On the road with Ray Brown


I received a message from Jean-Michel Reisser Beethoven, former manager of bassist Ray Brown, among others. Elsewhere in Flophouse Magazine, Jean-Michel contributed great, enlightening stories about Ray Brown’s Bass Hit and pianist Jimmy Rowles. Jean-Michel was producer and musical consultant of many documentaries on the Muzzik channel in the ’90s, nowadays Mezzo, and hipped me to Ray Brown: Súr la route.

It was uploaded on YouTube on May 14, watch it here.

The documentary by Patrick Savey follows Ray Brown, one of the all-time great bass players in jazz, during his European tour in 1996. Musings about his career alternate with footage from his trio with pianist Jacky Terrasson and drummer Alvin Queen in the New Morning club in Paris. The trio is joined by trumpeters Roy Hargrove and Art Farmer, while bassist Pierre Boussaguet duets with the master. It is particularly gratifying, a bit of melancholy is involved as well, to see the lamented Hargrove, who passed away on November 2, 2018 at the age of 49, shine brightly in the presence of Boss Brown. Hargrove was a young lion and destined to become one of the figureheads of contemporary mainstream jazz. Besides, this band cooked!

Jean-Michel reflects on the tour and documentary: “Ray chose Jacky and Roy for those gigs. He really loved them a lot. Ray, Jacky and Pierre Boussaguet constituted the Two Bass Hit trio from 1988 till 1996. We wanted to have Johnny Griffin but he cancelled at the last minute. Then we asked Benny Golson, who was in Europe, but he couldn’t make it. So finally we asked Art.”

“It was the beginning of HD video. We only had 2 camera’s and a couple of mikes to do those documentaries those days, that was it.”

Súr la route is a great reminder of the hypnotizing rhythm of Ray Brown from Pittsburg, jazz giant, who played and recorded with Count Basie, Lester Young, Billy Holiday, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Milt Jackson, Sonny Rollins and many, many more and is famous for his long stint with Oscar Peterson.

Ray Brown passed away in 2002 at the age of 75.

Roy Hard Groove

ROY HARGROVE (1969-2018) –

A shiver went through the jazz world with the passing of trumpeter Roy Hargrove on November 2. Hargrove, who suffered from kidney failure, died of cardiac arrest in the hospital. He was 49. Few carried on the torch of real jazz as brilliantly, fiery and sensitively as Hargrove. When touring in Europe, Hargrove regularly performed in jazz club Porgy & Bess in Terneuzen, The Netherlands, birthplace of yours truly. Hargrove and Porgy’s management had a special rapport since the early nineties. Like many, Porgy is saddened by the loss of the acclaimed trumpet and flugelhorn player. Read an overview of comments on Hargrove’s passing below.

Trumpeter Nicholas Payton on his website:

“Y’all don’t even understand. I lost my spirit brother today. I remember I first started hearing about this dude when I was around 12-years-old. When I would hang out and get lessons from Wynton Marsalis, he would tell me about this cat around my age from Texas by the name of Roy Hargrove who was a prodigy like me. I didn’t meet him face-to-face for another 4 years or so, but as you can imagine, the excitement built in my mind. Who is this little mothafucka playing as much horn as me? In my mind, I was the only one. When we first met, I felt like I had reunited with my long, lost soul brother. I felt so much love for him instantly. Much in the same way I locked eyes with my son for the first time, there was a kindred feeling of family present from the jump.

Years later, Wynton had this series he started at Lincoln Center called the Battle Royale. He pit Roy and I against each other on the old standard called “Just Friends.” How ironic. Haha… Anyway, if you can find that tape anywhere, you’ll hear perhaps the most heated trumpet battle you’ve ever heard in your life. We loved each other, but we were going for blood. The vibe in the room was electric and it was very clear who the next two trumpet stars on the scene were to be.

That event signaled the start of the music industry doing everything in its power to create of web of conflict between the two of us. And like brothers, we fought over everything: the same record company, the same gigs, the same women. We kept each other in check and made each other our best selves. I couldn’t go anywhere without him right there. Even my big Grammy night when I thought I would one up him, he won his first Grammy the same night. That little mothafucka! lol

There aren’t many relationships like ours in the world. The closest I can think of is that of Magic Johnson and Isiah Thomas, or even better, Phife and Tip. The world got the best of the best because we both existed. And now he’s gone. It’s just me and it hurts beyond belief.

With every note, this brother dripped soul. In every phrase, he never let you forget you were listening to a Black man playing that horn. He inspires me to no end.”

Bassist Christian McBride on Instagram:

“I have no words over the loss of my dear brother of 31 years. We played on a lot of sessions together, laughed a lot together, bickered on occasion – and I wouldn’t change our relationship for anything in the world. Bless you, Roy Hargrove.”

(Parker’s Mood, 1995; Roy Hargrove’s Crisol, Habana, 1997; Earfood, 2008)

Photographer Nina D’Alessandro on Instagram:

“I remember being at Clark Terry’s house one night when Clark and Al Grey got home from the road. We were sitting around the kitchen table and Clark told us about a fourteen-year old trumpet player he’d just heard down in Texas. ‘Remember his name, Roy Hargrove,’ he said. ‘That young one is a Chosen One. He came into this world anointed.”

Wynton Marsalis on his website:

“We lost a true missionary and minister of our music this past week in Roy Hargrove.

Although he faced an uphill battle with his health over the years, it didn’t deter him or even slow him down from doing what he was undoubtedly born to do – minister through music. That he did until the end.

I first met Roy Hargrove in 1986 at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing Arts in Dallas, Texas. He was a 16 years old phenom playing lead trumpet parts with incredible accuracy and also improvising original solos with gleaming nuggets of melody swimming in harmonic sophistication with generous helpings of downhome blues and soul.

Roy played piano, wrote songs, sang and had a great sense of humor. To top it all off, he possessed an unerring sense of time, in the pocket at any tempo fast or slow. Kids in the school just loved him and were all excited about his great musicianship and about the magic they experienced everyday listening to him and playing with him.

He played with an unusual and infectious combination of fire, honesty and sweet innocence. The first time I heard him it was clear, he was an absolute natural with phenomenal ears, a great memory and tremendous dexterity on our instrument.

He was diligent about his playing technically and emotionally. Playing with an uncommon depth of feeling with a very developed internal sense of that which is unspeakable about the intimate. A Roy ballad was always exquisite.

Just as many in the continuum of our music poured information and aspirations into him, Roy gave selflessly to others, particularly to young musicians. He did everything he could to ensure that the circle would not be broken, at least not on his watch.

His participation on the scene in New York most reminded me of Woody Shaw. Roy continued Woody’s tradition of sitting in all around town and of playing, of encouraging everyone to play (not just with incredible solos), but with knowledge of songs and with advice and with just the feeling of “we are in this together and this is worth doing, and it’s valuable.”

While I am truly saddened as I write this, I am also encouraged by the life and the legacy that Roy left. He meant it.

Rest in Peace Baby.”

(Bobby Watson & Horizon, No Question About It, 1988 debut as sideman; Johnny Griffin, Chicago, New York, Paris, 1994; Johnny O’Neal, *In The Moment, 2017, last recording)

Guitarist Dan Nicholas on Facebook:

“Thoughts keep turning to Roy Hargrove and what we’ve lost.

Roy Hargrove made the scene. He showed up. As soon as his gig was over, he was out there at the next spot, hanging, playing, teaching, sharing, representing.

Roy Hargrove corrected other musicians when something was wrong or inappropriate to the music. He didn’t “vibe” them, he shared his knowledge and experience in an attempt to have the music better served. This is the furthest thing from hostility. It’s generosity. The few who take the effort and energy to do this make our music better.

Roy Hargrove dressed immaculately. Even if he was wearing jeans and Nikes, they were the right jeans and the right Nikes, and they complimented the rest of his outfit. He carried himself with grace and poise, and looked beautiful walking on stage before playing a single note. This helped draw audiences to him and made them more open to receiving his musical message.

Roy Hargrove led BANDS. His music was arranged. His sets had an arc, they had variety, they had drama, they went from one song right into the next, no bullshiting, no chance for the spell to be broken.

Roy Hargrove played standards. He loved the American Songbook and he dug deep into it.

Roy Hargrove played BALLADS. There’s a lot of them out there besides Body and Soul, many of the greatest songs ever written.

Roy Hargrove played MELODY. Sometimes just melody.

Roy Hargrove could play in any bag, any style, it was all just music to him. But when he spoke about learning, he continued to speak of Bird, Dizzy, Monk, Bud Powell, all of whom he felt were overlooked, and whose music he described as “the fabric of jazz.”

Roy Hargrove was all about the music. He didn’t seem to have much of an ego, at least as a musician. In a world of mercenaries out for themselves, he was a soldier in service to the kingdom of music. And music gave back to him unfailingly.”

(Roy Hargrove, 2017; Christian McBride & Roy Hargrove, late 80s; Roy Hargrove, Porgy & Bess, Terneuzen, early 90s)

I Loves You, Porgy

PORGY & BESS – Good clubs are a blessing for jazz musicians and, as a consequence, for the audience. Professional equipment, a fine-tuned piano, supportive management and atmosphere are all part of the attraction. Porgy & Bess, the famed jazz venue in Terneuzen, The Netherlands, which celebrates its 60th birthday in 2017, scores way above average. The passionate and welcoming handling of affairs by the team built around general manager Maja Lemmen, who has been associated with Porgy & Bess almost from the start, and the warm-blooded atmosphere are something else. Musicians from all over the world love to perform at Porgy & Bess.

Porgy & Bess was founded in 1957 by the Suriname-born Frank Koulen, who had arrived in Dutch Flanders with the Allied Forces in 1944. It started out as a tearoom but soon staged dixieland, and later on, modern jazz. Koulen, who passed away in 1985, was famous for organising street parades, a novelty in Holland. Porgy & Bess has hosted concerts by Chet Baker, Arnett Cobb, Don Byas, Art Blakey, Benny Golson, Ray Brown, Horace Parlan, Cedar Walton, Phil Woods, Lou Donaldson, Nat Adderley, Lee Konitz, Cecil Payne, Ray Bryant, Toots Thielemans, Philip Catherine, Christian McBride, Danilo Perez, Diana Krall and many others. Simultaneously, Porgy & Bess is a cultural institution that also stages roots music, classical music matinees and literary readings.

Porgy & Bess started off its year of celebration with the return of Porgy regular Roy Hargrove on January 14. In April, festivities continue as Porgy & Bess organizes a Mini Anniversary Festival. On April 20 the Dutch guitarist Anton Goudsmit performs with blues singer Phil Bee, on April 21 Ambrose Akinmusire, one of America’s greatest young trumpet players, performs with musicians from the Conservatory Of Antwerp, April 22 will see a cooperation of the Dutch pianist Bert van den Brink and the Greek pianist/singer Maria Markesini, and on April 23 the Belgian writer Tom Lanoye will mix jazz improv with literature.

For info and tickets, go here.

For my interview with general manager Maja Lemmen, go here.

Photography above: eddywestveer.com

Family Affair

Manager Maja Lemmen (70) has been taking care of business at the Dutch jazz club and cultural theatre Porgy & Bess ever since Eve bit the apple. She started out in 1960, when she had moved in with the family of Porgy founder, Frank “De Neger” Koulen. “But when I was 17, I wanted out. I was going crazy, you know how it goes, puberty! But Frank said, ‘you? You’ll never get out of this place!’ He was right. I was holding on to dear life, working hard and getting involved with the beautiful music called jazz.”

Early summer sun. Saturday’s shopping crowd is leisurely strolling in De Noordstraat, which, like many streets of our brave new civilisation, puts best foot forward to guard off the gulf of retail stores in favor of small enterprises. Clothing, shoes, household appliances, books, delicatessen… And, right in the middle, Porgy & Bess. The vintage bar, self-made floor, the painting of exotic black girls, pictures of jazz legends and the portrait of Frank Koulen on the wall. A jukebox underneath, tables in front of it. Terracota walls, various brass instruments hanging on the ceiling. The dark nightclub interior at the back of the club, the performance area, where the Steinway grand piano is hidden under a black sail cloth. Right in the middle of that area, Maja, Miss Porgy & Bess.

In 2017, the club will celebrate its 60th Anniversary. Quite a feat for a jazz club, to say the least. A cult hero of mythic proportions ever since he passed away in 1985, the Suriname-born Frank Koulen arrived in Dutch Flanders with the Allied Forces in 1944, married Vera van den Bruele and transformed their tearoom into a jazz cafe. With it, Koulen, the only dark-skinned person in town, hence “De Neger”, forever changed the cultural life of the medium-sized harbour city Terneuzen and the Benelux jazz landscape. Koulen, eternally short of cash but always brimming with ideas and socially conscious visions, introduced streetparades, staged Dixieland and modern jazz, as well as various cultural festivities. Lively entertainment for the youngsters of the day. After his passing, a dedicated army of volunteers and passionate sponsors rebuilt Porgy & Bess (also literally) from scratch and made Porgy & Bess what it is today, a world-wide known, highly acclaimed jazz club.

But what if Maja’s mother hadn’t taken a cab to fetch a ball of wool at Van den Bruele’s wool and linnen shop? One can only guess. “That shop was right in front of future tearoom and jazz club Porgy & Bess. We had recently arrived from Rijswijk. My mother had heart problems so she took a cab. Frank was working in the store and, curious as he was by nature, asked about her un-Flemish, big city accent. A friendly talk. Then, in that charming, pleading tone of his, Frank asked, couldn’t her daughter help out on Friday nights? That’s where I get into the picture.”

When did jazz come into the picture? Maja, adding a stirring touch to the story in the way old sailors recount a legendary shipwreck, explains: “Well, the Koulen family, including seven kids, was great, but it was quite a transistion of course. Then Santa Claus gave me a transistor radio. I had this sparsely furnished room, just a bed and a table, a footstool. So I took the little radio under my blanket, couldn’t sleep, it was about three in the morning and suddenly, I heard something…. Afterwards the announcer said it was John Coltrane. Dizzy spells, heart beating! That beat of Coltrane, and the inherent blues, amazing. It was Radio Brussel. The man said, ‘dear listeners, until next week.’ Yes! From that moment on, I was hooked. In an odd turn of events, I seemed to be taken by an invisible hand. And a voice that said, ‘come, come with me, you’re not alone anymore…’”

“When I got older, I started thinking about the background of jazz. About, for instance, Strange Fruit. I’ve heard it being performed countless times here, by Lillian Boutte for instance, but I never really thought about it, until one day it clicked. The hanging, the drama… It was a protest song at heart. An eyeopener for me. I think it also took Frank a while until he realised where he came from. From black men who’d had a hard time in a white world, essentially. That’s why he felt close to the black performers who came over. Initially, Frank was a straight New Orleans Jazz guy. One day Piet Noordijk played in Porgy. He had a row of saxes lined up on stage. Frank said, ‘Hey, you’re not going to experiment, right?!’” Maja laughs. “But when people like Hans Zuiderbaan and Frans de Ruyter programmed modern jazz, Frank also veered towards that style eventually. Improvisation, melody, but still recognisable mainstream jazz. The emotion of it, Frank dug that.”

Practically every musician I’ve met celebrates Porgy’s striking hospitality. Many compliments are written down in Porgy’s monumental series of guestbooks. Not a hint of hesitation on Maja’s part when she’s asked about its origins. Clearly, the good-natured, creative, fanatic import Terneuzen fellow, Frank Koulen, instilled a sense of pride and joy that remains in the minds of Porgy’s people to this day. “O yeah, that comes out of Frank. That’s an un-Dutch thing, you know. Frank is notorious for shaking the hands of every incoming customer. Talking about a welcome! As far as food and lodging go, it wasn’t a case of plainly setting up a table of cheese sandwiches. No, Frank cooked exotic meals for the guys, took them out and invented all kinds of ways to make them feel comfortable. It’s a matter of ‘giving’, you know. He raised and trained us in this respect, definitely.”

A good student, Maja, cum laude for sure. But it takes a responsive, giving soul as well, to keep it up for so many years. Lemmen turned into a true jazz ambassador, a temperamental host to both musician and audiences. At heart, it’s a family affair. “You may be right. Porgy, and the group of people attached to it, is like having a family. A sense of pride is involved. I keep meeting people who say that they’ve discovered the jazz life at our place. That’s wonderful! You know, a man named Joop van Tatenhove walked in here years ago. He had a father who was a regular visitor in the sixties and seventies. Joop, a seaman, had moved to Terneuzen, came in and said, ‘I would like to offer my services as a volunteer as a way to offer my gratitude for the fact that Porgy & Bess enriched the life of my father.’ Now, if that ain’t the power of music, right?!”

To say that Roy Hargrove would settle for an apartment near the Westerschelde sea is overstating, but the trumpeter’s kinship with the Porgy family is evident. He performed in Terneuzen as a young lion in the mid-nineties. Since then, Hargrove has made sixteen appearances at Porgy & Bess. “The European tours of Roy, and of other Americans as well, usually start or started in Terneuzen. It is a way for them to start off in a relaxed matter, settle down for a few days. Take bicycle tours along de Schelde. It reminds them of the Hudson, I think. Then they rehearse in the afternoon. That’s cool, here I’m tending business, filling fridges, making phone calls, and meanwhile listening to their music. That’s why I’m so rich!”

And, as an afterthought: “There might be a jam on Saturday before the official gig on Sunday afternoon.”

That’s a fact. Yours truly once attended an unforgettable jam, with Hargrove and Gregory Hutchinson leading a pack of local young heroes till the dawn’s surly light. It’s one of many great Porgy experiences. As a Terneuzen native, I spent many hours in Porgy & Bess and although up north for years now, drop in regularly. I’m grateful that the generous Maja and crew provided me and my friends with a great, warm-blooded place to hang out; with a stage for jam sessions, performances as a singer and the release party of a novel. Moreover, I have fond memories of performances of, to name but a few, Benny Golson, Rein de Graaff with David “Fathead” Newman and Houston Person, and Chicago blues outfit The Red Devils.

Indeed, the list of performers at Porgy & Bess is impressive and ranges from legends like Arnett Cobb, Freddie Hubbard and Archie Shepp to modern luminaries as Danilo Perez, Christian McBride, Joe Lovano and European top musicians as Toots Thielemans, Philip Catherine and Jesse van Ruller. And, of course, Art Blakey in 1982 and Chet Baker in 1985. “To hear Chet play and sing was like being in heaven. Otherwise, Chet was on his own, soft-spoken and, you know, classy in a sleazy way. There was this regular customer, a strong-willed fellow, who came back from the toilet. He said (raspy voice), ‘Hey Maja, you gotta take a look in the john, there’s this junkie fellow, I wonder did this guy buy a ticket?’ It was Chet, of course. Slender, greasy hair, his woodchopper’s shirt…”

Art Blakey was another lasting experience. Maja: “Before his show, Art Blakey was sitting behind the drum kit for a long time. The group, (including the young Terenche Blanchard and Donald Harrison, ed.), was upstairs. There were two little girls milling about the stage, giggling, humming, having fun. Blakey had a broad smile on his face, sat enjoying that scene the whole time. Then, when the band came on, Blakey set off a long sermon about the merits of jazz, it was exciting. You know that deep voice… And he and the band swung like mad, of course. That groove was out of sight!”

Warm-hearted memories. Decades ago. We’re writing 2016 on the wall of the world now. Terra could use some uplifting jazz vibes. Will Maja ever retire? “Ah, they don’t put musicians in nursery homes from the moment they’ve turned 65, right? As long as I’m not too feeble, I’ll go on. Excluding local events, programming is not on my plate anymore, I’m tending daily business, dividing tasks between Pascal and me. I’m, as I often say, the ‘multi-functional household tissue’. The prospect of continuous household activities means I’m keeping close to where it’s at!”

Maja Lemmen

Maja Lemmen (Lexmond, 1945) is the manager of jazz club and cultural venue Porgy & Bess. Porgy & Bess celebrates its 60th anniversary in 2017. It has been host to Nat Adderley, Rob Agerbeek, Monty Alexander, Chet Baker, Art Blakey, Paul Bley, Ray Brown, Ray Bryant, Don Byas, Betty Carter, Philip Catherine, Jimmy Cobb, Al Cohn, George Coleman, Johnny Copeland, Ronnie Cuber, Lou Donaldson, Dr. John, John Engels, Fapy Lafertin, Hein van de Geyn, Astrid Gilberto, Wolfgang Haffner, Slide Hampton, John Handy, Benjamin Herman, Jimmy Knepper, Lee Konitz, Diana Krall, Lazy Lester, Harold Mabern, Charles McPherson, James Moody, The Paladins, Horace Parlan, Cecil Payne, Nicholas Payton, The Red Devils, Rod Piazza, Dave Pike, Art Porter, Rita Reys, Arturo Sandoval, James Spaulding, Lew Tabackin, Rene Thomas, Cedar Walton, Kenny Werner, Mark Whitfield, Nils Wogram, Phil Woods and many others. Porgy & Bess also stages classical music matinees, roots music, and much acclaimed literary evenings.