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Round 'Em Up!: Some (Limited) Thoughts on "Cote a Cote"

Don't get us wrong, we were happy that the Getty Center's three-day "Cote a Cote" conference even happened at all, even if the focus was a bit fuzzy. But we must say, when the Getty throws a grey-matter party they really give out the royal treatment.

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I still can't get the image of the refreshment table in the lobby of the Harold M. Williams Auditorium out of my head: coffee offered in tall stainless steel receptacles so polished that you could clean a piece of apple from between your teeth in their reflections. The water was offered in large pots with tons of ice floating on the top. It all had the strange airlessness of perfection -- like a party given by your anal-retentive aunt. Adding to the odd sensation that one was attending a jazz conference at the Acropolis were white walls so spotless that they appeared to glow in the warm buttery sunlight. Then there were the impossibly tall doors that we had to walk back and forth through; they open more towards the middle than at the edge, so when you open one with too much force the darn things almost crack you in the teeth. I surmise that's why there was a breathless usher who was stationed next to the auditorium to open the doors and save some of us the dental bills.

We attended the second day only; specifically three seminars we were particularly interested in: "Jazz In Los Angeles" with photographer William Claxton; "Jazz and the African-American Experience in Postwar Paris" with Tyler Stovall of UC-Berkeley; and "Local Avant-gardes: Wallace Berman, Jazz and Semina in Postwar Los Angeles" with Ken Allan of Seattle University. Interesting talks all, especially Allan's scholarship on Berman and the Ferus Gallery as a nexus for the overflowing worlds of L.A. art and jazz scenes. Most of these dealt with issues involving the key phrase: "Postwar." Of course, this meant not just touching on Bebop but the "Cool" California sound of the 1950s, which seemed to dominate the proceedings. (Not surprising, since this conference was given in conjunction with the Orange County Museum of Art's "Birth of the Cool" exhibition.)

Unfortunately, the contemporary players were given short shrift. Bobby Bradford and Vinny Golia played both Tuesday and the Big Concert on Thursday night, where they were lumped in with what appeared to be a hastily assembled and strangely conceived grab-bag of musicians from the last 50+ years, including Ernie Andrews, Les McCann, Bud Shank and Jack Sheldon. But their ilk were (as far as we know) rarely mentioned in the seminars. The academic vistas seemed to end around 1960.

The point of linking France and California under the rubric was elusive and baffling -- save for the French's honorable treatment of African-American jazz musicians as the great artists they were, rather than the confounding and racist treatment they and their music has received here in America. Nevertheless, it was a treat to see the 80-year-old, 8-foot-tall Claxton remark on how he became involved in documenting the L.A. jazz scene -- he memorably commented on the difference he saw in the West Coast musicians from the East Coast ("Musicians on the West Coast were healthy -- even the junkies ate health food") as well as the stories behind some of his famous photo shoots for Pacific Jazz album covers. (One of them, Sonny Rollins's Way Out West [pictured above] apparently was one of Mel Brooks' inspirations for Cleavon Little's "Sheriff Bart" character in Blazing Saddles -- who knew?) Dennis Hopper and Bud Shank sat in as well, Hopper relating a tale of visiting Thelonius Monk at his therapist's office in Watts (he was up in the bedroom on a bed strewn with pills) and recalled Monk's famous quote about infamous LAPD chief William Parker: "I don't know how a man with the name of 'Parker' can be down on jazz." Bud Shank mostly grunted and offered barely audible bon-mots. Moderator Rani Singh came off like a very earnest Pat Morrison without the flowered hats.

If any of you out there attended the final concert or the film screenings, or even the entire conference, we'd love to hear your memories, impressions or tirades.

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