Before we get to Paul Olsen of All About Jazz's extensive (it even has a "Chapter Index"!) interview with rez Crypto ivory-man David Witham, we'd like to acknowledge the passing of L.A. jazz producer/promoter Oscar Cadena last week at the spry young age of 83. (Here's Jocelyn Stewart's obit from the LA Times.)
Our friend Kirk Silsbee recently wrote a fine 2006 profile for L.A. Citybeat of the gentleman everyone -- even those who never met him -- called "Ozzie."
OZZIE CADENA: THE HIPPEST GUY IN THE ROOM
by Kirk Silsbee
Jazz has always needed facilitators, people who open the channels between musicians and listeners. They’re impresarios, record producers, managers, label owners, club operators and even publicists. They carry out the nuts-and-bolts operations that bring the music to the marketplace. One of the most steadfast facilitators in Southern California jazz of the last 30 years has been Ozzie Cadena, who turns 83 in September. As he recuperates from a health crisis in a Torrance hospital, it’s worth examining Cadena’s contribution to the music.
Hermosa Beach’s current jazz profile is almost entirely due to Cadena. Ozzie brought jazz back to the Lighthouse after it had become a rock venue, first in the early ‘80s and recently since the late ‘90s. He also books the music into the nearby Sangria restaurant. Cadena spearheaded the action to have plaques that note the glorious Lighthouse history set into the pavement. (The city has ten plates that it expects to install in November.) He’s an east coaster who always acknowledged what West Coast jazz had to offer. It’s another chapter in the life of a facilitator who never could do enough for jazz.
Music took hold of Cadena at a young age. Growing up in Newark, New Jersey, he shined shoes in the proximity of a street blues singer. Beginning at age twelve, Cadena took the train into Harlem every Saturday night and attended the Savoy Ballroom. The Home of Happy Feet was America’s prime laboratory and showcase for cutting edge vernacular dance. “I heard all the bands there,” he once said, in his clipped Jersey accent, “every one of ‘em.” His presence was so consistent that Cadena was known as ‘Newark’ to the other regulars. (One of them was a tall marijuana salesman known as Detroit Red, the future Malcolm X.) Every Saturday at midnight, management made sure that the underage Cadena was escorted to the nearby subway station.
Did he ever feel a racial draft? “One time some guy started to give me a bad time about dancin’ with a girl,” he relates. “He started callin’ me names and it almost got ugly. And one of the bouncers got between us. They were all ex-pugs who carried billy clubs. ‘He said, ‘This guy botherin’ you, Newark?’ I said, ‘This stupid bastard don’t like the Dodgers.’ That was the end of it.”
After serving in the Pacific in World War II, Cadena studied music, specifically, the bass. Music fundamentals would stand him well later on. After a stint as a jazz disc jockey, Cadena worked for the Newark-based Savoy Records in the ‘50s, as an A and R man and producer. He recorded swing era veterans like Coleman Hawkins and youngbloods like John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley and his brother Nat. Ozzie almost single-handedly documented the explosion of young players who busted out of 1950s Detroit: Milt Jackson, Yusef Lateef, Kenny Burrell, Donald Byrd, Tommy Flanagan, and Hank Jones.
Detroit provided Cadena with two sturdy and dependable pianists. “I used Hank Jones for the swing players like Hawkins,” Ozzie claimed. “For everybody else, I used Tommy Fanagan.” Cadena’s feel for black roots music served him well at Savoy. Big Maybelle, Jimmy Scott, and Nappy Brown were among Ozzie’s studio charges. Cadena earned a co-composer credit on Nappy’s “Night Time is The Right Time.” (When Ray Charles covered the tune, Cadena’s name was removed from the song and Savoy owner Herman Lubinsky’s was substituted.) Ozzie recorded blues pianist Sammy Price—whose history dated back to the 1920s, when he backed numerous blues singers—with tenor saxophonist King Curtis and guitarist Mickey Baker to make one of the greatest R&B instrumentals of all time, “Rib Joint.”
“I’m as proud of the gospel stuff I cut,” Cadena once confided, “as I am about anything else.” Gospel scholar Anthony Heilbut, in his groundbreaking study The Gospel Sound, cited Ozzie as one of the greatest of all sanctified music producers.
While Cadena had a gold card at Birdland, he also had entrée to the black churches in New Jersey. His gospel Savoys, with Ruth Davis and the Davis Sisters, among others, would make a formidable box set.
Lubinsky ran Savoy as a cut-rate operation. The artists might get less money for a recording session than what Blue Note or Prestige paid, but they had it in their hands on the way out of the studio. Junkie jazz musicians would take the short money, just so they didn’t have to wait. It was exploitation and the bad feeling that Lubinsky generated sometimes rubbed off on Cadena. “One day in the ‘50s,” he recalled, sitting at a table one night, “I was in Birdland. Billy Taylor was there, foolin’ around at the piano, and (bassist Charles) Mingus was there too. Miles Davis walked in. Mingus was always lookin’ to record, so he said, ‘Hey Ozzie—let’s find a drummer and get a record goin’.’ I said I could probably make a few calls and work it out. Miles said, ‘Who’s the record for?’ Mingus pointed to me and said, ‘It’s for his company.’” Cadena leaned forward and looked me in the eye as he continued, “Miles said: ‘Fuck you and ya mothufuckin’ record company!’” Leaning back in his seat, Cadena shrugged his rejoinder: “Hey, I’m workin’ for an asshole. You’re workin’ here, an’ you’re workin’ for an asshole.”
Birdland, the self-proclaimed “jazz corner of the world,” was probably the most important jazz club in the world at the time. Cadena had carte blanche entrée at all times. Babs Gonzales, a hustler first and a singer second, spotted Ozzie standing in a long line outside the club one night. “He said, ‘Ozzie, what are you doin’ here? Let’s you and me jump the line.’ I said, ‘No, Babs, that would be disrespecting all these people waiting to get in.’”
One day in the early ‘60s, Cadena was in a Harlem café having lunch. “Malcolm X walked in with a big group from the Nation of Islam,” Ozzie states. “This was when he was preachin’ the separation of blacks and whites. I was sittin’ in the back and after awhile, one of the lieutenants came over to my table. He said, ‘Malcolm just wants you to know that although he’s not able to break away from his work, he sends his regards to you.’”
One evening in ‘88, Cadena was at the Hyatt on Sunset Blvd. for the inaugural reception of a short-lived jazz organization. It was the kind of event that attracted everyone in jazz who was in town. Trumpeter Donald Byrd made a beeline to Cadena’s table. “Ozzie!” he almost shouted. “You makin’ any records?” Cadena smiled his lop-sided grin and shrugged. “Naw. You know how I make records: I get this guy and that guy and we go into the studio and roll the tape. They can’t use me anymore.” It was a light-hearted parry of the frustration he must have felt and it made light of the lifetime of preparation Cadena brought to the recording studio.
Ozzie’s studio philosophy was simple yet effective: pair up players from different schools and generations to stimulate a chemical reaction that will result in something new from each of them. Recording, for Cadena, was not rocket science. He was the first to bring Cannonball Adderley—then an unknown Florida schoolteacher who was on vacation in New York in ’55, into the studio. Ozzie is characteristically modest about beating the major labels to him. “If five guys tell you somebody can play,” he once offered with a shrug, “you record him. Simple as that.”
After Cannonball’s Cinderella debut—sitting in at a Greenwich Village club—veteran drummer Kenny Clarke took the Adderleys under his wing, steering them away from New York hustlers and to Cadena. Clarke was the first modern jazz drummer, who revolutionized drumming by moving the beat to his ride cymbal and accenting with sticks and bass drum “bombs.” He worked hand-in-hand with Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk to redefine jazz in the bebop insurgency of the ‘40s. Cadena recorded Clarke at every possible opportunity, as he did with Milt Jackson, Charles Mingus, Hank Jones and Tommy Flanagan.
The Clarke-Cadena relationship was symbiotic. In ’93, Cadena articulated it in a very informed way. “He had weaknesses in his playing, like everybody else, but he could give a band a good shim like nobody. Except Eddie Blackwell and Billy Higgins, but they came along much later. What I liked about Klook was his meter. He was not right on it with a ‘tick, tick, tick’--which could be too damn monotonous. His beat was like the ocean: sometimes it came in deeper, sometimes shorter. His beat might have varied mathematically a little but his playing just glided. The pulse was always there. When I’d walk into a club where Klook was playin’, I might not see that it was him but my ear could tell me that he was on the stand. The band was instantly loose and relaxed. He didn’t hit his cymbals as hard as a lot of guys but the sound he got was like a long ‘whoosh.’ The pulse was where he hit it but the vibrations off the cymbal were constant—like an organ with the key pressed down.”
Though Blue Note owner Alfred Lion was the producer of record on all of that label’s issues, Cadena, in fact, supervised Horace Silver’s Doin’ the Thing: Live at The Village Vanguard (Blue Note, ’61). Like Lion, Ozzie had a close working relationship with that most punctilious of jazz recording engineers, Rudy Van Gelder.
After working for Prestige Records in the ‘60s and ‘70s, Cadena relocated his family to Hermosa Beach. In ’82, Ozzie began booking jazz into the Silver Screen Lounge of the Hyatt Hotel on Sunset Blvd. in West Hollywood. His efforts resulted in a little golden age for L.A. jazz. Cadena used the occasion to extend his recording modus operandi to the bandstand. He brokered first-time meetings between guitarist Tal Farlow and tenor saxophonist Warne Marsh, alto saxophonists Frank and Lanny Morgan, pianist Mal Wadron and Frank Morgan, guitarists John Collins and Tal Farlow, tenor saxophonists Lockjaw Davis and Joe Farrell.
Cadena also gave bandstand space to promising young players, usually in the company of veterans. Ozzie championed trumpeter Stacy Rowles, saxophonist Rickey Woodard and bassist Kristin Korb as youngsters. The excitement and the expectation that his combinations raised are something that Cadena has tried to carry through at the Lighthouse and Sangria. Of course, not all experiments yield great results. A local soloist, who prefers anonymity, has worked for Cadena a number of times. “I’ve always liked and respected Ozzie,” he stresses. “I think it’s great what’s he done in Hermosa Beach. But I don’t agree with the premise of throwing strangers in together. They do that at those jazz parties. I know the people like it but I think it’s a mish mosh. If I can bring my own band, the musicality is always at a much higher level than if I’m playing with someone for the first time.”
Still, Cadena knows the value of names on a roster, just as he knows the value of making live music available to the jazz audience. Getting the musicians into the studios and people into the clubs to hear the music is what he’s done with his life. It sounds simple and Cadena probably wouldn’t try to convince you otherwise. He’d probably just smile, and say something like: “I’m just trying to do something good for jazz.” (LA Citybeat, 8/03/06)
After a moment of silence.................................................................................................