Readers of WAIL Have Their Say

The following comes from Austrian Gerhard Schramke, a longtime fan of Bud Powell who plays piano in his free time:

DEAR MR PULLMAN:

I just finished your book last week and enjoyed it very much. I´m a great fan of Bud and try to get as much information about his life and his music, as I can.

One of the most important things: I noticed that you mentioned that very much of the unissued stuff of „Bud at Home“ has obviously wrong „recording dates“ (1961).

I have all that recordings (33 CDs) of unissued material and always wondered why so much of that stuff is dated from 1961 if it doesn´t sound like being from ´61. I always had the impression that it might be from later years. I´m glad I have that material, but it´s hard for me to listen to some of the really bad tracks, where Bud fumbles on tunes he once played fast and strong. It´s painful to listen to and I dare to say it´s even weaker than the 1954/55 albums for Verve.

But some of the stuff from Birdland 1964 is really good, among it that great version of „Thou Swell“ with it´s stride section (that you mentioned) . Did you notice, that Bud during that time played a lot of tunes, that he had recorded during the midfifties for Verve, tunes he didn´t play in France ? (Thou Swell, That Old Black Magic) ? Maybe, some of Bud´s painful memories from the midfifties came back to him, when he returned to Birdland, maybe that´s why he picked up tunes that he recorded during that unhappy years, while in France he mostly played vintage bop tunes from his great early years, with much of the power of the „early Bud“?

GERHARD SCHRAMKE

Dear Gerhard:

I won’t speculate on why Powell played certain tunes on his return to New York — for a gig; he said for publication that he intended to return to France when the engagement ended — but to your list of such I’ll add Irving Berlin’s “The Best (Thing for You Would Be Me)”.

One way to look at the change in repertoire, at least from the time of Powell’s 1959 arrival in Paris (compared with what he’d been playing in the mid-to-late Fifties), is that he wanted to continue the promotion of bebop on the continent. Recall that modernist ideas were, along with other aspects cultural and not so, slow to gain a hold in lands that were just trying to recover normalcy after the war’s devastation.

Powell, Miles Davis, and Modern Jazz Quartet had all been headliners (with Lester Young) of Birdland Stars ’56, which played in twenty or more European cities, some of which had hardly recovered from the war by the time of their arrival. Most of the players saw themselves as emissaries of not just jazz but its modern movement, which must have still seemed new to most concert attenders.

Also, once Powell moved to Europe in ’59, he gravitated to those modernists who were (or soon to become) resident there (Don Byas, Oscar Pettiford and, most important, Kenny Clarke) or were visiting. As Powell, in his only extant interview of any length (done in October 1955), can be heard to talk of “crusadin'” for modernism . . . then he probably saw his role, at least in his early year or years in Europe, as one of promulgation.

And, when it came to such promotion, he never tired of putting forth Monk tunes, which he can be heard playing, live and in studio, when and wherever he played in his European years.

As for the issue that you raise, of the dating of unissued material:

Francis Paudras was a terrible record-keeper. He loved Powell so much but, once he returned to France without him, he suffered badly from the separation. He felt that he had failed in his goal, to fully resuscitate Powell’s career and make him a healthy person. I can’t be sure, but I think that Paudras went through a period when he tried to put the Powell part of his life far from his mind.

If I’m right about that then, when he returned to thinking of their time together, he found that he hadn’t kept any type of diary or other reliable account of what had happened to him and Powell, and when and where it had happened. He had a lot of personal effects and memorabilia from their time together, but he had a hard time sorting things, as to when and how he came by them.

This made his writing of the time that they’d had together difficult. Notice that his memoir, La Danse des Infideles, wasn’t issued till nearly twenty years after Powell’s death (so, eighteen years after they’d separated). By then, a lot of the details of their experiences had become blurred.

Also, Paudras wanted to be seen, in history, as having been the primary person in Powell’s life for longer than he had been. With this acting on him, he backdated such as the informal recordings, to make it seem that he and Powell were intimate enough — as you say, in 1961 — for Powell to have agreed to Paudras taping his playing and speaking.

It’s very unlikely that Paudras taped anything of Powell at the apartment that he lived in in rue Boursault, which he didn’t leave till July or so of 1963. It was a very small place; he was embarrassed to have Powell stay there overnight, so he paid for him to stay in a hotel — on those very few nights when Altevia Edwards agreed to let Powell visit Paudras and, then, stay away from La Louisiane for the night.

It’s not clear that there was a piano at the rue Boursault place but, even if there was, there’s no evidence that the two spent enough evenings together for Paudras to have had the courage to ask if he could record him. For much of 1962, recall, Powell was playing in other countries, and nowhere in Paudras’s memoir or in conversation with me did he say that he was with Powell at a train station or airport, taking him to or picking him up from some other country . . . which a loyal fan, who had a car, would have done if he were close to his idol.

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2 thoughts on “Readers of WAIL Have Their Say

  1. Thanks for posting! Bud was an incomparable genius and it’s amazing to me that his style remains the benchmark for jazz pianists today. Like Bill Evans said: ‘nobody could measure up to him.’

  2. A great read , In regards to Mr Paudras I remember well his film series at the 1988 Montreal Jazz fest -it was a week of his home movies! Wonderful shots of Bud being wisked around Paris and many visits to airports, the best being to pick up Thelonious-not sure of that year. it seemed to be very heartfelt, Paudras was at the festival and introduced all the films sadly only in french.
    Peter have you seen any of these films? and where are they now? maybe the mysterious trunk?
    all my best/”Bright Moments” congrats on a great book ..Craig

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