Jazz and Sociology: a Footnote

By | March 27, 2014

In two tentative blogs on sociology and jazz I mentioned the hypothesized linkage between imperishable characters and performances and drugs from heroin to alcohol. After all, so many ‘giants’ were heavy users, a circumstance that often contributed to their premature demise. In the first blog I highlighted the linkage, in the second backed-off.

Well I have come across a quotation from the doyen of bepop, Charlie Parker, who died in 12 March, 1955, in his mid-30s. What did he die of? This is the conclusion of Studs Terkel:

‘At the time of his death he was suffering from cirrhosis of the liver, ulcers and perhaps heart trouble. What did he really die of? As in the case of Bix Beiderbecke, he probably ‘died of everything’.’

Bix was 28 when he died.

But the purpose of this scanty addendum is to relay a quote from Parker, also from Terkel’s Giants of Jazz:

‘Any musician who says he’s playing better either on tea, the needle, or when he is juiced, is a plain, straight liar. When I get too much to drink, I can’t even finger well, let alone play decent ideas. In the days when I was on the stuff, I may have ‘thought’ I was playing better. Listening to some of the records now, I know I wasn’t. Some of these smart kids who think you have to be completely knocked out to be a good hornman are just plain crazy. It isn’t true. I know, believe me.’

This makes perfect sense, notwithstanding innumerable performances interpreted as exquisite by audiences lacking Charlie’s genius and ear.



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