“Vous êtes swing!" : John & Ron

A relatively short-lived cable access talk show from the 80's, hosted by two jazz drummers and featuring mainly - but not exclusively - jazz musician guests, ‘The John Lewis Show” was the ‘Indoor League’ (google this) of jazz: No budget, no direction, no chance. Yet, so much to love.

John Lewis (not to be confused with the MJQ pianist) played in a trio with John Blair and James Spaulding, and was also one half of The Cosmic Twins, whose “Waterbearers” album on Strata East exchanges hands for much money today.

His partner then was Rahsaan man, Ron Burton. His left-hand man here is Ron Jefferson, a slightly better known drummer, who played in Oscar Pettiford’s, Victor Feldman’s and Les McCann’s groups.

They’re a sweet pair even if they can come across like Public Enemy with two Flavor Flavs instead of Chuck.

I’ve thrown together clips from almost every episode of the show (certainly all the jazz-related ones) and I’ve laid down some Top Trump style categories: 5 to be precise.

  1. Sincerest Superlatives: John Lewis introduces every guest in a sort of slurred hyperbole verbiage.

  2. "Vous êtes swing" count: Ron Jefferson’s catchphrase, so catchy he named an album after it.

  3. JL’s “Ron’s been Vous Etes Swinging me to death” quip: He likes this 'gag'.

  4. Overzealous RJ clapping: Ron Jefferson suffers from a unique syndrome: I call it SUSAD (Spontaneous Unmotivated Solo Applause Disorder)

  5. Lucidity levels: I’m not suggesting these guys were in any way under the influence, but where’s the harm in checking, hey?

1. The Mal Waldron & Vernell Fournier Episode

  1. Sincerest Superlatives: “prolific, dynamic...”

  2. Vous êtes swing count: 2

  3. “Ron’s been Vous Etes Swinging me to death”: Yep

  4. Overzealous RJ clapping: 2

  5. Lucidity levels: Even allowing for the tranquilizing quality of Waldron's voice, JL seems pretty out of it ("Poincian-o"?!). Keep your eyes on RJ when Vernell speaks. Looks like he's trying to remember how he got there. Somebody thaw that brother!

2. The Walter Bishop & Oliver Jackson Episode

  1. Sincerest Superlatives:“very prolific, dynamic, lovable and every time you see him he’s with beautiful people, beautiful ladies.. a teacher , i mean he’s all the things that someone in the music business wanna be, a poet, composer, pianist” “to my left, he’s also dynamic and suave and..." you know the rest.

  2. Vous êtes swing count: 4

  3. “Ron’s been Vous Etes Swinging me to death”: Yes. "On all of us"

  4. Overzealous RJ clapping: 5. Walter Bishop probably deserved his “Max the Invincible Roach” one, to be fair

  5. Lucidity levels: RJ - “Do you think that Charlie Parker really made, or did he make an impact in the jazz world?” Walter Bishop - “I’ll answer by asking you another question: Did Beethoven, did Bach make an impact to the classical world?” RJ - “I would say that many people from the European tradition, i’m sure they’re familiar with his (points at poster of Beethoven) works because his works have been very rewarding, they’ve been very much at a high level, i would say just as high a level...” Classic Ron.

3. The Abbey Lincoln, Ernestine Atwell May & Leon Thomas Episode

  1. Sincerest Superlatives: “Stonewall Jackson..new Stonewall Jackson... very dynamic, prolific singer”

  2. Vous êtes swing count: 5. FIVE! Each repeated with feverish compulsion.

  3. “Ron’s been Vous Etes Swinging me to death”: No

  4. Overzealous RJ clapping: 4

  5. Lucidity levels: It’s pronounced Aminata. Moseka. Just that, John. Just that.

4. The Roy Haynes Episode

  1. Sincerest Superlatives: “extraordinaire, one of the prolific, dynamic, innovators, culminators...”

  2. Vous êtes swing count: 4. Even Haynes catches the bug

  3. “Ron’s been Vous Etes Swinging me to death”:Nope. He does the “all the way from Cali to be with me” bit though

  4. Overzealous RJ clapping: 4

  5. Lucidity levels: Plenty of oxygen theft in this one. Bizarre JL aside concerning Haynes’ private number. RJ matches him stroke for stroke until a sincere appraisal of Haynes, brings him back ashore. Momentarily. Perplexing question on whether drummers are supposed to practice sends him back overboard.

5. The Amiri Baraka Episode

  1. Sincerest Superlatives: JL - “very prolific...oh God, that word just came!” RJ - “That’s a heavy word” JL- “..prolific, dynamic, beautiful...”

  2. Vous êtes swing count: 3. First one dropped before the show title fades

  3. “Ron’s been Vous Etes Swinging me to death”: Check

  4. Overzealous RJ clapping: 6! In 3 minutes 27 seconds

  5. Lucidity levels: JL - “Increments? That the right word?” RJ – “Some heavy words today”

6. The Khalilah Ali Episode

  1. Sincerest Superlatives:“now i can see why Ali became a 3-time champion”

  2. Vous êtes swing count: 2

  3. “Ron’s been Vous Etes Swinging me to death”: No

  4. Overzealous RJ clapping: 3. She earned 1 for her Ali poem though

  5. Lucidity levels: RJ caught completely off-guard at the beginning.

7. The Louis Hayes Episode

  1. Sincerest Superlatives:“a beautiful guest....drummer extraordinaire..”

  2. Vous êtes swing count: 2

  3. “Ron’s been Vous Etes Swinging me to death”: No

  4. Overzealous RJ clapping: 4. RJ demolishes his own solo clapping record, inches away from Louis Hayes’ bespectacled (and what spectacles!) mug.

  5. Lucidity levels: RJ is mad as a hare. Two unprovoked world domination bursts of laughter (the second one is insane). Keeps talking about "Louis Hayes" as if Louis Hayes isn’t in the room.

8. The Ira Gitler Episode

  1. Sincerest Superlatives:“he's growing old gracefully...he's very prolific, a beautiful writer..”

  2. Vous êtes swing count: 2

  3. “Ron’s been Vous Etes Swinging me to death”: No

  4. Overzealous RJ clapping: 3.5.

  5. Lucidity levels: 20-20. The boys play this one straight

9. The Charlie Persip Episode

  1. Sincerest Superlatives:“a prolific individual...all those things that all the ladies in all the world would enjoy being around. He injects good feeling and very creative.”

  2. Vous êtes swing count:2 We hear the first one before we get to see RJ!

  3. “Ron’s been Vous Etes Swinging me to death”: Oui

  4. Overzealous RJ clapping: 3

  5. Lucidity levels: JL answers all of his own questions. Par.

10. The Chris White & Roy Ayers Episode

  1. Sincerest Superlatives:“prolific individual, talented, cute, educated, a swinger” and “he’s suave, colourful...”

  2. Vous êtes swing count: 4. JL keeps him hanging on the second one though!

  3. “Ron’s been Vous Etes Swinging me to death”: No

  4. Overzealous RJ clapping: 4. including one for himself.

  5. Lucidity levels: Sobriety personified. For JL, anyway.

11. The Billy Taylor Episode

  1. Sincerest Superlatives:“a renaissance man, ladies and gentlemen....if i had to run through his resume we;d have to have a 5 hour show.......he’s an educator, a musician, composer, bandleader...”

  2. Vous êtes swing count: Just the 1

  3. “Ron’s been Vous Etes Swinging me to death”: Yes

  4. Overzealous RJ clapping: 2. Outclapped 3/2 by JL!

  5. Lucidity levels: JL - “Bill, you’ve done so many things....ah...ah...erm....” (silence) RJ - “yes he has”

12. The Buster Williams Episode

  1. Sincerest Superlatives:“a very profound individual..”

  2. Vous êtes swing count: 1

  3. “Ron’s been Vous Etes Swinging me to death”: No

  4. Overzealous RJ clapping: 3

  5. Lucidity levels: It’s Ron who rambles incoherently. So much so that Buster checks his watch. Ron eventually lands his first question, by which point Buster can’t even remember what day of the week it is, never mind the time. Forgets Buster played Fender though, and asking him whether “Herbie” meant Herbie Hancock or Herbie Lewis is a bit like asking Lee Hazlewood whether “Nancy” meant Sinatra or Reagan.

13. The Art Taylor Episode

  1. Sincerest Superlatives:“a beautiful, always prolific... he’s an author, a master drummer”

  2. Vous êtes swing count: 3-5 (plenty of Vous êtes doubling down here)

  3. “Ron’s been Vous Etes Swinging me to death”: Nope

  4. Overzealous RJ clapping: 4. Half of which are some the longest demonstrations of solo clapping ever heard or witnessed.

  5. Lucidity levels:Even for R J, this episode is pretty RJ. Totally out of control. Far too pleased with his “That remains to be heard” comeback.

14. The Pat Patrick Episode

  1. Sincerest Superlatives: “very dynamic, very musical, very....erm...all those things we think about beautiful people” “One of those renaissance men (RJ – “Yeah, renaissance”)

  2. Vous êtes swing count: 2

  3. “Ron’s been Vous Etes Swinging me to death”: No

  4. Overzealous RJ clapping: 1

  5. Lucidity levels:“oh oh” reaction to the bag search portion of Patrick’s Cairo Airport story says a lot!

15. The Saoul Mamby Episode

  1. Sincerest Superlatives: None, unless you include “You really don’t look like a fighter”

  2. Vous êtes swing count: 2

  3. “Ron’s been Vous Etes Swinging me to death”: No.

  4. Overzealous RJ clapping: 1

  5. Lucidity levels: Way above average for JL. Long-winded first question. He might be scared shitless of The Saoul Man. A feeling unintentionally emphasised by the subtle as tear gas background music.

16. The Charles Rouse & Gary Bartz Episode

  1. Sincerest Superlatives:“two dynamite, special people...composers, beautiful musicians, very prolific, dynamic, suave ..”

  2. Vous êtes swing count: 2

  3. “Ron’s been Vous Etes Swinging me to death”: You bet

  4. Overzealous RJ clapping: 3.5 (One aborted effort following Gary’s “trying to survive” line)

  5. Lucidity levels: “You look like you about twenty, Gary..and Charles look like he about fifteeeeeeeeeeen...”

17. The Freddie Freeloader & Author Beatty Episode

  1. Sincerest Superlatives: For a change, not the one

  2. Vous êtes swing count: 1

  3. “Ron’s been Vous Etes Swinging me to death”: 0

  4. Overzealous RJ clapping: 4

  5. Lucidity levels: Freddie Freeloader and the camera man fighting a losing battle with the zoom lens make everyone else here appear alert.

18. The Jaki Byard Episode

  1. Sincerest Superlatives:“very prolific, very dynamic, innovative...all the things an artist would want another artist to be”

  2. Vous êtes swing count: 2

  3. “Ron’s been Vous Etes Swinging me to death”: Not tonight

  4. Overzealous RJ clapping: 1

  5. Lucidity levels: JL decides to start directing the camera crew between 1:56-2:18! RJ is off the hinges (“Waller! Vous Etes Swing! Fats Waller! Waller, Waller!”) at the start but soon settles down.

19. The Johnny Griffin Episode

  1. Sincerest Superlatives:“a dynamic, prolific individual with swing, yeah, and so much love"

  2. Vous êtes swing count: 1

  3. “Ron’s been Vous Etes Swinging me to death”: No

  4. Overzealous RJ clapping: 3

  5. Lucidity levels: JL just about remembers to turn the rambles into questions. Ron looks like he's just returned from safari.

20. The Dakota Staton Episode

  1. Sincerest Superlatives: JL - “the most beautiful stylist.....very profound – as a person” RJ - “and knows what she’s talking about – and saying..” And saying. Ron...

  2. Vous êtes swing count: 1

  3. “Ron’s been Vous Etes Swinging me to death”: No

  4. Overzealous RJ clapping: 1

  5. Lucidity levels: Standard. The usual rambling, few Kenneth Williams ‘oooh’s’ from JL

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