[Harp-L] Next time
Wed Dec 21 11:43:54 EST 2016
I've been a list member for about a dozen years. The "to read, or not
to read (music)" topic has been a bit like the "Ground Hog Day" movie in
that it keeps repeating on harp-l. When it invariably pops up again and
people start throwing names out there; I hope somebody brings up the fact
that arguably the greatest jazz guitarist who ever lived could neither read
or write music. In fact, he couldn't read or write....period! That man
was an illiterate gypsy named Django Reinhardt. Or, on an instrument with
no shortage of virtuosos, one of the greatest and most
distinctive jazz pianists of all time also could not read or write music.
That man was Errol Garner, who also composed the jazz standard "Misty".
Both men are in the DownBeat Magazine Jazz Hall of Fame. Two other
bandleaders and legendary percussionists are also in the same Jazz Hall:
Buddy Rich and Art Blakey. Neither man read music. You would have a hard
time finding someone better at driving a jazz band than either of these two
gentlemen did in their day.
On the subject of the existence of non-reading saxophonists, I can think
of three off the top of my head: the brilliant Scott Hamilton (who
reputedly started out as a blues harpist), Rolling Stones sax player Bobby
Keys, and Gene Krupa's sax star Charlie Ventura. I suspect there are more.
There are still people today who believe that the greatest composer
of American popular music is and was Irving Berlin. Though I myself
prefer George Gershwin and Cole Porter; any guy with "Blue Skies", "God
Bless America", "White Christmas", "There's No Business Like Show
Business", "Putting on the Ritz", "Cheek to Cheek", "Easter Parade", and a
slew of others to his credit certainly has a claim to that title. Mr.
Berlin could not read or write music. He employed transcribers and, since
he only played in one key, used a piano that could change keys without him
having to change fingerings.
In Gene Lees' excellent book, "Cats of Any Color", Dave Brubeck
gleefully confesses that he managed to earn a degree at a music
conservatory without being able to read music. At the very end; when his
keyboard instructor at California's College of the Pacific discovered the
deception and informed the dean, Dave was told he would not be permitted to
graduate, that he was a disgrace to the school. Several of his professors
intervened and a compromise was reached. Brubeck could graduate if he
promised never to teach! Of course, we know Dave obviously brushed up on
his reading skills after he received his degree.
In the same interview Dave discloses that longtime band member Paul
Desmond placed in his will a provision that donated all royalties from his
tunes, including "Take Five", to the American Red Cross. Talk about a gift
that keeps on giving! This is probably the perfect place to end my post,
with the holidays fast approaching. Often, the best gift you can give
yourself is giving to a worthy cause or someone in need. Myself, I'll
be donating to the SPAH scholarships for young players. The William
Rosebush Youth Fund. Wishing everyone on harp-l health, safety, and
happiness in the coming year!
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