Saturday, January 24, 2015

Darben The Redd Foxx

Commenter Nick's encyclopedic discographical resources (vinyl and knowledge) rescue me/us from an error and afford a little glancing blow through American culture that helps us situate Garcia in his world.

The song currently understood as "Ptah, the El Daoud" (Alice Coltrane), previously understood "Bag's Groove" (Milt Jackson), performed by Garcia-Saunders on June 4 and June 6, 1974, is actually what I will spell as "Darben the Redd Foxx", which Nick first finds on James Moody (Argo LP 648, 1959) [youtube | wiki]. He supplies a very helpful starter discography:
  • "Darben the Redd Foxx" on James Moody s/t (Argo 1959)
  • "Dobbin' with Redd Foxx" on Eddie Lockjaw Davis, Bacalao (Prestige 1960, rec 1959)
  • "Darbin and the Redd Fox" on Milt Jackson, Vibrations (Atlantic 1964, rec 1960)
  • "Darben the Redd Foxx" on Don Patterson, Mellow Soul (Prestige 1967)
  • "Darbin the Redd Fox" on James Moody, Don't Look Away Now (Prestige 1969)
  • "Darben the Red Fox" on Dizzy Gillespie, live recording 1980 (sextet with Moody), see ... er-24-1980
  • "Darben the Red Fox" on Rutgers University Livingston College Jazz Ensemble, Music of the Masters - Past and Present (RJE/PJ, 1981)
  • "Darben the Redd Foxx" on James Moody/Hank Jones, Our Delight (IPO, 2008)
I think Nick suggested we go with "Darben The Red Fox", and WTF am I to say otherwise, but when in doubt I like to use the oldest known title. (Not sure I actually adhere to that rule, but regardless it's the one I am applying here.) So, again, I'll call it "Darben the Redd Foxx", credited to James Moody.

Do your own comparisons:
A little more context from Nick.
It's a random one-shot jazz tune for them to play, but it's certainly possible that Fierro was familiar with Moody and brought it to the group, or maybe even that it was a tune that Tony Saunders was familiar with … It doesn't seem like a complicated song to learn right before a gig. I don't think it was a standard, but it clearly had enough cachet for a few major jazz artists to record versions of it, so maybe it was something that jazz musicians played often at jam sessions or something -- I don't know. The real mystery (for me, at least) is how Alice Coltrane of all people came to reappropriate the exact same melody for one of her own songs -- I wonder if it isn't lifted from some classical or folk melody, but I have yet to get to the bottom of that one.
I look forward to learning more! In the meantime, let me paint around the edges a little, as is my wont, four rough-hewn sets of strokes.

First, #jazz, fine jazz. That's all.

Second, Redd Foxx -- John Elroy Sanford (December 9, 1922 – October 11, 1991) – wow. Hello to an America you couldn't, initially, see on your TV: "Foxx was born in St. Louis, Missouri and raised on Chicago's South Side. His father, Fred Sanford, an electrician and auto mechanic from Hickman, Kentucky, left his family when Foxx was four years old. He was raised by his half-Seminole Indian mother, Mary Hughes from Ellisville, Mississippi, his grandmother and his minister." (Obviously, I want … to ... compare and classify!) But, then, amazingly, in his 50th year, Redd Foxx was an American you could see on your TV, in "Sanford and Son", which ran from January 14, 1972, to March 25, 1977. White America, mostly guided, pushed and instructed by Black America itself, of course, and Foxx pushed it further still, making all kinds of marginalization mainstream, having and getting some good laughs along the way. It was a good show, and, though I don't much about Garcia's TV watching habits –sci fi and B horror flicks come to mind, and he testified to watching hellfire-, brimstone- and amphetamine-breathing preachers on late night Bay Area TV, probably variously that guy/those guys on Channel 2 for awhile, Channel 12 for awhile). Foxx's standup and some musical stuff appeared on more than fifty records, and it's just hard to imagine that Garcia hadn't taken some it that in at some point in his Beatnik youth or his still-transgressive early thirties. Here's the "Redd Foxx"-GRAM over the course of his lifetime:

Figure xxx. Ngram "Redd Foxx", 1922-1991

Third, on our history with this tune. It's been called "Bag's Groove" (no) and, lately, "Ptah, the El Daoud". To err is human, and is often the fun and interesting stuff. I am glad we thought it was Ptah, because that's a great tune that I probably would have missed if we hadn't. (Same goes for another candidate, Salah Ragab and the Cairo Jazz Band's " "The Crossing (Oubour)".) And it's a lot like Darben. But the song JGMS played was the latter and not the former, we now know. Cool. Updated your song lists – I have (s-Darben the Redd Foxx, #songs-D).

Fourth, a little spray-can Mona Lisa: I get a kick Garcia smiling behind his beard (or maybe not, in June 1974; so, smiling beneath his chins), maybe Tony Saunders brought it to them, someone thinks of Redd grabbing his chest and yelling "I'm coming, Elizabeth!", a chuckle is had. But then, the serious work, maybe important is the better word, the meaningful work of playing some fine jazz – because it's a great tune. It's a chuckle, but make no mistake about it – this material, in the setting in which it was played, finds Garcia in some of his healthiest, most challenging musical engagements. This is not his native musical idiom, but his willingness to tackle it speaks volumes.

As is so widely the case, the blackness of these engagements often remains hidden, mostly by deeply subtle forces, for example that, as a proportion of white paper (let's say, posters, handbills, business files and records), there was less black paper to begin with, less was ever collected/preserved/archived, less has been analyzed, and so forth. There's less tape from Slim Jenkins’ Supper Club or Esther’s Orbit Room in West Oakland (Hildebrand ND), to say nothing of the Marin City joints, than came out of the Lion's Share or the Keystone Berkeley. Even now race is a hard conversation to have – but it's a great conversation to have. Garcia was having it in tackling "Darben The Redd Foxx", and the sonar's return ping at forty years' vantage maps all kinds of American cultural depth. But it also reveals a sweet simplicity that would diminish over time. Thinking of Garcia thinking of Redd Foxx in early June of 1974, and then tackling a nice little piece of jazz, puts a little smile on me in the way that I hope it was able to put a little smile on him, free, still, to just play, something new and interesting, no strings attached.


Hildebrand, Lee. ND. Blues on Seventh Street: Recollections of the West Oakland scene in its heyday. The Monthly, URL, consulted 1/24/2015.


  1. I am glad you thought it was "Ptah," because that introduced me to Alice Coltrane and her great album. There are no mistakes.


    "Carl Lockett is a Bay Area legend. A musical child prodigy, Carl started out as a drummer, then went to the guitar. By the age of 14, he was playing gigs around the Bay Area, even opening for the legendary Redd Foxx's comedy shows."

  3. Redd Foxx had been in the news around the time the band played this tune, demanding to be the highest paid personality on NBC. He was already making $20k a week for "Sanford and Son", but wanted to be paid $1 more than the next-highest-paid star. Whitman Mayo was called in to sub for him. This from the S.F. Examiner, March 9, 1974, p. 8.

  4. "he testified to watching hellfire-, brimstone- and amphetamine-breathing preachers on late night Bay Area TV, probably variously that guy/those guys on Channel 2 for awhile, Channel 12 for awhile"

    Gene Scott!

    David Kemper, in Smolin 1997, 19, says Garcia used to send Gene Scott money. What a freak.

  5. "God's Angry Man" (1981)
    Glaube und Währung - Dr. Gene Scott, Fernsehprediger (original title)
    Directed by Werner Herzog
    Premiered on West German television May 17, 1981

  6. About 34 minutes in, he says the only thing he owns for himself, the only piece of his privacy, is his black bag that he carries around. I know a certain other celebrity who carried a briefcase around, full of ... goodness knows what.

  7. Just stumbled on this:

    James Moody plays Darben the Red Fox(x) @16:00 in this video of the Dizzy Gillespie Quintet on British TV in 1966. Helpfully, Dizzy introduces the song as "Mmm Hmm."

  8. This cannot be unrelated to them playing this tune a couple months later: Big Steve related on his 11/17/2021 show that when they were in LA recording Compliments, Sanford and Son was shooting "right next door".


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