Gulliver’s Travels

Thank God for Facebook, the “social” network that keeps us in contact with an ever-increasing virtual network of “friends” that we might otherwise lose touch with or never know. I should actually thank vocalist Laine Cooke, who first explained how it would become the way musicians would be doing business in the future and that I’d be doing myself a big favor by opening my own account on Zuckerberg’s corporate version of Erica Jong’s unzipped liaison. I did it, and I’ve not been disappointed. My investment paid off within a month when I was offered a gig, I don’t remember where or with who. It costs nothing to be on Facebook other than a certain amount of time to scan through the volumes of one’s “friends”’s posts (however, since I got that gig I have to admit that I’ve been keeping “tabs” on them all). It is also much easier to maintain than the MySpace abomination I started before.

Not all of the news I read there is good, though. On Wednesday, I received a post that Amos Kaune (pronounced “Khan”) had died. Amos was the owner of the nightclub (well, a bar with a stage and a grand piano would better describe it) Gulliver’s in New Jersey that, in its 1970s West Paterson and 1980s Lincoln Park incarnations, would bring the likes of Anita O’Day, Ron Carter, Lennie Tristano, Al Cohn, Bob Brookmeyer, Chet Baker, Roland Hanna, Jackie Paris, and Anne-Marie Moss across the Hudson River for single- and multiple-night engagements. Dave Brubeck’s drummer, Joe Morello, almost lived there and a plethora of plectrum-wielding New Jersey-based guitarists launched their careers on its funky, but soulful, stage. When Kaune closed the doors on Gulliver’s in 1989, there was a sense that the end of an era had occurred, but later that year he opened a more spacious and elegant room in Montclair, Trumpets. He retired from running the club in the 1990s and turned it over to his long-time friend and associate, Mike Canterino (the co-owner of the renowned Half Note club in New York), who retired because of health issues in 1999. Trumpets is still presenting live music seven nights a week and continues the tradition that Amos espoused of presenting relatively unknown musicians, such as Diane Moser and her Jazz Composer’s Orchestra, as well as headliners like Wynton Marsalis.

While not nearly as well-documented as its New York relatives, Gulliver’s was vital in presenting new artists to an audience outside of New York City and offered them a connection to venues like the Village Vanguard, the Village Gate, and Fat Tuesday’s, as well as a link to Eddie Condon’s, the Half Note, the Five Spot, and Slugs that all closed by 1972. Many internationally acclaimed artists could take a new band of young lions into Gulliver’s and see how they worked in front of an audience before bringing them into one of the above-named New York venues. The first time I worked with Bob Brookmeyer was at Gulliver’s with guitarist Jack Wilkins and drummer Mel Lewis. We went into the Village Vanguard three weeks later. Looking around the internet revealed a couple of recordings from Gulliver’s, Buck Clayton and Eddie Hazell. I’m sure that more exist, as well as private recordings. In my cursory research into the club’s history, I found a “Coming Attractions” notice for the months of January and February of an undisclosed year. The list is as interesting as it is impressive. The weekends were reserved for headliners: Phil Woods, Sam Rivers, Houston Person and Etta Jones, Charles Earland, Joe Morello, Marlene Ver Planck, and Ron Carter. Monday was “Guitar Night”: Bob Wyde, Jack Wilkins, Bucky and John Pizzarelli, John Klopotowski, Gene Bertoncini, Flip Peters, Josh Breakstone and Vic Juris. Wednesday was for “special” acts: Rufus Reid with Bob Rockwell, Art Resnick and Victor Lewis, Tom Varner with Ed Jackson, the Bill and Rave Teser Quartet, Bobby Watson, Derek Smith, “Cold Front” with Bob DeVos, Mike Migliore, Rick Acclavatt, Ben Grammatico and Lou Argese, Gary Mettier, Regan Ryzuk, Lisle Atkinson with Paul West, Richard Wyands, and Al Harwood. (Many of these then relatively unknown artists are household names now.) Thursday featured a rotation of pianists: Chuck Folds, Keith MacDonald, and John Firrincieli. And every Tuesday featured the Morris Nanton Trio (with Ronnie Bedford and Norman Edge).

While the passing of Max Gordon, the owner of the Village Vanguard, received much press and that of Bradley Cunningham, the owner of Bradley’s, sent shock waves through the jazz community, not much is being said about Amos Kaune, although he kept American music alive in New Jersey for nearly twenty years. I belong to a jazz-research listserv and expected to see something about Amos there, but nothing has come up yet. I’ll probably post something later today. My concern is that, while the standard mythology of the jazz club owner has been one of reptilian and canine ancestry and cross-breeding (with a little porcine influence on the family tree), the truth is that there was quite a bit of dedication to presenting and cultivating new artists going on in the likes of Gordon, Cunningham, and Kaune. Without their help, groups like the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Big Band and artists like Fred Hersch might never have gained recognition outside of their hometowns and New York City. There is a trove of history in whatever records survive of these establishments. Fortunately, Amos’s wife Pat kept meticulous records when she wasn’t running the kitchen at Gulliver’s. I needed to find out how much one of the artists earned over the course of their work there in order to help them get financial assistance a few years back and, while I talked about the history of Gulliver’s with Amos, Pat compiled the total in a short time.

I read on Facebook that Amos’s memorial happened on Thursday. I’m sorry I couldn’t go. I hope some of his favorite musicians were there to play for him. All too soon there will be more loss of great presenters of our American musical heritage. Mike Canterino, while still vital, is getting up there in age, as is Todd Barkan, the former owner of Keystone Korner in San Francisco, who up until last year ran Jazz at Lincoln Center, and Pat Kaune, who was as involved in running Gulliver’s as her husband. While we rightly honor our artists when they move out of our plane of existence, as was described in my last four posts, we tend to forget about the people who make sure there’s a way for their music to be heard. I’m sure that Todd Barkan will be rightfully honored, but I fear that those who are still with us might slip into the same obscurity that seems to be befalling Amos Kaune. I hope that this entry might help to change that in some way.

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4 thoughts on “Gulliver’s Travels

  1. Danny Barrett

    ..Hi Ratzo,..I’m so sorry to hear about Amos’s passing…yes, thanks for going to bat in mentioning his ..big part in bringing to his little club in W.Paterson,N.J. All the Talent and the beginnings of new careers,which were Many…..Kindly, Danny Barrett

    Reply
  2. Bob McElroy

    Wow. One thing led to another and I was just Googling Gullivers when I found your post. RIP Amos, rest well and deep. The music I heard in that club literally blew my mind. Monday night (guitar night) was my thing at 18 (back when an 18YO could order a beer). Every Tuesday after work (back when 18YOs had full time jobs!) I’d stare at my guitar and try to conjure up what I someone like Herb Ellis did the night before.

    Always treated like a guest, albeit long haired and slightly buzzed. We didn’t cross Amos or his no talking rule. Those nights seem dreamlike now.

    Bob

    Reply
  3. Gary Evans

    I’m hearing of Amos’ passing for the first time. His contribution to the world of jazz was indeed something special. What a pleasure to sit and listen to performers and know that the audience will be respectful – or else! This due of course to Amos’ “no talking rule” as Bob McElroy put it. By the way – where have all the (NJ) jazz clubs gone?

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  4. Robert

    I heard a lot of great jazz in small venues in the City during the Loft Jazz era in the seventies, but what I heard at Gulliver’s (and The Three Sisters, a short distance away) was every bit its equal. Cedar Walton with George Coleman, Sam Jones, and Ben Riley, many times; I remember too an incredible duet of Ron Carter and Jimmy Ponder. Carter played there often with his quartet; he played piccolo bass, the lead instrument, and the great Buster Williams played the bass. One night, I sat at the corner of the bar with Betty Carter singing less than five feet away; behind her, Dave Holland played bass.

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