Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Langley's Basin Street (continued from last post)

Most of Reggie’s stories came from a guy in his apartment building, a cat named Raymond, who remembered Central Avenue when it was a jazz destination and another guy around the corner who had worked as a cashier at Dolphins of Hollywood, the coolest record store in Los Angeles.

Reggie found my copy of Roach/Brown at Basin Street and looked it over. He kept staring at the back of it and then showed me something I’d never noticed before: the name written in blue ink. I’d bought the record used—at Rhino—and knew someone’s name was at the bottom there, but never bothered to read it.

“Langley Patterson!” Reggie said, and I realized that I owned an LP that had once belonged to my favorite late-night jazz DJ. He had been stabbed to death on his way to work less than a year before.

Reggie didn’t ask me how I had ended up with Langley’s record. He cradled the record jacket, studying it, then slid out the LP and handed it to me.

We listened to Clifford Brown swing with Sonny Rollins, Max Roach, Richie Powell and George Morrow. At first we kicked back and gave ourselves over to the frantic splendor of the music, but Reggie couldn’t get over the fact that we were listening the grooves of Clifford Brown’s “I’ll Remember April” that Langley had once put the stylus to.

A tragedy within a tragedy—and a very small but somehow important piece of jazz history.

He said sometimes it was hard for him to listen to Clifford Brown without getting really sad. Or Lee Morgan—who got shot and bled to death during the first tune of his first set at a club called, of all things, Slugs—or the largely overlooked Joe Gordon—who burned to death in a house fire less than a mile from where we were sitting.

He said that his neighbor had told him about a tape some recorded the last night Clifford Brown played and how that tape survived the crash that killed Brown (along with pianist Richie Powell and his wife). Said Max Roach had ended up with the tape but for years couldn’t bear to listen to the last sounds of a man who died when he was only 25 years old.

I’ve never been able to verify that story—and have seen evidence that suggests it’s fairly inaccurate—but for me, in those moments, kicking back in my living room with a guy I barely knew and listening to Brownie, there was a truth to that story that transcended whether or not it had happened that way.

The story stayed with me for years—and would become the initial inspiration for Now’s the Time.

Reggie handed me the record jacket, like he knew I wouldn’t really want to part with this particular copy of this album.

But I did—I thought Reggie should have it.

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