I have a friend who in a fit of drunken ecstasy, as Blue Train was blasting on the stereo, declared that he was the reincarnated soul of John Coltrane. Obviously, he regrets that hubris now. But I forgive him, because that’s what’s great about jazz, you sometimes get so intimate with the music that you feel like you know the player, or, in this extreme instance, like you are the player. If I had to claim to be the reincarnated soul of a jazzman, I’d probably take Pee Wee Russell. Obviously there are many greater players. (If I could choose to be reincarnated back in time, I’d probably pick Duke Ellington.) But Pee Wee’s music, to me, is as pure a blues as can be played. Completely individual. Never boring. Intellectual, but also deeply felt. He seemed a bit strange among the Dixieland players he matured among. Then, when people like Monk came along (Pee Wee played with Monk at least once), and everyone who’d been listening to Pee Wee’s squeaks and weird phrasings finally had the a-ha moment that he’d known what he was doing all along, he still sounded a little old-fashioned playing Ornette Coleman numbers (check out his great album Ask Me Now!).
Check out the great sketch of him (from the best jazz documentary ever, A Great Day in Harlem) at 2:00 minutes in.
I’ve been snowed in all day and somehow found myself relieved by listening to Pee Wee tunes.