every successful black musician is a smart Jewish
businessman." Jazz historian Grover Sales pauses
in front of the class with a slight smile on his face,
awaiting a retort from one of the students. He drops these
bombs here and there throughout his lectures the way a bebop
drummer will throw in random explosions to get things moving
on the bandstand. Tonight, though, no one seems inclined to
mix it up with him, so he goes on.
typical evening class, Sales will play a dozen or more
selections from his extensive collection of recorded jazz
classics. He introduces these with comments explaining the
importance of each tune, and suggestions about what to listen
for. While the music plays, he projects slides of the
musicians, cutting back and forth to the appropriate one as
each takes his solo. He also mimics playing a piano or bass,
for example, to indicate which instrument the class should be
listening to at a particular moment. The goal is to educate
students in how to listen to and appreciate jazz through a
inductive process of repeated exposure leading to
he is conducting a course on the history of jazz singing at
The Jazzschool in Berkeley, a particularly congenial venue
since he can be his provocative self without literal-minded
undergraduate students taking him to task for it. Most of the
students here know Grover and expect the outrageous from him.
Infectious Enthusiasm and Love of Jazz
grace is his love of the music. Of course he knows his
subject, but unlike most would-be jazz historians he has lived
through a substantial portion of the history and personally
known a great many of the leading figures in jazz. And his
enthusiasm is infectious. You cannot sit in his classroom for
any length of time without feeling the excitement of watching
high art being made on these old recordings. Over time you get
the sense of jazz as a work in progress, an art form that has
evolved through the years and continues to do so right down to
the present moment — in which, as we all know, it lives.
At the end
of a recent class, an older gentlemen who had said very little
during the evening announced that he’d like to make a
comment. He remembered hearing many of the bands as a youth
and how excited he had been then. "You brought that all
back to me, and I want to thank you for it," he said.
We will see
that Grover disdains that kind of sentimentality, but for the
moment, he's gracious enough about accepting the compliment.
And his classes do tend to have that effect on people.
comes from Louisville, Kentucky. It was on a radio broadcast
there in about 1935, when he was sixteen years old, that he
first heard the Benny Goodman band with Gene Krupa on drums.
As he explains, "It was a religious experience. I’d
never heard anything like it. I went to bed and had a high
fever. My mother had to rub my chest with Musterol, and I’ve
never been the same since. It took over my life."
remained an outsider throughout his high school days in
Louisville. "No one would speak to me because of the
music I was listening to. They thought it was really strange,
because the hippest things they were listening to were Hal
Kemp, or Russ Morgan, or Skinnay Ennis, things like
Benny Goodman and Duke Ellington
Sales moved to Boston, where he ran with a jazz crowd and
heard Benny Goodman and other bands in person. Then one
afternoon, listening to the radio, he had a second religious
experience when he heard Duke Ellington’s "Black and
went out of my goddamn mind. I ran to the local record store
and said, 'What have you got by Duke Ellington? I want all of
it!' He says, 'Son, you can’t afford it.' I said, 'How
much could I get for fifteen dollars?' Records were
thirty-five cents apiece in those days. So I got a whole bunch
of Ellington records.
then on, I got a hold of books and magazines, and started to
listen to the history of this music," recalls Sales these
many years later. "I started to listen to early Louis
Armstrong, the Earl Hines, Coleman Hawkins, and Fletcher
Henderson bands, Art Tatum, and all the rest of them. That's
how it got started."
came along during World War II, Grover was in India in the
army, so he missed the new music.
like a lot of my generation who were in the army and were
occupied with other things when the war was over. I was a
late-comer to it. But at least I made the transition, which is
more than I can say for a lot of my generation. I run into
that in the classroom all the time. I run into people my age,
like my friend Herb Caen, who was a great Benny Goodman fan.
But Herb Caen's interest in the music stopped with Benny
Goodman and never got beyond that. Whenever he wrote anything
about so-called modern jazz after that, it was kind of
time he wrote: 'I don’t understand why Erroll Garner keeps
winning jazz polls 'cause he doesn’t play jazz.' The day
that came out, the Modern Jazz Quartet was playing at the
Blackhawk. Milt Jackson saw that item, and he comes up to me
and says, 'What kind of piano do he think he play?'"
Up to the Bebop Revolution
going to college and trying to earn a living, it wasn’t
until 1952 or so that Grover caught up with the bebop
revolution. "The first one that appealed to me in that
group was Monk," says Sales. "That was the first one
that really grabbed me. And from Monk I got into Bird and
Dizzy, and then all the others."
in the jazz clubs of San Francisco, Grover became acquainted
with jazz writer Ralph J. Gleason. One day Gleason called
Grover and asked him how he'd like to do the publicity for a
new jazz festival Gleason and Jimmy Lyons were starting in
Monterey. "I'd like it just fine," Grover said.
Monterey Jazz Festival kicked off in 1958, and for seven years
thereafter, Grover handled the publicity for the annual event.
At the same time he was doing publicity work for a number of
jazz clubs and artists, including the Club Hangover, which
featured such artists as Louis Armstrong, Earl Hines, and
Meade Lux Lewis. He also did a lot of publicity for the Duke
Grover was living in Marin City next door to an old college
chum, poet Lew Welch. As Grover tells it, "I called him
up one afternoon, and I said, 'Coleman Hawkins died today.' He
said, 'Oh, Jesus!' Then there was a pause, and he said, 'What
are you doing in the next ten minutes?' I said, 'Nothing, why?'
He said, 'How’d you like to teach my class at University [of
California] Extension on Coleman Hawkins tonight? You’ve got
five minutes to make up your mind.'
grabbed a dozen Coleman Hawkins records off the shelf and went
next door. He drove me to the Extension at Laguna and Market
in San Francisco, and I taught a class in Coleman Hawkins.
Just winged it. He said, 'You ought to be doing this all the
time.' So he got me wired into teaching jazz studies, and I’m
still doing it."
Incorrectness as an Art Form
taught at Stanford University, San Francisco State, the San
Francisco Conservatory, and The Jazzschool in Berkeley. His
academic career has not been all smooth sailing. He was fired
from Stanford for what he calls political incorrectness when a
delegation of students from an undergraduate class complained
about him to the administration. "I would tell a joke
that I thought would be innocent and that group would go to
the office and say, 'This is a sexist attitude, and it's
demeaning, and it's humiliating to women, it's humiliating to
black people, it's humiliating to Jews.'
I was at [San Francisco] State — I was at State for 10 years
— I had a lot of trouble. I applied for a professorship,
because I was certainly qualified to do this, and the head of
the department actually sat down and told me, 'We cannot hire
anybody for this position unless they’re members of a
minority group.' I said, 'Well, I'm a member of three minority
groups. I'm old, I'm a Jew, and I'm an intellectual'. That
went over big!"
teaches courses for the Elderhostel program, an international
organization that provides all kinds of courses for senior
citizens. "I teach them courses in things they'd be
interested in, like big-band jazz, which they all grew up
dancing to. I show them slides, so they all get dewy-eyed and
teary: 'That’s Gene Krupa! Oh, that's Tommy Dorsey, sob,
sob.' Unlike undergraduates, though, they understand my
of Jazz is Rooted in History
At root, I
think, Grover’s cynicism stems from his passion for the
music. He is adamant that without a grounding in the history
of jazz, players can never become masters of their art, no
matter how technically proficient they may be.
always listening to the Stanford jazz band when they were
rehearsing. They're playing arrangements of Glenn Miller, for
God's sake, among others, and there’s no fire in this. They’re
just competent, is all you can say about them. I've addressed
these classes, and I've found out — well, first of all,
Stanford music majors could not take jazz history and apply it
toward their major... Then I'd address the members of this
band collectively, and I'd say, 'How many here have ever heard
of Fletcher Henderson?' Nobody. 'How many people have ever
heard of Don Redmond?' No one. These are the pioneers of the
music they’re attempting to play!
[the students] have absolutely no historical background in the
music they’re attempting rather badly to play... And they
write things on examinations like, 'The black people went into
jazz for the art, and the white people went into jazz for the
money.' So there’s a lot of racism that goes on. Wynton
Marsalis is responsible for a lot of this. Stanley Crouch,
Albert Murray, they’re responsible for a lot of this. There
was a lot of it in the Ken Burns series. They’re actually
trying to write whites out of jazz as if they never
History for Jazz Musicians
improve the situation, Grover has suggested to Susan
Muscarella, director of the Jazzschool where he currently
teaches: "There’s a lot of people studying instruments.
They should know something about the history of this music.
Why don’t you open up my classes on a reduced basis or even
a free basis to anybody who’s here studying a jazz
instrument or jazz orchestration or anything to come in here
and find out about how this music started and where it
written a book called "Jazz: America’s Classical
Music." "It’s used as a basic text in high schools
and colleges all over the country," says Grover. "I
wrote it for people like me that can't read music and don’t
know the names of too many chords. It’s a very simplified,
very brief survey of the music."
contributes an occasional column to Gene Lees's very
influential "Jazzletter," a periodical that accepts
no advertising, is not offered on newsstands, and relies
entirely on its subscribers to support publication. He's also
written "The Clay Pot Cookbook" with his wife,
Georgia, and he writes a monthly column on video sleepers, as
he calls them, for the local Tiburon-Belvedere newspaper.
as he is, Grover Sales may not be everyone’s ideal jazz
historian. However, his love and knowledge of jazz are deep.
If you can master what he has to offer, you will get beyond
the pop-magazine, music industry, high-gloss version of jazz
touted today and find out what the music really is all about.
enduring nothing but country & western music in the Navy
for 22 years, Bob Tate became a jazz convert, edited
JazzNow magazine for six years, and is currently
transportation coordinator for Yoshi's in Oakland.