JJ 12/80: Dressing down

Forty years ago, when opinion was still rife in British arts criticism, the JJ letters page erupted after editor Eddie Cook took issue with music, deportment and tailoring at the Nice festival. First published in Jazz Journal December 1980

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Eddie Cook (left) with Nat Pierce at Nice jazz festival. Photo © Ray Avery/JJ Archive

Questions…

Distorted
Sir, Eddie Cook besmirches his otherwise sane “Reflections on Nice” (JJI, October) with a scandalously distorted view of the Bobby Wellins quartet, the only British band at the festival which, with the aid of his malfunctioning ear trumpet, he labels an “avant-garde outfit”, without even deigning to name them.

… under Mr. Cook’s guidance I have changed my mind. Dress sense is vital – the fact that this would make everybody in the entire State of China finer alto saxophonists than Charlie Parker I now realise is neither here nor there

Those who have heard the highly individual Wellins over the past 20 years or so will laugh derisively at Mr. Cook’s appellation of Wellins’ music and make their own judgements about Mr. Cook’s ability to distinguish what is and what isn’t “avant-garde”. In fact the quartet’s first two tunes at Nice were Now’s The Time and Come To Me My Melancholy Baby, both played in a way totally recognisable to anyone but a cloth-ears.

Admittedly the audience for the first set was sparse and I did not attend their other set, but for the few days they were in Nice, Wellins and his colleagues were very prominent and untiring at the post-festival jam sessions in the Hotel Mercure (at which the stamina-lacking British fans were notable absentees). Among the many musicians who happily sat in with all or some of the Wellins quartet at different times were Jimmy Raney, Jimmy Cobb, Larry Coryell, Charles McPherson and Cal Collins.

Mr. Cook might also have mentioned that Britain was one of ten member countries of the European Broadcasting Union which sent representatives to Nice. The Bobby Wellins quartet was sent by the BBC. Most groups were allowed only two sets during their stay so Mr. Cook’s allegation that the British band was “reportedly asked to leave the festival forthwith” does not hold much import as they were scheduled to play only two sets, the last being the cited one with Jimmy Maxwell and “Pug” Horton as guests.

Hopefully British listeners will have a chance to decide on the merits of the Wellins quartet’s performance as one of the benefits of the EBU participation at Nice was that each representative received – or should have received – a tape recording of one of its sets for transmission in its own country.
Kevin Henriques, London W.2.

Hilarious
Sir, I write to congratulate Mr. Cook on his hilarious article on the Grande Parade du Jazz at Nice this year. It was supposed to be funny wasn’t it? He was writing about this year wasn’t he – not last year?

Fats Domino’s appearance at the Arena Stage followed just one hour after Panama Francis’ Savoy Sultans had vacated it. Very few people in the audience left between sets; thousands of people sat through all the sets in order to get a seat for Fats Domino later. So Mr. Cook’s radiant 3,000 who were sensible enough to support Panama Francis became the leaden zombies who supported Fats Domino too. Mr. Cook mentioned that he took a brief, unbiased view of Fats Domino. The fact that briefness might confuse one’s ability to be unbiased would elude someone of Mr. Cook’s fine self-awareness.

What, however, I really fail to understand is why Mr. Cook’s obsession with people’s clothing was not extended to Fats Domino. The whole band wore fawn suits – positively uniformed – so this must have added to their musical ability according to Mr. Cook’s particular fetish. I have spent some forty years under the misapprehension that this had nothing to do with anything very much but under Mr. Cook’s guidance I have changed my mind. Dress sense is vital – the fact that this would make everybody in the entire State of China finer alto saxophonists than Charlie Parker I now realise is neither here nor there.

Could I send Mr. Cook my itinerary for jazz concerts so that he can review them? I promise not to get annoyed: indeed I enjoy a good laugh with the best of them.
David J. Driver, Tring, Herts

Prejudice
Sir, I could not allow the astonishing inaccuracies, prejudices, and absurdity of Eddie Cook’s “Reflections on Nice” to pass without comment.

The Bobby Wellins Quartet are not an “avant garde outfit”. Mr. Cook’s failure even to mention their name is just as contemptible as the behaviour of which he accuses them.

The Brecker Brothers not spend “over half of their time setting up and testing their electrics”. Apart from a few catcalls, there was no “barracking”.

Having seen the Concord All-Stars on several occasions at the festival, I cannot recall a single occasion when the whole band were “smartly turned out with their Concord blazers and ties”. What relevance this has to their music, in any case, escapes me.

Mr. Cook states that he left the festival at around 10.30 each evening. I marvel at the fact, therefore, that he was able to appreciate any of the music on offer between “enjoying informal drinks and meals, shooting pictures, sometimes bringing a tape recorder for that special story, and generally trying to amass useful material for future publication”. I would, to use Mr. Cook’s terminology, regard this as “hardly fair” to the paying readership of JJI, who, presumably, would be more interested in the music.
Steve Millward, Manchester

…and answer

Jazz has always suffered from a profusion of descriptive titles, most I suspect awarded by non-playing critics. There are clearly definable musical differences between some of these forms of course, but many of them remain obscure, with grey areas of overlap dependent on personal opinion, and the title “jazz” means different things to different people. By this token it becomes easy to offend the devotees of some particular form by wrongly designating a performance they admire.

But I digress … No one on the staff of Jazz Journal is in the business of knocking musicians. We print facts as we understand them, and – heaven help us – opinions. Within the limits of decency, libel laws, and space availability, the magazine’s columns are open to our readers too and it is gratifying to discover that there are still people willing to stand up for their opinions. I therefore bow to the opinions of at least three readers and accept that Bobby Wellins does not play avant garde!

However, I do wish some readers would read more carefully before rushing in with defensive letters. Mr. Henriques may be a welcome guest at after hours jam sessions in Nice hotels, but not all JJ readers are so favoured, and what took place there is not strictly part of the Nice festival. I believe that readers who may come to future festivals would like to hear about the sessions they can attend.

Another correspondent writes: “Bob is a special friend … I sympathise with his side of the story … that having been promised four sets then being restricted to two thus allowing only one set to establish themselves (if the other was to be played with guests) did not help their cause. Bobby would have been quite happy to have had any guest on one session if they had been allowed (as promised) to do the other three”.

Sorry readers, but that attitude is un­gracious and what reportedly followed was to the pro-British, embarrassing.

As to who recommended whom for an invitation this hardly comes within the scope of “reflections” on the performances, but regarding the Brecker Brothers I see my original notes quoted half an hour setting up and testing their electrics. Most sessions lasted from one to one and a half hours and a half hour setting up is far too long. If catcalls, whistles and so on is not barracking, what is?

I suspect Mr. Millward only caught the Concord All Stars’ first session when they were apparently rushed on with no chance to change. Otherwise they were impeccably turned out. The relevance of dress is that it is impolite to any audience for a musician or band to appear at a performance looking scruffy and untidy (or ultra-casual). As well as being unprofessional this could be an indication of an attitude to the festival as a whole.

As to the jibe about time spent listening to music, the late mornings and early afternoons provided us with the opportunity described. We welcome letters in support of readers’ favourites however contentious, but not criticisms on a distortion of what is printed in the magazine.

This is particularly apt in the case of Mr. Driver who rushes in to defend Fats Domino from criticisms I never made. I only said “Fats was not the force he once was”. Not that he and the band were not well presented, nor well received, they were. Incidentally, they did not follow Panama Francis’ Savoy Sultans in the arena; they were switched to the aforementioned Garden Stage, allegedly because the amplification was better, i.e. more powerful.
Eddie Cook