The summer of 1979 hit with arrogance. Over memorial day, the young man had gone to western Minnesota with his roommate. When they drove back into Minneapolis, the humid city are hit like a brick. The funky smell of humanity, garbage, exhaust, downtown excrement was omnipresent and alive.
The young man barely finished the semester at college. He had taken “N’s” in all class but one; which he received a “ D”. He went to work at a school aged child care center, and played as much music as he could.
One night, before Craig and his wife left for San Diego, they went to the apartment where he used to live with Willy Reed. Up in the attic, on a warm June evening, Bill Betel put on Dewey Redman’s album “ the ear of the Behearer” . From the photograph on the album cover, Mr Redman seemed a calm man. He had a big “ Texas tenor” sound, like Booker Ervin, and played a happy/sad waltz/ballad “ Joie de vivre” in a sparse fashion; no piano to get into the way of bass and drums. ( or was it cello and drums?) It was Sirone on bass… was it Pheeron Ak Laff on drums?
Then again, Dewey Redman played with Ornette Coleman. On “ Qow” and some other tunes, he reached for the sky like Pharoah Sanders, altissimo and growls, shrieks , that either you love or hate.
*(The young man loved that sound, but at times wondered why he was playing piano. All that harmelodic music did not want to have chordal interventions to muddy up the clear melodic/rhythmic purity. What was he to do? Don Bowles suggested he listen to Cecil Taylor. He did for a time, and emulated the best he could with his little red Wurlitzer with the wah-wah pedal.)
But that night, the whole group joined in playing “ Qow”, that upbeat “free-calypso”. The group amused themselves for a long time,( or at least the saxophones, trombone , guitar and piano did) The twins on bass/drums looked a bit bored with the 20 minutes of sheer abandonment. Soon, they were finding excuses not to come to rehearsals.
That summer, Bill moved to Madison, Wisconsin, to finish up some music education credits. He found a place to crash for 2 months, and of course, found the Full Moon Jazz Collective a gig, at a women’s bar.
Could the rest of the band come down for the gig? Yes! Don, and Willy and the young man could. The rhythm section looked around nervously.
No, they couldn’t. No problem, Bill said over the phone. I can find some players here… there are a lot of players here.
Craig had already moved to California, and John K. Ruth had moved to New York. The intrepid three departed on a Friday night for the Saturday gig.
The young man was delighted that there would be a keyboard amp for him to use. He brought along the 100$ Bundy tenor saxophone he had just bought. The young man was ready for adventure!
The tour started with the mood of elation, and gradually became more confused, and finished in a state of disarray. On the first leg, they laughed lot . The young man had borrowed his mother’s car, and was really worried that something might happen. He didn’t like it when Bowles or Reed drove, ( even though they were better drivers) They went a little fast for his tastes. Reed sensed this, and they pulled over in Black River Falls to pee, and let the young man drive.
The young man went to pull out his sweatshirt, and pulled out the bags. His saxophone was inside a backpack, and he put it next to the garbage can. All the bags were put bag into the nova… except one. It wasn’t until the wee hours that they found the bag missing. Things got sour, and discussions turned a bit confrontive about the merits of Roxy Music over electric Miles, or wheather Herbie Hancock had sold his soul.
They arrived in Madison in the wee hours, drove down a narrow street to a muggy, odorous , semi-civilized apartment of young jazz men. Empty Pizza boxes and dirty dishes cluttered the kitchen. Empty beer cans and items of confusion abounded. Betel was sprawled out on the couch, with manuscript paper. “Hey! I just got a new tune for you to play tonight!” It was one of six new charts that were put in front of the young man. He had just returned to the piano this past year, and his sight reading was, nothing to depend on. “ Sure” the young man said cockily.
They all crashed on the floor for a few hours. At one o’clock, they went to meet the new rhythm section.
These guys had short hair, and seemed really confident. The Bass player had a dark brown acoustic bass, and the drummer had a shiny green kit that matched. They looked cool. And intimidating.
“ How about we warm up with a standard?” the bass player said after they set up.
“ I know! “ the young man piped up “How about ‘A call for all demons?’ by Sun Ra?”
An icy silence filled the room. The drummer looked sideways at the bass player. Finally, he spoke. “oh”. We were thinking something like
“ Green Dolphin Street” or “ Doxy”
” We don’t play those kind of tunes” Willy Reed spoke up.
War had been declared.
Somehow, they got through “ all blues” by Miles. The young man wasn’t sure how long to play his solo… so he just kind of stopped when he was done. Willy picked it up , and he and Betel made it work somehow.
When the tune ended, more silence. No high fives, or praise for solos.
Sensing a total collapse, Betel suggested “ Hey… How about some Monk?”
The young man liked Monk. They decide to try “Blue Monk”. While the young man did not follow the chart well, he knew the song in his head, and he knew the herky-jerky spasmodic style Monk was famous for. So, he started. But when Don added his electric Brian Eno/ Talking Heads sound, the texture got very dense. Even on this simple tune, everyone got confused. Somehow, the rehearsal ended, with some extended jams on “ In a Silent Way”. The Rhythm section played “ a call for all demons”, but with little enthusiasm.
The rehearsal was mercifully finished. They went to an inexpensive Mexican restaurant, famous for it’s dollar burritos. The young man had two of them, and tried to make eye contact with the beautiful woman who was serving the jazz cats. She was not impressed with his French-accented Spanish, nor the existential poem he left for a tip.
The best thing about the gig is that it was over soon. The boys left for Minnesota right afterwards, with 60 dollars in their pockets. They stopped in Black River Falls, at the same gas station. The 100$ saxophone was still sitting next to the garbage can. Thankfully, the young man put it in the car, and they drove towards Minneapolis, in the hours of early light.