GRETCHEN AND EDDIE
Gretchen Valade and Eddie Condon
both loved music and music has loved them. They both were blessed to have a passion for a music that lifted them up, good time jazz. Gretchen and Eddie were introduced to jazz at a time when it didn’t take itself so seriously and was played in a place that you went to to forget your troubles.
Gretchen and Eddie each created a jazz club that was only four minutes away from where they lived. They both have brought a lot of us along for the ride. I remember my first time in both Gretchen’s and Eddie’s clubs.
Entrance to Condon’s on West Third, NYC, 1945. Photo courtesy Hank O’Neal.
In 1955 I was 20 years old in New York City where the drinking age was 18. I remember drinking too much beer in Eddie Condon’s jazz joint. I have recollections of sketching on napkins images of the musicians who were blowing their brains out as they played Chicago style traditional jazz. That early jazz music still lifts my spirits every time I hear it.
It was said that at Eddie Condon’s Jazz Club (particularly when Wild Bill Davison was in the band), “Every night was like New Year’s Eve.” Eddie saw no need to modernize his music, once saying that “The beboppers play flatted fifths: we drink them.”
I first heard jazz at Gretchen Valade’s Dirty Dog Jazz Café in 2008 when I needed my spirit lifted again. The lady next to me almost blew me off my barstool with an appreciative whistle. When Gretchen released her unbridled affirmation for the music, I knew I was in a place where it was OK to love jazz. It was some time later that I learned that Gretchen’s passion for jazz was kickstarted at Eddie Condon’s Jazz Club. That may explain a lot.
I can only hope that Gretchen Valade skips reading this blog. Gretchen is not comfortable in the spotlight. She is more comfortable listening to jazz. She would prefer to sneak in and sneak out of the jazz club she has created. She doesn’t like a lot of fuss. Gretchen started the Dirty Dog Jazz Café so she could sit on her bar stool and listen to jazz at a place that was an easy drive from her home.
Gretchen tends to give credit to others. She gives most of the credit to the music she loves and the artists who can play it right. All she asks is for others to care about the music and have some fun. Gretchen learned this while in school. Well, not really in her school but in a place close to her school, Eddie Condon’s Jazz Club. Eddie had started a club on 52nd St in NYC also just a four minute walk from where he had an apartment. Gretchen Valade was a student in New York in the 1940s and spent some time at his jazz club . She has never forgotten the experience. It made Gretchen feel good. It lifted her spirits. The music that Eddie Condon played had a way of sending bad vibes packing. Hard times were acknowledged but just served as a lift off pad for some good times jazz.
We all can be thankful that Gretchen wandered into Eddie Condon’s and was exposed to music that triumphs over any darkness that creeps into all our lives. I think she deserves a little fuss and some good time jazz because of all the things she does for others.
Eddie Condon was a jazz guitarist who seldom took guitar solos. he did not sing and only wrote a couple of songs. But despite that, he was one of the most important figures in classic jazz. He did set a swinging rhythm that inspired his fellow musicians.
Condon was a wise-cracking emcee with a love for his fellow musicians, and he symbolized the hard-drinking, hard-driving music of the day.
Eddie Condon helped form and formalize what came to be known as Dixieland even though he never liked the name. Dixieland music carried some negative connotations when played by white musicians.
What he believed in was old time jazz, the brash and exuberant kind with some of the “bark” left on it. Jazz that came originally from New Orleans by way of Chicago, Kansas City or Detroit.
New Orleans style jazz got hold of him as a youth when he hung around some of the Chicago joints where New Orleans jazz masters played. He later captured his excitement of that early influence with his usual gift with words.
“King Oliver lifted his horn, and the first blast of “Canal Street Blues” hit me. We were hypnotized. Everyone in the band was playing what he wanted to play and it was all mixed together as if someone had planned it with a set of micrometer calipers. Notes I had never heard were peeling off the edges and dropping through the middle. There was a tone from the trumpets like warm rain on a cold day. Freeman and McPartland and I were immobilized. The music poured into us like daylight running down a dark hole. The choruses rolled on like high tide, getting wilder and more wonderful. Armstrong seemed to hear what Oliver was improvising and reproduce it himself at the same time. It was impossible, so I dismissed it, but it was true. Then, the two wove around each other like suspicious women talking about the same man. When they finally finished, McPartland said, “How do you like it?” There was only one thing to say. “It doesn’t bother me at all.”
Eddie also remembered “Notes I had never heard were peeling off the edges and dropping through the middle; there was a tone from the trumpets like warm rain on a cold day. That music poured into us like daylight running down a dark hole. The choruses rolled on like high tide, getting wilder and more wonderful.”
Condon was one of the Austin High Gang, young up-and-coming white musicians who frequented the jazz clubs in Chicago, learning from King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band and the New Orleans Rhythm Kings. The group of upstarts included drummer Gene Krupa, clarinetist Frank Teschemacher, tenor-saxophonist Bud Freeman, and cornetist Jimmy McPartland,
He quit high school early and joined Hollis Peavey’s Jazz Bandits to play Odd Fellows dances in Chicago and one‐night stands in lakeside dance pavilions in Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
For the rest of his life he remained loyal to hot jazz. He said “Hot jazz was the child of ragtime, with some of the bristle left in.”
Eddie Condon had a good life He stood up for the traditional music that he believed in, he made witty comments, he avoided taking any solo and he helped introduce Gretchen Valade to jazz.
FEEL GOOD MUSIC
Music has always had the purpose of helping us get through our day. Jazz continues to sweep us up and shake out the bad stuff.
Somewhere I read ” When you bring New Orleans your sad story New Orleans will put a beat to it.”
Same is true at the Dirty Dog Jazz Café, thanks to Gretchen and guys like Eddie.
COMING THIS WEEK TO THE DIRTY DOG
June 19 -23
Detroit contributed some of the major hard bop artists of the 1960s. The James Hughes & Jimmy Smith Quintet honors that tradition by playing up tempo mostly original hard bop James Hughes and Jimmy Smith contributed a lot of the compositions and arrangements.