The voice of San Francisco native Mary Stallings, who came to national prominence with the 1961 recording Cal Tjader Plays, Mary Stallings Sings, is still a marvel of precision and technique that has been presented for the last 24 years, three nights a week, at the downtown San Francisco restaurant Bix.
Drummer Pete “La Roca” Sims, a man who exemplified a philosophy of music that ran counter to the corporate culture that established and disseminated jazz as America’s music, lost his battle with lung cancer at the age of 74 on Monday, November 19. Best known as the original drummer in the John Coltrane Quartet, Sims later also played an important role in jazz history as a lawyer, assisting attorney Paul Chevigny in changing New York City’s oppressive cabaret laws in the 1980s.
Playing music interpreted from even the most detail-oriented notation includes elements of improvisation (especially when sight reading). So improvisation is ubiquitous; it always comes down to a matter of degree. But we live in a world where things are most easily explained or taught in relation to binaries, such as: good/bad, high/low, left/right, or right/wrong.
The case of Ellingtonian misattribution is an example of professional symbiosis where both parties have something to gain from the obfuscation of authorship, one that only deceives the public and whatever higher power(s) might have something to say about it in the hereafter. It appears to be, or have been, a fairly common practice.
While the works of Western music are generally credited to specific individuals, it can be said that no music is about a single individual; it’s a team effort. The overlay of that on the musics of subaltern American cultures has opened the door for a variety of phenomena that would not exist otherwise, such as the tradition of authorship misattribution that exists in the history of jazz.