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John Steinbeck on Eddie Condon.
December 1, 2014 2:05 AM

There's a new jazz club in Greenwich Village, NYC, called Mezzrow. It's run by the swinging jazz pianist, Spike Wilner (owner of Small's around the corner), and it features mainly piano/bass duos.

Well, Spike sends out weekly emails announcing the latest lineup of musicians, and in his latest one he mentions Eddie Condon's biography. In it is a forward by the great, John Steinbeck, which reads as follows:

"I have known musicians - not as you have - but a little. They are the most confused, childish, vicious, vain people I know. On the other hand they are the most generous. Their wills are like those of children. Their cruelties have no more sadistic background than has a small boy when he pulls the wings off flies. Their domestic relations are a mixmaster type. Business confuses them, and so does politics. They almost seem in themselves to live outside ordinary law and common ethics. Now, the reason I am saying all of this is that it is also true that I know of no group which has such direction in work. They aim at excellence and apparently nothing else. They are hard to buy and if bought they either backslide into honesty or lose the respect of their peers. And this is a loss that terrifies them. In any other field of American life, great rewards can be used to cover a loss of honesty, but not with jazz players - a slip is known and recognized instantly."

Steinbeck describes quite accurately the mindset, determination, commitment, and yes, lack of social skills many of exhibit. Apparently this letter on original paper was auctioned off at Christie's back in 2001. It fetched almost $8,000, more than many jazz musicians make in a year these days!

For more on Eddie Condon, you can read this wonderful page over at Riverwalk Jazz from Stanford University, including this quote from his daughter on what it was like helping to run his jazz club in The Village years ago:

"We usually went to the club when they were preparing to open, early in the afternoon after school. Making Shirley Temples with all the cherries was a big deal. Liza and I would just take over the long bar while the guys were cleaning up getting ready for the night. Then we'd go down to the basement. That's where all the action was cuz that's where the house cat lived and there was often a litter of kittens. The other thing we used to love was the electric train set. Wild Bill Davison was an electric train lover and collector so they had an electric train in the room where the guys used to take their breaks."

Ahhhh...the nitty gritty of running a jazz club. Make sure you support Spike in all his efforts!

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