While it is well-known among jazz fans in New York that the great virtuoso Charlie Parker lived across from Tompkins Square Park during the 1950s—a jazz festival in his name takes place there every year—another vitally important saxophonist was, it has only recently been discovered, a one-time homeless inhabitant of New York, possibly in Tompkins Square itself, as well as in shelters and institutions around the city and elsewhere. In fact, the revelation that this man is still alive puts to rest an enduring and agonizingly unresolved mystery: the unknown whereabouts and presumed demise of Giuseppi Logan.
(This photo: © Eric Weiss)
The circumstances behind Giuseppi Logan's disappearance have long been one of those widely traded free-jazz urban legends. Some who knew him and of his heavy drugs use back in the day assumed he'd gone to prison or overdosed, or both. (At least one website still refers to his death "circa 1991.") Word that he'd been spotted here or there surfaced every so often, but none of Logan's musical compatriots had ever been able to recall seeing him any later than the early 1970s, when he simply vanished from the scene.
After studying at the New England Conservatory of Music, Logan arrived in New York in 1964 having gigged in Boston with drum shaman Milford Graves. Graves introduced Logan to Bernard Stollman, whose ESP-Disk label was the first to capture the burgeoning free jazz scene in all its joyous, frantic intensity. The transcendent The Giuseppi Logan Quartet was one ESP's earliest releases. In 1965 Logan recorded a second album for ESP, then appeared on only a couple of more recordings in 1966, and that was pretty much it.
Though there is precious little recorded music of Logan's to hear—the sum total of 14 tracks on four albums—for many jazz fans, including myself, the legend of Giuseppi Logan has only intensified over the years. Thirty years ago I read Valerie Wilmer's book As Serious as Your Life: The Story of the New Jazz, which mentions Logan's odd disappearance and includes one of the only known photos of him (shown at left), and the course of my own romantic lionizing of this man and his mystifying story was set.
Listen to: Dialogue (MP3) from The Giuseppi Logan Quartet (ESP, 1964)
So it came as quite a shock last week when a friend emailed a link to this video (shot by Suzannah B. Troy) posted on YouTube last December. [Be sure to go to the YouTube page and click on "more info."] Curiously, it was also shot in Tompkins Square Park:
Subsequent research for this post reveals that, reportedly, as long ago as last June, Giuseppi Logan had stepped quietly out of the shadows when he approached ESP Records founder Bernard Stollman at the Vision Festival and suggested he was ready to play again. Further digging also led to yet another video of Logan shot in (say it with me) Tompkins Square Park, which can be seen here.
According to musician Matt Lavelle, Logan is currently living in a shelter in Brooklyn. The latest news is that on February 17, Logan will performing at the Bowery Poetry Club (308 Bowery, Manhattan) as part of a running series of "ESP-Disk Live" evenings. Giuseppi Logan lives. And plays. Blessedly.
There is a sad addendum to this story:
In digging around online for this post, I found an interview from 2000 in Paris Transatlantic Magazine in which the drummer Sunny Murray refers to Giuseppi Logan as having a son [that same boy in the 1966 film above?] "who could read music backwards, play the trumpet and was a real genius." I also came upon an online page from Oakland Magazine from December 2007 calling Jay Logan, "son of the legendary jazz musician, Giuseppi Logan," a Hometown Hero for founding the organization SAVOY or Stop All Violence On Youth. In 2006 Jay's 14-old-son Jaee, Giuseppi's grandson, was shot and killed on the streets of Oakland in a case of mistaken identity.