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The Velvet Lounge

The Velvet Lounge: On Late Chicago Jazz

gerald majer
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    The Velvet Lounge
    Book Description:

    Troubled urban neighborhoods and jazz-club havens were the backdrop of Gerald Majer's life growing up in sixties and seventies Chicago. The Velvet Lounge, an original hybrid of memoir, biography, and musical description, reflects this history and pursues a sustained meditation on jazz along with a probing exploration of race and class and how they defined the material and psychic divides of a city. With the instrument of a supple, lyrical prose style, Majer elaborates the book's themes through literary and intellectual forays as carefully constructed and as passionately articulated as a jazz master's solo. Throughout the work, issues of identity and culture, art and politics achieve a rare immediacy, as does the music itself.

    In portraits of Jimmy Smith, Gene Ammons, Sonny Stitt, Sun Ra, and others, Gerald Majer conveys the drama and artistry of their music as well as the personal hardships many of them endured. Vivid descriptions and telling historical anecdotes explore the music's richness through a variety of political, social, and philosophical contexts. The Velvet Lounge, named after the famous Chicago club, is also one of the few works to consider the music of such avant-garde jazz musicians as Fred Anderson, Andrew Hill, and Roscoe Mitchell. In doing so, Majer builds a bridge from the traditionalist view of jazz to the world of contemporary innovators, casts a new light on the music and its makers, and traces connections between jazz art and postmodernist thought.

    Present throughout Majer's spirited encounters with the worlds of jazz is Majer himself. We hear and appreciate the music through his individual sensibilities and experiences. Majer recounts growing up in racially divided Chicago -- his trips to the famed Maxwell Street market, his wanderings among its legendary jazz clubs, his riding the El, and his working in a jukebox factory. We witness his awakening to the music at a crossroads of the intimately personal and the intellectually provocative.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-51012-7
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-xi)
  3. jug eyes
    (pp. 1-13)

    The Boss is Back! The album was on the Prestige label, the first Gene Ammons made after being released in 1969 from Stateville Penitentiary following a seven-year term for heroin possession. With Junior Mance on piano, Buster Williams on bass, Bernard Purdie on drums, and Candido on conga, it’s a hell of a record. Ammons’s tenor holler breaks loose over the hard funk backing, out of the horn something like a contagious fire catching on the fills and slides and the stuttering beats. At times the music almost sticks, suspended machinelike, Ammons’s horn a lyric, swaying juggernaut on the verge...

  4. stitt’s time
    (pp. 15-33)

    October: as if from far away, suddenly hearing you. I’d been preoccupied, distracted by my last-minute date, Beck’s and Camel Filters, the little black enamel table with the ivory linen and the ballroom view on Grant Park. She wore taffeta, shiny stockings, mystery skin. (Later we went to her apartment, the baby was sleeping peacefully, the lamp on all night.) Suddenly hearing you—not with eyes closed studying whether Sonny was as great this time, measuring the speed and precision of a phrase that was pounced on and then whipped back, spooled through once more and punched up somewhere else...

  5. proxima ra
    (pp. 35-59)

    The Auditorium: a grimy Romanesque edifice running the length of Congress between Michigan and Wabash. In the early 1970s, it was a depreciating chunk of downtown real estate apparently destined for the wrecker’s ball (it would later be saved through citizen efforts). It had been Adler and Sullivan’s 1888 masterpiece, a brilliant flowering of the early Chicago school and for a time the world’s largest and grandest opera house. Its construction had been likened to that of the Great Pyramid—a vast foundation pit, hundreds of workers swarming over the ground all day and all night, and teams of horses...

  6. monstrosioso
    (pp. 61-87)

    The fussy encyclopedic gravity of the Hammond B-3 overcome and the electric organ lofted to hard-bop orbit, still trailing diapasons of his mother’s church music and the boogie-woogie tap-dance routines of his father’s band—The Incredible Jimmy Smith proclaimed the block letters on a score of albums since the 1956 breakout recordings on Blue Note, those words celebrating a nearly miraculous mating of technology and soul. The thing had first stirred to life at a club in Atlantic City where he heard Wild Bill Davis make the Hammond roar like a big wave. It was a monster, upsurged through chocked,...

  7. batterie
    (pp. 89-111)

    The drums—I loved their powers of battery. Direct attack. Pounding the enemy. Strafe and bomb and rapid fire. Or subtle: the glancing blow, the single swift shot out of nowhere. And most of all, the capacity of surprise—listening to music, I often didn’t notice the drums at all, my attention focused on the lead, the solo, the main line, but then a space would open between the verses or among the chord changes, a fill or a rumble suddenly revealing the universe of the song to be a shifting thing, holes in it because it was stitched together...

  8. the velvet lounge
    (pp. 113-131)

    When you push your hand against the rail, the bar tilts, as if over the years it’s been leaned across so often it’s on the verge of giving way. My wife and I order drinks and sit for a while. We talk to the bartender, remembering the last time we were here, who was playing that night. The fluorescent haze a washed-out blue over the cash register, the ranks of vodkas and whiskies, our faces caught in the mirror behind like we’ve come here to meet ourselves.

    Chicago, The Velvet Lounge. The address is 2128½ South Indiana Avenue, the half...

  9. le serpent qui danse
    (pp. 133-155)

    It involves a humming throat, it involves a dance of breath, it involves spit. Drooled blowhole of fat importunate lips, sputtered cunning flutters of hungry lascivious tongue, press and wheeze of diaphragm like a bird’s throbbing syrinx. At first rounded and mellow, the lyric envelope of the melody soon punctures, somewhere an octave above high C a split tone shrilling as though a mere Boehm flute cannot bear the force of the wind, the body of the instrument blown away, spirited off in a whistle piercing and distempered and intemperate. You would say the flute suffers it, if that microtonal...

  10. dreaming of roscoe mitchell
    (pp. 157-183)

    September, the Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival, John Sinclair the master of ceremonies, a stage among tall pines, the lineup of music unbelievable, encyclopedic, a historical reach from John Lee Hooker and Ray Charles to the Count Basie Orchestra, the Mingus band, Yusef Lateef, the Sun Ra Arkestra. On one afternoon, Ornette Coleman dressed in black and red, the hard and sharp of the bright alto in sun speaking rigor and joy, a breeze blowing across the trees and on the body of the resined air a sound clear as light, a freedom running hard for a train, running...

  11. intuitive research beings
    (pp. 185-208)

    The legends are various, but I imagine the famous yardbird from which Charlie Parker’s nickname derived might have been a mockingbird like the one I hear sometimes among the rooftops and courtyards in my neighborhood. It is a bird almost choked with song, pouring, spilling, brimming over, the turns so swift it seems the music must hurt, the explosion of mimicry caught inside and catching up so many songs it dizzies time and sequence, one song forever interrupted trembling into another, their tracks sliding forward and back like a slide whistle blown with such force that, unable to bear the...

  12. discography
    (pp. 209-212)