Saturday, 16 February 2013

Searching for Sugar Man (Jazz Version)

Just finished watching the 2012 documentary Searching for Sugar Man, about early 70’s folk-rocker Sixto Rodriguez who found obscurity at home but was more popular than Elvis in apartheid South Africa, unbeknownst to him. I liked the film and recommend it. Cheesy parts like overly dramatic interviews of people who couldn't have cared less about him at the time but are now teary-eyed, and the omnipresent violins in the background, do not cover up what is a remarkable story. It is a story line that Hollywood’s highest-paid screenwriters could not have fabricated. Rodriguez made a couple of major label records back in the vinyl days but for some reason they didn't sell in the US – like one interviewee said, maybe because the record was orange and should have been green. Sheds light on the capriciousness of stardom. In South Africa he was considered the equivalent of the Beatles (and bigger than the Rolling Stones, who are rolling in dough) but back in Detroit he was discovered working construction and living in the same house he has occupied for the past 40 years. After a brief revival and recognition by his South African fans in the late 90s, which he calmly took in stride, he went back to his modest life in inner city Detroit. 

This film reminded me of the 2010 Guardian video about tenor saxophonist Kalaparusha Maurice McIntyre, “That’s not a horn, it’s a starvation box”. That excellent video is still up on the Guardian site and I strongly recommend watching it. Kalaparusha was one of the original members of Chicago’s AACM in the 60s, in the historic first wave of AACM recordings on Delmark, and made ripples in the 1970s New York loft scene in the pre-Marsalis days of creative improvised music. I remember seeing him blow some excellent tenor at the Tin Palace in the Bowery in the mid-70s. Unlike Sugar Man, though, Kalaparusha never received uplifting late-in-life recognition and as far as I can tell, still lingers in obscurity and penury. I found traces of him in a June 2012 Sax On The Web thread which was inconclusive as to an anticipated new recording. Any word on that would be appreciated, since fewer and fewer of the creative saxophone masters still walk the earth. Is it possible that Kalaparusha can still find the appreciation and recognition that escaped him earlier in life? The Sugar Man of jazz? 

The artist who has stayed true to his muse and reaped the dual rewards of poverty and lack of recognition is a caricature in our society - and I am not talking facetiously about Squidward. But these guys are real and very often produce the best music.

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