New Orleans jazz historian, impresario, author, and promoter Al Rose was a Big Fish. Even his friend Larry Borenstein (father of Preservation Hall) used to say he never let the truth stand in the way of a good story. I have personally had occasion to put it less euphemistically because in my mid-twenties I learned that my father Al Rose had made up most of our family history. He was not the scion of an aristocratic Creole family in New Orleans that he claimed to be, but was in fact a Jewish kid from Philly, though he was probably born in New Orleans, as the myth asserts. Despite my embarrassment at having unknowingly repeated the fiction as truth for years myself, I kept his secret during his lifetime. After he died, however, I explained the truth to anyone who took the trouble to ask, including acclaimed historian Fred Starr, who has announced plans to publish a triple biography of Larry Borenstein, Al Rose, and Bill Russell.
The occasion of my writing the current article was an article about Starr's book project that appeared in Offbeat magazine. There are admittedly plenty of myths to bust about my father's life. However, Starr seems to have passed them up and created an alternate myth that is even less plausible. Starr spent all of a half an hour with me while researching for the projected book, but somehow I thought his book would be an ideal venue for straightening out my father's public on the truth because I have read Starr's work, and he handles New Orleans with a great deal of charm and interest. However, Starr, in Bunny Matthews's aricle, simply got everything so wrong that I finally found it necessary to set the record straight personally. I was expecting a wry but gentle expose. The tack he seems to have taken, however, is to create a kind of conspiracy theory involving Al Rose, Larry Borenstein, and Bill Russell. Starr's expertise is in Russian history, and it seems this focus has turned three friends with widely differing views on jazz into an Eastern European-style putsch bent on killing jazz by primitivizing it. If you had known these three guys personally, you would understand how impossible it would have been to get them to agree on jazz. This article, I hope, will help those who have an interest to know these guys and their attitudes, especially my father's. I lived for months in Larry's house, I knew Russell from my earliest memories, and I of course have a unique understanding of my father's attitudes toward the most important thing in his life, jazz.
It is hard to separate the truth from the fiction in Al Rose's case. His original name was not Etienne Alphonse Delarose Lasceaux as he claimed; it was Erwin Albert Rose, and his father was a travelling handbag salesman and opera buff named Joe Laskow, not a rich Creole named Lasceaux. Al took the already Anglicized name of his adoptive father, Billy Rose (shortened from Rosenzweig), who married Al's mother Irene Lipetz. While he was growing up, his parents led a gypsy life, often leaving little Erwin with relatives, both Irene’s family in Newark, N.J. and Joe Laskow’s mother, whose family name was Krilov, somewhere in New York. They finally settled for some years in Philadelphia, where Billy Rose had a lady's foundation garment business. Al, then always called Erwin, graduated from Olney High school in Philadelphia.
Al was an avowed Trotskyite, who nonetheless always voted Democrat. The tales of Al Rose's time as Trotsky’s bodyguard in Mexico were false, though he probably met him. He spent three months in late 1938 or 1939. He formed this Trotskyite affiliation young, and he was a welder in a shipyard worker's union in Philadelphia in the 1940s. He apparently did not have a BS in psychology from Temple University, though he did attend. He never earned an MFA at the University of Mexico. He never attended Tulane University. Although he studied psychology at Temple University from 1934 through 1937, where he also drew cartoons for school publications, in fact he may have never earned any college degree. He almost certainly never ran guns to Spain nor fought in the Lincoln Brigade. He did have some small ongoing relationship with artist Diego Rivera in Mexico, perhaps as an art student.
He was old friends, through his mother, with painter Beauford Delany, and he went to high school with fashion photographer Irving Penn and movie director Arthur Penn, having been especially good friends with Irving, his classmate. When he went into the army, he had a small souvenir shop across from Independence Hall. He was in the army in WWII for a year, but had nothing to do with the USO shows as he claimed. Neither did he earn nor burn any medals, nor did he see any action, and, though he always exhibited a great deal of pride at receiving a dishonorable discharge, his Army discharge was in fact honorable.
After the war, he began to work for the Frank Trevor Kessler advertising agency, until Kessler faked a suicide and disappeared. Papa and Orrin Quimby took over the heavily encumbered agency, renaming it Rose Quimby. My mother had just graduated from Penn State and was looking for a job, when she walked in to apply for a job as an assistant at Rose Quimby in 1948 right after my father's divorce from his first wife, Hannah, with whom he had two sons, Frank and Erwin. His son Erwin, known generally as Pancho, is a gerontologist who owns a successful string of assisted living and nursing facilities in Philadelphia. Al's son Frank Carner is a retired professor of English in Portland, Maine, who earned his doctorate under Northrop Frye. Frank remembers Papa introducing him to Louis Prima, Jack Teagarden, and Jean Croupa in 1946 or 1947.
Papa told my mother the same evening he met her that he had something other than hiring her in mind. At this time, Papa was already airing his series of radio shows called Journeys into Jazz, which may have started in association with Jeff Scott, who had radio show. Papa started to do Journey's into Jazz mid 40'sHe claimed to have organized the first sit-down jazz concert in history at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia. However, the date of the concert, which happened in early 1948 by my mother's recollection, probably was too late to claim that distinction. One of Papa's accounts as an ad agent was a club in Philadelphia called the Clique or the Click, which had an uncommonly long bar.
Mary Rose in Florida.
Papa brought my mother in to impress her by introducing her to Benny Goodman, and she said all Goodman did was complain about his back. Another of Papas accounts was the Joey Chitwood Auto Daredevil show, and he also did publicity for Langhorn Speedway and Bill Franz, who promoted racing in Daytona. My mother, nee Mary Mitchell, and father traveled around a great deal after the ad agency failed.
|Al Rose on his posted dock in
Key Largo, Florida.
They moved to Hollywood, Fla. around 1949, and Papa ran a fishing boat called The Salty Dog out of the Dania yacht basin. Later, he had The Salty Dog II. Papa sold Permastone for a while, and had a stint selling miniature merry-go-rounds for grocery stores and may have had some association with Jack Sunshine Bakery. I was born in New Orleans in 1962, and we lived above Preservation Hall, but after a year or so in New Orleans, we moved back to Key Largo, Florida. While in the keys, Papa painted a mural map of Storyville on the wall, and his friends, notably clarinetist Raymond Burke and pianist Knocky Parker, came to visit there, did some fishing, and played some music. Papa sold vinyl siding for a short while, began making his living as a caricaturist around 1960, and also began work on his first book, New Orleans Jazz, A Family Album, which he co-authored with Dr. Edmond Souchon.
We came back to live in New Orleans in about 1965, and Papa continued practicing in earnest the trade that kept him afloat for the next few decades. A caricaturist in Hollywood, Florida named Dick Briefer had taught John Roman and my father, who was already an accomplished cartoonist, the trade, and Papa made an incredible success of it. Somewhere in all of this he found time to make records for Southland Records. He was a supporter of civil rights, even when it was dangerous, and if any of my friends ever said the N-word in the mid 1960s, the six-year-old was promptly banished from the property and never forgiven. We generally lived in New Orleans or Hollywood, and spent summers in Franklin, North Carolina. One interesting anecdot is that I whistled as a child, and there is a story my brother Frank reminds me of, which I don't really remember happening but seems plausible enough, that when I was in a grocery store in Hollywood, I was whistling I think it was Tin Roof Blues, when a man asked me where I had learned it. He and Papa got talking, and it turned out he was a big band leader by the name of Billy Butterfield.
Rachel Borenstein, Sacha Borenstein,
|Mayor Landrieu, Al Rose, and
George DeVille at book signing..
Papa wrote many books and earned respect or enmity from many for his vocal denunciations and caustic critiques of art and music. Louis Malle based his movie Pretty Baby on an interlude in Papa's book about Storyville and hired him as a historical consultant. Papa sued unsuccessfully to keep his name out of the credits because they ignored his historical advice.
Intellectually, Papa was the arch early twentieth century rationalist and argued along with the staunchest behaviorists that the mind itself is only an epiphenomenon of behavior. I think I am being objective when I say that he and Larry Borenstein were two of the most intelligent people I have met. Papa even won the Louisiana Book Award, and was influential in the planning stages of Armstrong Park. The whole neighborhood had been leveled, including Louis Armstrong’s house, supposedly for parking, but more likely to get the black neighborhoods away from the French Quarter courtesy of our forward-thinking New Orleans politicians. The politicians boondoggled the park, though, so all that came of Al Rose's vision of a Tivoli-style park in New Orleans was some landscaping. All the money disappeared.
Admittedly, there are counts upon which Papa does not deserve defense. Foisting a phony life story upon his public is one of them. I cannot apologize for it, but I would like to try to put his decisions in perspective. First of all, Al Rose loved jazz. Unequivocally and without reserve, he thought it was the greatest music ever. This, above family, religion, politics, or anything else was the primary context of his life.
That said, after my mother divorced him, few of the people around him knew much about his true story, and those who did were so loyal to him that they would never have said a word against him. He used this opportunity to reinvent himself. Papa, by that time, had already determined that he had work to do for jazz. I am sure he decided that the persona of an aristocratic New Orleans Creole would allow him some social mobility and access to research opportunities in a racist New Orleans that a perceived Jew would not have, and his judgment on this matter seems to have been accurate.
Some Jews may consider this move a form of betrayal or denial of his true self. However, our family has always been full of fire-breathing atheists, and he would have been infuriated to be associated with any religious tradition for that reason. He called religion hokum. No clergy of any kind was ever permitted inside of our house. This included his third wife Diana’s uncle, a Methodist minister, who Papa turned away at the door. Police were not allowed to set foot in the Rose household, either. Those were in fact the cardinal rules of the household: No cops. No clergy. (He did make an exception for Mike Stark, who being a gay, hippie, Baptist minister was eccentirc enough for a hearty welcome in the Rose household.) Papa was also against Zionism, and indeed considered any kind of religious or racially styled nationalism as one of the worst evils. He was Jewish by a cultural or racial definition, but not an ideological one.
Moreover, his break from his past seems to have been motivated as much by his hatred for his mother as by a desire to pass. I lived in the same city as my grandmother for years, but never knew I had a grandmother until long after she was dead. After she left him with relatives as a child for a year or two, he did not want to go back to her, but she took him anyway. Irene was also by all accounts a vivacious, intelligent, savvy woman, but also a very controlling woman, and at some point before I was born, Papa decided he had finally had it with her once and for all. Whenever Irene was mentioned, he represented her as if she were just a woman who took care of him for a while when he was a child. He was not a self-hating Jew, nor did he seem to harbor any racism. Papa formed his loyalties on the basis of talent, common interests, and intellectual admiration, not accidents of birth.
Diana Rose and Al Rose.
So, around 1970, Al Rose, with this haughty twentieth century rationalism, a fine mind, a Trotskyite union background, no God, no consideration for cultural or family loyalties, and after a heartbreaking divorce from my mother, found himself in Florida in a kind of empty space that permitted him to creatively reinvent himself in the most efficient way possible. Moreover, his third wife Diana also shared the same propensity for telling tall tales.
I do not, however, suggest here that all of Papa's tales were motivated by necessity or family drama. Indeed, he seems to have made up stories to aggrandize himself, just like many of the jazzmen he knew, recorded, and studied. I only suggest that some part of his decision to rewrite his past must have been influenced by the anti-Semitic climate within which he had to work, and he is not alone in this. He also had talked to so many jazzmen and heard so many stories by his later years that he may not have fully known which of them were his own experiences and which of them belonged to others.
So, the truth of Al Rose rivals the fiction, but I have always considered my father's prevarications fair game for historians. I had a half-hour meeting with Fred Starr a few years ago, in which I corroborated and outlined the truths and the fictions of Papa's life, and recently, in a Bunny Matthews article (Offbeat, August 04, The Primitive-ization of Jazz) Starr went particularly easy on Papa's tall tales, painting him as a lovable Falstaff type of character. The caricature is harmless enough, and perhaps he had it coming for the tens of thousands of frat boys and sorority sisters he caricatured. However, Starr went on to get some important things wrong about what Al Rose stood for.
Starr paints a picture of a trio of outsiders comprised of Larry Borenstien, Al Rose, and Bill Russell, who invented an invasive, inferior strain of jazz that displaced an extant vital jazz tradition. Actually, in their early days in New Orleans, the trio did hold a funeral for jazz. Al Rose also said on countless occasions that jazz was dead. He was accurately reporting the real condition of jazz at the time.
Here, however, it is important to understand the distinction Al Rose made between jazz and other forms of music because he in fact devoted much of his life to establishing this distinction. He often complained that lazy scholarship and politically motivated misinformation had shrouded the term jazz in a purposefully vague, racially-styled cloud of blather. As Al Rose saw it, Swing is not jazz because jazz requires improvisation. Blues has a distinct structure, and is not jazz, though jazz is often full of blue notes, and a blues number can be played as jazz. Bop and/or modern jazz were not jazz at all in his schema, but distinct viable forms in their own right, which he disliked intensely. Jazz, though a great majority of the early players were African American, was not a purely black music, even in its origins, when Italians notably played a significant role. As a sound byte to get this point across, Papa often repeated, "Jazz is the product of a place and not a race." Some, perhaps understandably, jumped to conclusions about this pronouncement and assumed he was trying to take something away from African Americans. However, the record shows that the history of jazz is a history of diversity, which should be celebrated, and to deny it takes something away from humanity.
So, when Al Rose said jazz was dead, he did not mean African American music was dead, swing was dead, blues was dead, rock and roll was dead, bop was dead, or modern jazz was dead. He meant that authentic jazz (now called traditional jazz) was dead. But if swing, modern jazz, bebop, and blues are not jazz, then what is jazz?
In fact, one of Al Rose's most overlooked cultural contributions was his elegant and simple definition of jazz: "Any known melody in two-four or four-four time, collectively improvised and syncopated by two or more musical voices." (Later he reluctantly revised this to include three-four time as some early bands had been known to play waltzes on occasion.) The first part of the definition shows, however, that Al Rose had no part in a shrinking repertoire, as Starr suggests in the article. A syncopated ensemble sound is also a must. That is, the spontaneous syncopated interplay of a front line, wherein each musician knows his harmonic role, is central to the authentic jazz sound. Indeed, solos only came onto the scene after jazz had already become an established form.
The theory of origin and influence that Papa favored was that the original front line of the jazz band came from the call and response pattern of African vocal music; the trumpet corresponded to the lead male voice, the trombone to the answering male voice, and the clarinet to the answering female voice. The guitar, piano, drums, and bass were part of the rhythm section. The European and American contributions were the instrumentation, the scale, and the popular music tradition. One theory Al Rose tended to favor was that when the immensely popular New Orleans performances of the Eighth Cavalry Regiment Mexican military band at the World's Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition in 1884 came to an end, the eighty musicians sold their instruments in New Orleans. Al Rose thought that the enormous popularity of the band, coupled with a glut of their instruments on the market, probably formed an ideal climate for the explosion of jazz.
So, regardless of Al Rose's mythopoeia, to make the mistake of painting him as a lovable rogue, full of hooey, falling into the role of jazz impresario by accident and becoming successful at it is caricature, not scholarship. Starr has said that Papa did not come to New Orleans with the intention of getting involved with jazz, but Papa had in fact already produced jazz radio shows and concerts long before he moved to New Orleans. He followed his interests, and jazz was at the top of the list. Perhaps I did not drive this point home strongly enough to Starr in the half-hour he devoted to talking to me with his hired researcher. Now, I realize, in times like ours, it might be difficult for people to grasp the kind of love not only my father but people of the early 20th Century in general felt for jazz. For Papa, who never had a religious bone in his body, it came like a religious conversion. He would disown me for this, but the only time I ever heard him using metaphysical or mystically-styled language was when he spoke of jazz. Sometimes he would mention a musician and say that he played so well that it seemed like he was not just a musician but was somehow connected to jazz itself. Papa didn't seem to realize that in creating a split between the musicians and the abstract idea of jazz, existing somehow outside of just the world of humanity, he was in fact talking about a religious concept. Jazz, and to some extent Ragtime, held the same role in Papa's life that religion might hold for a religious person. It was a universe unto itself with its own pantheon, for him, more real and important than anything else in his life.
Papa loved the music so much, in fact, that he could not help but try to resurrect it. It would be correct to call him a preservationist, and it seems to be upon this ground that his affectionately hostile prospective biographer attempts to discredit him now that he is safely dead. Ironically, Starr himself is "not from here" as he jabs at Al Rose in the Mathews article, and Starr is unquestionably a preservationist cut from the same cloth. Papa enjoyed the Louisiana Repertory Jazz Ensemble (LRJE) and admired Starr's entertaining style, but, as writers, Starr and Papa were working the same territory. Perhaps it got back to Papa's rival that he used to refer to him, "from a position of affection," as "the poor man's Al Rose!"
Nobody could blame Starr for being angry about the fate of New Orleans jazz, but it was not his culprits (Borenstein, Rose, and Russell) who killed it. That was something only New Orleans itself could do. New Orleans used a high-profile murder as an excuse to close the dance halls and suppressed the music whenever it could. The jazzmen, who were put out of work, went to New York and Chicago, where they were appreciated. (Bechet went as far as Paris.) They got prosperous and old there, as did those who later followed in search of greener pastures. Most did not return. Louisiana was segregated. Few black musicians, including Louis Armstrong (whose home was Queens, New York) would return when jazzmen were appreciated up north, respected, paid well, and could go to a decent restaurant. Starrs’s conspiracy theory about a trio of Jewish Yankee Communists, who came down south to get rich sucking the soul out of jazz, will probably fly better in the Crescent City than the real pigheaded racist history of New Orleans’s jazzocide. This history, however, is what my father understood and what Starr does not.
This fundamental misunderstanding is why Dr. Starr is inexplicably framing a couple of guys who bought Bunk Johnson a set of false teeth with their own money so he could play his horn again. Indeed, it was really guys like Larry Borenstein, Danny Barker, Al Rose, and Harold Dejan, who resuscitated jazz in New Orleans, and ironically Starr’s band LRJE finds itself thriving and benefiting from their efforts within this same preservationist tradition today. (Ironically, the LRJE touts itself with a quote from Al Rose on its website: "Jazz critic Al Rose calls the LRJE 'the most authentic band on the scene today . . . I haven't heard that sound for 40 years.'" But what did he know? He liked that primitive stuff!) However, though Borenstein, Rose and Russell were preservationists in their own ways, it is important to understand that they never presented any kind of unified front. They agreed on a few things, and disagreed on most, but rarely if ever worked together on anything significant to jazz. They were three separate voices.
Bill Russell was a true eccentric collector and self-driven musicologist with a great mind for New Orleans history and music. He played ragtime violin with a tin ear and went to the African American dance halls in the 40s to record whatever music he found there in mono. This introvert walked exclusively, not trusting public transportation, and enjoyed the company of his parakeet better than that of human beings. He would sit at Preservation Hall and speak only when spoken to. Without ever seeming unpleasant, he never seemed to show much humor or emotion, exhibiting a disconcerting flatness of affect. Papa respected his vast knowledge, and perhaps coveted his paper collection, which was stacked to the ceiling in his apartment. Any suggestion that Bill Russell was motivated by success, however, is absurd.
As for my father's alleged co-conspirator Larry Borenstein, this supposed Communist was (beyond a few leftist affectations) the consummate apex Capitalist millionaire, who owned half of the French Quarter by the time he passed away, and made piles of money at whatever he put his hand to. He had an eye for value and recognized what New Orleans stubbornly would not: The whole world loved jazz. He did the best he could to preserve whatever was left of it in New Orleans, which was not much, and then sold it to the world, creating jobs for a lot of musicians in the process. Larry was dealing art out of his Associated Artist Studio, at 732 Saint Peter Street, when he decided to rent Preservation Hall next door. "Sweet Emma" Barrett was preaching with her tambourine and megaphone on that block, and he pulled her in off of the street, along with a rough alcoholic named Babe Stovall, who was playing for change on Jackson Square. Before long, they had a band and started charging admission. Granted, as Starr suggests, this music was not sophisticated, but where was this sophisticated, complex jazz tradition that Starr insists Borenstein forced out of the limelight? It no longer existed in New Orleans in anything but the final stages of decline, but notably in some fine jam sessions held in Joe Marez’s fur warehouse.
From these lowly origins, however, Borenstein almost single-handedly brought about a jazz revival, his Preservation Hall acting as a lightning rod for whatever energy was left in the tradition and bringing it together with an international audience in a place where black and white musicians could finally play together in public. He went even further, sending later incarnations of the band on world tours. This had repercussions for more than just jazz musicians. Now, the whole world books New Orleans bands for large public festivals, and this trend since the 60s might be shown to have started with Borenstein. The consummate promoter, he did often promote primitive or naive art. The painter Sister Gertrude Morgan found national acclaim because of Borenstein, and he almost single-handedly created the market for pre-Colombian art. Maybe Larry Borenstein had tapped into a modern thirst for the primitive, the folky, or the naïve as he promoted Preservation Hall. Al Rose, like Dr. Starr, thought that the Preservation Hall Jazz Band did not reflect the rich and sophisticated tradition of authentic jazz, but the old tradition no longer existed. In fact, it had been chased away, but not by Borenstein.
My father, unlike Larry, rarely broke even on any jazz project. He never had any financial success promoting jazz shows or producing records. My mother still holds his jazz expenditures against him. Every once in a great while, when he was satisfied with a session, he would say, "And that's what they used to call jazz." However, though his recordings aspired to rival the great recordings of the jazz age, Papa never harbored any pretensions that they had succeeded, and he certainly never viewed jazz from the golden age as primitive. Papa did believe that the ability to read music was neither here nor there when it came to being a jazzman and that an essential part of the jazz form was collective improvisation. However, to take this view and abstract from it the offensive idea, which Starr implicitly suggests, that my father was out looking for down-home racial stereotypes to put on vinyl shows remarkable lack of understanding, especially from a man who aspires to write about him.
The perhaps difficult truth of the matter, I must admit, is that my father himself, like Starr, looked down his nose to a certain extent at most of the Preservation Hall regulars. Regardless of this fact, he frequented the place! I must add that I personally have enjoyed the Preservation Hall band over the years, and appreciate their ability to enrapture audiences and make them dance. I think Papa did, too, but he thought that jazz in its heyday had been much more than just Preservation Hall, and it was his job to remind people of that. My father liked to hire the likes of Danny Barker, Jeannette Kimball, Louis Barbarin, and a host of others, and he always treated them with respect and paid them well, which was not the standard in those times and may have accounted for him losing money on his sessions. Perhaps Starr developed this theory about some association between my father and Preservation Hall because we lived upstairs from it when I was a baby. Papa was also good friends with Larry, and our families have always been very close. However, my father and Larry rarely did business together, except on occasion when they would trade antiques or art and attend estate auctions. Larry and Papa were intellectual sparring partners, with a great deal of mutual admiration, but to my father, Larry was a brilliant promoter, not a musicologist, and the two never saw eye to eye on music. Lumping these three men together is geography, not musicology. It would make more sense to group my father with his friend and coauthor of New Orleans Jazz, A Family Album, Dr. Edmond Souchon. Papa also spent much more time and was closer with John Wiggington Hyman (Johnny Wiggs) than with Bill Russell, but alas these men did not fit Starr’s Commie-Jew-Yankee outside agitator thesis.
The jazz musicians with whom I came into contact during my childhood were generally well spoken class acts. Two I remember particularly well were Danny Barker and Alvin Alcorn. Papa hired them for sessions as often as he could, but anyone who actually knew them would never call them folksy or primitive. When one saw Alvin play a muted tasteful cornet right next to a woman’s ear, and she would smile as if he were whispering to her, one had to admit his finesse. Likewise, when one heard Danny Barker speak to a room, nobody would consider him primitive or folksy; one thought that this man is a cultural ambassador. He also played with Jellyroll up east. That seems like the best education a jazzman could hope for.
I will share a story Danny Barker told me about my father, and it illustrates the kind of role a man like Al Rose rightfully played and should play in the history of jazz. I will try to recall it as well as I can. Danny said, "The first time I met your father was in New York." Danny then tried to remember the cross street of the bar and talked about how surprised he was to see a white guy in there. "And here comes your father!" he says. "Big man! Wore a suit! Spoke with authority!" Danny Barker, toupee shining black, delivered these lines from under his pencil moustache as a loud oratory, but then he almost whispered: "And I heard him call jazz an art form." He paused, seemingly moved by the memory, and it was remarkable to see because I had always known Danny Barker as a wry, salty character, who projected a streetwise, hardboiled sophistication that would not have admitted sentimentality. However, in a culture where musical geniuses had to hustle their ways through life unappreciated, Al Rose had gotten it, and this had moved Barker. He remained silent for a moment and said, "One thing about your father is he always gave credit where credit was due." This is advisable for all who would write about history.
Danny was a longtime friend of my father, and even came to visit him at the nursing home. When the time came, Lu Barker made me an honorary pall bearer for Danny, an honor which surprised the hell out of me. Papa loved Danny Barker, and Danny respected what my father had done for jazz. That said, they had their disagreements about the subject. Danny thought many of my father's ideas were nonsense, and thought that jazz, rhythm and blues, blues, swing, and rock and roll all sprang from the same font (though he left acid rock out of this schema.) The important factor was courageous young people going out and making people move. I think drawing lines between forms and traditions was an ultimately boring and useless exercise in Barker's view; instead, entertaining people was where it was at. Danny held that if one was not physically involved in the music, there were certain things that one would never get. That was Danny Barkers explicit caveat about Papa's views.
All of these guys disagreed strongly with one another at times, and Papa in fact championed many unpopular causes in his insistence that jazz not be primitive-ized. For instance, he spent a great deal of energy convincing people, who had learned from cylinder recordings, to slow down. An Edison cylinder only held so much music, so the early bands had to rush to finish the songs, and many people assumed that was the way jazz was supposed to sound. He consciously held his recording sessions in fancy settings out of respect, like conference rooms at the Royal Orleans, the Royal Sonesta, and the Dukes Place, and he would pay the musicians well. I would sometimes hear the musicians expressing pleasant bewilderment and surprise at all of this. Papa also focused on the ensemble sound, which he considered central, and expressed some ambivalence about the phenomenon of the solo, which he considered in some sense as a later appendage to the form. He held a long crusade to keep the saxophone out of New Orleans jazz, as it usurped the harmonic role of the trumpet or cornet. Papa (as I seem to remember being the case with Danny Barker) sometimes found himself persona non grata at Preservation Hall because of things he said, so I think it would be hard to make a case that he was in league with it.
Papa took a great deal of pride in some recordings, but he always knew that they did not match the bands from the heyday of jazz. I remember his favorite drummer was Baby Dodds. Of course he would go on and on about Armstrong, while feeling a little hurt that he had abandoned traditional jazz, and Ferdinand (Jellyroll) Morton was his favorite piano player. If he could have put together a recording session with them, that would have put him in an atheist's heaven. The last thing he wanted to hear was primitive-ized jazz.
So, it is true that my father, Bill Russell, and Larry Borenstein were there on the scene trying to pick up the pieces of jazz in their own ways, but they were not responsible for the way New Orleans itself brutally discriminated against African American musicians, crushed public dancing, and generally treated jazz as an immoral social ill to be stamped out, thereby driving the jazzmen out of town. Larry, Bill and Papa were not responsible for the New Orleans racism and general backwardness that kept them out. Neither would the three men have been able to work together toward a common vision, as they shared none. Any real association between these three men was on the order of friendship and based on the mutual recognition and admiration that naturally forms among exceptional minds. Bill Russell was a quiet introvert who loved to amass knowledge. Larry Borenstein loved to sell the people what they wanted.
And Al Rose loved jazz!
Here is a related article.