THE DOZENS: KRAZY KATS by Alan Kurtz

“America is a mistake,” declared Sigmund Freud after visiting the U.S. in 1909. The contempt was not mutual. With typical gusto, Americans mass-marketed Freud’s anti-puritanical obsession with sexuality into a revolution in national mores. To ease the transition, Freudian practitioners treated damaged psyches as non-judgmentally as automotive repair, and at similarly inflated prices.

Even jazz was not immune. Freud’s victorious war on Victorian taboos hastened the Jazz Age’s headlong hedonism, with abundant employment opportunities for syncopating musicians. Soon jazzmen were returning the favor. Legendary New Orleans cornetist Buddy Bolden (1877-1931) spent the last 24 years of his life confined to the state Insane Asylum at Jackson, and thus never recorded. Later, Stan Kenton and Charles Mingus voluntarily entered psychotherapy. Others, such as Charlie Parker and Bud Powell, found themselves involuntarily committed to mental institutions. Denny Zeitlin bridged both worlds, as psychiatrist and moonlighting pianist.

Surveying a dozen collisions of jazz and psychiatry confirms the tenacity and resilience of deeply troubled men who, either with the help of modern medicine or through their own devices, defeated their demons long enough to impart music of lasting value. This triumph of the human spirit deserves recognition.


Frank Trumbauer & Bix Beiderbecke: Krazy Kat

Track

Krazy Kat

Group

Frank Trumbauer & His Orchestra (With Bix Beiderbecke)

CD

Bix Beiderbecke, Volume 1: Singin' the Blues (Columbia CK 45450)

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Musicians:

Bix Beiderbecke (cornet), Frankie Trumbauer (C-melody saxophone), Bill Rank (trombone), Don Murray (clarinet, baritone sax), Adrian Rollini (bass saxophone), Joe Venuti (violin), Frank Signorelli (piano), Eddie Lang (guitar), Chauncey Morehouse (drums),

Bobby Davis (alto sax)

.

Arranged by Don Murray. Composed by Frankie Trumbauer & Chauncey Morehouse

.

Recorded: New York, September 28, 1927

Albumcoverbixbeiderbecke-volume1-singintheblues

Rating: 92/100 (learn more)

Hollywood's Young Man With a Horn (1950), writes film scholar David Sterritt, is "loosely based" on Bix Beiderbecke and "explicit about the trumpet as a fetish." Any suggestion that Bix was sexually fixated on his cornet is pretty sick stuff, but nobody better embodied the self-destructive Roaring Twenties. Here Bix cavorts with another Jazz Age icon—Krazy Kat, feline focus of George Herriman's long-running newspaper cartoon. Surprisingly, this track is distinguished by its orderliness. Bix's languid legato presides over a businesslike ensemble about as wild & crazy as President Calvin Coolidge soberly invoking what Chico Marx called a "sanity clause."

Reviewer: Alan Kurtz


Charlie Parker: Crazeology

Track

Crazeology

Artist

Charlie Parker (alto sax)

CD

Best of the Complete Savoy & Dial Studio Recordings (Savoy SVY 17120)

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Musicians:

Charlie Parker (alto sax), Miles Davis (trumpet), J.J. Johnson (trombone), Duke Jordan (piano), Tommy Potter (bass), Max Roach (drums).

Recorded: New York, December 17, 1947

Albumcovercharlieparkerbestofcompletesavoy-dialstudiorecordings

Rating: 97/100 (learn more)

In 1946, after strolling naked through his L.A. hotel lobby, then igniting a fire while smoking in bed, Charlie Parker was committed to Camarillo State Mental Hospital for six months. In 1954, following two suicide attempts, he was evaluated at New York's Bellevue Hospital as an "evasive personality with manifestations of primitive and sexual fantasies associated with hostility and gross evidence of paranoid thinking." Who better, then, to explicate "Crazeology"? There's just one problem, Doctor. This track shows an engaging personality with manifestations of advanced, fully contextualized creativity associated with camaraderie and refined evidence of audacious thinking. Sometimes even paranoids have enemies.

Reviewer: Alan Kurtz


Stan Kenton: Monotony

Track

Monotony

Artist

Stan Kenton (piano)

CD

The Stan Kenton Story (Proper Box 13)

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Musicians:

Stan Kenton (piano),

leading a 20-piece band featuring Buddy Childers (lead trumpet), Laurindo Almeida (guitar), Eddie Safranski (bass), Shelly Manne (drums)

.

Arranged by Pete Rugolo. Composed by Pete Rugolo & Stan Kenton

.

Recorded: Hollywood, October 27, 1947

Albumcoverthestankentonstory

Rating: 95/100 (learn more)

In 1948, at the pinnacle of success, bandleader Stan Kenton—who at his wife's urging had entered psychoanalysis—announced his intention "to give up music and become a psychiatrist." Kenton soon reconsidered his projected 12-year metamorphosis, and returned to music. "Monotony" shows Kenton's fascination with the obsessive-compulsive repetition of Ravel's Boléro (1928) that led French neurologists to detect (65 years postmortem; ain't science grand?) "the influence of progressive cerebral disease on Ravel's creative process." No doubt the more original an artist, the better a target for the shrink squad. But what's crazy about repetition? What's crazy about repetition? What's crazy about repetition?

Reviewer: Alan Kurtz


Bud Powell: Hallucinations

Track

Hallucinations (aka "Budo")

Artist

Bud Powell (piano)

CD

The Definitive Bud Powell (Blue Note 40042)

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Musicians:

Bud Powell (piano).

Composed by Bud Powell

.

Recorded: New York, February 1951

Albumcoverdefinitivebudpowell

Rating: 99/100 (learn more)

During a 1945 fracas resulting in his arrest for disorderly conduct, Bud Powell was reportedly bopped on the head by what author Scott Yanow calls "racist police," who thus caused the mental illness that haunted Powell for the rest of his life. Frederick J. Spencer, M.D., though, is unconvinced. "How much this affected Bud's behavior is debatable, as he had been mentally disturbed prior to his arrest." Whatever its cause, Powell's irrationality produced several psychiatric institutionalizations, one lasting a year and including electroconvulsive therapy. How, then, to explain the illimitable lucidity of "Hallucinations"? On this track, Bud's the bop Descartes.

Reviewer: Alan Kurtz


Thelonious Monk: Nutty

Track

Nutty

Artist

Thelonious Monk (piano)

CD

The Complete Prestige Recordings (Prestige 4428)

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Musicians:

Thelonious Monk (piano), Percy Heath (bass), Art Blakey (drums).

Composed by Thelonious Monk

.

Recorded: Hackensack, N.J., September 22, 1954

Albumcovertheloniousmonk-completeprestigerecordings

Rating: 96/100 (learn more)


     Charles Delaunay and Thelonious Monk, 1954
                   Photo by Marcel Fleiss

The eccentricities of certain artists are essential to their mystique. One such is Thelonious Monk. Despite an unfailingly protective family, the so-called "Mad Monk" had repeated run-ins with psychiatry. During one 30-day hospitalization, he was diagnosed with "unclassified schizophrenia." Evidently Monk's madness, like his music, was too weird to categorize. "Nutty" shows why shrinks threw up their hands when confronted with the peculiar potentate of percussive dissonance. Trying to pigeonhole Monk is as futile as tossing Cracker Jack at your mouth on an upside-down merry-go-round. Here, Art Blakey's drumming shows he understood Monk better than a phalanx of physicians. Suspend analysis, kick back and groove.

Reviewer: Alan Kurtz


Sun Ra: Medicine for a Nightmare

Track

Medicine for a Nightmare

Artist

Sun Ra (piano, electric piano)

CD

Greatest Hits - Easy Listening for Intergalactic Travel (Evidence ECD 22219-2)

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Musicians:

Sun Ra (piano, electric piano), Julian Priester (trombone), John Gilmore (tenor sax), Art Hoyle (trumpet), Pat Patrick (baritone sax), Wilbur Green (electric bass), Robert Barry (drums),

Jim Herndon (tympani)

.

Composed by Sun Ra

.

Recorded: Chicago, February 1956

Albumcoversunraandhisarkestra-greatesthits

Rating: 69/100 (learn more)

During a mid-1950s concert for mental patients at a Chicago hospital, a chronic catatonic rose from the floor, made her way to the piano player and uttered her first words in years. "Do you call that music?" It was a fair question. No stranger to disbelief, pianist Sun Ra had visited Saturn as a teenager, and later renamed himself after the Egyptian sun-god, Ra of Heliopolis. (Well, why not aim high?) With a keyboard technique reminiscent of Imhotep wielding mummified fingers, Sun Ra doesn’t tickle the ivories so much as scuffle with them. His sidemen are fine, but Sun Ra is more nightmarish than medicinal.

Reviewer: Alan Kurtz


Lambert, Hendricks & Ross: Twisted

Track

Twisted

Group

Lambert, Hendricks & Ross

CD

The Hottest New Group in Jazz (Columbia/Legacy C2K 64933)

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Musicians:

Dave Lambert (vocals), Jon Hendricks (vocals), Annie Ross (vocals),

Gildo Mahones (piano), Ike Isaacs (bass), Walter Bolden (drums)

.

Composed by Wardell Gray and Annie Ross

.

Recorded: New York, August 6, 1959

Albumcoverlamberthendricksandross-thehottestnewgroupinjazz

Rating: 100/100 (learn more)

In 1952, Annie Ross's hip vocalese narrative of a crazy chick and her outmatched shrink, set to tenorman Wardell Gray's 1949 "Twisted," was marred by cheesy organ backing. In 1959, the "hottest new group in jazz," as Down Beat dubbed vocal trio Lambert, Hendricks & Ross, redid "Twisted" sans organ, and nailed it. Striking a blow for mental health by refusing to listen to her analyst's jive, twisted sister Annie Ross wittily punctures the pseudoscientific claptrap of psychoanalysis, which was big in 1950s America. If Freud hadn't died twenty years earlier, he would've been driven ineluctably, irretrievably mad upon hearing "Twisted." Roll over, Sigmund, and tell Alfred Adler the news: Two heads are better than one. And three heads, in the persons of Lambert, Hendricks & Ross, are best of all.

Reviewer: Alan Kurtz


Charles Mingus: All the Things You Could Be By Now If Sigmund Freud's Wife Was Your Mother

Track

All the Things You Could Be By Now If Sigmund Freud's Wife Was Your Mother

Artist

CD

Charles Mingus Presents Charles Mingus (Candid CD 9005)

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Musicians:

Charles Mingus (bass), Eric Dolphy (alto sax), Ted Curson (trumpet), Dannie Richmond (drums).

Composed by Charles Mingus

.

Recorded: New York, October 20, 1960

Albumcoverminguspmingus

Rating: 100/100 (learn more)

"All of us who stay sane," reflected Charles Mingus after seeking treatment at Bellevue and being locked up for his naïveté, "stay inside our own cages all the time." Mingus spent years in analysis and even had his psychotherapist write liner notes for The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady discussing client C.M.'s "recurrent themes of loneliness, separateness and tearful depression." Here, Mingus's 1960 quartet with the brilliant Ted Curson and ever-astonishing Eric Dolphy deconstructs a series of Chinese boxes devised by the leader to challenge musicians and listeners alike. Mingus could no more be caged than King Kong.

Reviewer: Alan Kurtz


Mose Allison: Your Mind Is on Vacation

Track

Your Mind Is On Vacation

Artist

Mose Allison (vocals, piano)

CD

I Don't Worry About A Thing (Rhino R2-71417)

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Musicians:

Mose Allison (vocals, piano), Addison Farmer (bass), Osie Johnson (drums).

Composed by Mose Allison & Audre Mae

.

Recorded: New York, March 15, 1962

Albumcovermoseallison-idontworryaboutathing

Rating: 95/100 (learn more)

In the culture-clash of jazz and psychiatry, shrinks have gotten short shrift. Mose Allison, however, plays Devil's advocate, enacting the role of long-suffering clinician who's endured more bellyaching than even the highly compensated can tolerate. "You're sittin' there yakkin' in my face," declares Dr. Allison at wit's end. "I guess I'm gonna have to put you in your place." Technically called counter-resistance, this can seriously impair the doctor-patient relationship. But when delivered with Mose Allison's Laid-back Sage of the Mississippi Delta aplomb and set to his funky down-home piano, such in-your-face attitude is delectably therapeutic.

Reviewer: Alan Kurtz


Duke Ellington: Madness in Great Ones

Track

Madness In Great Ones

Artist

Duke Ellington (piano)

CD

Soul Call (Universal/Verve 2735)

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Musicians:

Duke Ellington (piano),

and a 15-piece band featuring Cat Anderson (trumpet), Jimmy Hamilton (clarinet), Harry Carney (baritone sax), John Lamb (bass), Sam Woodyard (drums)

.

Composed by Duke Ellington & Billy Strayhorn, citing “Madness in great ones must not unwatch’d go.” (Shakespeare, Hamlet, 1602, Act 3, Scene 1)

.

Recorded: Antibes Jazz Festival, Juan-les-Pins, France, July 26, 1966

Albumcoverdukeellington-soulcall

Rating: 96/100 (learn more)

COURTIER: My liege, our esteem'd Duke of Ellington is by madness possessed. He doth protest to all who would hear, "I love you madly." KING: O, what a noble mind is here o'erthrown! COURTIER: Pray hasten his confinement to the lair of loons, whence he may be shrink rapt. KING: Get thee to a punnery! And fetch me headphones that I may with royal ears attest his madness. (Listening) Why, this be magnificent, so gracious is the time in Duke's solo. Thence Cat Anderson's lofty trumpet awakens as cock to the morn. Let all our imperial jazzmen be thus beguiled!

Reviewer: Alan Kurtz


Phineas Newborn, Jr.: The Midnight Sun Will Never Set

Track

The Midnight Sun Will Never Set (aka The Midnight Sun Never Sets)

Artist

CD

Solo Piano (Collectables 6372)

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Musicians:

Phineas Newborn, Jr. (piano).

Composed by Dorcas Cochran, Quincy Jones & Henri Salvador

.

Recorded: Memphis, TN, January 1974

Albumcoverphineasnewbornjr-solopiano

Rating: 94/100 (learn more)

"If I had to choose the best all-around pianist of anyone who's followed me chronologically," Oscar Peterson decided, "undoubtedly I would say Phineas Newborn, Jr." After a promising start in the mid- 1950s, Newborn's recurring mental meltdowns led to confinement in the Jazz Wing at Camarillo State Hospital and elsewhere, continuing intermittently until his death at 57. "The Midnight Sun Will Never Set" may have been a beacon of clarity in Phineas's fog, but if so we are fortunate to glimpse it. With such artists, it's better not to dwell on what might've been, and savor instead their gifts, however fleeting.

Caveat: "The Midnight Sun Will Never Set" is often misnamed "The Midnight Sun Never Sets," perhaps due to Quincy Jones having written it in the back of a cab, as recounted by Jazz.com's David Tenenholtz. Rest assured it's the same song, which in any case must not be confused with "Midnight Sun," a 1947 melody by Sonny Burke & Lionel Hampton to which, in 1955, Johnny Mercer mentally added lyrics while driving his car home from Hollywood to Newport Beach. (What is there about midnight suns and moving vehicles?) I hope all that's clear. You will be tested on this later!

Reviewer: Alan Kurtz


Denny Zeitlin: Recovery

Track

Recovery

Artist

Denny Zeitlin (piano)

CD

Slickrock (Max Jazz 209)

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Musicians:

Denny Zeitlin (piano), Buster Williams (bass), Matt Wilson (drums).

Composed by Denny Zeitlin

.

Recorded: Brooklyn, NY, August 23, 2003

Albumcoverdennyzeitlin-slickrock

Rating: 93/100 (learn more)

"Recovery" is a rest-stop between two strenuous movements of Denny Zeitlin's suite "Slickrock," which depicts the rigors of mountain biking. Besides playing an unmodified acoustic piano from the keyboard, Zeitlin attacks the innards of his instrument directly and even employs a prepared piano with metallic objects inserted between the strings. Altogether, the effect is daunting. And appropriately so, since Zeitlin is not only a pianist, but a psychiatrist, for whom recovery also means guiding a patient up the sheer cliffs of mental health, which can be more grueling than mountain biking. In either case, recovery is hard.

Reviewer: Alan Kurtz


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