmatized by both the color of his skin and the straight-ahead style he refused to abandon.
“I once did a record date with John Williams conducting, and I ran into this bassist, a white guy,” Rucker recalls. “I go, ‘Hey, man, I haven’t seen you since we played with Cannonball [Adderley],’ and he says, ‘Ssshhh, I don’t want them to know I play jazz,’ and walked away from me like I had the plague.”
Rucker makes his way out to the patio, where jazz widows have set out foil-covered platters of chicken, potato salad and cake. He stops to talk with horn player Clora Bryant, a Central Avenue original, as singer Gene Diamond steps off the bandstand in a razor-sharp white sport coat with black pinstripes. “Taking care of business up there, Gene,” Rucker says.
An MC asks Rucker to take his turn on the drums, but instead he makes for the door. “I didn’t come to play,” he says, “I came to pay respect to Teddy.”
“What’s going on in there?” McKibbon asks.
“People talking about Teddy,” says Rucker.
“Didn’t have nothing to do with him when he was alive,” McKibbon says.
“Uh-huh,” replies Rucker.
McKibbon offers a gruff explanation of the stratification of the Los Angeles jazz scene. “The top strata is the union and the recording artists, then you got the subs,” he says. “Then, you got the ones who can actually play.”
Rucker shakes his head and says his final goodbyes.
Returning to the drum-shop parking lot, he recalls the memorial service for Hampton Hawes, the legendary pianist who died in 1977. That’s the way to handle these memorials, he says. “I went down to the funeral home before the service and just sat and talked with Hampton for an hour,” Rucker says, “before all these people showed up.”
Heeb, the magazine of hip Jewish culture, is lucky to have made it to a third issue. Judging by the reams of press the magazine’s first issues generated in early 2002, the magazine itself, and particularly its title — a misspelled variant of the racial slur — were hugely controversial. Its debut received sizable mentions in publications ranging from The New York Times to The Source. Its founders made an appearance on Howard Stern.
Public interest, of course, was far less widespread than the press reception indicates. Heeb — like Giant Robot, Grand Royal and James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake— is one of those publications: widely talked about, little read, minimally funded and difficult to find in your friendly neighborhood bookstore. Still, its target audience (young, hip, left-leaning Jews) greets new issues like, well, the Second Coming. What other magazine would mix a roundtable discussion on the alliance between Bush and Zionist Jews with a photo spread titled “Sexy Exotic Sassy Brainy Hairy Busty Big-Boned Lusty Jewess”?
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