Table of Contents
If you are a regular reader you will notice that over the past few issues we have gone through some changes.
We say rest in space and peace, Mr. P.
There really was a blues renaissance going on here. The young guys were learning, showing respect for elders, being really excited to be playing with guys who had those stories of the old east side blues scene. They talked about T.D. Bell and the Cadillacs.
Listening to elder Austinites talk about the old days, it's easy to envision the East 11th and 12th Street corridor as the heart of a once vital and healthy community.
Business As Usual by Stazja McFayden
It was business as usual,
Saturday evening, Eleventh Street,
dark, bad, dangerous side of town.
Somebody told me that's where jazz was.
All I could find was business as usual,
buildings boarded and silent,
music over and gone,
sidewalks littered and cracked.
hungry carnivorous entrepreneurs, loitering,
hovering, hanging on corners,
leaning on lampposts
doing what Daddy said
those people always do.
Predators oiled and tense
waiting for prey, ready to pounce, watching the traffic
and here comes this white woman
driving alone in a black Saturday night convertible
stopping to turn around
in the seamiest market in town.
Vendors surrounding, dealing direct to the user
calling it nose
White woman courteous manner
just says no.
Driving away, 200 horsepower sales resistance,
leaving with blues
in my eyes
missing the jazz,
swallowed alive by crack
in jungle sidewalks.
composed by men on the street
conducting business as usual.
Editor's Note by Harold McMillan
Thanks once again for picking up and reading Austin Downtown Arts.If you are a regular reader you will notice that over the past few issues we have gone through some changes. For one, we are working on a new look. This is issue is not exactly where we will end up in terms of design. But we are definitely on our way. Most of that is due to our newest family member, Ricardo Acevedo. Ricardo is our new Art Director and will be responsible for steering our search for a new look for the mag. Your feedback on how we are doing, what you like and don't like is appreciated.
I also should mention that the interviews contained in this issue were done ten years ago as part of our Blues Family Tree documentary project. Photos used are the work of T.O. Petitt and Diane Watts.
The great thematic poetry in this issue largely comes from a locally published book of verse called Heritage Blues. We thank the publisher, Stazja McFayden for permission to reprint. If you like the poetry, and want to support the Heritage House, Heritage Blues can be purchased at 810 East 13th. Proceed go to the preservation of the Heritage House.
The Ghost of East Eleventh Street by Marvin G. Kimbrough
The ghost of East Eleventh Street hovers from IH-35 to Rosewood Avenue
Crossing Branch, San Marcos, Waller, Whelles,
Curve, Lydia and Navasota streets
He hovers in warm, mid-morning mist
Listening for blues and jazz and love songs live--from the Victory Grill,
the Black Cat, Charlie's Playhouse, the Cotton Club and Spañada,
Sounds mingling with the aroma of sausage from Deacon Jones'
and Mary Neighbors' pits and breakfast bacon from Southern Dinette
and the fresh smells of rising dough
for sweet rolls and coffee cake from the bakery--and hovers
Searching for the culture comforts of barber shops,
beauty shops and more barbecue,
hovering, he seeks the cheap burial insurance companies,
shoe shops and car shops, the office of the black female doctor,
Deluxe Hotel, the Masonic temple with the classic columns, he hovers
Searching for tiny footprints of boys and girls
Boys and girls who walked East Eleventh Street on Sunday morns
Going to Sunday school at Ebenezer Baptist
and Metropolitan African methodist Episcopal churches--
Boys dressed in knickers and Buster Brown shoes, new from Dacy's
and girls, girls in dresses of organdy and dotted Swiss and pique.
Boys and girls who stopped at the corner grocery to make prime decisions--
To spend the Sunday school money then--
or wait until church was over and spend it a Lawson's Ice Cream Parlor
The ghost of East Eleventh Street
Hovers from IH-35 to Rosewood Avenue
Crossing Branch, Sand Marcos, Waller, Wheeles,
Curve, Lydia and Navasota streets
He hovers in warm, mid-morning mist
Homegoing for "Homeboy" by Rashah A. Carson
On August 23rd, Austin lost music legend Mark "Pat" Patterson. Originally from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Mr. Patterson has been blowing up some storms in Austin for a decade. I first heard his exceptional trumpet playing when I was taken into the heart of the East Austin music scene by Leon Anderson. Mr. Anderson took me to the East Side Lounge in 1991 to hear the legendary East Side Band. The band was super tight with vocalist Sugar Williams, yet what truly struck these ears were the two trumpeters, Mark "Pat" Patterson and Donald "Duck" Jennings. Their precision and punch surely made this the best blues band in town.
It was great to meet the band that evening which consisted of Ural Dewitty (who has also gone to play with that great "Orchestra in the Sky") on drums, Clarence Williams on guitar, George Walker on bass (I think), Luis Thompson on tenor and baritone sax, Miss Williams, and the two excellent trumpeters.
Upon talking with Mr. Patterson, I realized this guy was a giant in the rhythm and blues music world. Mr. Patterson played, recorded, and toured extensively with Joe Tex, Etta James, Hank Ballard and the Midnighters, and he also sat in with members of the J.B.'s and Dizzy Gillespie. Austin was indeed fortunate to have "Homeboy" (as many of his close compadres called him) as part of the local music scene.
One of the first local music projects he performed in was an R B group called the Freedom Machine who performed many of the R B chart toppers of that period. Mr. P. (this is how I addressed him) later went on to perform with Joe Valentine, Blues Boy Hubbard, and the East Side Band, with whom he was most committed.
Mr. P. Runs Down The Voodoo! It's September 1991 and I get the word that one of my music heroes had just left the planet. Yes, Miles Davis had joined the "Orchestra in the Sky!" I had truly been inspired by the music and sheer perseverance Miles had displayed throughout his career and felt compelled to present a music tribute to him. I called another Austin legend Martin Banks to do the trumpet for this tribute and he said, "Ah man, I got a gig that night, call this guy right here. His name is Pat Patterson and he can do if he is available." Having heard Mr. P. play only blues and R B, I wondered if he could in fact play all the Miles Davis music that I envisioned being performed at this tribute. However, when he came to our first rehearsal, which I think took place in the living room of Harold McMillan's 12th and Marfrais house, everyone was floored when he put in the must and played "All Blues" so close to the tone and feel of Miles it was spooky. At that rehearsal he told me that Miles was one of his main men on the trumpet and that he had followed his career extensively. On November 11, we did "A Tribute to Miles Davis" at The Continental Club (thanks again to Steve the owner) and Mr. P. played the music so beautifully, it still brings a tear to my eye. "All Blues," "Round Midnight," "So What," "Freddie Freeloader," and more modern tunes like "Jean Pierre," "Amandla" and even a fifteen minute version of "Bitches Brew" (which I remember electric bassist Harold McMillan asking if it was sacrilegious to play that tune). Yet played them Mr. Patterson did...to the max.
It was at this show that he became my favorite musician in Austin. I also had great love and respect for him as a person. He was always giving great advice and one piece he gave me changed my life forever. After the performance was over, he said in his classic way, "See, what we need to do is keep on practicing and playing together, because this group sounds good together." Following that advice was the beginning for Cosmic Intuition. With members Joseph Marchione, Richard Price, and several others, I was pushed into my first experience of leading a band playing primarily original tunes given to me by the creator. I am forever grateful to Mr. P. for that suggestion and for his playing the that band. It's funny because when I asked folks to bring in a tune for the band to play he brought in a slammin' arrangement of Bob Marley's I Shot the Sheriff, which became a standard in our repertoire. I'll never forget the humorous face with stretched eyes that he made when we did our first (Sun Ra inspired) totally outside improvisations. Although I could tell this was not familiar turf for him, he jumped in and once again blew everyone away.
At one point, Mr. Patterson suggested that we bring in his other half, Mr. Donald "Duck" Jennings, to play with the band and man, that was the shit with both of these guys. The band never sounded better and I remember us performing one of their favorite ballads, the Count Basie Orchestra standard, "Girl Talk." I never heard two musicians so in sync. "Duck" and "Pat" played around Austin for just about a decade and we send our best out to Mr. Jennings, who I know is missing his partner like we couldn't believe. I only hate the fact that my ever-growing intolerance for cigarette smoke did not allow me to go catch them more at the East Side Lounge, where one could hear them not only playing trumpet, but singing as well. Pat made a trademark out of the old blues standard "Feel My Leg," complete with theatrics and humor. I am glad that Mr. P.'s trumpet can be heard forever on recordings with The Texas Trumpets and The East Side Band, and with some luck, you might even hear his prominent horn on a Cosmic Intuition Live CD.
We say rest in space and peace, Mr. P. We all love and miss you even though you are still with us in spirit. Have a safe and blessed homegoing! I'm sure Miles has slid over and made a space for you in the brass section, in that most wonderful, ever-growing "Orchestra in the Sky."
A Sista Plays A Beat by Maria Fulgham
Do you hear me?
I have that quiet voice
shouting identity to the world,
walking with rhythms from Africa
in my hips,
singing a heavenly gospel
gleaming my mocha
natural beauty on the outside,
kinky hair flowing,
into a powerful
jig I do with my neck.
Blasting the blues
feeling tribal rings
on my toes,
under my feet,
I'm the forbidden fantasy,
a chocolate re-treat
but you just hear my rhythmic melody,
I want you to feel my soulful BEAT.
I'm Your Jazz, Man by Marvin G. Kimbrough
I'm your jazz, man
I'm the tune your daddy played on a beat-up second-hand trumpet
The cold pork and beans/sardines out-of-the-can jazz
The toe pattin', heel stompin' jazz
The cold coffee/stale cigarette, slow-sweet/hot-fast jazz
The midnight to dawn/dawn to dusk/24/7 jazz
I'm your jazz, man
The jazz your grandma couldn't stand
The jazz your mamma tolerated
The jazz your woman embraced with you at 2 a.m.
The smooth jazz, man
I'm your jazz, man
The big band jazz, cafe jazz, radio jazz, stage and alley jazz
I'm the Philadelphia, Chicago, New York, San Francisco
New Orleans Preservation Hall jazz
The Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Ben Webster, John Coltrane
Jazz, I'm your jazz, man
The Austin, Texas jazz. the Clarksville Festival jazz, the East Eleventh Street jazz, Victory Grill jazz
The Black Cat jazz, The Rosewood Ramble jazz, the Marie Tea Room jazz
The piano tickling jazz, the juke joint, juke box jazz
The Margaret Wright, Earnie Miller, Martin Banks, James Polk, Beulah Jones, Pam Hart jazz
I'm your jazz, man, concieved in the guts of your soul when you were African
Reborn, in this US of A, as your essence, your raison d'etre, the meaning of your existence, you, I am your jazz, man, I am you
In Still Sweat by Ricardo Avecedo
Lullaby spine sits so supine
Lulled into the mode
Ignore the caffeine lick wet in your ears, a dose of, chaggering carnivore thought. My mine wheezing to jazz lung triplets. My wors fall off my tongue in twelfths, add it up, add me up, to this multiple of dust to dust, as rhythm falls prey to this rondelet of breathing.
No key unlocks this mystery
No voice singing free of coil
No thing twines or swes this land
This is Jazz
Matrons fall abusive of the groove, filling virgins with glory, with the light..er than air awareness of their skin.
Pick the never ending in a wince. We came to bounce a hip...painfully exacerbate this smile for the miles after this trip. The chase has come home to roost.
Different tunes in mode of grin. Teeth shap the Ha Ha's distant to the hope for days past this refrain, but this excape is nasty as nasty thinks. Hope me hopem rattle shack, palsied dance shuffle replse, transposing faith in to us grooving like slow washing machines. Purge the days stains with dangerous claaping hands of rhythm one to the other one, one to the other.
In sweat I still feel clean,
Cuz, this is Jazz
Interview with Martin Banks by Harold McMillan
I played Anderson High School band, the first Anderson here. There wasn't but one high school. And all my family played music. My father played trombone and that was my first instrument. When I was in L.L. Campbell Elementary School I used to leave and walk over the Anderson High School to band practice. I started playing in the band when I was in the...out of the 6th grade into the 7th. My father played with bands around here that I was too young to really know. I think I used to hear them practicing at grandmother's house. And I had an uncle Mitchell who was a Pullman porter, he's here in town now. He played trumpet. I liked the trumpet. From the way he played -- I just liked trumpet, I didn't like trombone.
My first year of junior high school I was able to switch to trumpet in the band. Mr. Joyce was the band teacher here, he taught my father too and Kenny Durham and all -- he was the band teacher and they all made fun of me because I was the smallest thing in the band and I couldn't reach the 7th position on the trombone so...so they made fun so I hid that trombone in a sewer pipe, there on Chicon there was a sewer pipe. From that I was able to get a trumpet from my uncle Mitchell. And my other uncle played trombone, Larou Mays. I lived with him in San Francisco when I finished high school.
I played first trumpet in Anderson High School band. Due to segregation it was the only high school and we had the largest band, we had a 150-piece band, and we won, yeah, we won the state champion contest every year from the time that my father was in the band.
I remember I was put out of the band, one time or a couple for trying to play jazz you know. You hear something and you go to play it, the band teacher, Mr. Joyce...well he didn't know anything about that and he couldn't show it to you. But he showed you the rudiments of reading. I was trying to play licks, and every time I'd hit a lick, pow! Mr. Joyce would put me out of the band. And that's the reason Mr. Joyce put me out of the band, because he believed jazz was bad, and I knew that see? 'Cause my father played in the band under him, and I'd hear things as a kid.
You know, they didn't hire no music teacher in no black school, so you volunteered your services. That's what Mr. Joyce was doing. He volunteered his services and whatever he said, didn't nobody say nothing. All at once the band was winning contests. We used to march for the University of Texas. Whenever they needed a band, like they having a major parade, we'd be like the front line, different little shows and things. But we had like the best band in the state of Texas 'cause we were regimented into reading certain things where we didn't know what we were reading. 'Cause we wasn't taught theory.
That's all Mr. Joyce...that's all he taught. I don't know if he knew theory or not, but...and they sure didn't have it in no schools...no black schools. They had it at Austin High School, but they didn't have it at Anderson. That's the reason there's not too many musicians out of Austin. Only ones that are had to leave here. You couldn't stay here and be one.
I was trying to learn how to play jazz because I'd heard something on the radio here like...the only radio station I grew up listening to was Lavada Durst. He had a show that came on I think at ten o'clock at night called Blues In the Night. Every now and then he would play some jazz, see, and I heard this trumpet playing on this...I said "That's the kind of trumpet." But I didn't hear it around here. "OK now," I said, "that's the kind of trumpet I want to play." So we used to go to the Harlem Theater, that was the only theater, that was before the Carver. In between the main attractions they had some inserts of, what do they call it,...it was like a news type thing. They used to have Duke Ellington's band playing. I said, "there it is again." So I'd go to the movies just to see the little coming attractions or what not.
We used to have a place called the Doll House where we used to get hamburgers, and the Harlem Theater, we couldn't go downtown to no theater. The Ritz, they did, the Ritz would let black people in. It was a Mexican theater. Down on 6th street, and black people could go in and sit upstairs. But I never went there because I was too young.
But the Harlem Theater, East End. That was the end of the line for the bus when I was a kid. And I vaguely remember a street car. Used to have a street car that ran up 12th Street to Chicon; used to turn around on a circle, 'cause when I got to San Francisco and looked at those trolley cars, I said, "Hot dog, that's the same way they turn around a street car in Austin."
And...I finished high school and went to San Francisco and I got to hear it for real then from a guy named Jesse Hawkins from St. Louis. He began to try to help me, so we had a little group that played around -- Fred Smith, saxophone, see he taught school here in Austin too. Frank Hanes, Johnny Mathis, Merle Sanders, Eddie Moore. Those are the guys--well they had a place there too called Bop City and Jackson's Nook where all the Jazz guys from New York would come to San Francisco and play and they would all go to this place after hours for a jam session. That's where I got to meet Max Roach and Clifford Brown.
In college I lived around the corner from the best jazz club in Los Angeles during this time. That's where all these guys -- Dexter and Harold and all of them played, and I was able to play with them every night around there. Well it was a heyday during that time as far as black jazz music. Wasn't no money hardly. But guys even from New York was coming out there staying. And down there I ran into all those other guys--Dexter Gordon, Harold Lan, Elmore, Billy Higgins, Don Cherry, Arnette Coleman, Hubert Laws, the Jazz Crusaders, Ellis Marsalis, it seemed like in '55 and '56 all those guys came to Los Angeles. They were in and out all the time because Los Angeles was rough on musicians you know. I got to play with all those guys out there. I still wanted to go to New York see, because that was where I really heard the trumpet sound that I liked, where Clifford Brown was...and all the music from New York, it sounded different from Los Angeles.
Luckily Ray Charles hired me and I got a chance to go and tour with his band. I never will forget with Ray Charles, we played shows at the Howard Theater and the Royal and the Apollo and I had a little opening solo in front of the band. And I'd already been in Redd Foxx's band in Los Angeles. They used to have a thing called the Redd Foxx Revue. Red was showing me some things about New York 'cause that was his, you know, he was raised there, and I started kind of moving my things to New York, 'cause the next job was with...I got a job with Earl Bostic. Boy, he is the most phenomenal saxophonist you ever heard. I had to go try to get the rest of my things in Los Angeles and relocate, went back to Los Angeles to get my stuff together and Lloyd Price came to town. Somehow I got to play with them in Los Angeles at the Balfour Ballroom, that was a big thing during that time. So I played with Lloyd Price, so he hired me. And from there, from Lloyd Price I joined the first Motown Revue. So before I could get a real good foothold in New York I went to Detroit to join Motown. But the circuit went to the same theaters. Chicago, Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York.
The last one was always the Apollo theater, you see. So we got back to the Apollo theater there was another trumpet player there from Austin I didn't know named Gil Asky. He was playing in the house band then, at the Apollo. I got to meet him. He wanted to get out of New York. He left with Motown and left me in his place at the Apollo. In the house band. And I was there 9 years. And every major black musician came to the Apollo. So I was able to play behind all of them and made records with them. And everything was going good. I played with just about everybody.
Up All Night by Harold McMillan
This is another installment from the Blues Family Tree Project Oral History Archive. This month we continue with my interview with Martin Banks, from 10 years ago. Here Martin talks a bit more about his life in the jazz scene in New York, his stint in the house band at the Apollo, and his advice for young Austin players who want to breakout onto a larger stage. I hope you enjoy the read. And be sure to check out Martin playing around town with Slim Richey's Dream Band and the Jazz Pharaohs. 'Till Next month.
HMc: Tell me more about New York.
Martin Banks: I had to get to have a base, so I had to stay in New York, Living there and playing there. And every major black musician came to the Apollo. So I was able to play behind all of them and made records with them. And also, another guy from Texas, King Curtis, I was in his band. We made all those things with Aretha Franklin and stuff. That was in New York, and everything was going good. I played with just about everybody.
HMc: Was King Curtis connected to Austin?
MB: King Curtis was from Fort Worth, and I met him in New York. He was over [at] Atlantic records and we made all those records. In fact, the guitar player just left Austin, Cornell Dupree; we were all in the same band. Cornell and Eric Gale and Bernard Purdy -- and Chuck Rainey, he's from Texas too.
HMc: This was the Apollo band?
MB: No, this was King Curtis' band. By me playing in the house band in the Apollo, we worked like three weeks a month and we were off a week. So during that week off I was able to play with any band that came through there that wanted to augment, like B.B. King. All those things. Plus, they had a jazz show once a month. I was able to play with all the singers. In fact, when I was in Los Angeles I played every summer in Las Vegas. I played down there every summer for four years! The first time I played behind a girl from Austin named Donetta. She used to be with the Redcaps. She lives in Baltimore now.
See, she was older than I. I didn't know her here in Austin. She was older. My mother knew her. My first trip to Las Vegas, by me being able to read music out there and playing around, well, I got the job to go. Well, I would go to Las Vegas every summer to play behind all the black acts that the Flamingo would have. I played behind Herb, Brook Benton, Della Reese, and my favorite was Sarah Vaughn. I played with the great Billy Mitchell Sextet; they hired me in California. That was another reason I knew I had to get to New York. I had to do it. I said, "Hot Dog!" Just standing next to Sarah for six weeks! Yep! But when they got back to L.A., I was still trying to get...that was before I joined Ray's band. There was music out there. But in New York I was able to play at the Apollo. And during that time people [were] making records, everybody was making records. Singers, you know, everybody. I was on staff at Atlantic Records, plus all the other record dates around there. I was on call all the time! I was playing lead trumpet too, because I played lead with Lionel Hampton's band, and able to work.
HMc: So, you got busy pretty much as soon as you got out of here?
MB: Yeah. Well, the kind of music I had in my ears that I wanted to try to play wasn't here. And I wasn't old enough, like 14, I wasn't old enough to go nowhere by myself. We used to sneak around to Georgetown; that was a long way, in high school. But I went to Houston a couple of times, but I wasn't old enough to go in no clubs or anything. But I used to hear a band...they had two colleges here, one named Sam Huston and Tillotson. Okay, Sam Huston had a very good jazz band. Bert Adams -- he's still here -- he was over there. I have a lot of respect for him. He had the best band! Oh, they had a band over there! I couldn't go in the band rehearsal, but I could stand outside on the little cliff and look over at the auditorium at the band rehearsing. And I remember some of the names of the guys in the band, like Leroy Cooper playing baritone in the band; Leo Wright was playing alto -- he later played with Dizzie Gillespie you know -- in fact, he just passed too.
Yeah, and playing around all those bands, I was in Count Basie's band six times. I was trying to live in New York, I didn't want to go on the road, see. Fact, now I know really I was a prisoner in New York. I didn't really find that out until Duke Ellington hired me, and I found that I couldn't go out of town. So, that's when, I don't know, I had drinking problems and all kind of stuff through hanging, you know, but that was during -- those were heydays in New York. Play with or behind just about every black artist you can name. Frank foster, he was just here. In fact I used to sit in with... George Benson and he used to have a group, him and Ronda Keywood and them. During that time New York was live. Sugar Ray Robinson had clubs; there was clubs all over Harlem. 'Was really jumping, then all at once it seemed like somebody threw a bomb in there and just blew it all apart. Five years, it was gone.
HMc: Mid '60s?
MB: In the 1960s, yeah. '60s it was happening. And then all at once everything just kind of shut down. And also while I was at the Apollo, I couldn't work the show as a permanent person, so they had to hire three trumpets, for one to take each other's place when they out. So by me playing at the Apollo, I was able to play that show half of six years. I made all those Hair records. It was happening during that time. I got to meet all those musicians. Went to Europe a couple of times back then.
HMc: When you were doing all this, what did you think about Austin?
MB: I never came back to Austin until now. See, from Los Angeles I went straight to New York. From here to San Francisco to Los Angeles to New York. And I was in New York for 25 years non-stop. And any band that I played with never came here. One time Lionel Hampton came here. But I had already left his band when he came to Austin. But nobody ever came this way! They'd go to Europe and all up and down the East coast and even California, nothing ever came...
HMc: Didn't come to visit, not even holidays?
MB: I never had time. I didn't have time. I did, I came once from Los Angeles in the '50s, because that's when I came here and come to find out that Fred Smith that I went to college with in San Francisco was teaching school here in Austin, in my home. That's when I met James Polk. He was here, see. He was here. I think Bobby Bradford...I got to meet him then. I think he was here. But he left right after then and went to California. I missed him because I moved to New York. But I've seen him since then, I believe.
HMc: That's Carmen's father?
MB: Yeah. Helluva trumpet player! He and Ornette Coleman hook up together all the time. Bobby, I think, is teaching.
HMc: Let me backtrack just a little bit. When your father was playing, was he playing with the Johnny Simmons Orchestra?
HMc: What years was that?
MB: I was a baby, so I guess it was...I was born in 1936, so it must have been '38 or '40, about '40-something. Mother's got a picture, and I remember it too, when my dad was on the road with one of those bands then. He came through and I took a picture with him. My mother has a picture. I was on a bicycle, and Johnny Simmons died during that time I believe. His wife and my mother, they were good friends. Josephine. I haven't seen him. Supposedly he was the piano player around here during that time.
HMc: What was your father's name?
MB: Martin, Senior. He just passed...how long have I been, I've been here three years. I guess he passed last year. He was living in San Antonio; he didn't play anymore.
HMc: What do you think the state of black music is in Austin right now?
MB: If there is a state, it's the worst. "If" there is a state. It hasn't been really focused on in the black community, see? And`the media, you can't...you hear jazz two or three times a week for an hour. Or like kids coming up, they can't be up at no twelve o'clock at night to listen to no program. But then I believe it's a thing in your ear, too, that you really want to do something. But if you heard it all the time, maybe you would want to more, but I don't know. There's something in you, I believe, that wants you to play a particular...you like a particular kind of music. 'Cause I played first trumpet in Anderson High School band the whole four years, well, three years I was there. The last three years I played first trumpet in the band. There was three of us. Due to segregation it was the only high school, and we had the largest band. We had a 150-piece band, and we won, yeah, we won the state champion contest every year from the time that my father was in the band. See, they won the contest. But they had just black schools.
HMc: They went to Prairie View?
MB: Prairie View for the contest, yeah. I went there at least three times. I remember, I was put out of the band one time or a couple, for trying to play jazz, you know? You hear something and you go to play it. The band teacher, well, he didn't know anything about that, and he couldn't show it to you. But he showed you the rudiments of reading. Then from reading you've got to try to put stuff together for yourself. Fred and all them...Fred, he would go to San Francisco. He was from Bryant, Texas. His father lived in San Francisco. So he was able to hear coming up, but there wasn't any jazz played hardly. Lavada Durst would play some sometimes, you know, but it was strictly like blues-type show because Lavada Durst is a piano player. I don't know...I remember his son, Lavada Jr. He was on the radio before Tony Von. See, Tony Von was a latecomer to me. 'Seemed like Tony Von came here after I left or shortly before I left.
HMc: His name has been brought up in the '50s, late '50s.
MB: Yeah, see I left here in 1953. First day out of high school, the next day I was on the Katy train to San Francisco. Boy, going from Austin to San Francisco, I couldn't find my house! I'd go to the store and come back and couldn't find my house! All of them looked the same and they all tied together. We lived in the middle of the block. All of them painted the same color. Boy, I had problems trying to find my house! 'Finally found my way to Fred Smith and Johnny and them. But then we lived in the Fillmore district. We all in the same community. We had a little theater called the Ellis Theater. That's where I played with Fred Smith and them. We won the contest there, Frank Roberts playing bass. He's a friend. He's still out there. Merle Saunders was playing piano, but he got drafted. No, he joined the Army...he joined the Air Force. He left. And we used to play down at Black Hawk on Sunday evenings. They had a little jazz thing down there, I guess, a little jam session.
HMc: I'm just interested to know: how did you suddenly get to San Francisco and have such a great time?
MB: 'Wasn't no great time!
HMc: Austin wasn't such a bad town was it?
MB: I was too young to really even know. I remember...see, Leo Wright and them, they were older than me, and I couldn't go in nightclubs. The only thing I used to hear was George Alexander. He's another trumpet player that was here in the band. I think he teaches in Oakland now. They used to have a band down on 11th Street. Leo Wright, George Alexander, and another guy named Blue out of Houston, James Clay, Leroy...well, it was the Sam Huston band, you know? And they used to play down there, and they were playing the kind of music I wanted to hear. That's when I really got to hear it, when they were playing down there. Then again, I was so young I had to sneak out then. The policeman, Juan Jones, lived around the corner from the house. So, if he sees me out there...yeah boy! If he sees me out there, he's sure going to tell my mother!
MB: But, I got put out of the band first thing, see? My mother and them sent me out there. They knew that I wanted to try to play. I guess she talked it over with my uncle and things, you know, because I was trying to play licks. And every time I'd hit a lick, POW! Mr. Joyce would put me out of the band.
HMc: If it ain't on the paper, don't play it?
MB: Yeah. Yeah. But just so happened out there, just wasn't no reason to come back here. When I did come back and Polk and them were all playing, I really did think about staying. But I had to go back to Los Angeles; I was married at the time and had a kid. And before I could really think about coming back here, they were out there, see? So, New York was the place. So I got to play with everybody I ever dreamed of. Duke Ellington was really the thing, and it just happened that he hired me. Like after Hair, there used to not be no black shows and all that, see? The shows were at the Apollo Theater. After Hair they started hiring and having black shows on Broadway, and that's when Harlem started going down.
HMc: 'Seems to be a common thing. One of the things that we've been talking about...
MB: Vicious circle, it's a circle.
HMc: James Polk and Pat Murphy talked about it a lot, how times were hard 25 or 30 years ago in the black community, but there was some amount of community.
MB: Yeah. Well, integration tore all that up, see? And integration is just a word. It's no such thing as no integration! How you gonna integrate with somebody with money and you don't have no money? And everything is run off of money, so anybody that print money has a say-so over you, you know? And so, communities can go up...like New York. It went from sugar to shit in five years, you know? All of a sudden cocaine was dropped into the middle of there, and people around there couldn't afford no cocaine. So where did that come from? All of a sudden, BAM! You know?
HMc: It's not a mistake?
MB: No, it's not a mistake! No! No! It's just...I don't know. Urban removal, that's what I call it. Things start happening.
HMc: The time period you're talking about is mid '60s or so, when you feel like Harlem went into another decline?
MB: 1970s. Yeah, about like 1972. That's when it really, it really slumped. Well, I came here. That's right, I came here in 1971. I came here in 1971 and stayed two years. And 1973, before I went back to New York, I took my kids. I went back to California. And while I was in California, that's when I got a job with Disney. And Disney hired me and shipped me to Florida with Disney World. So I stayed in Florida five years. From Florida I went back to New York. And when I got back to New York, it was entirely different than what it was in the '60s.
HMc: I wonder if the same story happened in all the major cities in the U.S.?
MB: Yeah, yeah, look like it.
HMc: Black folks were thinking post-integration, everything's going to be all right.
MB: Oh, man! Look, how long have you been fighting for civil rights? Traveling through Europe and East and Africa, you really see another kind of life. It's like music here. I tell kids coming up to come by and talk to me. I told him [Chris Searles], "Say, you have to leave here and go somewhere else to hear something, because you are really not hearing nothing here." What you hear is off of a record or something, so you have to play it just like that. But something like, as far as playing drums and the kind of drums he wants to play, go to New York and listen to some guys play, since you like that kind of music. Go there and just listen.
HMc: And find a gig?
MB: Naw. No! It's a multitude there. If you don't like this, you can go here. And [there are] people practicing all the time. Living music. Might not have no limo or nothing like that, but you have an instrument and subway fare.
Otis Sing Fa-Fa by Stazja McFadyen
Otis Redding sang the "Sad Song" --
And Otis don't mind if I come down,
get next to him and sit awhile.
I tell him they call me Miss Pitiful now. Otis knows. He sang that song
a long time ago.
We don't have much new to say,
Otis and me. Just sit there day after day. Finally I turn to Otis, I say,
I know you know these arms of mine
are lonely. Otis knows.
Otherwise, what would I
be doing down here
with a blues man
dead as Holiday?
Otis say, "Baby, you know
what you done wrong?"
I hang my head and tell him yes,
I didn't give him enough respect.
Don't matter what "him" I meant.
Otis knows a woman lose one man,
she think she lose them all.
He just break a smile and sing,
Up All Night by Harold McMillan
Twenty years ago when I first moved to Austin, if anyone asked me what I did, I'd answer that I was a social worker-a reformist-angry-young-man social worker who'd probably go on to law school after grad school. I was here to learn how to work inside the system too do something about poverty, injustice, racism, oppression. I was a humanist with an agenda, armed with high ideals and youth. I was gonna change the world, mind you, as a socially conscious lawyer in Texas. My training from the University of Texas School of Social work, my experience as a social service planner, my knowledge of history and sociology was gonna equip me to go into law and hammer down, beat up the bad guys in suits; especially the ones in government, higher education, housing and finance. My time at the great University of Texas, in the Texas bastion of liberalism, Austin, was gonna get me ready to take on the world. To me, a kid fresh out of East Texas State University in Commerce, all this made perfect sense. Austin's hip, right?
The first clue I got was when the School took me out of the fast track program (before I'd even had a single class) I'd qualified for and put me in the two year program. They told me they were doing it for my own good. Being a new black graduate student at UT, they understood that I was underprivileged, culturally deprived-through no fault of my own, mind you-and not really prepared to do graduate work at the great University of Texas.
The next clue I got was when we were introduced to the new dean and he proudly identified himself as a Nixon Republican. A Nixon Republican dean of a social planning and welfare graduate school at UT in 1979, in the South, in the Capital of the Texas. At that point, it was beginning to smell just a little bit. But hey, I was young. I was gonna get in there and fight the system. Fresh out of ETSU, I was sure I could take on the school of social work and UT and win. I'd just change them and then
About that time I was also getting around town a little bit playing bass with blues and R&B players. I met a lot of folks, mostly a mix of young white guys newly into blues and older-than-me black folks who had been doing blues in Austin for a long time. At that time the whole blues thing in Austin was on the upswing. It seemed like there was a new Austin sound developing. There were a lot folks playing blues and there were gigs to be had. Most gigs barely paid, others paid in beer and food. But the thing was it seemed like at any minute the blues thing was gonna blow up and happen. And there would be gigs that would pay.
The Antone's crew was already getting national attention. The east side clubs were mostly long gone. And young west side entrepreneurs were opening clubs and booking blues. Big Scotty still had his joint on Nueces and Brooks was around the corner on Sixth Street. Blues was the next big thing in Austin. Sixth Street was transforming into a hot spot. And there was lot of blues jamming going on. Young folks, white folks, old folks, black folks. There really was a blues renaissance going on here. The young guys were learning, showing respect for elders, being really excited to be playing with guys who had those stories of the old east side blues scene. They talked about T.D. Bell and the Cadillacs.
"Where was T.D., anyway?"
"Oh, he had retired from playing. Was still here in Austin, but running dump trucks or something. Sho' was a good guitar player, in his day!"
"What about the old clubs?"
"All these cats had stories about Charlie's, and the Shack, and the IL."
"You know, Bobby used to come down to the Victory every Sunday. And Johnny Taylor, that cat loved to gamble. Carried a gun to his gigs."
"And they say Billie Holiday came to the Victory back in the early '50s. Ike and Tina used to come through here all the time,too. And Joe Tex and Etta James. In fact, W.C. used to play bass for Joe Tex. And Home Boy used to be with her, Etta. And Hank Ballard, too. In fact, let me see, I think Homeboy was on the road with Joe Tex when he decided to just stay in Austin."
"And after T.D. started to move around more, Blues Boy took over at the Victory. That cat was hot back then. Him and Dewitty was always a good match. Hubbard played the licks and Dewitty sang them Bobby Bland tunes while keeping that double shuffle going the whole while. In fact, both T.D. and Hubbard used open up for folks like B.B. and Bobby at the Victory and then provide the band for their sets a lot of the time. But that was back in the old days, when East Austin Blues, was THE blues in Austin."
Those stories were great! Us young cats really felt like we had made the connection to the right folks here in Austin. Playing with folks who had REAL blues credentials, a history, direct connection to the real stuff.
When folks like Major Burkes or Hubbard talked about the jazz guys, they always talked about Gene Ramey, Martin Banks, James Polk. Gene was very old school. Recorded with Jay McShan, Charlie Parker, all of the Kansas City players. Then he was in New York, too. And by the way, Kenny Dorham used to live right down the street, on Rosewood I thiink. And back when Burt Adams had the Sam Houston Collegiates, now that was a good group of player who can through here. James Clay, Bobby Bradford. Leo Wright was here somewhere in there. And, man, Johnny Simmons had some hot bands! And don't forget about the Patterson Brothers. Yeah, seems like before that, everything went back to Mr. Joyce. He didn't like no jazz playing, but he taught just about everybody who could read, to play around here. Martin, Duck, Pat Murphy, just about everybody.
See back then, we had it going on over here. East Avenue was the tracks. Anderson was the high school. Huston-Tillotson was the college. Dubois came to speak here. Adam Clayton, Thurgood Marshall. Nat King Cole came to play one time and ended up taking some HT players with him to do the next leg of his tour. But that was all we knew about. That was just life on the East Side. It was important to us, but it isn't the kinda stuff you can go and research at the American Statesman. They didn't particularly care what we were doing. Well, they did cover crime. We got in the paper when we messed up, went to jail, killed somebody. Well, that's not true either. We didn't get in the paper if it was just one of us, killing another one of us. But, we did have a real, connected community. Maybe we didn't think of it as culture. It was our life in black East Austin.
Now, back to my story. I was a young kid here in the early eighties, a graduate student, a bass player learning to hang with the blues guys, wanting to hang with the jazz guys. I heard all of these stories, jammed with all of the great players who had been playing for so long, folks who had music credentials that far pre-dated the Antone's scene, Piggy's, the Elephant and all the clubs that have come since. By then Gene Ramey had come out of retirement to jam and teach here in Austin. James Polk and Martin Banks were back in town, too. And the more stories of the old days that I heard, the more confused I was about what I found happening here in the local scene.
See I was a young bass player wanting to hang out and learn. And if you recall, I was also an angry-young-man-reformist-humanist-social-worker-lawyer-to-be who was ready to change the world. My goals, my agenda for social change is very much based in cultural change. It's the same conversation, it's the same issues set against a slightly different backdrop. But, really, it's the same conversation.
It become pretty clear to me that there are enough lawyers in the world. There are too many lawyers in Austin, Texas. The law could make it just fine without me. Social work has not missed me either, I'd suspect. There are enough lawyers here. There might even be enough angry young men, generally. But sometimes I think there are not enough folks who are motivated, yes angry, about the questionable status of our cultural legacy. And please hear this: That ain't about race (unless it is also about race), it's about culture.
Believe me, white boys can play the blues. But they should not be the only blues players getting work. Latinos are perfectly qualified to run blues and jazz clubs and organizations. But in a city as large as Austin, shouldn't there also be some black folks who invest in our culture in those ways was well. White folks are not beating us over the head and saying, "now, don't y'all go and invest in East Austin. Don't preserve the East 11th Street Cultural District. If you're gonna invest in Austin, you gotta take your money (and your interest) to another part of town."
On the other hand, there have been, for years, cultural gatekeepers here in Austin that did in fact limit black musicians' access to gigs, to jobs, to media coverage. The East Side club scene died and the music moved across town. The problem is that in too many cases the musicians were not invited to make the move with "our" music. In this very town I have witnessed blues festivals that included no black folks on stage. Jazz clubs that rarely booked black players. And a local music industry (clubs, festivals, radio stations, the press) that is deeply invested in purveying what at one time was indeed African American cultural expression, but somehow those folks don't include a significant number of black faces.
All of this was motivational to me. I have my critics on the way I've chosen to address these issues. To some folks I'm a racist who books too many black players on my shows. To some I'm just a brother making all kinds of money and trying to keep it all for myself, asking musicians (and the community) to participate without having enough money to pay what they are worth. And, to some extent that last one has some truth to it. There have indeed been times when my goal of being able to provide good pay for my projects' participants has come very short of being realized. And that for me continues to be the most difficult aspect of this whole enterprise.
However, as you read our little magazine here, that is for issue the Austin Jazz and Arts Festival's publication, please consider some of the work that has come out of DiverseArts. And please know that our track record doing cultural work in Austin would not be possible without the hard work of sponsors, volunteers, area businesses, and at this point literally hundreds of musicians, other artists and technical people who share our vision of what cultural parity might look like in Austin. Know that we do appreciate the support we get, thank you for it, and need the support to increase if we are to continue and get better.
And, just so you know what we have been up to for the last 12 years, getting rich in the non-profit art organization business: at least for one week annually we have provided more stage time for more individual jazz artists than any other organization in town (clubs included); at least for two weeks annually, we have provided more concentrated stage time for more individual African American musicians than any other organization in town; we have the largest collection of archival video footage of Austin African American musicians of any other organization in town; we have the largest collection of archival photographs of contemporary African American musicians of any organization in town; we have the largest video taped and transcribed collection of contempory oral histories of East Austin musicians of any organization in town; during the last several years we were the first ones to produce concert featuring McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Smith, Kenny Garrett, Elis Marsalis, Mark Whitfield, Nicholas Payton, Charles Neville, Jason Marsalis, Ray Barretto, Roy Hargrove, and Oliver Lake; we produced concerts that brought Huston-Tillotson alum James Clay and Bobby Bradford back to Austin to perform for the first time since they left school; and, this little magazine you're reading right now is the only publication in town that writes about jazz in every issue.
Verities by Dr. Charles Urdy
Historic Restoration, Music Celebration Come to the Eastside
Listening to elder Austinites (I guess I qualify as one of them!) talk about the old days, it's easy to envision the East 11th and 12th Street corridor as the heart of a once vital and healthy community. ARA's Redevelopment Plan is the blueprint for bringing back the kind of small businesses, entertainment venues and beautiful homes that once thrived along 11th and 12th Streets. And, after countless delays caused by conflicting agendas and the need to convince the private sector to invest in East Austin, we are poised to break ground on the restoration of the Haehnel Building (a.k.a. Shorty's Bar).
We chose to begin the revitalization of the corridor with Shorty's for several reasons. Like the Victory Grill, Charlie's Playhouse, the Harlem Theater, Huston-Tillotson and Anderson High School, Shorty's evokes a multitude of memories for East Austinites. It has gone through a number of name and operational changes throughout the years. I ve talked to folks who remember it as a grocery store, a shoe shine parlor, a brothel (we re talking real history here) as well as a neighborhood bar where you could go get a beer and listen to the blues. The building was built about 1875, so it celebrates, along with Huston-Tillotson, 125 years. As we acknowledge the past, we also greet the future. ARA has signed a long-term lease with Balcones Recycling a business known for its civic responsibility and respectful community involvement to locate their worldwide corporate offices in the building.
In keeping with the community's desire to see East 11th Street reemerge as a family-oriented retail and entertainment district, ARA has teamed with Harold McMillan to produce the 12th annual Austin Jazz and Arts Festival right across the street from the Haehnel Building at the Victory Grill. The festival features a variety of national and local blues, jazz, gospel and world music. There will be a supervised children's activity area, vendors, information tables and of course, good food. We ve made arrangements for folks to be cool (as possible) and comfortable and we re looking forward to a kind of, well family reunion. Everyone involved in the planning process has worked hard (you should have seen the ARA board members and community volunteers like Ada Hardin and Susan Smith out clearing the lot last week!) and we all deserve a party. With appropriate ceremony and respect for the significance of how far we ve come against sometimes formidable odds, we ll hold our Groundbreaking Ceremonies kicking off the restoration of Shorty's at noon on Saturday, the 16th. And then, we re bringing the music back home, where it belongs.
It's a beginning, a significant beginning. Over the next couple of years, we plan to move steadily forward to rebuild the kind of community that our neighbors say they want the kind of community that once thrived along the corridor.
Most of the neighborhood folks who participated in a number of surveys about how they'd like to see the area developed envisioned 11th Street as a sort of village square, complete with coffee shops, bookstores, entertainment/restaurant operations, a dry cleaners, laundromat, office buildings and grocery store. Our survey participants and professional consultants cited mixed-use residential/retail and professional offices offering the services of doctors, lawyers, financial services, and perhaps even a bed and breakfast as a blueprint for 12th Street. As services are brought into the area, in-town housing will increase, bringing more families and financial stability to the area. There is a need for affordable housing, of course, but also a desire for more upscale homes that would attract back into the community professionals who left, looking for the types of homes their increased income could command.
This kind of expanded neighborhood village preserves the area's cultural and historic heritage while inviting planned growth. It allows the corridor to be linked to the Capitol, the State Cemetery and other historic sites in a way that attracts tourism to the area. Several artists and art dealers have expressed interest in locating in the area, adding a fine arts component that will further enhance the cultural emphasis of the corridor.
Everyone wants to live in a community where they feel safe and secure, have access to readily available goods and services, jobs and economic opportunities, attractive and affordable housing, and quality educational institutions. What makes all of this possible in any community, is an informed an involved citizenry. In fact, without active neighbors who take the time to stay abreast of neighborhood politics, none of this is even possible.
So, for the entertainment as well as the education, for remembering the good old days as well as bringing in the new, join us this weekend and celebrate what once was and what will be.
[Dr. Charles Urdy, former Mayor Pro-Tem, is the President of the Austin Revitalization Authority Board of Directors.]