Pianist Spike Wilner, the proprietor of Smalls and Mezzrow’s in New York’s Greenwich Village, sends occasional email newsletters about who is playing at his clubs. Now and then he includes sidebar items about things that interest him. It’s a list that jazz listeners may enjoy being on for the asides as much as for the schedules. Here’s an entry from a recent issue:
Been reading further from Eddie Condon’s (and Hank O’Neal’s) Scrapbook of Jazzwonderful anecdotes. But the best thing is the forward, which was written by none other than John Steinbeck, who it turns out was a good friend of Condon’s. They had a mutual admiration for each other’s work. Condon even tried his hand at some prose “in the style of Steinbeck”. I wanted to quote something from Steinbeck’s intro which made me smile:
I have known musicians – not as you have – but a little. They are the most confused, childish, vicious, vain people I know. On the other hand they are the most generous. Their wills are like those of children. Their cruelties have no more sadistic background than has a small boy when he pulls the wings off flies. Their domestic relations are a mixmaster type. Business confuses them, and so does politics. They almost seem in themselves to live outside ordinary law and common ethics. Now, the reason I am saying all of this is that it is also true that I know of no group which has such direction in work. They aim at excellence and apparently nothing else. They are hard to buy and if bought they either backslide into honesty or lose the respect of their peers. And this is a loss that terrifies them. In any other field of American life, great rewards can be used to cover a loss of honesty, but not with jazz players – a slip is known and recognized instantly.”
What astute observation from one of America’s greatest writers! I am thankful! – Spike
If that puts you in the mood for Steinbeck, maybe it’s time to reread Of Mice and Men or Tortilla Flat. If it puts you in the mood for Condon, click on the little white arrow in the frame below.
Condon, guitar; Will Bill Davison, cornet; Edmond Hall, clarinet; Cutty Cutshall, trombone; Gene Schroeder, piano; Cliff Leeman, drums; and Bob Casey, bass. 1952.