Clinton St. Quarterly, Vol. 5 No. 2 | Summer 1983 (Seattle) /// Issue 4 of 24 /// Master# 4 of 24

“ Underneath the ground” It was the autumn of 1959. Mal Waldron, Eric Dolphy and Booker Little were performing at The 5 Spot in New York, a converted Bowery dive frequented by artists, writers and musicians like John Coltrane, Larry Rivers and Jack Kerouac. It was late, Joyce Johnson recalls in her memoir, Minor Characters, .. when a middle-aged, sadfaced black woman stood up beside the table where she had been sitting and sang so beautifully in a cracked, heartbroken voice I was sure I’d heard before. There was silence when she finished, then everyone rose and began clapping. It was the great Lady Day [Billie.Holiday], who had been deprived of her cabaret card by the New York police and was soon to die under arrest in a hospital bed... Mal Waldron had been Billie Holiday’s accompanist for those last two years of her life. Looking back, Waldron recalls that they had toured Europe in 1958, “ but by the end of the year we returned to America, which I think is why Billie died. . . . If she had stayed in Europe she’d probably be alive today.” New York’s jazz scene was exciting and frantic in the early 1960s, with Max Roach’s Freedom Now Suite bringing explicitly political content to the music, and jazz/poetry or jazz/painting experiments of all sorts flourishing. Waldron continued writing, arranging and playing for the historic Prestige recording sessions he had begun in 1957, as well as performing with an array of leading modernist musicians. “ I’d write at the piano the day before the session, arrange the music that night, and the next day go down to New Jersey and make the record. Sometimes it would take me most of the night and I wouldn’t get any sleep.” In many ways those were good years for his music, but the pressures—artistic, commercial and social—kept building, and he had discovered what it was like in Europe for a black jazz artist; Waldron was just waiting for the chance to get away from a competitive and materialistic America where “ the artist is considered the lowest man on the totem-pole—which put me under- nea th the I I 14 Clinton St. Quarterly