Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

December 15, 2007

In Memoriam: Carla White and Manny Duran

Filed under: music — louisproyect @ 4:43 pm

Manny Duran

Yesterday I thought I’d have a look at my old friend Carla White’s website to see what she had been up to. Although she had been performing less frequently in recent years, I had gotten use to receiving a postcard announcement of her latest gig once or twice a year. Sadly, I discovered the reason why I hadn’t heard from her lately:

http://www.allaboutjazz.com/php/news.php?id=13807

Carla White Memorial June 8, 2007 at St. Peters Church 5PM

Carla White died peacefully at home in NYC, May 9, 2007.

Ms. White devoted her life to artistic exploration and growth as a jazz singer. She was born in Oakland, CA and raised in Bellport, NY. Completing two years at London’s prestigious Webber-Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art, Ms. White returned to New York City, embarking upon a 30-year career for which she garnered critical praise: “One of the most impressive performers to come along in years…an unusually accomplished interpreter,” Howard Reich, Chicago Tribune; “A singer who blends interpretive intelligence with a solid musical grounding and a sure sense of swing,” Don Heckman, Los Angeles Times. Career highlights include New York’s Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, Town Hall and the Texaco Jazz Festival; The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.; the Ottawa International Jazz Festival; the Chattanooga Riverbend Festival; and the Mellon Jazz Festival in Philadelphia. “Success is playing with the musicians I love to play with in situations where the audience is receptive and appreciative,” Ms. White said. She is survived by her mother, Mrs. Frederick Ayer of Seattle, WA, and three stepbrothers, James, Anthony, and Frederick Ayer and her partner Anne Stamper. Ms. White was predeceased by her father, brother and sister, Penny and Miles White.

A memorial celebration will be held June 8, 2007 at St. Peters Church 619 Lexington Avenue at E. 54th St. NYC at 5:00pm. In lieu of flowers donations can be made to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation and the Jazz Foundation of America.

In October of 2006, Carla sent me an email informing me that her former collaborator had died. I had not taken note of it here at the time, but here’s a belated recognition of a great person and musician.

http://www.allaboutjazz.com/php/news.php?id=11530

Manny Duran June 11, 1926 – October 30, 2006

Manny Duran, trumpet and flugelhorn player died on October 30th at 2:30pm at Lenox Hill Hospital in NYC after complications from a recent procedure. He was 80 years old.

Born in 1926 in Alamagordo, New Mexico, Manny started his life-long love affair with the trumpet when he was ten, playing in the Mariachi bands of the southwest. It wasn’t long before he heard Louis Armstrong’s music and found his true calling. Jazz.

He worked on the West Coast for a while and then made the move to the Big Apple in 1956. He played at the legendary Cafe Bohemia for a year, sitting in with most all of the prestigious combos that played there.

By the 1960s, he was in the improvising chair for the top Latin jazz bands beginning with the Puerto Rican musical giant Noro Morales. This was followed by gigs and recordings with Ray Barretto, Willie Bobo, Mario Bauza and the Afro Cuban Jazz Orchestra, Mongo Santamaria, the Conjunto 66 of Vladimir Vasilieff and nearly ten years with Machito.

However, he never lost his love for the music of Dizzy Gillespie, Fats Navarro and Kenny Dorham. In the early 1980’s he formed a straight-ahead bebop band with singer Carla White. They were a fixture on the NY jazz scene for five years playing all the top clubs. After recording one album together called Andruline, they decided to break up the band in 1985.

Manny continued on as a leader of his own bands, in both the bebop and Latin idioms. He also ran the late night jam sessions at the Blue Note for many years. The past several years he led the Saturday night jam at Cleopatra’s Needle, in addition to his regular Tuesday night gig at BB King’s with his Afro Bop band.

Manny will be remembered not only for his peerless skill as a melodic improviser, but also for his kindness, encouragement and generosity of spirit to all musicians he played with over the past half a century in New York City. He will be deeply missed by all the people and musicians whose lives he touched with his love of life and music.

There will be a memorial service celebrating his life. The date TBA.

He is survived by three brothers, a sister and a daughter.

Posted by: Jim Eigo, Jazz Promo Services

Before I began blogging, I wrote an article about my friendship with Manny and Carla. In their memory, I am going to re-post it here now:

It was early 1979. After 11 years in the Trotskyist movement, I had found myself on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. After a Chaplinesque stint in Kansas City as a spot welder, trying–and failing–to make the turn to industry, I had returned to Manhattan, determined to put revolutionary politics behind me. The yuppie-infested Upper East Side seemed like an appropriate place to live, since as far as I knew it was the last place in the world you would run into a Trotskyist. Working once again in the software business, my attentions would now be turned to writing the Great American Novel.

At the time I did not appreciate how difficult it would be to create a new social life, since I had spent my entire adult life around “the prophet’s children,” as Tim Wolforth had put it. In tow with an old high school friend, I made the rounds in singles bars where the conversation revolved around what kind of work you did, or what your astrological sign was. Since the Trotskyist movement had left me clinically depressed, I found myself in these bars more often than not. Staring into a scotch on the rocks, I tried to figure out why I had been too weak to make the transition into industry. I felt like a lapsed Catholic.

One of my favorite bars was Hanratty’s, a piano bar a block from my house that featured some of the great names in the old-fashioned stride piano style of Jelly Roll Morton and Fats Waller. Dick Wellstood was a frequent performer as was Ralph Sutton who served as music director for a number of Woody Allen movies. The audience appeared to be old-line wasps from the surrounding neighborhood: men in lime-green pants and madras shirts who probably attended the same prep schools and worked at the same investment banks on Wall Street.

That’s where I met Carla, who was working as a waitress. I loved chatting with her, since she shared an interest in jazz. Eventually I discovered that she was a performer as well and made a point of attending her next gig, at another bar in the neighborhood.

As co-leader of the Carla White-Manny Duran quintet, she functioned more as a surrogate saxophonist than as a singer. Her scat singing incorporated phrasing and harmonic progressions pioneered by Charlie Parker. Her lightning-fast solos, hitting high C’s in rapid succession, were improvisations on bebop anthems, such as Parker’s “Ornithology” or Miles Davis’s “Dig”.

Carla was well-equipped to navigate this difficult terrain, after having spent years in training with the legendary Lennie Tristano on Long Island. The blind pianist was regarded as one of the great geniuses of modern jazz. Although a reclusive figure who made few recordings and even fewer public appearances, Tristano was open to teaching what he knew, which was substantial.

Closely associated with saxophonists Warne Marsh and Lee Konitz, the Tristano style incorporated shifting tempos and long linear improvisations over complex chord progressions. Although the style would seem to lend itself to the piano or saxophone, Carla was what one might call the ultimate Tristano-esque singer. After Tristano’s death in 1978, White continued her exploration of the voice as an instrument with Warne Marsh.

Manny Duran played the trumpet in a style that was similar to one of the bebop greats, Kenny Dorham, who died in 1972. Manny grew up in San Antonio and first began playing the trumpet in local mariachi bands. His group was called “Los Gallos” because they played all night long and welcomed the dawn like roosters (‘gallos’). He remembers the first time he heard Louis Armstrong on the radio in the 1930s. It was like St. Paul on the road to Damascus hearing the word of god. He resolved to learn how to play like that.

In the late 1980s, Carla heard Joe Williams at the Blue Note in New York. Years later, according to a January 13, 1994 Denver Rocky Mountain News interview, she spoke of that night this way, ”Man, he did that with words. . I had been ignoring this whole side of my life and my art – the words.”

Soon afterwards, Carla and Manny parted ways musically although they remain good friends. Since she would now concentrate on bringing out the words, this meant working in a more conventional trio setting. Accompanied by piano, drum and bass, Carla now performs many more ballads than she used to. The songs are carefully chosen, with an emphasis on lyrics that address complex human relationships. As she introduces each song, she offers wry commentary on episodes in her life that the songs seem to echo. For my money, her commentaries and songs achieve a high standard of the kind usually expected from the greatest cabaret singers like Mabel Mercer. Unlike the cabaret singers, Carla knows how to swing and frequently scats to create a kind of background color for the lyrics.

Last night Carla performed at NYC’s Jazz Standard with pianist Frank Kimbrough, bassist Dean Johnson and drummer Tony Jefferson. As always, she held the audience spellbound.

For me it was a particular treat to hear Kimbrough as well, who Carla has begun to work with lately. Kimbrough is a composer-in-residence at the Jazz Composers Collective in NYC, an outfit that I have made modest financial contributions to over the years. Their website at http://www.jazzcollective.com describes their philosophy:

“The need for the Collective stems from a pervasive feeling among its constituents that without such an organization much of the music it fosters and presents would never be written or heard. In an industry that is highly profit-driven and competitive, the artistic integrity of contemporary composers and musicians must sometimes be compromised in order to fill the demand for ‘sellable’ material. The Collective is attempting to address this problem by providing artists with the opportunity to organize and present their music on their own terms. This form of self-empowerment encourages a creative process that is especially appealing to independent-minded composers and musicians precisely because it is not reliant on the trends of the mainstream music industry.”

I suppose one of the reasons that there has been an affinity between socialists like myself and jazz musicians over the years is the degree to which each group understands that they are fighting for a more human voice in a “highly profit-driven and competitive” society. I strongly recommend a visit to the Jazz Composers Collective website and to Carla’s at: http://www.carlawhite.com/. It will be good for your ears and good for your soul.

5 Comments »

  1. A gorgeous piece of writing as usual… And I’ve learned some new words too… I know I’ve already used my bandwitdh with all the Youtube stuff yesterday, but I couldn’t resist when I heard her gloomy voice:

    Comment by Mehmet Cagatay — December 15, 2007 @ 8:19 pm

  2. Your account of your friendship and the pain of loss was very moving.

    Comment by Grumpy Old Man — December 16, 2007 @ 3:43 am

  3. hello louis; i met carla through her uncle miles, who would attend her gigs. since miles and i were best friends, carla and i got to know each other. i worked with her on miles’ memorial in 2000. her death was so cruel and too early. do you recall what became of her longtime lover? i think his name was clyde? i met him a few times. just wondering. apparently they had split before her death, as obits indicate she left behind a partner named anne stamper. thanks, jay blotcher 845 687 2284

    Comment by jay blotcher — December 15, 2008 @ 7:26 pm

  4. Louis,
    When you said Manny grew up in San Antonio, did you mean SanAntonio, TX or San Antonio, NM
    Larry Kemp

    Comment by Kenneth Lawrence Kemp or Larry Kemp — August 20, 2012 @ 9:42 pm

  5. Texas.

    Comment by louisproyect — August 20, 2012 @ 9:45 pm


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