[78-L] Musicians and drug use (was) Charlie Shavers and Milt Kabak

Cary Ginell soundthink at live.com
Fri Apr 23 06:33:38 PDT 2010

Not having first-hand experience in either drugs or in playing in jazz groups, I can only report what I have been told. In my book on the life of Terry Gibbs, Terry informed me about the rampant use of hard drugs in bands he played in; most notably the Buddy Rich and Woody Herman groups. According to Terry: "Most of the guys in Buddy's band were hooked on hard drugs, mostly heroin and morphine." Much is made in my book of drug use in the Herman band (the second Herd), including legends like Stan Getz, Serge Chaloff, Red Rodney, Earl Swope, Lou Levy, and Shorty Rogers. I can't speak for other bands in other eras, but Terry's stories were quite frightening and sad. Many others he knew, such as Chubby Jackson, loved to smoke a joint now and then. Jackson even smuggled pot inside his bass when he took a quintet to play Sweden in 1947. 

"Before we left New York, Chubby had his bass maker take his bass apart and put in about three or four bags of pot. He rigged it so we could take it out of the F-hole and Chubby rationed it out to Frank Rosolino, Conte Condoli, Lou Levy, and me. We were the only ones who smoked pot, along with Chubby. I don't think Denzil Best ever did. We would smoke it before we went out on stage. After we smoked all the pot that Chubby rationed out and had nothing left, we were kind of bugged. Somebody got a brainstorm and thought that maybe some of the pot might have trickled out into the bottom of Chubby's bass. So we put a bunch of newspapers on the floor and took turns shaking the bass. Conte and Lou would shake the bass, and then Frank and I would follow them. We smoked whatever came out; all the rotgut, dust, and funk. We smoked all that garbage and got sick. We smoked half a Kaye bass, which wasn't a very good bass to start with." 

Just because you didn't see much of it doesn't mean it wasn't there. Drugs pervade every aspect of our society. You are right that jazz should not be singled out as being equated with drug use, but for many groups, especially in the bop world, it was the norm and not the exception.

Cary Ginell
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