My friend Scoop used to be a big jazz critic. He was syndicated. Down Beat begged him for pieces. He had his own radio show. Scoop sat on panels and judged young talent at festivals. His tightly written, well-documented report on jazz behind the iron curtain was praised by Time. Even the musicians themselves respected his opinion. Praise from Scoop meant something for a jazzman's career. No more. Blame The Blues Project. And blame Jennifer, his teenage daughter, who talked him into taking her to the Cafe Au Go Go to hear them.
At the time, most people around jazz were very up-tight over rock. "Those kids only know three chords in one key, they can't keep even elementary time and they are dreadfully out of tune," Scoop had written only a few weeks previously, without ever having heard live rock. Rock, you see, was taking the audience from jazz, and it was feared and resented. So imagine Scoop's surprise. He came away terribly excited and wrote an article about it that very night. "Not only might there be an entire new school of jazz starting through rock, but it might also pave the way to an exciting amalgam of jazz, folk, electronic, baroque and God knows what else— a popular music of unprecedented quality.
There is no denying the energy, enthusiasm and honesty of The Blues Project. Their sound is so refreshing. To be frank, I am becoming tired of the old 'mainstream' jazz formula. Here is something else: young music with open end possibilities. The Blues Project swings in an improvisational format and they continually strive towards personal expression. But the most exciting thing is the young, exuberant audience. Maybe jazz has become complacent. I realize this is unorthodox coming from a jazz critic, but I like rock and roll, at least as played by The Blues Project." Well, it hit the fan. Fan mail turned to hate. "I see you've sold out. How much did they pay you to write that?" wrote a reader from LA.
An unsigned letter from Dallas began, "People like you should be electrocuted. Critics should be more aware of their responsibilities. In my book you are a complete fink." Fellow critic I. M. Hipp published a rebuttal; "I'm sick and tired of Mr. Scoop telling us how wonderful The Blues Project is. I for one prefer intelligent music..." And so on. It was the first time his judgments had been questioned and it threw Scoop badly. But he followed his instinct anyway and arranged an interview with Danny Kalb, the original leader of the group. Kalb's intelligence and lucidity impressed him as much as the music.
"There are immense possibilities for synthesis in the kind of music we are playing," Kalb said. "It has a potentiality and even the reality right now of being both a high and a low art. The danceability makes it accessible to everybody, and the juke box has been opened to poetry. There is almost no limit." Scoop pursued it despite the scoffers; he would convert them. He began paying close attention to the new rock releases. He heard the Coltrane licks in Eight Miles High by the Byrds and wrote about them with high praise. In an interview, Hugh Masekela told him he was fed-up with the snobby, provincial jazz world and Scoop quoted him, agreeing.
He wrote a no-star review of a George Shearing release in Down Beat, concluding: "The Blues Project is closer to jazz than this music." People ought to listen, not categorize. Quality is quality regardless. Why was the Establishment so defensive and prejudiced? He hammered home his point in column after column. "The Blues Project is playing some of the most exciting, contemporary and just plain musical music of our time, no matter what name it is called by. While 'serious' composers wrestle with electronics intellectually, while jazz players struggle with 'new concepts' of time and melody, the truly valid sounds of our time are coming from rock, which is improving all the time. It will get much better. And The Blues Project is leading the way." Their first album sold 22,000 copies before the first ad ran in Cash Box. And Underground music - music which thrives without benefit of Establishment support - was born.
The Project proved the potency of the "coffee house" market; that word-of-mouth could be enough to sell quality and originality. Now the Project is completed. The work has been done. The guys are going on to other groups, new challenges. This will be their last album together. But years from now when people talk - and they will - about individual members of the Project, perhaps retrospective critics will conclude that, like Picasso, some of their best work was done during their Blues period.
The music has, of course, gone everywhere Scoop predicted, and further. Leonard Bernstein has come out in praise of rock, as has Miles Davis. Scoop has been vindicated. His column is now called "Scoop on Pop" and its syndication has doubled. But he cannot go into a jazz club without fear of salty stares or hostile remarks. And he's lost most of his old friends. Like I said, blame The Blues Project.
by Michael Zwerin (for New York's Village Voice)
1. If You Gotta Make A Fool Of (R. Clark) - 4:31
2. Calypso (Andy Kulberg, J. Roberts) - 3:46
3. Frank And Curt Incensed (J. Gregory) - 3:26
4. Turtledove (Ar. Andy Kulberg) - 3:24
5. Mojo Hanna (A. Williams, B. Paul, C. Paul) - 3:26
6. Nairt Aes Hornpipe (J. Gregory) - 2:06
7. The Endless Sleep (J. Reynolds, D. Mance) - 3:53
8. She Raised Her Hand (Andy Kulberg, J. Roberts) - 3:39
9. Dakota Recollection (R. Blumenfeld, R.Greene, J. Gregory, D. Kretmar, A. Kulberg) - 12:27
The Blues Project
*Andy Kulberg - Flute, Bass, Piano
*Roy Blumenfeld - Drums, Percussion
*John Gregory - Guitar, Vocals
*Donald Kretmar - Bass, Sax
*Richard Greene - Violin, Strings
Other Blues Projects
1966 Live At The Cafe Au Go Go
1973 Reunion in Central Park