Jazz Institute of Chicago

Bass Lines: A Life in Jazz

Bass Lines: A Life in Jazz
By Coleridge Goode with Roger Cotterell
London: Northway Publications, 2003.

Nic Jones

The bass player Coleridge Goode has proven himself to be one of the most open-minded jazz musicians, as this biography and the names he’s worked with over the years testify.

Written with Roger Cotterell, this account of Goode’s life reveals an individual with a tendency to underplay his own role in the music. That said, his self-effacement has the effect of revealing more starkly the personalities of the musicians he’s worked with, not the least of them being the alto sax player, band leader and Goode’s fellow West Indian, Joe Harriott, whose quintet has assumed apostolic proportions regarding the evolution of free jazz in Europe.

Goode came to Britain in 1934, bringing with him a collection of classical records that, as the decade wore on and the prospect of at least a European war loomed larger, was supplemented by Count Basie and Duke Ellington titles.

The fact that he took to a career in jazz as opposed to the classical and church music favoured by his father is testament to a certain independence of spirit, as also is the fact that he never became an electrical engineer, which was the career he travelled to Britain to pursue.

Most of his early professional experiences were spent in the company of swing-oriented Europeans, and his style of writing and recollecting render vivid his wartime experiences in blacked out London, where he worked with the likes of French violinist Stephane Grappelli, one of the first musicians outside of the USA to really come to terms with the jazz vocabulary and to interpret it in a personal way.

The reader is never in any doubt about the vagaries of the jazz musician’s life despite the fact that Goode seems to have enjoyed pretty regular employment in the field. By the 1950s he had allied himself firmly with the modernist camp of the times as exemplified by bebop.

He, in common with so many others, was also caught up in a social milieu wanting to escape the strictures of wartime deprivation and austerity, and jazz in both its modern and traditional forms was an integral part of this mood; arguably at no other time would the piano-accordionist Tito Burns, in whose band Goode served, have been taken seriously in the jazz field, given his instrument of choice.

By the following decade Goode’s attitude to music had further evolved. The free jazz he produced as part of Harriott’s quintet has been lazily and unhelpfully lumped together with the innovations of Ornette Coleman.

Here Goode sets the record straight through the distinctions he makes between Coleman’s music and that of the Harriott band. He is also not shy regarding his negative view of Coleman’s work.

Much is being made at the moment of how responsibility for the evolution of the music now rests significantly in European hands. Such an opinion is useful only in so far as it generates interest in and debate about the music, and a book like this, at the same time as it offers an insight into the extent of jazz’s influence outside of the USA even in times of hardship, also shows how skilled some non-American practitioners were decades before such broadsides gained cultural cachet.

This in itself is testament to how deep the effect of early jazz records was in the world at large, and the spuriousness of such arguments has the curious effect of making this only more pertinent. For all of his evidently self-effacing nature, the fact remains that Goode and others like him have done a whole lot more for the vitality of the music through the simple act of playing it.

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