In early spring 1958, Joe Gordon abruptly left Boston for California. His last known date with Herb Pomeroy was March 18. The story has it that he stopped by the Stable to tell Pomeroy he was leaving town, and he left that same night. Allegedly Joe owed a drug dealer money, was told “pay up or else,” and fled. It might be true, it might not, but the story conforms to the generally accepted Gordon narrative.
Gordon was strung out when he arrived in Los Angeles, but he found work with the help of drummer Shelly Manne, who became one of Gordon’s strongest supporters on the West Coast. Joe gigged with Dexter Gordon and Hampton Hawes among others. He also married Irma, whom he’d known in Boston, after arriving in L.A., and he later named one of his better-known tunes for her, “Terra Firma Irma.”
“Whaddya need? I’m on a deadline.” Thus would begin my first phone conversations with Nat Hentoff, the jazz lover, journalist and self-described troublemaker who died in his New York City home on January 7, 2017. He was 91.
That was Hentoff’s standard gruff greeting, and all who heard it quickly learned there was no time for small talk. You asked your question, got your answer, and went on your way.
This changed when I asked him about Counterpoint, a newsletter that he wrote and produced in 1947. He asked how I learned about it, and I told him that the Dorothy Prescott Papers in the Library of Traditional Jazz at the University of New Hampshire had an almost-complete set. That got him started—Dorothy had been a good friend and fellow member of the Jazz Society, a group of enthusiasts who staged concerts in 1944-46. The long-forgotten Counterpoint carried me past the deadline greeting.
Sometimes it’s all about the buzz, and so it was at the Hi-Hat on December 29, 1949. Buddy DeFranco was in town for a long stretch over the holidays, and he was a hot commodity at that time. Down Beat published the list of winners of its annual readers poll in the last issue of the year, and that hit newsstands while DeFranco was at the Hi-Hat. Beat readers voted him the number one clarinet man, and it wasn’t the first time, either. DeFranco had won every year since 1945.
With DeFranco were vibist Teddy Charles, pianist Harvey Leonard, guitarist Perry Lopez, bassist Teddy Kotick, and drummer Frank DeVito. Boston guitarist Frankie Rue led the house trio that alternated sets with DeFranco’s sextet.
Ray Barron was Down Beat’s Boston correspondent in 1949, but journalism wasn’t his strong suit. Public relations was, and he saw the timing of the Down Beat award as an opportunity. He arranged to have the award presented to DeFranco at the Hi-Hat, and for the presenter to be none other than Boston Pops maestro Arthur Fiedler.