Fred Katz was the first prominent cellist to perform jazz. People often use the phrase “classically trained” but in Katz’s case it’s more than apt: He took lessons from Pablo Casals.
It was in jazz that he made his name, however, and in particular in the west coast scene from which performers like Chet Baker and Stan Getz emerged. Katz joined the first Chico Hamilton Quintet, which also included Buddy Collette and Jim Hall – they were a later-era west coast jazz group, but very influential. One of several innovative things about the group was Katz’s cello, an instrument previously unheard in jazz.
Katz also recorded an album Sidney Poitier, who was the first African American to win an academy award for best actor, and whose career has more highlights than I can list. It’s an obvious choice but my favorite Sidney Poitier movie is In the Heat of the Night.
The scene where he slaps the old guy right back is the shit. I’m so glad that somebody put that on youtube and called it “slap scene”.
My friend Chris told me he’s worried he’ll die without having seen all the greatest movies, and so he’s been watching them. I can’t really empathize with his anxiety, because I feel like the older I get the more I get bored during movies (I would, however, encourage everyone to hear Running, Jumping, Standing Still before they die). I suppose In the Heat of the Night is probably a movie on his list. Aside from the scene where Poitier slaps the guy, and the one where he says, “They call me Mister Tibbs!” the best part of this movie is the score by Quincy Jones.
Ray Charles sang the theme and also played piano on a second track. Glen Campbell sang another track – “Bowlegged Polly” – that’s pretty sweet. It’s one of the very best Quincy Jones soundtrack, but Ray Charles and Glen Campbell weren’t the reason I bought this record years ago.
“Quincy then added the unique and startling Roland Kirk, the blind flautist from Chicago who talks through his amplified flute with a language all his own. ‘I need his anger, man,’ Quincy said. ‘And his loneliness.'”
I bought the copy of Quincy Jones’ soundtrack to In the Heat of the Night you’re hearing (here at Hymie’s, by the way) when I discovered Roland Kirk and had to hear every record on which he played. This happens when you discover Roland Kirk, and I recommend you do the same. It’s way better than watching a bunch of old movies.
Years later, two decades after Roland Kirk passed away, his flute would again delight movie-goers – His delightful performance on the Quincy Jones track “Soul Bossa Nova” was the opening dance number to Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery.
You can find it on the 1961 Quincy Jones album Big Band Bossa Nova, which captures one of the best big bands of it’s era – featuring Paul Gonsalves, Clark Terry, Phil Woods, Lalo Schifrin, Jim Hall and more. The Quincy Jones big band of the early 60s is an amazing meeting point for jazz performers who would create their own fantastic music for decades to come (We made the case it was the last great big band a year or two ago in this post).
By this time you’re probably wondering when we’ll get to the album that Fred Katz and Sidney Poitier recorded together (remember them?). Here’s a track:
Poitier Meets Plato is a 1964 album in which the actor reads selections by counter-culture philosophy scholar and author Henry L. Blake (The People’s Plato). Fred Katz wrote the jazz arrangements.
It’s an exciting collaboration, highlighted by Poitier’s impassioned performance (the man had the voice of a god, at least certainly more so than this guy).
No collection of Plato’s works is complete without the allegory of the cave, just as no entry level course in Philosophy would be complete with out it. You can find this famous dialogue (between Socrates and Plato’s brother, Gloucon) in The Republic, or you can just watch this super trippy claymation interpretation. Here is Poitier and Katz’s interpretation:
You may recognize Plato’s famous analogy because it is the basis for the the movie The Matrix (which Chris has probably already seen). It is also a narrative that explores the philosopher’s eventual role in society, one of intellectual and moral leadership. Blake, the author who prepared the text for Poitier’s reading, approached Plato as a seminal counter-cultural icon. Manly P. Hall, writing in his introduction to The People’s Plato, points out that “troubled generations, burdened with uncertainties about providence, have always turned to the Dialogues of Plato for comfort and inspiration.” And so we have the influence of Platonic philosophy on generations from Thomas Jefferson’s to Sidney Poitier’s to my own.
Man I wish my name were Manly P. Hall. How is that even real?!
Could there be a way to tie this all together? There must be some sort of universal link between all these records, and the movies we’ve seen in clips, and the challenges Plato presents before us in his allegory…
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