JULIUS Hemphill's Blue Boyé (Screwgun 70008), Arthur Blythe's Lenox Avenue Breakdown and Illusions (Koch Jazz KOC-CD-7871 and -7869), and the anthology Jazz Loft Sessions (Douglas Music ADC3) are recent reissues from the late 1970s -- a period I look back on as a fertile time for jazz, though not many other people do. Nobody argued with the writer and photographer William P. Gottlieb when he gave the name The Golden Age of Jazz to a 1979 collection of pictures he had taken of musicians in nightclubs and other natural habitats over a nine-year period beginning in 1939. The 1940s, after all, were a decade in which, as Gottlieb reminisced in his foreword, "big-band jazz -- mostly under the name swing -- reached its peak," "bop and other modern jazz forms developed," and audiences were still able to hear the earliest forms of jazz "played by legendary musicians who had started blowing way back when jazz first began." To top it off, jazz was truly popular in the 1940s, even if Gottlieb did exaggerate slightly in calling this "the only time when popularity and quality have coincided; when, for once, the most widely acclaimed music was the best music."
Like Gottlieb's memories, his assembled photographs were especially beguiling at a time when jazz was slowly rebounding from various setbacks in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Being a young jazz fan had begun to feel awfully lonely; I speak from experience, having started listening to jazz in 1964, as a high school senior. The writing was on the wall as early as 1957, in the Elvis Presley movie Jailhouse Rock. In one scene Presley's girlfriend (and business partner) takes the hero home to meet her upper-crust parents, who are gathered around the hi-fi with their other guests, listening to far-out jazz and debating how much atonality is too much. Asked his opinion as a professional musician, Presley sneers that he doesn't know what they're talking about and storms out the door.